Lehigh Valley Health Network vaccinated a one-day high of 9,286 people on April 14.
It was the first time the Allentown-based network was administering vaccines at all of its new community clinics in Whitehall and Lower Nazareth townships, Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, LVHN hospitals in Monroe, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties and LVHN’s Mobile Vaccination Unit, which visited local housing authority sites in Schuylkill County.
Also, the state of Pennsylvania opened eligibility for vaccination to all those age 16 and above beginning Tuesday, April 13, a week earlier than planned.
LVHN’s previous one-day high was reached April 9, with nearly 7,500 vaccinations.
“I am encouraged to see so many people trusting the science and deciding to get vaccinated now that more and more have the opportunity,” said Brian A. Nester, president and CEO of LVHN. “I’m confident we will get the virus under control if we continue to get as many people as possible vaccinated and practice safety measures that have been critical in the progress we’ve made to date.”
St. Luke’s announced the opening of their COVID Recovery Clinic at a virtual press conference on April 15. The Clinic, offered network-wide at the Bethlehem-based St. Luke’s University Health Network, is dedicated to the treatment of post-COVID patients with extended symptoms.
One in four people diagnosed with COVID-19 have lingering symptoms in the months following their initial diagnosis and “recovery,” according to the physicians at the Clinic.
The clinic, offered network-wide at the Bethlehem-based St. Luke’s University Health Network, is dedicated to the treatment of these post-COVID patients with extended symptoms.
These individuals may have been told by their physicians or friends and family that what they are feeling is all in their head, health network officials said.
“We know that it is real,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, vice president of medical and academic affairs and section chief emeritus of infectious diseases for St. Luke’s, at an April 15 press conference announcing the clinic. Symptoms like extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing, brain fog and anxiety can continue for months for some patients, he said, with extreme fatigue being the most prevalent complaint.
The COVID Recovery Clinic provides patients with the care of medical specialists, including physical therapists, cardiologists, and experts in cognitive and memory training.
“…St. Luke’s is committed to helping these patients get access to the most appropriate care so they can find relief,” said St. Luke’s senior regional medical director Dr. Dennis McGorry, who is spearheading the program. “We have developed a very organized way of dealing with these issues.”
Patients with persistent symptoms that last more than a month are advised to go their primary care physician who will be able to evaluate them and may refer them to the clinic for treatment, he said,.
Treatment for these extended symptoms can help make sure that a more serious complications, such as blood clots or a heart condition are not missed, he said.
Receiving the vaccine can sometimes provide relief for such patients, Jahre said. Because of this, the health network advises those who have had COVID be vaccinated.
In a sign that things may be starting to return to normal in the region, the first of the season’s festivals has announced it will be returning with an in-person event this year.
Mayfair Festival of the Arts, which is organized by Cedar Crest College and held on its campus in Allentown, will be held May 28 – 30. The event was cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are excited to give our community an opportunity to celebrate the arts safely and in person. This year’s festival will look different than previous years, as we prepare to ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers and festival-goers, but attendees can expect to see many local artists, performers and food vendors,” said Audra Kahr, chair of the Mayfair committee and CFO/COO at Cedar Crest.
Face coverings will be required and the festival will be set up to encourage social distancing.
While it may still be a challenge to hold large event like Mayfair with ongoing COVID-19 concerns, it’s a festival that experienced setbacks before. The college took over the more than 30-year-old festival in 2017, after was cancelled by its previous organizers. It had gone through a number of changes and challenges during its time at the city’s Cedar Beach Park and at one point had gone from a free, open event to a gated, ticketed event in an effort to keep it solvent.
But weather and mud continued to be an issue and it was moved to the Allentown Fairgrounds. When Cedar Crest took over it was moved to open space on campus and once again became a free event.
This year’s Mayfair will have family activities and area artists, performers and food vendors.
Featured musical acts on the Main Stage include Central City Orchestra, Large Flowerheads, Jimmy and the Parrots and GoGo Gadjet.
The festival will run Friday, May 28 from 4 – 10 p.m.; Saturday, May 29 from Noon – 10 p.m. and Sunday, May 30, Noon – 10 p.m.
By April 19, all Pennsylvanians regardless of age, occupation or health will be eligible to receive vaccinations against COVID-19.
The State Department of Health announced Wednesday that it was accelerating the vaccination timetable for those in Phases 1B, 1C and 2, but will still be targeting workers in certain industries for vaccines.
“The vaccine landscape continues to evolve as the federal government is increasing allocations to more retail pharmacy chains across the country,” Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said. “To ensure that vaccine continues to get to people efficiently and equitably, Pennsylvania is adapting its plan to allow workers in targeted industries to access any of the three vaccines available at providers throughout the state, and to accelerate our eligibility for remaining phases of the state’s vaccination plan.
Beam said the state has dramatically stepped up the pace of vaccinations and providers are distributing an average of 83,000 vaccines per day.
According to a press release from the DOH, Pennsylvania will begin the following accelerated phased rollout:
March 31 workers will be eligible for vaccines in the four targeted industries that Gov. Wolf and the Task Force announced, including Law enforcement, firefighters, including career and volunteer firefighter, grocery store workers and food and agriculture workers.
April 5 all residents in Phase 1B will be eligible to start scheduling vaccination appointments.
April 12 all residents in Phase 1C will be eligible to start scheduling vaccination appointments.
April 19 all residents will be eligible to start scheduling vaccination appointments.
Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said getting out the vaccines is vital to Pennsylvania business.
“We know if we move more and more into that world were going to bring our economy back, we’re going to bring our social activities back. So, we encourage all our members to encourage their employees and employees and friends to vaccinate,” Barr said. “We know that vaccines are in short supply, but we have every confidence that our members in the pharmaceutical industry are going to drive this vaccination effort out and bring us back to a normal life.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, a member of the COVID-19 vaccine task force, said, “President Biden has asked us to make every adult eligible for vaccination with the vaccine he is providing. We can do it, we can make the change. We can get more vaccine to Southeast PA and across the commonwealth and target vaccine, so no one is left out.”
Health Care officials have expressed concern that people become too complacent as more people become vaccinated, and a fear that there may be another wave of infections if safety protocols are relaxed too soon.
Beam echoed those sentiments.
“It is important to remember that eligibility does not guarantee an immediate vaccination appointment,” Beam said. “Vaccine providers are ready and eager to get a shot in the arm of every person who wants one while we continue to aggressively advocate for more vaccine.”
More than 20 area corporate, government and economic development leaders told a tale of two different Lehigh Valley economies over a year that was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The speakers were part of this year’s virtual LVEDC annual meeting Tuesday,
On one hand, said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., coming off the region’s record-high gross domestic product of $43.3 billion in 2019, “the economic renaissance of the Lehigh Valley continues.”
He said online retailers, manufacturers, food and beverage producers, health care, and other parts of the nation’s supply chain based here boomed, with some reaching sales growth of 30%.
There were 41 major expansion and new development projects in 2020. Among them was the expansion of EchoTech Marine with a new facility in Bethlehem and Bowery Farms building an indoor vertical farm.
Life science research and manufacturing was among the sectors to experience growth over the past 12 months. The year 2020 marked the highest employment in the sector over the last two decades with about 6,300 workers with an average wage of $94,000 per year.
Lehigh Valley life sciences companies kept busy creating products to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and the LVEDC helped those regional businesses with emergency financing applications, Cunningham said.
Sam Niedbala, founder & CEO of CryoConcepts, was among those who spoke with Cunningham during the annual report. The Lehigh Valley is an appealing location for companies in his sector due to the quality of the workforce and the community’s close connection to the many high-quality colleges and universities in the region, he said.
“We really have become this medical device area with a lot of people who were young when I was young (are now) growing up, becoming experts and now teaching other generations,” Niedbala said. “We’re starting to see the children of our first employees coming on board as employees.”
But while those industries prospered, the hospitality and entertainment industries were stymied by closures and reduced capacity throughout much of 2020.
Many restaurants failed to survive the pandemic and capacity restrictions left many workers on unemployment.
Despite that, industries involved in ecommerce had a difficult time finding enough help even with jobs advertised at $20-plus per hour for low-skilled, new hires.
“The whirlwind of economic headwinds and tailwinds has lifted some, deflated others, and held many in place,” he said. “The dust has yet to settle. If there’s any certainty, it’s that economic life will forever be changed,” Cunningham said.
He said that employment, overall, was a roller coaster ride in 2020.
Total employment in the Lehigh Valley dropped to a low of 322,100 in April, and unemployment reached a historic high of 16.6% that same month, according to the report. By the end of the year, employment had risen to 368,300 and the unemployment rate had dropped to 6.5%.
“The whirlwind of economic headwinds and tailwinds has lifted some, deflated others, and held many in place,” he said. “The dust has yet to settle. If there’s any certainty, it’s that economic life will forever be changed,” Cunningham said.
During the meeting, the LVEDC released its annual report detailing the development and trends in the local economy.
With vaccines now available and a potential end in sight to the year-long COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is lifting its March 13, 2020, service termination moratorium effective April 1.
However, with many small businesses and individuals still feeling the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PUC said it has added a number of safeguards to help address past-due utility bills to help forestall service termination.
The PUC approved a plan for 2021 that provides extended payment options to help residential and small business utility customers stay connected to service while gradually paying-down past-due balances.
Today’s action by the PUC requires all commission-regulated electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications and steam utilities to modify their existing collection policies to provide additional payment plan options for residential and small business customers.
For small business customers, a utility is required to offer a payment arrangement for a minimum length of 18 months. However, the customer can agree to or request a shorter payment arrangement and the utility can agree to a longer payment arrangement.
With similar options for shorter or longer payment arrangements, a utility is required to offer a payment arrangement length of a minimum of 5 years for residential customers with incomes below 250% of federal income guidelines (FPIG).
The FPIG income level for a family of four is $26,500 a year
The length of required agreements then goes down to as little as one year for higher income residential customers.
Under the plan, utilities will be required to submit quarterly reports to the commission for the remaining three quarters of 2021. The reports must outline the number of accounts at risk of termination; the number of service disconnections of customers with outstanding balances, plus information on the money owed compared to prior years before the pandemic.
After canceling last year’s event because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Greater Lehigh Valley Auto Dealers Association had hoped to get this year’s annual auto show “back on the road again.”
But with ongoing pandemic concerns, the association has announced that it will be canceling this year’s event as well.
GLVADA said in a statement that it was informed by Lehigh University, where the auto show is held each year, that the school would not be allowing outside events to be held on campus this spring, leading them to cancel.
The show had been scheduled to take place March 12 to March 16 with a theme of “back on the road again.”
“Our dealers planned to follow all state and local guidelines, and had put in place extra measures so that they could safely present a show,” said Tom Kwiatek, executive director. “However, we understand Lehigh’s first responsibility is to its students and so we must abide by the university’s decision.”
Instead of a live event this year, GLVADA will be taking the route many organizations have over the past year and hosting a virtual event.
The virtual event will begin with a 30-minute television program created by WFMZ-TV featuring videos supplied by the manufacturers.
Those will be coupled with local dealer interviews highlighting the new 2021 vehicles and products available on dealers’ lots.
The program will air during the second week in May and will be broadcast multiple times.
The program will be followed by a web-based buyer’s guide that will be available on both the Greater Lehigh Valley Auto Dealers Association website: glvada.org and WFMZ-TV’s website: wfmz.com.
The buyers guide will feature shorter videos by local dealers highlighting vehicles in individual market segments.
Dealers’ websites will be linked to these segments so that customers can learn more or schedule appointments to see vehicles in person.
GLVADA said it plans to hold a live Lehigh Valley Auto Show next year, with the event scheduled to return March 16 to March 20 in 2022.
LVB: Nearly 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges are looking much different than they did before. In what ways has Kutztown adapted?
Hawkison: We remained open with a residential experience for our students and had a wide modality of classes including face-to-face, hybrid and online. All students, faculty and staff had to adapt to wearing masks, social distancing and working behind plexiglass. I’m very proud of the way our community adapted to this new reality.
LVB: What format are your professors using for their classes, in-person, remote, a hybrid of the two?
Hawkinson: 87% of our course offerings have a synchronous component, wherein the classes will be held live in person or with technology (or both) in real time.
LVB: What are some of the ways the school has been impacted that most people wouldn’t realize?
Hawkinson: While a number of our employees have underlying conditions and are teleworking, all our offices have been open and staffed so that our students and the public could interact in person.
LVB: Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. Has Kutztown made any changes that have been advantageous, that might become permanent?
Hawkinson: All our faculty, staff and students have become very proficient in using technology in their work and in their educational experiences, which allows us to complete our mission remotely, if necessary. For example, there is no longer a need to suspend operation for bad weather as nearly everyone can work, teach and learn from home.
In the fall, we hope to return to traditional in-person experiences for our students but these classes will be greatly enhanced as a result of the skills developed by faculty and students in the use of technology.
LVB: What does the rest of the year look like at the school?
Hawkinson: We will remain open but with the restrictions of social distancing and other practices that mitigate the risk of COVID-19. As more faculty, staff and students get vaccinated we hope to relax these restrictions so that there could be many more activities on campus wherein the members of our community could have more interaction.
As expected, 2020 was not a good year for amusement parks, and Cedar Fair, the parent company of Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom reported a drastic drop in revenue for the year.
Cedar Fair said with a limited season, and lower attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, net revenues for the company totaled $182 million versus $1.47 billion for 2019.
That led to a loss of more than $590 million dollars, when factoring in added expenses the company incurred implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies and other operating costs.
The good news is the company expects the pent up demand for amusement parks will make 2021 a much better year.
“We are optimistic that levels of attendance at our parks and resort properties will significantly improve in 2021, particularly as COVID-19 vaccines become broadly available over the next few months,” said Cedar Fair President and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman. “In anticipation of improving demand, we are poised to resume normal operations, particularly during our seasonally stronger back half of the year. We have strategically designed our operating plan for the 2021 season specifically to minimize cash burn in the pre-opening period and correlate park operating calendars with forecasted demand while growing our season pass base for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.”
Zimmerman said in response to the pandemic, the company made great strides in process improvements and found cost saving opportunities.
For 2020, operating costs and expenses totaled $484 million compared with $991 million for 2019.
“These efforts have reduced our use of cash and positioned us well to emerge from the pandemic as a leaner and more cost-efficient organization,” he said.
Zimmerman said he expects the company’s parks will benefit from lingering COVID-19 caution as families continue to look for outdoor, closer-to-home entertainment options.
After a late opening in 2020 because of the COVID-19 shutdown, Dorney Park closed its season early, shuttering on Labor Day, Sept. 7 and foregoing its popular Halloween-themed weekends. Wildwater Kingdom never opened for the season because of the pandemic.
Plans are on track for both parks to be open for the 2021 season.
Dorney announced Wednesday that it planned to hire “thousands” for the upcoming season.
The park said it is hiring ride operators, security, aquatics, horticulture, food & beverage, merchandise, finance, maintenance and entertainment workers.
Weidenhammer of Wyomissing is a digital strategies and technology solutions company. Anthony Cartolaro, Jr., is vice president of Weidenhammer’s Digital Platforms Division and has more than 25 years of technology leadership experience.
LVB: Has the volume of cyber-attacks grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Cartolaro: The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed turned a number of things upside-down in the world today. Students being educated from their homes, contactless delivery of food and other items right to your door, and a larger-than-ever remote workforce. So, with all of that technology being used to help us change our pre-pandemic behaviors in this COVID world that we now find ourselves living in, the answer is a resounding yes. The more technology in use, the higher the risk for attack.
LVB: What are the biggest concerns in cyber security right now with so many people telecommuting and shopping from home?
Cartolaro: Effective cyber security can be complex, but in its simplest form, we associate cyber security risk with the amount of “attack vectors”. Generally, attack vectors are the number of pathways in which potential threats or bad actors can gain unauthorized access to computers and data. Now that the world has gone remote, both in our work, but also shopping from home, the use of technology has increased exponentially. This increase also equates to an increase in the number of paths or attack vectors available to would-be bad actors.
Another risk that we continue to face in 2021 is the after-effects of our pivot to a remote workforce in 2020. While some organizations were already leveraging technologies that allowed them to work from anywhere and at any time by using the cloud – the cloud for email, collaboration, phone systems, etc., some organizations were not so ready. So, in their rush to keep their business running in 2020, some IT departments permitted staff to install applications on their work device that would allow them to keep working – this is in contrast to standard IT security and governance best-practices.
LVB: What can companies do to protect their employees, customers and data?
Cartolaro: I understand, in the heat of the moment, IT leaders had to do what was needed. Now, IT leaders need to recognize that not only the increased use of technology, but also some of the tactics used to keep our employees connected have opened ourselves up to vulnerabilities. That said, although the world has changed, I’m not sure my advice would be much different today than it may have been a year or two ago. I would encourage our IT leaders to start with an assessment. Vulnerability or security assessments give organizations a “heatmap” of the attack vectors or vulnerabilities that exist today. These assessments will scan their network, their devices, and their servers to report on known issues that may exist. Things like unauthorized applications, missing anti-virus and anti-malware software, or devices that are not running the latest updates or patches. I consider this the “low-hanging fruit.”
Part of an assessment should be a review of their IT security processes, policies and governance. This includes reviews of their standard procedures for security incidents, updating their employee acceptable use policies and ensuring that their IT security policies are in line with today’s standards and compliance requirements. Add in their own industry-specific regulations, things like HIPAA (Healthcare), FERPA (Education), and PCI (Payment Card Industry), and this step can be daunting, but necessary.
Lastly, organizations need to focus on the most vulnerable part of their technology infrastructure, the users. User awareness is a must-have and often overlooked component of a mature cyber security posture. There are many online services that organizations can use to help train staff on cyber security threats like what to look for when they get suspicious emails. The end users are your most vulnerable, but if you can make them aware, they can also be your best defense.
LVB: What do you see on the horizon for the cyber security industry?
Cartolaro: In 2021, I believe we need to ask organizations to focus on one primary word, resiliency. Often organizations use the excuse that they are moving too quickly to take the time to plan. “We don’t have time to do that.” Well, resiliency will come in several forms. First, organizations should consider building a business continuity plan. BCP’s are not necessarily focused on technology, but one more logistical and operational. Consider it a “what if” plan. Granted, not many BCPs had a “What if there is a global pandemic chapter” but, for those who had a BCP in place, I’m certain it made their changes in 2020 more efficient.
BCPs get organizations thinking. As a plan is built, often trends emerge. A common theme may be the ability to work from anywhere based on a wide variety of “what if” scenarios. Like, what if the internet goes down? What if there is a storm, hurricane or tornado? What if the water main down the street breaks and we can’t come to work? While we say BCPs don’t get too involved in technology, oftentimes technology plays the role of hero to help overcome challenges. Cloud technologies could help organizations overcome many of the challenges I outlined.
Lastly, organizations need to take another and much-more serious look at their cyber security posture. Things have changed, so their security needs have likely changed as well. Assessments can help create a roadmap to improve their security skills to ensure their business remain protected in this “new normal.”
PSECU has long had a commitment to student outreach on Pennsylvania’s state-run college and university campuses, but with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping most campuses practically shut down for the better part of the last year it’s become a difficult challenge.
To help boost the credit union’s outreach to students who are now getting their education remotely, rather than on campus, PSECU has partnered with a Philadelphia-based social media company, SocialLadder, to create a virtual student ambassador program.
An offshoot of the student employment opportunities the credit union has always offered to students on the state’s college campuses, the new Campus Ambassador Initiative will be hiring one or two student ambassadors from each campus, charging them with getting out the word about PSECU’s services and providing them with financial literacy education.
“This is a more 21st century experience that we’re able to give these students to hone their sales and presentation skills,” said Chris Rhine, university development director for PSECU.
Rhine said having students help students has always been a part of the credit union’s approach to getting students interested in banking and financial literacy.
“Peers speaking to peers is something we’ve found through our research that college students are more responsive to,” he said.
Students can reach out to their peers through social media or through classes and campus clubs to let other students know about services the credit union offers or to offer lessons in financial literacy, which he said is an important component of the institution’s on-campus work.
“A lot of times we’re finding that this is the first time they have to manage money independently,” Rhine said.
By providing students with that education and getting them started on the right financial path, Rhine said PSECU is hoping it will earn lifelong credit union members.
Having the SocialLadder system helps the credit union track the success of the ambassadors’ work to see what methods of promotion are working and which students are accomplishing the most.
It also helps the students get paid for their work.
He said each student ambassador is given a unique code link to send out with their messaging and every time the credit union gets a new member that ambassador is given credit for getting the student signed up.
Besides an earning opportunity for students, Candice Richards, financial education center community manager, said it’s a great education for the ambassadors interested in a banking or marketing career.
“It will look great on their resume,” she said.
She said it’s also a great fit for PSECU’s culture.
“This really makes great sense for us because we are a digital first credit union,” Richards said.
Rhine said having such tech-based campus ambassadors was something that the credit union had been thinking about for some time, but the pandemic sped up the timetable for implementing the concept.
PSECU began piloting its campus ambassador initiative earlier this month with a select group of about 30 campus ambassadors and plans to expand the program going forward based on success and need.
Reading-based Tower Health said it was recently the recipient of counterfeit 3M 1860 N95 masks.
The health network said it had used an alternative vendor to acquire masks when its primary PPE vendor was not able to meet its demand.
On Feb. 3, the health network was notified by 3M that it had received counterfeit masks from the supplier, which had received the masks and believed they were genuine 3M masks, but were not.
In a statement the health network said many other health care providers nationally and globally have been impacted by the receipt of the same kind of fraudulent PPE supplies.
While the masks had already been distributed at Reading Hospital and other hospitals in the network, Tower said the incident did not impact patient care, since the health network did have alternative PPE available for staff.
Tower noted that only about 12% of the counterfeit masks it received had been distributed throughout the health system before 3M notified the health system of the problem.
The remainder of the masks have been removed from inventory.
According to CBS News, U.S. Customs and Border Protection have seized nearly 15 million counterfeit N95 masks since the start of the pandemic. The concern is that such masks may not meet U.S. Health & Safety standards.
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