The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan in Pennsylvania (January 10, 2021)

As of January 7, 2021, more than 202,000 Pennsylvanians had received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna. Both vaccines were granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December. This process is designed to fast-track medicines to treat or prevent life-threatening diseases in public health emergencies.

The first vaccines have been earmarked for health care workers and are being distributed at several hospitals, pharmacies and medical centers throughout the state. Long-term care residents and staff are also in the state’s top priority group. Nursing home vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania began the week of December 28, 2020.

Phase 1A: The state has developed tiered priority groups, following guidance from the CDC. Phase 1A includes health care workers and PA’s  more than 120,000 long-term care residents, along with long-term care staff.

Phase 1B: Next in line is phase 1B, which includes people at least 75 years old and people living and working in congregate care settings who weren’t covered in phase 1A. The group also includes first responders, correctional officers, food and agriculture workers, postal workers, manufacturing employees, teachers and other education workers, clergy, public transit employees and certain types of caregivers.

Phase 1C: Once more vaccines are available, the state will turn to phase 1C, which includes people 65 and up, several types of essential workers not covered in previous phases (e.g., transportation and logistics employees, water and wastewater workers, food service staff and people who work in housing construction, finance, information technology, communications, energy, legal and federal, state, county or local government roles., and people at least 16 years old who have high-risk medical conditions (e.g., diabetes or chronic kidney disease). Phase 1C also public safety and health workers and members of the media.

Once the state works through phase 1C, it will distribute vaccines to the general public. To read more from AARP, click here.

New State Policy, Resulting From Lawsuit, May Adversely Affect Autistic Kids (January 9, 2021)

According to WITF, a state policy change may leave thousands of children with autism without the regular therapy that helps them learn crucial skills. Children with autism often participate in therapy called applied behavior analysis (ABA). Proponents say it helps those children reach milestones such as communicating and interacting with others.

The new policy program, known as “intensive behavioral health services,” was developed in response to a 2016 class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Advocacy group Disability Rights Network settled with the state after asserting that it was failing to provide proper treatments for children. Under the policy change, set to take effect January 17, 2021, children who attend regular therapy at clinics will no longer be able to have those services paid for by federal Medical Assistance (MA). Such services would cost about $6,000 a month without health insurance, and even with health insurance are likely to cost more than $1,500.

As a result of the settlement, the PA Department of Human Services (DHS) agreed to develop a new behavioral services model to help children with autism. The new model was made public in late 2019. It was intended to add access to services. However, according to advocates, in this case the change has had the opposite effect.

For example, although MA will continue to pay for sessions conducted in the home, some parents claim that a clinical setting can be a better environment since it offers a predictable space where communication can be better and problem behaviors can be worked on in a safe and secure manner. Another benefit of center-based services is the opportunity for more interaction between the “behavior technicians” and the behavior analysts who develop programs tailored to each child. Thus, many contend that the decision to conduct therapy at home or at a clinic should be up to the parent and the care provider.

Another consideration is that, in light of the pandemic, clinics are considered safer in many ways than in-home visits.

It is feared that the policy change will result in  thousands of children losing their center-based services. due to an “unintended consequence” of the state’s response to the lawsuit settlement whereby one-on-one therapy at clinics was incorrectly categorized as “group” treatment. According to a spokesperson, PDH is aware of parents’ concerns and is committed to ensuring children, youth and young adults receive appropriate clinical services to meet their individual needs, and to do so in settings best able to provide a therapeutic environment to meet those needs.

For more information from WITF, click here.

Wolf Administration Updates Recommendations to Help Schools Safely Navigate COVID-19 During Second Semester (January 8, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Departments of Health (PDH) and Education (PDE) have provided school administrators and school boards with updated recommendations as to which instructional models they should consider using based on the changing levels of community transmission of COVID-19 in their counties. Until now, the county designations aligned to three recommended instructional models: fully in-person, blended/hybrid, and fully remote. Starting January 25, 2021, the departments are providing a second recommendation for elementary schools in substantial level counties. In addition to remote learning, now there is an option for blended/hybrid learning for elementary students.

Fully remote learning remains recommended for middle and high schools in the substantial level counties. K-12 schools may also consider bringing back targeted student populations for in-person instruction, regardless of what general instructional model they are utilizing.

Each week, DOH designates counties as having a low, moderate, or substantial risk of community transmission based on two standard public health metrics used by public health experts: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing. The metrics for every county in Pennsylvania are available on the DOH COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard. The metrics and designations, which are updated weekly and available on PDE’s website, help school communities make instructional model decisions as conditions related to the pandemic fluctuate. As of Friday, January 1, 2021, all 67 counties were in the substantial level.

Since the beginning of the school year, PDE has developed and shared health and safety guidelines, tools, and recommendations with school communities. This information is publicly available on PDE’s website and is used by school leaders to inform local efforts.

Public school entities in counties in the substantial level of community transmission are required to sign an attestation form affirming that if they are providing any type of in-person instruction, that they are following the DOH face covering order and DOH guidance on how to handle confirmed cases in buildings. All required schools have completed and submitted an attestation form.

For more information from PDH, click here.

DeVos Resigns (January 7, 2021)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned this evening (1/7/21), blaming President Donald Trump for rhetoric that fueled the rioting and subsequent vandalism and unlawful trespass of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

To read more from NBC news, click here.

CDC Recommends School Staff be Part of Next Phase of COVID-19 Vaccinations (December 30, 2020)

On December 22, 2020, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee recommended that teachers, other school support personnel, and child care workers be among the frontline essential workers identified for inclusion in the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations, alongside first responders, food and grocery store workers, postal employees, and other groups. According to the CDC, the Phase 1b group is expected to include an estimated 49 million people, according to the CDC. To view the committee recommendation, click here.