The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre will be hosting a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Towanda American Legion next week.
The clinic is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on April 15, according to an announcement from the VA. The single-dose Janssen vaccine will be available to anyone who served in the military along with their caregivers and spouses under the SAVE LIVES Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 24.
“Since the start of the pandemic, Wilkes-Barre has been focused on vaccinating as many veterans as possible. We’re excited about the expanded offerings available to our veterans, their spouses and caregivers under the SAVE LIVES Act,” said Wilkes-Barre VA Center Director Russell E. Lloyd.
Those interested in receiving the vaccine are asked to pre-register by calling (570) 830-7076 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
When it comes to the recent alternative energy push being seen in Harrisburg, a local solar business owner says it’s not so much about getting rid of traditional energy sources, but providing alternatives that can help reduce emissions while providing additional job opportunities in the fields of wind and solar.
Robert Vanderpool started Solar Opportunities at 2201 Sheshequin Road last summer from a passion for the technology that began as a casual interest and grew when he became a customer.
“I had it put on my house and then I started seeing the benefits of it,” Vanderpool said. “And the technology that comes with it today is just amazing.”
Vanderpool’s business has installed solar on properties as far south as Williamsport and as far north as Candor in New York state, and has three projects currently in the works along with a showroom/store that he’s planning to open this summer.
Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a plan to bring in nearly 50% of the state government’s electricity through seven solar energy arrays that will be built in different parts of the state. The project is set to go online on Jan. 1, 2023.
Shortly after, state Sens. Dan Laughlin (R-49) and Art Haywood (D-4) introduced legislation that would require electricity suppliers to source 18% of their power from alternative energy by 2026, which includes a combined 5.5% from solar energy sources. Under the current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, electricity suppliers are currently required to provide 8% of energy from alternative sources, including .5% solar. These levels would remain steady if the current AEPS is allowed to expire next month.
“Renewable energy creates jobs, saves farmers, and can help us to save the planet,” Haywood said. “We believe strongly that this proposal could be one of the largest economic development and job stimulus bills in decades.”
The senators noted that the neighboring states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and most New England states have set goals to have 50% of electricity supplied alternatively by 2030, while Virginia has called for 100% clean energy by 2050.
Specifically responding to the governor’s proposal, state Sen. Gene Yaw said, “I have said repeatedly, I favor a diverse energy portfolio. I am not against any energy source. What I am against is the failure to recognize what “clean” energy really entails. There is a manufacturing process, which is totally ignored. Further, the intermittent nature of wind and solar requires a duplicate generation system powered by coal, gas or nuclear.”
Yaw’s criticism also included concerns about whether there would be enough open acreage to accommodate a solar power expansion, saying 12,000 acres of panels would be required to equal the power output of two combines cycle gas fired power plants that take up 40 acres.
“I understand what he’s saying and, again, I want to remind everybody that it’s not like we’re just going to take over and this is going to be a gas and oil free country in 10 years – that isn’t going to happen,” said Vanderpool, who’s previously reached out to both Yaw and state Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) on the issue of solar energy. “We’re looking to minimize and we’re looking to utilize that giant ball of fire in the sky. It’s there. Why not utilize it?” Plus, he said, it would ensure a better environment for future generations.
Vanderpool looks forward to a future with an increased reliance on solar – and the possibility of helping provide that energy supply. He also hopes to one day be able to hold forums to educate the community more about the technology.
One misconception he highlighted was that solar doesn’t work as well in Pennsylvania’s cooler climate, but he said cooler temperatures actually help the solar panels work better,
The recently introduced legislation to expand the AEPS has received support from groups such as the Solar United Neighbors, which Vanderpool is a part of.
With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expanding in Pennsylvania, Guthrie opened up scheduling Wednesday afternoon to accommodate those newly eligible populations and those who will soon be eligible.
The first scheduling block at the Athens Township clinic (located at 2900 Elmira St.) is from 1 to 5 p.m. today, as appointments are available. Guthrie is also scheduling for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 14; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, April 15; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, April 16. A select number of walk-ins will be accepted starting with next week’s clinic hours, according to the health care organization.
Officials noted that although New York state has opened up eligibility to everyone ages 16 and older, New York residents using the Athens Township clinic will be subject to Pennsylvania’s criteria.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that the state had moved to Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccination plan, which includes postal workers, those who work in education, who are in congregate settings other than long-term care facilities, work in manufacturing, transit workers, church workers, and those who receive home and community-based services.
On April 12, vaccinations will open to those in Phase 1C, which include people working in food service, housing construction, financial institutions, information technology, communications, energy, legal, government, media, public safety, public health, transportation, and water and wastewater. All residents will be eligible for vaccines starting April 19.
Up to this week, vaccines were available to those in long-term care facilities, health care personnel, those 65 years old and older, and those 16 to 64 with certain high-risk conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which can increase the likelihood of patients becoming more severely ill if infected with coronavirus. Other vaccination efforts have been available to law enforcement, firefighters, grocery store employees, food/agriculture workers, along with teachers and school staff.
“With millions of doses already given, the vaccine has proven to be very safe and effective,” Guthrie Pediatrics System Chairman Dr. Philip Heavner said, “and it’s especially important for teens with underlying conditions to get vaccinated as soon as possible because they are most at risk for becoming sick, if infected with COVID-19.”
Heavner noted that like with most vaccines, those receiving a COVID-19 vaccine might experience some soreness on their arm or a low-grade fever, but those symptoms don’t last long and are more preferable to becoming infected with COVID-19.
As more people become vaccinated, Heavner urged anyone who has put off regular health care due to concerns over COVID-19 at medical facilities to resume it once again.
“I think over the past year people have naturally had concerns about whether coming to a medical facility was a safe thing to do, but I can assure you that we take every precaution to make the place a safe place for us to work and for you to visit so you can get your vaccines, you can get your screening tests, you can get your information that you need to stay healthy as we get back to what we would consider routine.”
Vaccine scheduling can be made through eGuthrie or by calling Centralized Scheduling at 866-488-4743.
For the most up-to-date information about Guthrie’s vaccine availability, visit www.guthrie.org or its Facebook page.
Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity said Tuesday her office needs a $3 million budget increase to hire more staff, replace equipment and bolster its fraud protection services after a taxing year under pandemic conditions.
“I’m a committed fiscal conservative and am dedicated to frugality and the wise use of taxpayer dollars,” she said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “[But] a modest increase in Treasury’s budget is required this year for several compelling reasons.”
Garrity, the first Republican elected to the office in two decades, said a combination of rising salary and benefit obligations negotiated in collective bargaining agreements, inflation and level funding over prior years has, in effect, reduced its operating budget 3.5% since 2018.
“Yes, Treasury has had a black budget, but we’ve also had mandatory increases every year,” she said.
Garrity said most of the increase would cover existing contract obligations and supply costs. It would also fund 13 new positions in the department, bringing its total complement to 307 – still short of the 322 staffers the department employed just two years ago, she said.
“We think 307 is the sweet spot,” she said.
The department also needs $193,000 for a new high volume printer after producing more than 2 million unemployment compensation checks last year under the federal government’s expanded jobless benefit programs.
“That’s almost 70 times the amount we printed pre-pandemic,” Garrity said. “So our current check printer is toast.”
The department also seeks to spend $446,000 upgrading its virtual desktop infrastructure to further support teleworking and $23,000 for enhanced fraud protections.
Last year, about half of the 2.3 million people that sought benefits under the Pennsylvania Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PPUA) program were rejected for filing fraudulent applications. The department said it recovered $1 billion in state funds that “fraudsters attempted” to acquire through the program.