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Local pediatrician expects COVID cases among children to rise as they return to classrooms

 Two children with backpacks walk away from the camera.
Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence:

COVID-19 vaccinations in children remain low as the CDC relaxes risk-mitigation guidelines
(0:00 - 9:24)

As parents and students prepare for the coming school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidance around COVID-19, focusing on individual decision making when it comes to mitigating risk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 41% of Pennsylvania children aged 5-11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

These less stringent guidelines leave masking and vaccinations as the main tools to protect students from serious illness. Pediatrician and CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics Dr. Todd Wolynn says misinformation about the vaccine makes parents hesitant about inoculating their kids.

“It's okay to have healthy skepticism. Pediatricians should be able to take, in a very reasonable way, questions and listen to parents' concerns,” says Wolynn. “Nobody's saying, with everything going around, that this isn't a scary time, but then we have to sit with the science and the facts and state what we know and what we don't know.”

What is known is that the risk of long-term illness and death from COVID is much greater than the risk of complications from the vaccine. Wolynn also recommends that proper ventilation, student spacing and masking should still be considered in schools, despite the changes in CDC guidance.

As school year begins, how will PPS navigate deficit, relationships with major nonprofits
(9:29 - 17:03)

Last year, Pittsburgh Public Schools’ board voted to raise property taxes in an effort to combat the district’s $56 million dollar budget deficit. A PublicSource analysis found if the city’s major nonprofits, which have tax-exempt property, were paying some portion of the amount they might otherwise be taxed, the district could collect even more than it gained with its latest tax raise.

Emma Folts, the higher education reporter for PublicSource, says in May the city and former acting county controllers recommended there be a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), agreements where these nonprofits contribute 25% of what they would otherwise contribute in taxes on property.

These nonprofits have offered some programs to offer support for students. UPMC made a commitment to the Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship program for students, however, Folts reports that the scholarships aren’t worth what they once were.

“The maximum annual award has been cut from $10,000 now to $5,000 a year as college costs continue to increase,” she says. “The [Pittsburgh] Promise itself is continuing to fundraise, but cannot guarantee that the scholarship will be available for students beyond the class of 2028 as well.”

The Gainey administration has yet to specify how it plans to address the tax-exempt status of these major nonprofits following the mayor’s decision to sever ties with the OnePGH Fund.

Christian nationalism is on the rise in local politics
(17:15 - 22:30)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano made national headlines this summer for his ties to Gab, a Christian nationalist social media site once used by the man accused in the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Mastriano later deleted his account, but Christian Nationalism has become a force in American politics .

90.5 WESA’s Chris Potter spoke with Brock Bahler, a senior lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh about the rise.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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. 

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