Coronavirus Cases Are Worsening, But State Leaders Aren't Calling For Another Shutdown

On today's program: The governor’s latest briefing on the pandemic implored residents to take precautions seriously, but health reporter Sarah Boden explains, he made no mention of another lockdown; The State Department of Aging unveils its four-year plan, and how it’s serving older adults in a pandemic; and a former CIA intelligence officer talks about his book that explores the politics of a Pittsburgh labor union.

Despite rising COVID-19 cases, no new restrictions from the governor
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State officials painted a dire picture of the state’s health system Monday, warning if the coronavirus spread is not brought under control, people in need could get turned away from hospitals.

WESA Health and Science reporter Sarah Boden explains that despite the grim outlook, Gov. Tom Wolf did not call for a statewide-shutdown.

“Yesterday, the governor called another shutdown a ‘blunt instrument’ and he wanted to take more targeted efforts. That’s something that some public health people have advocated for, saying what happened in the spring was too far reaching and in the long term, did more harm than good,” says Boden. She said this coincides with economic concerns of a shutdown that’s not accompanied by federal support.

State leaders pointed to trends in the data, saying they’re using that information to make decisions about further mitigation steps.

“I don’t understand what more data could do,” says Boden.  She says the delays could be a bid for time to craft restrictions that hold up to legal scrutiny, or to negotiate with legislatures on what restrictions are livable. But it’s not clear either are taking place.

As of Tuesday, more than 5,400 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the commonwealth.

“Secretary [of Health Dr. Rachel] Levine made a really good point yesterday in the fact that in normal times, hospitals send their sickest patients to other facilities when they need more acute care,” says Boden. “When everyone is overwhelmed with patients and doesn’t have enough resources, there’s no slack in the system and that means there is no additional help coming.”

In terms of resources, Boden says western Pennsylvania facilities have enough ICU beds, but the bigger concern is staffing.

Accommodating and assisting older adults in a pandemic
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The Department of Aging recently released and adopted its 2020-2024 State Plan on Aging.

This new iteration has five primary goals, including strengthening capacity and promoting innovations to respond to the commonwealth’s growing aging population. 

Faith Haeussler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Council on Aging, says some of these goals are already being put into practice with pilot programs, like one that connects university students and older adults by phone.

“It’s serving that purpose of community connection right now, which is so integral, but it’s also an innovative way to connect older adults intergenerationally to younger adults,” explains Haeussler.

Two other goals of the report are to improve a sense of community for older Pennsylvanians, and honor individual choice.

“This all kind of points back to work being done around social isolation,” says Haeussler, which is worsening in a pandemic where isolating is recommended in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Being able to independently choose to connect to your community is really important for all humans, but in particular for older adults that may have gone through retirement, loss of spouses, and all of those sort of triggers that might increase the likelihood of social isolation.”

In developing the report, Haeussler says the Council on Aging, which includes a group of volunteer older adults, provided a lot of feedback. Those adults also helped develop a guide to mental, spiritual and physical wellness called, “SOLO: Strengthening Older Lives Online.”

She says there are some indicators that older adults are experiencing more anxiety of depression as the pandemic wears on.

But she adds, “Older Pennsylvanians are extraordinarily resilient. They don't necessarily identify as vulnerable.”

Labor history and true crime meet in a new book
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Fifty-one years ago this month, crusading labor leader Jock Yablonski, his wife and daughter were killed in their beds in Clarksville, in Greene County, an hour south of Pittsburgh. A new book titled “Blood Runs Coal” recounts the assassination and its aftermath.

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll spoke with author Mark A. Bradley.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.