‘What You Need to Know:’ The surge of new COVID-19 cases, masks in schools, and the crisis in Afghanistan

Written by on August 27, 2021

‘What You Need to Know:’ The surge of new COVID-19 cases, masks in schools, and the crisis in Afghanistan

August 27, 2021

By By Brad Klein and Jen Rehill

In our regular Friday feature, “What You Need to Know,” WLVR’s Brad Klein speaks with News Director Jen Rehill about the week’s top local news. This week: COVID-19 in Lehigh Valley kids, and the measures that area schools will be taking in the coming school year to alleviate some of the pandemic-related hardships; and the effect of the US and coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan on veterans and others locally. 

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Klein

“Well, the numbers behind the pandemic continue to be worrisome. We report the statistics daily, but I wonder if there’s one that stands out to you this week?”

Rehill

“Brad, there is, and it is at the state level really. New cases in the last two weeks have increased by 97%. That’s over the number of new cases the two weeks previous. And I think it tells the story of what we’re seeing in terms of a real rise in cases across Pennsylvania in line with the rising cases across the country.”

“But there is some good news: while hospitalizations for children are up across the state currently, here there are no kids in the hospital, at Reilly Children’s Hospital at LVHN with COVID complications. That’s as of Wednesday. But doctors there say they are seeing growing numbers of children, especially young children, testing positive for the disease.” 

Klein

“And there have been 1,600 kids hospitalized in Pennsylvania for COVID-19, so it is a significant problem. And of course, as we get to the beginning of the school year for parents, it’s just the overwhelming focus when it comes to the pandemic: there’s no statewide mandate for masking within schools. The governor asked the legislature to vote on that and lawmakers said no. And so for now, all the decisions are being made at the district level.”

Rehill

“And that has made this maybe the most hotly debated and divisive topic I’ve seen yet on COVID. As numbers continue to climb, some of the Lehigh Valley’s biggest school districts have said everyone has to wear masks and that includes Allentown, Easton, East Penn and Parkland.”

“But another trend that we’re seeing, and some of these schools are using this trend, is the development of what are being called tiered plans. That is, decisions about masking are based on metrics like case counts and vaccination rates and they vary from district to district.”

Klein

“It’s really striking how taking this decision process and putting it down to the district level is going to make very difficult decisions for hundreds of school districts throughout the state and for the entire school year probably.” 

Rehill

“And decisions that have life and death consequences for families across the commonwealth as well.” 

Klein

“We’ve had some interesting stories about local efforts to deal with hardship brought on by the pandemic and one of the stories I really enjoyed was the story of the Vegan Food Pantry that after a year in Easton is moving to Allentown.”

Rehill

“That’s right, and organizers of the Vegan Food Pantry say they feel like there’s a greater need for access to fresh produce and healthy foods in that city. So they’re moving their operation there.”

“Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Allentown has partnered together with Lehigh County and the Community Action Committee of Lehigh Valley, and they are distributing about $24 million dollars in state and federal funds for families facing eviction.” 

“Meanwhile, Lehigh County’s Controller, Mark Pinsley, says there’s still about $20 million in federal funds left locally in that county to help renters and homeowners avoid losing their homes. And he’s working on a plan. He thinks people need help with legal aid to access that money, so he has a plan for that.” 

Klein

“The biggest story of the week I’ve left for last. It’s the unfolding crisis around the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan. And of course, it dominates our week’s news. Can we say anything about the impact of that withdrawal on veterans and others in the Lehigh Valley?”

Rehill

“Well Brad, throughout the week WLVR reporters have reached out to different folks who are dealing with different angles or different elements of this crisis.”

“We spoke with a coordinator of an Allentown refugee center . She says they’ve been flooded with calls and emails from people who are asking to help, but they are not expecting a big influx of refugees. That was Megan Fox with the Refugee Community Center at the Episcopal Church of the Mediator. And she says, among those reaching out are veterans that served in Afghanistan.”

Klein

“Reaching out because they want to help?” 

Rehill

“Yeah. So WLVR also caught up with Lehigh County’s director of Veteran Affairs and he says that veterans may be struggling thinking about the meaning of their service and processing what’s happening much like Vietnam vets did when the U.S. left Vietnam. He said there’s help available if people want to reach out.” 

Klein

“Thanks for joining us Jen.” 

Rehill

“Thank you Brad.” 

Klein

“That’s Jen Rehill, news director here at WLVR. For more of ‘What You Need to Know,’ sign up for our weekly newsletter at WLVR.org.”


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