New website provides Pa. residents access to reproductive health care resources

In the aftermath of the Texas decision to restrict access to medication abortions nationwide, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro recently launched a website for reproductive health care resources to provide facts and information. 

The new site serves to remind Pennsylvanians that the Texas ruling does not affect residents or non-residents seeking to access abortion services. 

“Your rights and freedoms here in Pennsylvania have not changed – you can get a safe, legal medication abortion using mifepristone in our commonwealth,” Shapiro said in a statement. “As your governor, I believe decisions on reproductive care are to be made between women and their doctors, not extremist politicians, or radical court rulings.” 

Shapiro called the Texas judge’s attempt to restrict access to medication abortions as an attack on a woman’s right to choose. 

“This is about protecting our freedoms,” Shapiro stated, “and I won’t back down from that fight.” 

The new website is designed to aid those seeking reproductive health care services, regardless of where they live in Pennsylvania or if they are arriving from a state that restricts abortion access. 

Shapiro said his administration is exploring options to keep medication abortion accessible, expand access to reproductive care, and safeguard freedom of choice. The latter includes defending abortion access as a party to the recent federal court ruling in Washington state under Attorney General Michelle Henry. 

Those accessing the Shapiro Administration’s new site can find information regarding medication abortions along with in-clinic procedure abortions. The website launched days after a Northern District of Texas judge reversed the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of an abortion pill regimen consisting of mifepristone followed by misoprostol. 

FDA approval of the two-step process dated back decades and is used today in more than 50% of abortions. Medication abortions often use the two-step process, and the medications can be obtained at abortion clinics, pharmacies, or by mail. 

A federal judge in Washington state ruled in a different case that Pennsylvania is party to, that mifepristone is safe and effective. The judge ordered the FDA to preserve the status quo and retain access to the drug in the 17 states and Washington, D.C. that are behind the second lawsuit. 

Shapiro joined a Reproductive Freedom Alliance with 20 other governors in February, safeguarding abortion access, protect abortion providers, and affirm abortion rights. Shapiro also maintained former Governor Tom Wolf’s executive order making certain that non-residents seeking abortion care in Pennsylvania can do so and not be subject to arrest or detainment at the request of another state.

Pa. sees billions in federal dollars one year after Bipartisan law

Since being signed by President Joe Biden in 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has provided Pennsylvania with billions of dollars in support for projects. 

Thus far, investments have been made to improve the state’s infrastructure, support a cleaner environment, and create good jobs that pay well. 

“This $7.9 billion infrastructure investment is really an investment in people,” said Gov. Tom Wolf, who on Tuesday joined White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu to celebrate the anniversary of Biden’s historic investments in important infrastructure projects in Pennsylvania and across the country. 

For Pennsylvania, the investment includes funding for the following critical projects: 

  • Amtrak routes on the Eastern Seaboard 
  • Addressing aging infrastructure of the Philadelphia International Airport 
  • Replacing and repairing more than 7,540 miles of highway and 3, 353 bridges in poor condition 
  • Providing eligible families $30/month off their internet bills through the Affordable Connectivity Program 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest federal investment in infrastructure in decades, and Pennsylvania has received in total the following: 

  • $58 million for clean school buses 
  • $62 million to improve electric vehicle infrastructure 
  • At least $100 million for broadband and internet expansion 
  • $119 million for airports 
  • $208 million for clean energy and energy efficiency projects 
  • $240 million for clean drinking water 
  • $349 million to cap orphaned wells and reclaim mind lands 
  • $614.8 million to improve public transportation 
  • $1.1 billion to improve infrastructure resilience and prepare for floods and extreme weather events 
  • $5.2 billion for road and bridge projects 
  • $110 billion for ports and waterways. 

“It’s an investment in safe travels to work, family, and friends; an investment in a secure supply chain, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe,” Wolf said. “I am grateful for President Biden’s leadership and this bold investment to build a better future for all Americans.”

MI Windows and Doors expands, adds nearly 100 jobs in Gratz

MI Windows and Doors, a leading manufacturer of precision-built and energy-efficient vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass windows and sliding patio doors, will create 97 jobs and retain 1,528 others by expanding its operation in Dauphin County.

Gov. Tom Wolf made the announcement May 21.

“Committed to creating jobs and products in manufacturing since 1947, MI Windows has had a longstanding presence in Pennsylvania and we are thrilled to see their continued growth,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “This expansion will build on our commonwealth’s historic legacy in manufacturing and bring new, family-sustaining jobs to Central Pennsylvania.”

At its Gratz, Dauphin County, headquarters, MI is expanding manufacturing capacity by constructing a 90,000-square-foot addition, adding two production lines and a glass room.

The nearly $27 million the company is committing to the project, coordinated by the Governor’s Action Team, is part of MI’s continued investment in Central Pennsylvania, the release said. It also coincides with a recent increase in its starting rate to $20 per hour for all manufacturing employees in Pennsylvania.

“We have a rich history in Central Pennsylvania, and we’re excited to expand our presence here,” said MI CEO Matt DeSoto. “This project will add great-paying jobs and increase our production capabilities, making it a win-win for our team, our community and our customers.”

MI received a funding proposal from the Department of Community and Economic Development for a $485,000 PA First grant, a $291,000 workforce training grant, and was encouraged to apply for a $2.4 million low-interest loan through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

The company runs more than 10 manufacturing plants in the U.S. and owns and operates three brands: MI Windows and Doors, Milgard Windows & Doors (acquired in 2019) and Sunrise Windows & Doors (acquired in 2020).

Gov. Tom Wolf lifting COVID-19 restrictions starting Memorial Day

Pennsylvania will lift all COVID-19 restrictions except the order to wear a mask in public on Memorial Day, the Wolf administration announced.

The decision to no longer restrict capacity on restaurants, bars or indoor and outdoor gatherings on May 31 was made in partnership with the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force.

Pennsylvanians will continue to be required to wear masks until 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the commonwealth. Fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks in certain situations, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  More details on masking for those already vaccinated can be found here.

“As more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts,” said Alison Beam, acting secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health in a statement. “I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing.”

The mitigation updates will not prevent municipalities and school districts from ​continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts.

For Pennsylvania restaurants and hotels, the news is a relief, according to John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“The PRLA welcomes Governor Wolf’s announcement to loosen mitigation standards as vaccination rates continue to rise and positive cases decline,” Longstreet said. “As a major economic driver throughout the Commonwealth, the hospitality industry needs further support to regain a sense of normalcy to attract its workforce, retain a consistent customer base and meet ever-changing mitigation standards.”

All Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine. The provider map is available on the Department of Health’s website. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.

Gov. Wolf lifts travel restrictions, increases maximum occupancy for events

Citing declining COVID-19 cases, the Wolf Administration announced that it would be lifting its out-of-state travel restrictions as of Monday.

Wolf said on Monday that as cases of the virus decline in the state and more Pennsylvanian’s receive vaccinations, he and his administration will be “taking a measured approach to revising or lifting mitigation orders.”

The first of these revised mitigation measures includes the elimination of Wolf’s travel restrictions first put into effect last November, as well as revised maximum occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor events.

“The reason we are seeing cases drop can be attributed, in part, to people following the mitigation efforts we have in place. Mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene are making a difference and need to continue even as we see more and more people fully vaccinated,” Wolf said

in a statement. “We need to balance protecting public health with leading the state to a robust economic recovery. We are lifting mitigation efforts only when we believe it is safe to do so.”

As per the new mitigation plan, indoor events will be able to allow 15% of maximum occupancy and outdoor events can allow 20% of maximum occupancy, both regardless of venue size.

Anyone visiting Pennsylvania will also no longer need to self-quarantine for 14 days after entering the state.

In its announcement, the state outlined the data it used to decide on the revised efforts, including: 14% of the population under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Health has received at least one dose of vaccine, currently 6.3% of Pennsylvanians are COVID positive, the incident rate per 100,000 residents stands at 101.3 and hospital bed capacity is at 41%.

Governor Wolf appoints new head of Pa.’s Open Records office

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf today appointed Liz Gerloff Wagenseller to lead the office of Open Records.

“Liz brings a wealth of experience to the Office of Open Records,” said Gov. Wolf in a statement. “She is an astute administrator with a deep commitment to transparency. Liz will be an asset to the Office of Open Records and a key player in my administration’s efforts to improve transparency in government.

Wolf said Gerloff Wagenseller has more than 16 years of experience in the public and private sectors designing and implementing political and communications strategies.

She is currently chief of staff to the auditor general, where she oversees operations, directs strategy and ensures transparency through collaboration with stakeholders, legislators and the public.

She previously worked at two public opinion research firms in Washington, DC — Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

She will begin in the role Jan. 19.

Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 shutdown lifted in Pennsylvania at 8 a.m. today

After about three weeks of shutdown because of the latest spike in COVID-19 leading up to the holidays, bars, restaurants and other food service businesses can start offering indoor service again starting today.

While a number of establishments did flout the Governor’s orders and stayed open to the holiday, most shuttered or offered takeout and delivery only to help stem the spread of the virus.

Starting today those establishments can be open at 50% dining capacity if they are self-certified in COVID-19 protocol and at 25% if they are not.

Other pre-shutdown regulations remain in place including requiring a meal with alcohol purchase and ending alcohol sales at 11 p.m.

Cocktails to go and carryout beverages are still allowed.

Any municipalities that have implemented more restrictive mitigation efforts remain in place.

Gyms, movie theaters and fitness centers are also all reopening with previous restrictions in place.

The order, which began Dec. 12, expired at 8 a.m. Monday morning.

As of Jan. 2, 661,871 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Wolf orders shutdown of indoor dining, gyms, theaters by midnight Friday

The state is prohibiting all indoor dining at businesses in the retail food services industry for the next three weeks. Indoor operations at gyms and fitness facilities are also prohibited, as are movie theaters.

The shutdowns are part of a series of limited-time mitigation efforts beginning at 12:01 a.m. on December 12 and ending at 8 a.m. on Jan. 4 announced by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“With these measures in place, we hope to accomplish three goals,” he said. “First, stop the devastating spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. Second, keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed. And third, help Pennsylvanians get through the holiday season – and closer to a widely available vaccine – as safely as possible. This is a bridge to a better future in Pennsylvania.”

The in-person indoor dining restrictions include, but are not limited to: bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, social clubs, and private catered events is prohibited.

Outdoor dining, take-out food service and take-out alcohol sales will still continue.

Indoor gatherings and events of more than 10 people will also be prohibited. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other places of worship are excluded from this rule.

Outdoor gatherings and events of more than 50 people are prohibited as part of the three week closures.

All in-person businesses serving the public may only operate at up to 50% capacity

Regarding the entertainment industry, the Wolf Administration said all in-person businesses serving the public within an indoor defined area, such as theaters, concert venues, museums and movie theaters will be prohibited from operating.

Pennsylvania continues to deal with growing outbreaks of the virus with 11,972 additional positive cases being reported by the department on Wednesday. As of Wednesday the statewide positive case total is 457,289 with 12,010 deaths since March.

The trend in the 14-day moving average of number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by nearly 4,400 since the end of September.

“Each of the last two days we have reported the highest number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr. Rachel Levine said. “In the past week, we have reported close to 1,100 new deaths from COVID-19 across Pennsylvania. The virus continues to strain our health care systems and the dramatic rise in cases among all age groups, including among school-age children, is alarming. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 37,500 cases among children age 5 to 18, yet 9,500 of those cases occurred in the past two weeks.”

This is a developing story

Pennsylvania’s leaders say no new COVID mitigations yet, but will start discussing next step soon

Pennsylvanians don’t have any new restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 just yet, but state leaders say new recommendations will come soon if transmission doesn’t slow.

Gov. Tom Wolf doubled down on his pleas to Pennsylvanians to wear a mask and stay home on Monday, and said that if the number of new cases doesn’t slow, new restrictions will be on their way.

“We have been surprised as to the rate of increase we’ve seen,” Wolf said. “If this continues, that’s going to call for one set of actions, if that changes in the next couple of days we might have a different set of decisions to make.”

Pennsylvania announced a two-day total of 14,960 new cases statewide from the weekend, with 8,630 new cases reported Sunday and 6,330 cases reported Monday. In total, 5,300 patients are hospitalized with the virus, including 1,107 receiving care in intensive care units. Last week, 14.4% of COVID tests came back positive, officials said.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine noted that there is moderate or substantial community spread in every county in Pennsylvania. She again urged Pennsylvanians to consider the potential impact of what they do outside their homes.

“We need to take a look and to analyze what we are doing and how our actions impact the entire community,” Levine said. “What the virus has taught us is that we are all interconnected and there are some activities that are just not safe.”

Officials said any additional restrictions wouldn’t be a blanket shutdown, as Pennsylvania saw in the spring, but would be more targeted. While calling the spike in hospitalizations “dire,” Wolf added that hospitals and medical professionals are in a better place than in the spring and know how to treat the virus better.

Wolf indicated that any restrictions put in place wont work if Pennsylvanians don’t listen and work together to slow the spread of the virus.

“I don’t think that it’s banging our heads against a wall,” Wolf said. “I think it’s saying let’s recognize, maybe in a way that we didn’t, that we are all in this together and we are all sharing in the responsibility. We have to keep preaching this gospel but I think it’s important that whatever solution we come p with, whatever we do here at the state, it has to accompanied by recognition that we all share responsibility for making this work.”

Wolf said that decisions can’t be based on one or two days of test results, and that officials will continue to review seven-day and 14-day testing trends.

“As to whether we need to do more, we’ll be making that decision in the next few days so I think we are trying things all the time,” Wolf said. “If we can’t change the curve fairly quickly, then our healthcare system is going to be overwhelmed and that’s gonna be bad for everyone.”

‘Anyone who needs a COVID test can get one’: Pa. to open free testing clinics in 61 counties

As hospitalizations continue to rise — and the fear of overwhelming Pennsylvania’s health care system becomes more real — Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday announced plans to expand testing across the commonwealth.

Over the next 12 weeks, Wolf said, the state department of health will deploy five regional strike teams to open coronavirus testing clinics in 61 of the state’s 67 counties.

The sites will be able to test 460 people per day, and tests will be administered for free and available to anyone seeking a test, whether they show COVID-19 symptoms or not, said Michael Huff, the director of testing and contact tracing.

“Our goal is to make it so that anyone who needs a COVID test can get one,” Wolf said during a news conference.

The six counties where strike teams will not open clinics include those that already have their own health departments. That would be Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, Philadelphia, Allegheny and Erie counties.

“We’ve come a long way,”  Wolf said. “From March through May, Pennsylvania health officials performed about 67,000 tests. Now, we are capable of doing that many tests in a single day.”

The first round of free testing will begin on Wednesday in Bedford, Mifflin, Northampton, and Tioga Counties, and a site in Butler County will open Friday.

Wolf also took to Twitter on Tuesday, warning that the commonwealth is on track to run out of intensive care hospital beds amid the most recent spike of COVID-19 patients.

“PA is projected to run out of ICU beds this month,” Wolf wrote on Twitter. “That won’t just affect COVID patients; it will harm anyone who needs life-saving treatment, and will exhaust our health care professionals.”

On Tuesday morning, 4,631 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the commonwealth, and 970 of those patients were in intensive care units, the Department of Health reported. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates that 649 intensive care beds were available, down from the 796 beds reportedly available on Monday.

Pennsylvania reported 5,676 positive coronavirus cases Tuesday, for a statewide total of 367,140 cases. An additional 180 deaths were reported for a total of 10,563 deaths attributed to COVID-19 across the commonwealth.

Governor Tom Wolf renews pandemic disaster declaration for another 90 days

Gov. Tom Wolf extended the state’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic for another 90-days.

In this week’s proclamation, Wolf noted that 314,401 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus and 9,870 have reportedly died from it.

“With cases and hospitalizations increasing, we cannot afford to let down our guard,” Wolf said in a press release. “This renewal will allow the commonwealth to maintain its response and support efforts as we face increasing case numbers and decreasing hospital capacity.”

Wolf signed the first proclamation on March 6, following the announcement of the first two presumptive cases of COVID-19 and has since renewed the declaration in June and August.

The extended disaster declaration will allow the state to continue to waive the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment compensation and work search requirements. It also gives the state the power to provide relief from charges for employers and suspends numerous training requirements, certifications and licensure renewals for health care professionals, child care workers and more.

“The renewed disaster declaration will continue to support all of these efforts, as well as allow the commonwealth to rapidly scale response efforts and employ new intervention tactics, such as the administration of a vaccine,” The governor’s office wrote in the release.

Pennsylvania targets Thanksgiving Eve in latest COVID-19 orders

With COVID-19 cases on the rise — the state health department reported 44,502 positive cases over the past seven days — Pennsylvania is issuing what it called targeted safety measures to slow the transmission rate.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the state is trying to balance many needs.

“We want to make sure we protect public health, but we also continue to support a very fragile economy,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.

One of the new orders is very targeted. It’s aimed at one night only – Thanksgiving eve. State Health Secretary Rachel Levine said bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 5 p.m. and not resume sales until 8 a.m. the following morning.

The night before Thanksgiving is historically the busiest night of the year for bars, as young people returning to their hometown for the Thanksgiving holiday often meet up with old friends. Such large gatherings could lead to the spread of the virus among people who would then take it home to their families.

In other news, bars and restaurants are being offered extended liability for those who self-certify that they are complying with all state and CDC guidelines and are enforcing mask wearing.

Capacity remains at 50% for those that self-certify and 25% for those who do not.

For other businesses, Levine asked that they allow employees to work remotely from home if at all possible.

Retailers should maintain 75% capacity and enforce mask-wearing.

Gyms and salons should maintain 50% capacity and enforce mask wearing.

“The commonwealth is in a precarious place right now,” said Wolf. “We have more people in the hospital right now than we did in the height of the pandemic in the spring, more than 3,000.”

The state’s new orders may not be the end word on mitigation efforts. Levine also announced that the state was giving municipalities more authority to take target action locally, where they see fit.

That means the local government of areas with higher transition rates may issue additional restrictions in their area, while areas with lower infection rates would not be impacted.