Department of Health prepared for fall surge in COVID-19 cases

Eufemia Didonato

WILKES-BARRE — Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine this week highlighted the work under way to prepare Pennsylvania for a fall resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and to make sure all Pennsylvanians are as protected as possible from both COVID-19 and influenza.

“We have seen more than 1,000 cases a day for the past nine days, which shows that we are at the start of a fall resurgence of COVID-19,” Dr. Levine said. “While we are working to expand testing, prepare for a vaccine and prevent outbreaks, Pennsylvanians have an important role to play. We must be united by wearing a mask, washing our hands, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, downloading the COVID Alert PA mobile app and getting a flu vaccine.”

The department announced that the first allotment of rapid antigen test cards are being distributed to several counties that are seeing increased cases of COVID-19 across the state. These test cards, provided by the federal government to the state, will be distributed to certified institutions, including long-term care facilities, personal care homes, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, higher education institutions, drug and alcohol and behavioral treatment centers, correctional facilities and other health care providers in these counties to assist in rapid testing in these communities.

“With the increase in testing and cases, the department is continuing efforts to conduct case investigations and contact tracing,” Dr. Levine said. “However, for these efforts to be successful, it is important for Pennsylvanians to participate in the process. If you are contacted by a case investigator or contact tracer, it is essential that you answer the phone and participate in the interview.”

As cases have increased, a team of staff is working to assess where outbreaks are occurring. This includes close surveillance of congregate care facilities, like long-term care facilities, college and university campuses and prisons and jails. The department also has been working to assist in areas where there are outbreaks and to provide resources. These resources may include infection control expertise, connection to testing resources, and working to assist stakeholders with questions.

The department also is preparing for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, once a safe and effective vaccine is developed and approved. The department has been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to plan for the distribution of the vaccine when it becomes available. Early on there may be limited supply of vaccine distributed in a phased approach. The department plans to ensure the limited vaccine is distributed to the highest priority populations in a timely manner. The department has been working with a number of stakeholders within and outside the Wolf Administration, including county and municipal health departments, federally qualified health centers, educators, pharmacists, physicians and the Veterans Administration in preparation for vaccine distribution.

A vaccine that it is important to get every year, but particularly this year, is the seasonal flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is available now and is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Getting the flu vaccine, even if you do get the flu, will reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Reducing the severity of the flu is very important as we work to ensure our health care system is not overwhelmed as we see flu and COVID-19 cases occur at the same time.

In addition to getting vaccinated, Pennsylvanians are encouraged to practice healthy habits like covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, frequently washing your hands and remembering to disinfect commonly touched objects, such as door knobs, light switches, counter tops, cell phones and computers.

So far this flu season, which began on Sept. 26, 17 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases have been reported to the department. Those cases have occurred in 10 counties across the state. Flu activity and hospitalizations for influenza-like illness both continue to be low.

For the latest information for individuals, families, businesses and schools, visit “Responding to COVID-19” on pa.gov.

Rep. Cartwright: 2021 Social

Security COLA ‘inadequate’

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, this week called the Social Security Administration’s 1.3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2021 beneficiaries inadequate to meet Northeastern Pennsylvania retirees’ financial needs.

Cartwright said it amounts to the average retiree receiving a $20 increase in benefits per month — “one of the program’s smallest-ever increases.”

“Once again, this year’s weak cost of living adjustment fails to keep pace with the actual costs seniors and people with disabilities are facing,” Cartwright said. “After a lifetime of hard work, we need to provide beneficiaries with a real life-sustaining income so they can afford basic needs like prescription drugs, housing and food — especially amid the COVID-19 crisis. I have always been committed to strengthening Social Security and ensuring long term protections against inflation so that we keep up with seniors’ actual costs of living. Democrats and Republicans need to come together and pass legislation that ensures adequate adjustments and fulfills America’s promise to support our seniors and people with disabilities.”

Cartwright said the COLA is intended to counteract inflation and preserve the value of supplemental income over time so seniors receive their fair share of benefits. However, for decades, COLAs have been determined by changes in expenses for employed Americans (CPI-W), not changes in expenses (CPI-E) for the elderly who have drastically different costs compared to younger Americans. This has led to inadequate adjustments for years.

A major cost facing seniors is Medicare premiums, which are rising faster than COLAs and often deducted from seniors’ Social Security checks — effectively eliminating any benefit the COLA increase may have provided.

Cartwright helped introduce the Social Security 2100 Act and is a co-sponsor of the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2019 that would, among other improvements, adopt the CPI-E to calculate the COLA and provide Social Security income that keeps up with beneficiaries’ actual costs.

L&I launches redesigned

PA CareerLink® website

The Department of Labor & Industry Secretary is launching a redesigned PA CareerLink® website this week that makes it easier than ever for Pennsylvania workers, employers and workforce development groups to connect to vital job search and career development tools.

“L&I is focused on training Pennsylvanian workers for the new economy emerging in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak. “To accomplish this, we’re modernizing and upgrading our job search and re-skilling programs. We began with redesigning the PA CareerLink® website to be more user friendly for users, which is important because even before the pandemic, the job search and application process has moved almost entirely online for most businesses.”

The redesigned PA CareerLink® website focuses on accessibility and features an enhanced candidate sourcing and application process, which will simplify the hiring process for job seekers and employers alike. It also makes other key resources more easily accessible, including links to the search pages for trainings, apprenticeships, and internships, as well as adult education resources, the Employment, Advancement and Retention Network (EARN), and benefits through PA Compass.

Secretary Oleksiak also reminded everyone about the valuable free services that PA CareerLink® provides to help workers access job search and training assistance, and help employers find the skilled workers they need to succeed.

“Virtual PA CareerLink® services have been provided continuously for job seekers and employers, including adult education classes, career counseling, and on-the-job training programs,” said Secretary Oleksiak. “Most PA CareerLinks® have begun taking limited in-person appointments as well. I encourage everyone to use the valuable free services that they provide.”

To schedule an appointment for limited on-site services, please contact your local PA CareerLink® office. Find your county’s contact information by visiting www.pacareerlink.pa.gov.

To protect the health and safety of customers and staff and to continue following COVID-19 social distancing and mitigation recommendations, UC courtesy telephones will not be available in PA CareerLink® offices until further notice.

Launched in July 2012, PA CareerLink® is part of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s initiative to transform the landscape of how job seekers find family sustaining jobs and how employers find the skilled candidates that they need, by serving as a one-stop shop for many related services.

For more information, including COVID-19 employment opportunities in the commonwealth, visit www.pacareerlink.pa.gov.

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