Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Inquirer. Aug. 31, 2021.

Editorial: Afghans are welcome here

On Friday, Afghan refugees began arriving at Philadelphia International Airport, and elected officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney, have rightly expressed “solidarity with Afghan refugees,” as the city “looks forward to providing them a safe haven.”

Despite the heroic efforts of U.S. military personnel — including the 13 who died in Thursday’s suicide bombing alongside at least 170 of the Afghans they had hoped to protect — there are thousands of Afghans who are still hoping to make their way to safety, and the United States has an obligation to many of them.

Federal officials must place their focus on Special Immigrant Visa applicants — Afghans who assisted the U.S. military and government contractors as translators or in other roles. In the wake of the Vietnam War, the United States offered over 140,000 special visas to Vietnamese who had assisted the country. Experts say roughly 20,000 Afghans were in the special visa pipeline at the start of the evacuation, with potentially 70,000 who are eligible. Beyond the moral obligation of helping those who have helped keep U.S. service members and other Americans safe, there is also a strategic imperative to ensure that in the future, those who work with the United States believe that they have a trustworthy partner.

A second group of particular importance is made up of what federal officials are calling “Priority 1” and “Priority 2” eligible Afghans. Many of these Afghans might have worked for U.S.-based media or nongovernmental organizations in the past, which is enough to garner Taliban attention but not enough for special visa status. The exact number of Afghans who have registered for priority status — or who might be eligible for it — is currently unknown.

Religious and ethnic minorities, women’s rights activists, and others are already making plans to flee the country ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for departures. Forty U.S. senators have sent a letter to Biden administration officials urging them to institute what is called humanitarian parole, which would allow Afghans to complete the visa process in the United States. The Biden administration should listen to them, especially because their refusal to heed voices urging them to speed up the application process months ago has so far led to many being left behind.

Philadelphians should be proud that their city was founded not just because of a geographical confluence of rivers and arable farmland; it is also because of a specific vision and purpose that the city was, as William Penn wrote, “named before thou wert born.” This commonwealth has served as a refuge not only for Penn’s Quakers, but for peoples and faiths from around the world. From German Anabaptists in the 1600s to Kosovar Albanians, Hmong people, and many others in the 20th century, refugees have enriched the fabric of our city and our state throughout our history.

In fact, Philadelphia’s recent population increase, the first in 70 years, was made possible largely because of immigrants, refugees among them. Despite the ravages of a 20-year war, a seemingly endless series of bureaucratic hurdles, and persistent threat of terrorists and suicide bombers, Afghans have made it here. We say, “Welcome home.”

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Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Aug. 27, 2021.

Editorial: West Hills deer management plan necessary, suburbs need city’s help

What a lovely sight it is to have a herd of deer standing in your yard to greet you in the morning.

But that natural beauty can also bring health concerns.

Not only are deer often the culprits in expensive car repairs, they can host ticks that carry Lyme disease.

That’s why officials in the West Hills region of Johnstown are allowing archery hunting to thin the deer herd.

Jill Henning, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, studies ticks and Lyme disease when she’s not busy talking about COVID-19.

Henning told reporter Russell O’Reilly that one in three ticks in Cambria and neighboring counties carries the Lyme bacteria.

“In the past century, Pennsylvania has become very favorable for the ecology of tick-borne diseases,” Henning wrote in a 2019 op-ed piece that was published in The Tribune-Democrat. “The region’s woodlands, rivers, growing white-tailed deer population, plentiful population of the white-footed mouse, and the expansion of human populations into the black-legged tick’s habitat create ideal conditions for the transmission of Lyme disease to humans.”

State data show Pennsylvania led the nation with 11,900 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2017 – when 173 cases were reported in Cambria County.

Lyme disease starts with tick bites but can spread to cause severe joint pain, and impact the heart and nervous system, the state Department of Health reports.

Henning said she often runs or hikes through the West Hills region and sees deer on her travels.

“In Westmont, we are clearly overpopulated with deer,” she said. “We have herds moving in on the area and feeding on people’s landscaping. They have no fear.”

Westmont Borough Mayor Robert Callahan said concerned residents prompted the 2020 decision to employ a deer management program in the Johnstown suburban area.

The concern about ticks and Lyme disease helped inspire a return of the program later this year.

From October to mid-January, special hunting permits will be issued to help reduce the deer population.

West Hills Police officer John Todaro said the 2020 pilot program involved about 15 archers from the local area, who had been vetted. They took 13 deer last year.

They were permitted to take deer for a half hour after sunrise or before sunset, at a distance of 50 yards from occupied structures by state law, as O’Reilly reported.

Property owners must give advance permission for hunting on their land.

Stackhouse Park – where many deer live and breed – was not part of the management program in 2020. Stackhouse is owned by the City of Johnstown.

Hunting was also not permitted on the large Sunnehanna Country Club and Grandview Cemetery tracts.

Penn State Extension forestry and wildlife educator Calvin Norman, who is based in Ebensburg, said 40% of a local herd’s antlerless deer – including breeding-age does – would need to be harvested for a deer management program to be effective in a suburban community.

“Similar deer management programs happen all over,” he said. “In cities, parks are closed down for hunting.”

That might need to be done here.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, Stackhouse is where the deer are coming from,” Todaro said. “Unless we address that issue with the park, we are just spinning our wheels.”

We agree, and urge the city to open that area to restricted hunting this fall.

In the meantime, we join Henning and others in urging walkers, runners and hikers to take precautions against ticks and Lyme disease.

Experts recommend wearing light-colored protective clothing, so you can see ticks, and tucking pant legs into socks.

Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks after walks.

And let’s work together to thin that deer herd.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Aug. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Onsite school COVID-19 testing is a smart move that should be embraced by parents, students

It’s one of the smartest moves by state government in a long time. On-site testing for the COVID-19 virus will be available at schools across the commonwealth this year.

The Wolf administration announced a partnership with a company to provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools, statewide, this fall. And the state Department of Health has ordered that vaccine providers support COVID-19 vaccination clinics at K-12 schools as well as at colleges and universities. The tab for these initiatives will be covered by federal stimulus money and there couldn’t be a better use of the funds.

An agreement — for $87 million — is with Boston-based Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks, also known as Ginkgo.

This move is for the good of all. At present, children under the age of 12 still cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The virus is spreading. Incomprehensibly, masking at schools is being debated and resisted. It is a situation ripe for positive diagnoses. And the sooner the school, the student and the parent know of a positive test, the sooner action can be taken to forestall spread.

Ginkgo uses a testing method that combines anterior nasal swab samples from consenting individuals in a classroom and runs them as a single test, which allows many students to be checked for the virus. The testing is intended to be self-administered by students but overseen by support staff. Test results are expected in a day or two. If a pool comes back positive for COVID-19, follow-up testing would occur to determine which student or students were infected.

According to the state Department of Health, Ginkgo operates statewide programs in many places including Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Arizona, and North Carolina. The program already was piloted in Pennsylvania and is immediately accepting sign-ups from schools and districts.

This is a great opportunity for families and schools. Buy-in should be uncomplicated. Districts should embrace the onsite testing and parents should gratefully get behind the initiative.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. Aug. 31, 2021.

Editorial: Legislature overdoses on politics

Pennsylvania ranks fifth among the states in overdose deaths and the overdose death rate, but legislative majorities in both houses have not detected an ongoing public health emergency in those grim statistics.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 4,377 Pennsylvanians died in 2020 from unintentional drug overdoes, with more than 75% due to opioids. The death rate for the year was 35.6-per-100,000 residents.

Yet the politics-addicted Republican majorities in both houses recently found it more important to counter Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf than to agree to his request to extend the state’s public health emergency regarding opioids.

Republican leaders, who have given high priority to a needless and useless “forensic audit” of the state’s 2020 presidential election, said they will take up comprehensive opioid policy when they return to Harrisburg at the end of September after an eight-week hiatus.

They did not explain why extending the emergency — which had produced highly positive results before the COVID-19 pandemic reversed them — and their impending legislative approach should be mutually exclusive given the urgency that the addiction crisis requires.

To lawmakers’ credit, they responded aggressively when Wolf first declared the opioid public health emergency in January 2018. The state government quickly lifted restrictions on the distribution of the opioid antidote naloxone, worked with the medical community to revise opioid prescription standards, developed a highly effective statewide system by which doctors and pharmacists could track prescriptions and prevent “doctor-shopping,” and increased treatment access.

But they responded to Wolf’s management of the COVID-19 crisis by passing two constitutional amendments, and timing required statewide referendums for the low-turnout spring primary, to transfer emergency management from the executive branch, where it belongs, to themselves.

Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, opioid addiction and overdoses remain a public health emergency even if the Legislature won’t acknowledge it as such.

When lawmakers meander back to the Capitol they should give higher priority to that emergency than to their political dog-and-pony show regarding the well-settled 2020 election.

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Reading Eagle. Aug. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Welcome news from Amtrak on passenger rail. Agency proposes service from Reading to Philadelphia and New York

The prospects for a return to passenger rail to the Schuylkill Valley keep looking better and better, a welcome bright spot in a recent stretch of bad news in the nation and world.

The idea of restoring rail service to communities in Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties has been around in one form or another for most of the four decades since service on the former Schuylkill River line, but early this year there was a sure sign of serious momentum when Amtrak unveiled an expansion plan that included a Reading to Philadelphia route.

It was one of 600 routes proposed in the wake of the rollout of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan. That proposal included billions of dollars for expansion and improvement to the northeast rail corridor.

A year ago Transportation Economics and Management Services Inc., a Maryland consulting firm, produced a study, funded by the Berks Alliance and Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, that determined a rail line from Reading to Philadelphia was feasible. And our region has seen the formation of the Tri-County Passenger Rail committee of representatives of the three counties to come up with a plan.

The latest word from Amtrak on the subject is even more encouraging. The national rail line has established a web page dedicated to the issue of rail service in our region. Better yet, it goes beyond service from Reading to Philadelphia. Amtrak now envisions connecting the route to New York as well.

Amtrak foresees having three daily round trips with stops in Reading, Pottstown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, Norristown and Philadelphia. The trip from Reading to Philadelphia would take about an hour and a half. The journey to New York would take about three hours.

Communities to the northwest of Philadelphia have been underserved in terms of intercity transportation for a long time. Reading, for example, has gone without passenger rail and air service, and intercity bus service is a shadow of what it once was. For all too many in our region, the only viable option is an unpleasant trip along crowded and dangerous Route 422 and the appalling Schuylkill Expressway.

For those who don’t drive or lack a private vehicle, the options are even more scant. Regularly scheduled trains to Philadelphia and New York would make those cities much more accessible and make it easy to connect to other places across the country as well.

Amtrak estimates that the rail lines will produce $54 million in annual economic impact and $1.8 billion in economic activity from initial capital investments.

It’s heartening to read what Amtrak has to say about our region on the website. Clearly officials at the railroad have bought into what we and others in our area have been saying for years: Communities here have been underestimated for far too long.

It points out recent population growth in Reading, which recently moved up to become the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania. It notes the new route would connect more than a dozen universities and more than 50 Fortune 500 companies.

This is about more than just helping people in our communities get to and from big cities. It would encourage people in the Philadelphia and New York areas to visit Pennsylvania communities they may have overlooked in the past. It offers the opportunity for people to come to our towns not just for dining and entertainment but for education and business opportunities already in place and in the works.

Best of all, organizers believe a return to rail service could be put in place within just five to seven years.

We urge our representatives in Congress and other local political and business leaders to push for this project to come to fruition. After so many years of disappointments on this front, they must not allow this opportunity to pass us by.

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