Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

During fireworks season, we must obey law, use common sense and show courtesy

The York Dispatch

July 1

The Fourth of July holiday is looming.

That means there will be fireworks — lots of fireworks.

Some of those fireworks displays will be safe, legal and fun. Unfortunately, many more will be dangerous, illegal and contentious.

The latter situation can — and almost certainly will — lead to police calls, serious injuries and neighborhood arguments.

What makes that so sad is that nearly all of those issues could be avoided if folks simply used some common sense and courtesy.

Fireworks complaints continue to rise in York County

Largely illegal: The first thing to remember is that fireworks are largely illegal in neighborhoods.

Under a 2017 state law, fireworks are barred within 150 feet of any occupied structure. In densely populated municipalities, such as York City, that renders fireworks ostensibly prohibited in any area.

Your next-door neighbors often won’t share your love of the noise that comes with fireworks, especially late at night.

For example, a New Salem man is facing charges after pulling a gun on his neighbor during a dispute over a firework that was set off May 31 in the borough.

Complaints are on the rise in York County, forcing York City to create a patrol unit to tackle illegal fireworks use.

“People are out of control,” York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said. “This is not fair to the people of York City.”

Dangerous: The second thing to remember is that fireworks can be very dangerous, especially in the wrong hands.

That 2017 law permitted Pennsylvanians to purchase and use fireworks that could contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive materials, with some restrictions. The wisdom of that law now seems dubious, at best. A 50-milligram firecracker is a very treacherous thing, especially for inexperienced users and those who have enjoyed a couple adult beverages.

You can still see fireworks on the Fourth of July in York County

In 2018, there were five nonprofessional fireworks-related deaths and an estimated 9,100 patients were treated for fireworks injuries in hospital emergency rooms nationwide, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported.

Fireworks also start more than 18,500 fires per year and cause an average of $43 million in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Those are some scary numbers.

Police have better things to do: Finally, we must realize that our police officers have much more important things do, rather than issue warnings for illegal fireworks or settling disputes between neighbors.

From May 21 through June 24, York County 911 had 424 fireworks-related calls, including 315 noise complaints, county spokesperson Mark Walters said recently. During Fourth of July celebrations last year, there were 237 fireworks-related complaints in York County between July 1 and July 4 alone.

And it’s not just a York County problem. In New York City, which was hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio established a task force this week to crack down on illegal sales. In June, fireworks complaints soared to 13,109 in the Big Apple, compared to 32 complaints at the same point in June 2019, ABC News reported.

During the pandemic, bored folks are apparently firing off fireworks because there’s little else to do, and they care little about the pesky legalities of their actions.

As result, a lot of police time, that could be spent on more serious issues, is being wasted on fireworks disputes.

So, as the Fourth of July approaches, do yourself and your neighbors three big favors — know and obey the law, use some common sense and display a little human courtesy.

That will be three huge steps in solving our fireworks problems.

Online: https://bit.ly/38kBSRw

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‘Bella’s Law’ right call to keep kids safe

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 30

Bubbles filled the air for a little girl who will never have a fourth birthday party.

She won’t go to kindergarten. No s’mores around a campfire or sleepovers with friends. No broken hearts and no prom.

Because Bella Seachrist was just 3 when she died.

In pages of court documents, police laid out a homicide, assault and conspiracy case against her father, Jose Salazar-Ortiz Sr., 29, stepmother Laura Ramriez, 27, and Ramriez’s sister, Alexis Herrera, 20, that speak of a short life that ended June 9 amid physical and sexual abuse, malnourishment and imprisonment in her Oakmont home.

On Sunday, the “Bubbles for Bella” event in Verona didn’t just celebrate her life. It demanded justice, but that’s for the court and a jury to work on. The event — and an online petition — also pushed for a change in how children taken from one home are supervised when placed in another.

“It’s crazy because our granddaughter was taken and she was never checked on,” said Stacey Seachrist, father of Bella’s mother, Nicole.

Bella was removed from her mother’s custody at 10 months old and placed with her father in August 2017. In 2018, she was sent to family in North Carolina for a year before coming back to Salazar-Ortiz in September 2019 in apparent good health. Ten months later, she was dead.

Organizers in Oakmont are pushing for “Bella’s Law,” a reform to how children in the state’s child welfare system are supervised after placement.

Once the state or one of its county agencies has taken a child away, there is an absolute obligation to ensure that child’s continued health and stability.

The state monitors nursing homes and personal care facilities to make sure the elderly are not being abused by those who have been given responsibility for them. The state should do no less for children.

A child who is too young to speak can’t call for help. An agency cannot leave a baby with a business card and say, “Get back to me if you need anything.” The only way to make sure kids who are handed over remain well-cared for is to follow up on the child’s condition.

Pennsylvania can make this change. The state made sweeping changes in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, demanding huge numbers of people be trained in identifying and reporting suspected abuse. Those changes affected everyone who had contact with any child in the state — more than 2.6 million kids.

“Bella’s Law” would deal with kids in the system. That’s a much smaller number. Too large, of course, because no child should be abused, neglected or have nowhere to turn, but still more manageable.

Kids should be checked on because people and their circumstances change. A placement that was perfectly fine could become more stressful with a divorce or a lost job. A child who was a good fit with a loving relative as a toddler may be a lot for that grandma to handle as a tween.

Checking on kids and their families or other placements should be a way to not just maintain a child’s safety but also to support the families so everyone can succeed.

“Every child deserves a loving, nurturing permanent home where they feel cared for, safe and supported,” the state’s Department of Human Services says under the Child Welfare Services banner, referring to adoption and foster care.

That should apply to all kids and all families, but especially to those where the state has taken an active role in shaping the family.

Online: https://bit.ly/31ABsFp

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Mask foes are dragging out our collective coronavirus misery

The Philadelphia Inquirer

June 30

New Jersey’s abrupt move to indefinitely postpone the scheduled Thursday resumption of indoor restaurant service was sparked, in part, by media images of outdoor dining and drinking destinations at the Shore crowded with patrons without masks. Faced with an uptick in coronavirus cases, Philadelphia last Friday made mask-wearing mandatory in public places; the city on Tuesday announced it will slow down its own reopening effort, set to begin Friday, by several weeks. As the pandemic’s first wave continues to churn, and caseloads spike across the country, a dozen states including Delaware have announced a “pause” in economic restart schedules as well.

It seems inexplicable that some Americans rightly appalled by shortages of personal protective equipment, including masks, for frontline workers at the start of the pandemic now seem nonchalant, even hostile, to using such gear to protect themselves and others. The so-called “war over face masks,” which has led to ugly confrontations between business owners and customers — including the shooting death of a Michigan security guard — may deter some people from putting on this necessary piece of protective equipment. Worse, the outright refusal to wear a mask has become a bizarre badge of honor among some who see conspiracy theories and nanny state tyrannies lurking behind sensible public health guidelines. Self-styled freedom fighters against masks risk infecting others, and being infected themselves, with an as-yet unstoppable pathogen. What sort of freedom is that?

The fact is that mask-wearing and other basic infection control tools such as testing have helped flatten a rising caseload curve in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states, and have enabled states and cities to emerge from lockdown in cautious phases. Even so, the pressure from businesses desperate to completely reopen after three lost months of income is understandable. The head of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association likened Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to delay indoor service to taking a sledgehammer to an entire industry.

But governors nationwide have had to devise their own approaches in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. Inconsistent and sometimes incoherent messaging from a White House suspicious of science and consumed by reelection politics also doesn’t help. President Donald Trump’s reluctance to be seen wearing a mask — as if protecting oneself and others from viral infection was a sign of weakness — even alarms some of his supporters, including at Fox News. Video showing the methodical removal of social distancing advisory stickers on seats in the arena where the president held an underattended campaign rally June 20 in Tulsa, Okla., appeared to be a stunning signal of presidential, or presidential reelection, priorities.

But facts have a way of breaking through. Spurred by soaring numbers of new infections in Florida, the city of Jacksonville, where the Republican Party will hold its convention beginning Aug. 25, this week made mask-wearing mandatory for large gatherings. There is clear evidence that close and sustained indoor contact among large groups of people is a frighteningly efficient way for the coronavirus to find new hosts. Scientific fact, common sense, and common decency suggest that putting on a mask is a way individuals together can help defeat our common adversary. Not doing so is an act of surrender.

Online: https://bit.ly/3dMZOy9

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Gov. Wolf got it right. Period.

Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com

June 26

Alarm bells are going off in Texas, Florida and California. In more than 30 states, the number of people infected with the coronavirus is rising. But Pennsylvania is not one of them.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top health expert, says the country is “facing a serious problem in certain areas.” He doesn’t want to lay blame, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. People are getting sick and dying in states that reopened too soon, closed too late and where governors didn’t move with enough courage and determination to save lives.

They bent to the pocketbook. And people died as a result.

That didn’t happen in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary Rachel Levine did the right thing. They took aggressive action to shut down businesses, keep people home and stop the spread of the virus in Pennsylvania.

The result? Fewer Pennsylvanians are dying.

“On a day when nearly every county in Pennsylvania is now in the green phase, the state reported a relatively low number of new coronavirus cases,” Ron Southwick wrote on Friday.

“Fewer people are being treated for the coronavirus in hospitals. The health department reported 677 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals, down from about 700 on Thursday. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is about a quarter of the peak in the spring.”

To put it bluntly, fewer of our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers are suffering in hospitals or headed to the graveyard.

Now let’s take a look at the other places with governors who acted less decisively to save lives.

California, Texas and Florida are each reporting between 5,000 and 7,000 new cases each day. Things are so bad in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has suspended any further reopening of the state. He also has closed the bars again, as did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In Oregon, Nevada, Kansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, governors are being forced to take a pause on reopening because their number of coronavirus cases is increasing.

Nationwide, almost 40,000 coronavirus cases were reported Thursday, surpassing the previous one-day high set on April 24, according to Johns Hopkins University.

This is bad. Real bad. To be clear, this is not just a question of more testing, this is a question of more people getting sick, heading into hospitals, where there is real fear there won’t be enough beds for them.

All of this could be happening here in Pennsylvania, had the governor and the secretary caved in to the protestors and lawmakers demanding freedom for the coronavirus to spread throughout our communities and kill more of our friends and neighbors.

In many ways, we could argue, Pennsylvania leaders haven’t gone far enough. Masks should be mandatory in public spaces and in crowds. Social distancing should be enforced in businesses, government buildings and public spaces. And there should be fines for those who insist their freedom takes precedence over some else’s life.

We Pennsylvanians should pay close attention to what is happening in other parts of the country where people put their pocketbooks above lives. This virus kills. It kills business owners, and it kills their customers. It even kills those young people who think they can frolic on the beach and crowd into bars, with only the old people getting hurt.

Let’s face it, Gov. Tom Wolf was right. Period. He was right to close down the state, try to get the virus under control and then slowly start reopening. And we should thank him for doing it.

If we follow the advice of the doctors and not rush back to life as normal, we just might get back to making money again far sooner than in Texas and Florida.

Wash your hands. Wear your masks. Stay six feet away from people in public places. That’s the key to making money again. It’s also the key to staying alive to spend it.

Online: https://bit.ly/3ePby4w

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Virus billing worth keeping close tabs on

Altoona Mirror

June 27

Many people beset with high — and increasing — health-insurance premiums have little sympathy for the business challenges faced by insurance companies.

That’s human nature, and that attitude/viewpoint is not likely to change.

But a coronavirus-testing billing situation uncovered by the New York Times is justification for health care consumers, as well as federal and state lawmakers and top appointed officials on both levels, to take notice on behalf of remedial options that might be available.

And what has happened on the coronavirus-testing front should propel the same lawmakers and officials to look into other areas of health care billing — to determine what other billing practices might merit serious scrutiny.

Back to the Times’ coronavirus-testing price examination conducted by investigative reporter Sarah Kliff, whose reporting focuses on the American health care system and how it works for patients:

Kliff found that an Irving, Texas, diagnostic lab had been billing insurers $2,315 for individual coronavirus tests for which major diagnostic labs charge $100 — some even as little as $50. In several cases, that same Texas lab upped the price to $6,946 when the lab said it mistakenly charged patients three times the base rate.

Beyond the lab in question, the Times’ report pointed out a chain of emergency rooms in Texas and Oklahoma have regularly charged patients $500 to $990 for coronavirus tests and that a small hospital in Colorado and a laboratory in New Jersey also have come to insurers’ attention due to their especially high bills for those tests.

Those excessive prices eventually translate into higher health insurance premiums that individuals, companies and other entities pay.

From a financial standpoint, everyone loses except those being paid the excessive fees. Much more scrutiny needs to be given to this coronavirus issue.

According to Kliff’s reporting, one national health plan also was surprised to learn that the Irving, Texas, lab had added a fee for sexually transmitted disease testing onto some coronavirus bills.

Some Americans harbor total distrust of the news media. That is unfortunate, because most news entities strive to be fair and informative and try to balance their coverage among various viewpoints. What did an example of responsible reporting like Kliff’s, in this instance, accomplish? Consider:

In connection with the Times’ report, the Irving, Texas, lab said the $2,315 price was the result of “human error” that occurred when a billing department employee entered the wrong price into an internal system. It is interesting that the lab didn’t have a “backstop” to quickly identify such errors.

The lab said it reduced the price to $500 after one insurance plan flagged the price in mid-April, then reached out to the Times, saying that it had once again reduced the coronavirus-testing price, this time to $300. That still is $200 more than what many entities currently charge.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion regarding health-insurance companies, but people should not ignore the broader picture that the Times exposed.

Everyone’s wallet and pocketbook has a stake in such valid news media scrutiny.

Online: https://bit.ly/3glQKBJ

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