2021 Nanticoke News - Current
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PennDOT wants feedback on East Main Street project in Nanticoke
PennDOT says the work will not begin until the spring of 2023.
Author: Peggy Lee
Published: 9:51 PM EDT April 19, 2021
Updated: 4:05 AM EDT April 20, 2021
NANTICOKE, Pa. — PennDOT says it has big plans for East Main Street in the city of Nanticoke.
The agency has pictures on its website to give the public a view of the East Main Street Streetscape Project.
PennDOT will upgrade sidewalks and crosswalks and add a new traffic signal.
Now, PennDOT is asking people for their feedback by filling out an online questionnaire.
PennDOT says it will be taking public feedback on this project from now until April 30th.
You can find the link for public feedback here: https://www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-4/ConstructionsProjectsAndRoadwork/Pages/default.aspx
“It needs it really bad. It's been a mess for a long time. And seeing it done would be a great thing. Great for the businesses around here too,” said Lisa Szczucki, who used to live in Nanticoke but moved to Slocum Township after selling her house.
PennDOT says the work on East Main Street won't start until the spring of 2023 and is expected to be finished in the fall of that year.
Read the full plan here: https://www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-4/pages/details.aspx?newsid=793
If you cannot reach the online public feedback, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-735-2800
Nanticoke announces virtual plans display for East Main Street project
The City of Nanticoke invites the public to a virtual plan display for the East Main Street streetscape project that officials say may not begin until 2023.
The project is on East Main Street (SR 2002) located between Market Street and approximately 100 feet west of the Walnut Street offset intersection.
According to PennDOT, the purpose of the improvements is to provide the traveling public with a safe corridor through the city that enhances traffic flow, provides safe pedestrian crossings, and meets the current design standards.
The scope of work for the project from Market Street to Shea Street is from back of sidewalk to back of sidewalk and includes:
• Full reconstruction of the existing sidewalk, pavement section and drainage structures
• New traffic signal at the intersection of Market Street and Main Street
• Landscaping improvements
• Stamped pavement pedestrian crosswalks
• Center left turn lane
• Proposed pavement markings
• Removal of existing parking
• Temporary construction easements proposed to complete the sidewalk work
The scope of work from Shea Street to 100 feet west of Walnut Street is from existing curb to existing curb and includes:
• Proposed 1.5” pavement mill and overlay
• Proposed pavement markings
• Existing sidewalks and parking to remain
The project is expected to be constructed over four months, with a detour in place for one to two weeks during construction. A 0.4 mile detour will be posted using North Walnut Street and Market Street.
Mayor Kevin Coughlin said he doesn’t expect construction to begin until 2023 because several studies need to be conducted and competed.
“This project will beautify our downtown,” Coughlin said. “It’s the first step toward further downtown revitalization.”
Coughlin said the project has been in planning stages for years and this announcement is the start of getting the project competed.
PennDOT said the virtual plans display includes digital picture boards and an online comment form. It can be accessed by visiting the PennDOT District 4 website — — clicking on Construction Projects/Roadwork under District Links, and choosing tile mark SR 2002 East Main Street streetscape project in City of Nanticoke, Luzerne County.
In accordance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, the comment period will be held online only. It will be open from April 19 to April 30.
Those unable to access the study online may give feedback by contacting Interim City Manager Donna Wall, at , or 570-735-2800.
PennDOT said the purpose of the plans display is to introduce the project and receive public input regarding any questions or concerns with the project. It is also an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the project’s potential effect upon Cultural Resources pursuant to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s 36 CFR Part 800 regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Motorists can check conditions on major roadways by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 1,000 traffic cameras.
511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.
Nanticoke seeks Luzerne County back tax abatement for unsafe structure demolition
Nanticoke officials have asked Luzerne County Council to forgive delinquent taxes on an unsafe property the city has acquired for demolition.
City Manager Donna Wall told council last week the prior owner inherited the property at 1206-1208 Prospect St. and agreed to deed it to the city last September because of its deteriorated state.
Located on a corner near houses, the property has been vacant for several years, Wall said. The roof caved in last year, and a structural engineer deemed the property unsafe and in immediate danger of collapse, she added.
The city is investing more than $30,000 to tear down the blighted structure and return the property to the tax rolls, Wall said.
Both the city and Greater Nanticoke Area School District have agreed to abate back real estate taxes owed to them dating back to 2014, she said.
Council would have to vote at a future meeting on the forgiveness of a total $8,137.43 in county taxes owed on the property.
Tax claim question
Some county council members questioned why the Nanticoke property was permitted to accrue that many years of unpaid taxes.
Properties are supposed to be auctioned if taxes are unpaid for two years unless a property owner has an active bankruptcy case, is on a repayment plan or convinces a judge to grant more time.
Sean Shamany, of county tax-claim operator Elite Revenue Solutions LLC, said the property was listed in a first-stage “upset” sale in April 2017, but there were no bidders. In an upset sale, buyers must pay all back real estate taxes and accept responsibility for any outstanding mortgages and liens.
The property was prepped to advance to a free-and-clear judicial sale, when all liens and delinquent taxes are forgiven unless bidding competition drives up the purchase price to cover some or all of that debt, he said. However, its listing in a free-and-clear sale was postponed due to issues validating all lien holders had received required notice of the sale, he said.
Coronavirus-related issues with court scheduling and tax sale service also delayed the listing last year, and the matter was put on hold when the city assumed ownership in September, he said.
Upcoming tax sale
The county’s first back tax auction of 2021 will be held at 10 a.m. on April 29 inside the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township, Shamany said.
This special upset sale is for properties in which the owners defaulted on repayment agreements.
Approximately 200 properties were eligible, but the list is down to around 80 due to subsequent payments by owners, he said.
A list of available properties and information on bid registration is posted at luzernecountytaxclaim.com.
Due to capacity limitations in the space available at the arena, the sale will be limited to 200 bidders. A $100 non-refundable fee also has been added.
The arena was selected for auctions last year because it is more spacious to accommodate social distancing, Shamany said. Depending on what happens with the pandemic, auctions eventually may return to the King’s College auxiliary gym in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
In another real estate matter, council is considering a streamlined procedure for those interested in purchasing county-owned property.
Councilwoman LeeAnn McDermott, chair of council’s real estate committee, presented the proposal at last week’s work session.
A copy of the proposed plan is posted under council’s April 13 work session agenda at luzernecounty.org.
The county owns approximately 165 parcels that are not needed for government purposes. Some ended up in county ownership a century ago and have no deeds or deeds with other owners in addition to the county, officials have said.
John Maday has returned to the county Flood Protection Authority, which oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee system.
Maday had previously served in an unpaid authority board seat and recently completed a public interview to be added back on the eligibility list.
A council majority voted last week to appoint him to a seat vacated by William Falls.
The county Election Board will meet virtually at 5 p.m. Wednesday to publicly interview applicants for the fifth board chair seat.
The County Cares Commission is set to meet virtually at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Attendance instructions will be posted at luzernecounty.org
Greater Nanticoke Area School Board extends teacher contract one year
With two members absent, the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board unanimously approved a one-year extension of the teacher contract at Thursday’s regular meeting. The contract was set to expire this August.
After the meeting Superintendent Ron Grevera said the agreement lets all teachers move up on the step/column matrix, but does not increase the amounts of those steps and columns. Teacher contracts guarantee increases each year for a set number of years (steps), and give raises for a set number of additional college credits earned above a bachelor’s degree (columns).
Those at the top of the pay scale get no raises unless they are negotiated into the contract, so the extension includes a $500 stipend for the 2021-22 school year it covers.
Grevera said the consensus of both the board and the union was that the pandemic made negotiations more difficult with social distancing and masking requirements, so a one-year extension made sense and gives ample time to resume negotiations for a replacement contract next year.
Grevera also announced the district is completing it’s slow return to full in-person lessons on Monday, with high schools students able to start attending classes five days a week. He said the district is still offering asynchronous online learning through its cyber school, but is no longer offering synchronous live learning in real time online.
In related matter, Grevera announced that the district has lost about 100 students this year who have opted to enroll in an outside cyber charter school, and that the district is hoping to find ways to get them back within the district. Parents and guardians of students in outside cybers will be receiving surveys to see what they are looking for so that the district can accommodate them, he said, and surveys may be followed up with a phone call.
Greater Nanticoke Area expanding in-person learning for grades 6-12
Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ronald Grevera said students in the district will be kept about 4 to 5 feet apart in the classroom.
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
Greater Nanticoke Area School District will begin in-person learning five days a week at the educational center on April 6 and at the high school on April 19.
The district began in-person learning five days a week on March 22 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The education center for grades 6-8 and the high school for grades 9-12 currently have hybrid schedules for two groups of students, and each group has in-person classes twice a week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidance for schools on March 19 and changed the recommended minimum distance between students in classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Tuesday it is updating Pennsylvania’s guidance for schools, and the state now is also recommending a minimum distance of 3 feet. The change makes it easier for compliance when schools provide in-person learning five days a week.
“Our schools were not constructed for 6 feet social distancing,” Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ronald Grevera said in an email. “As a district, we will monitor cases closely moving forward and continuing protecting our students through mask wearing, frequent hand washing, and disinfecting classrooms daily.”
Greater Nanticoke Area “will try to keep our students socially distanced to the greatest extent possible,” Grevera said, explaining it will be more than 3 feet but less than 6 feet in most of our buildings.
“Most students will be distanced between 4-5 feet,” he said.
School districts in the area have been expanding in-person learning this month. Teachers and school staff got vaccinations under a special state program two weeks ago, but COVID-19 transmission has moved back to the substantial range in Luzerne County.
Substantial transmission is defined as having a test positivity rate of at least 10% or an incidence rate of at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days. The county incidence rate from March 19-25 was 181.8 cases per 100,000 residents, and test positivity was 9.7%.
The state recommendation for schools in counties with substantial transmission is all-virtual learning or a blended model with in-person learning only for elementary school students. The guidance is not a mandate.
Teen rescued from Glen Lyon fire dies
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
The teenager rescued from a Glen Lyon fire last week has died.The Lehigh County Coroner's Office said Grace Miller, 13, died 4:29 p.m. Sunday at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest.
An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.
Miller was rescued early Thursday from a fire at 58-60 N. Market St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp.
Miller was first taken to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and then transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest.
St. Faustina Parish in Nanticoke paid tribute to Miller in a Facebook post.
"It is with a very sad heart that we announce that Gracie Miller succumbed to the injuries sustained in her house fire Thursday morning," the post said. "Stories of Gracie say how she wanted to make everyone happy, even in her death she will be doing just that. The family decided for Gracie to live on in the form of organ donation and she will give the gift of life to many others."
“A remarkable job”: Confirmation class collects donations for fire victims
A group of local confirmation students came together under the worst possible circumstances on Sunday to collect donations on behalf of a friend and her family affected by a tragic fire.
Gracie Miller, 13, was critically injured on Thursday when a fire ripped through her family’s Glen Lyon home. Miller has been hospitalized since the blaze, and her family has lost everything.
In order to help the family get back on their feet, a combination of friends of Gracie and the eighth-grade confirmation class at Saint Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke held a collection drive at the church on Sunday evening.
“We’ve been teaching them about their faith. Now it’s time for them to live their faith,” said Father James Nash, a priest at Saint Faustina for the last 16 years. “They’ve done a remarkable job.”
The class is preparing to receive their confirmation in May, and even before putting together Sunday’s collection drive, the students have done a lot of service projects for the community, according to their teacher, Joann Mavus.
“It’s all about giving back to the community,” Mavus said. “These kids are unstoppable. … They’ve done projects for the animal shelter and our food pantry already.”
Sunday’s collection drive was held from 4 to 6 p.m., preceding a healing mass held in Miller’s honor.
Of course, as has been the case with so many donation drives of this sort, Sunday’s collection was really a drive-thru collection — donors pulled up to the curb outside of the church, and would hand off their donations to one of the students, who would promptly bring it back into the church for storage.
Even in just the first hour of Sunday’s collection, the large amount of goods collected by the class reflected how much the community cares for its own.
“The family lost everything, they got out of there with just the clothes on their backs,” Mavus said. “The community and beyond are coming together to replace the things that they need.”
Items collected included clothing, water, toiletries, sanitary items and a lot of checks and gift cards, which were stressed on Saint Faustina’s Facebook page as the best ways to donate.
“Just in this box, easy to carry and move, that could be such a huge help to the family,” Mavus said as she gestured to a cardboard box filled with envelopes containing money and gift cards. “We didn’t ask for bigger things because there’s nowhere to put them.”
Everyone at Saint Faustina’s on Sunday, whether they were officials from the church, friends of Miller or members of the confirmation class, could be seen wearing sunflowers — Miller’s favorite flower, according to a number of her friends.
“It’s so amazing seeing the community support,” said Jordyn Vida, a member of the class and one of Miller’s friends. “Everyone’s rallying together, and it’s really great.”
A second collection drive on behalf of Miller and her family will be held next Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the church, and the class is also holding collection drives to benefit the residents of the Birchwood Nursing Home and the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon.
Confirmation class will hold collection drives for girl injured in fire
The Confirmation class of St. Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke is holding two emergency collection drives of clothing, personal care and household items and accepting monetary donations for a family who lost everything in a fire at their Glen Lyon house Thursday.
A class preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation is learning about grace from a girl with the same name.
Grace Miller was critically injured and everything her family had was destroyed in a fire Thursday at their house on North Market Street in Glen Lyon.
The 13-year-old girl isn’t in the class Joann Mavus is teaching at St. Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke to prepare them to be strengthened with the Holy Spirit through Confirmation. The teenager doesn’t belong to the parish either.
“She’s a member of our community,” Mavus said Friday.
Some of the kids in the class are in the band at the Greater Nanticoke Area high school with Miller. “They personally know Grace,” Mavus said.
The connection runs deeper, however, and drills to the core of the Catholic Church’s tenets on the sacraments as a means of grace from God and applying the teachings of his son Jesus Christ to everyday life.
“We teach our faith is more than kneeling in church. It’s about giving back,” Mavus said.
The class will hold two emergency collection drives for clothing, personal care and household items and is accepting monetary donations for the family. A special Mass for healing will be held at 6:30 p.m Sunday at the church at 520 S. Hanover St.
Reservations are required for the Mass and can be made by calling 570-735-6821. Masks are also required because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This class has been active and willing to do anything for the community,” Mavus said. For its service project it’s holding drop off donation drives for the Birchwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Nanticoke and the Gino Merli Veterans Center in Scranton.
The Miller family collections will be contact-less as well. They will be this Sunday and again on March 28 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“You pull up in front of the church. You don’t even shut your car off, just open your window or pop your trunk,” Mavus said. The kids will take the donations.
The family is starting from scratch and escaped the fire with the clothes on their back. Firefighters pulled the unconscious teenager from her second-floor bedroom, Mavus said.
“They don’t even have a toothbrush. They don’t have a pillow to put their head on to call their own,” Mavus said.
Donations of pharmacy, grocery store, Walmart or Target gift cards will be accepted. Also if someone wants to write a check, make it out to the church and write “fire victims” in the memo, Mavus said. The church will deposit it into its account and write a check for the family, Mavus said.
Greater Nanticoke Area plans return to school, recalls furloughed workers
In a short but substantial meeting, Greater Nanticoke Area School Board reaffirmed plans to bring elementary students back to school five days a week this month, accepted one board member’s resignation and appointed a replacement, recalled all the workers furloughed during the pandemic and approved the 2021-22 calendar with the first day of classes set for Sept. 7.
Before the meeting officially began Board President Tony Prushinski called for a vote to accept the resignation of member Erika Jacobs from the board, then for another vote appointing former Board member David Hornlein as replacement. Hornlein was sworn in and took a seat on the High School stage where the meeting was held with an in-person audience seated in the auditorium, social distancing enforced by rows of seats taped off.
Superintendent Ron Grevera then announced the district still expects to move forward with plans to bring more students to in-person classes. The Kennedy Early Childhood Center will go to five days a week March 15 while the High School and Education Center re-open in hybrid mode. The Elementary Center will return to five days per week March 22.
The agenda included nearly a page and a half with names of workers furloughed due to the pandemic and the resultant switch to remote only learning. The board voted unanimously to recall all who had been laid off.
The board also approved two initiatives intended to help students make up for ground lost during the pandemic: Establish a summer program for special education students to recover lost learning, and establish a high school credit recovery program for the summer at no cost to the students. Both will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief grant money.
The new calendar begins school on Sept. 7 with the last day set for June 9. Grevera said there are snow days built in, but that the district also has five “Flexible Instruction Days” known as “cyber snow days” for the year under a new law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last summer that allows up to five such days per school year. Students complete assignments and lessons on line. The intent is to maintain instructional continuity and reduce the number of snow make-up days often tacked on at the end of the school year.
In a related matter, the board accepted a quote from GDC for a three-year lease of 300 computers at a cost of $224,220.
And the board approved the establishment of a life skills classroom for kindergarten through fourth grade for the 2021-22 school year.
Greater Nanticoke expanding in-person learning to 5 days a week for grades K-5
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
Greater Nanticoke Area School District plans to resume in-person learning five days a week at the Kennedy Early Childhood Center on Monday and at the Elementary Center on March 22.
Students learning through the virtual and cyber school options can continue learning through those options, according to the schools’ websites. The Kennedy center is for kindergarten, first and second grade, and the Elementary Center is for third, fourth and fifth grade.
The high school and Educational Center are reopening Monday with a hybrid plan that mixes online and in-person instruction days for two groups of students in grades 6-12.
The district will examine after Easter, April 4, whether it is feasible to expand in-person learning to five days a week at the high school and Educational Center, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said.
School districts in the area are expanding in-person learning as the COVID-19 transmission rate decreases and also because teachers and school personnel are going to be vaccinated.
Around 2,500 teachers and school staff in the region are scheduled to receive vaccinations during a five-day period from Friday through Tuesday at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 office building in Kingston.
It’s part of the state plan to begin vaccinating teachers and school staff with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Tom Wolf announced the plan last week.
Dallas School District students will begin in-person classes five days a week starting March 22. Wyoming Valley West School District plans to start in-person instruction for students in all grades five days a week on April 12.
Lake-Lehman School District began the current school year with in-person learning five days a week and did not suspend in-person instruction during the year. Wilkes-Barre Area resumed in-person learning for elementary school students five days a week on March 1 and may resume in-person classes for secondary students on Monday if the transmission rate in Luzerne County returns to the moderate range.
A bank building with a 117-year history in Nanticoke has shut its doors.
First National Bank at 35 E. Main St., is one of 21 branches, including 16 in Pennsylvania, that First National Bank previously announced would close. Customers were notified that the branches would be consolidated with other locations, said Jennifer Reel, director of corporate communications for First National Bank.
Based on an evaluation process, which examined factors including convenience, consumer banking preferences, operating costs and proximity to other locations, Reel said the Nanticoke branch has been consolidated with another office at 120 Highland Park Boulevard in Wilkes-Barre Twp. The ATM in Nanticoke will remain in place for a period of time, she said.
“As always, customers can continue to bank anywhere, anytime through the channels that they prefer, whether it is through any branch of their choice in our network, telephone banking, ATMs or FNB’s online and mobile services,” Reel said in an email.
First National Bank acquired the branch in 2008 from a merger with Omega Bank but the building has a long history in Nanticoke.
It opened in 1904, according to online records, as The Nanticoke National Bank. In 1988, it was Guaranty Bank and in 2004, it operated as part of Omega Bank. Its name was changed to Omega Bank in 2006.
Nanticoke Manager Donna Wall said she is sad to lose such a “beautiful, historic building” and she hopes someone will open another business at the site.
“We’re sad to lose a bank that has been a mainstay on our Main Street since 1904,” Wall said. “Now, we’re going to have another vacant building.”
Despite moratorium, some eviction cases moving forward
Terrie Morgan-Besecker & James Halpin – Citizens Voice
For landlords like Dan Warakomski, managing properties during a global pandemic that has cost some tenants their livelihoods has been a challenge.
Warakomski, 70, maintains roughly 50 units in Kingston and Nanticoke. Since the pandemic began, his normal duties of managing the properties have been supplemented by tasks like reminding tenants to check up on the status of their unemployment benefit applications.
“Every month it’s not only stressful for them, because they don’t want to be evicted, but I don’t want to evict them,” Warakomski said.
A review of court records revealed that despite a nearly year-long ban on rent-based evictions, more than 800 renters in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties either already lost their housing or remain in danger of being evicted.
Several state and federal eviction moratoriums helped reduce the number of eviction cases, but they did not protect everyone.
Area magistrates and housing officials said some people lost their chance to stave off eviction because they did not follow the procedure required to enact the safety net. In other cases they violated lease conditions, freeing landlords to take action against them.
A review of court cases shows that of the 377 landlord-tenant cases magistrates handled in Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Nanticoke between Sept. 1 to Jan. 31, the judges ruled in favor of the landlords in 215 cases for a total of $443,766 in overdue rent.
The amounts ranged from as little as zero in unpaid rent for tenants living in public housing to as much as $12,000 overdue.
Of the remaining cases, 102 are still active and the rest were either decided in favor of the tenant, settled, dismissed or withdrawn.
The situation was similar in Lackawanna County, where the four district magistrate judges that cover Scranton and Dunmore awarded a little more than $1 million in back rent in 418 cases out of 513 cases for which they held hearings.
A rent relief program scheduled to open up in March in Luzerne County promises to provide much needed assistance. The county received nearly $9.5 million in federal funding to help tenants who lost their job or income because of the coronavirus pandemic pay back rent and utilities.
Housing officials said they remain concerned by the number of cases that have pending evictions orders that can be acted upon as soon as the latest eviction moratorium ends.
Renters have been protected by several evictions bans implemented within the past year. Gov. Tom Wolf first issued an eviction ban in March that lasted until Aug. 31. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention twice extended the moratorium, first to Dec. 31, then Jan. 31. Most recently, President Joe Biden extended it again until March 31.
The moratoriums were codified locally by Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough, who signed an order Sept. 4 staying all evictions for nonpayment of rent for those earning less than $99,000 and couples earning less than $198,000 — providing they signed a declaration asserting they have suffered a substantial loss of income or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
The moratoriums helped reduce the number of eviction cases in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in 2020 compared to 2019. In Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Nanticoke, for example, there were 377 landlord-tenant filings between Sept. 1 to Jan. 31, compared with 534 during the same period a year ago.
Hundreds of people still face the threat of imminent eviction once the moratorium ends, however, because judges continued to hear cases and enter judgments against tenants while the moratorium was in effect.
Authorities say cases were allowed to proceed for two primary reasons:
The CDC moratorium halted evictions for nonpayment of rent, but does not protect people whose leases have expired or if they violated their lease for other reasons, such as damaging the property or having unauthorized people live there.
The moratorium had several other conditions attached, including requiring the tenant sign an affidavit attesting they could not pay rent because due to financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic and that they would make a good faith effort to pay something. Even then, landlords could still file to recoup past due rent and/or money to cover damages to their property.
“The CDC order stops evictions. It does not necessarily stop a hearing,” said Lori Molloy, executive director of North Penn Legal Services, a nonprofit group that provides legal aid to indigent people. “You still have people on the verge of eviction.”
‘Landlords are taking a beating’
Court records show that in Luzerne County, magisterial district judges Thomas F. Malloy Sr., Rick Cronauer, James J. Haggerty and Donald L. Whittaker granted landlords possession in 124 of the 377 cases they handled and ordered possession be granted if the judgment was not satisfied in another 90 cases.
Vough, the president judge, said the CDC moratorium only covers nonpayment of rent for COVID-related reasons, and said that in Luzerne County, the evictions involved tenants who violated the terms of their leases, such as damaging the property or having extra people or pets in the apartment.
“The granted evictions for people are in violation of lease terms, but not solely based on nonpayment of rent,” Vough said.
In order for tenants to qualify for protection under the CDC order, they must raise the financial issue and sign a declaration saying they can’t make rent for reasons related to the pandemic.
Lackawanna County judges varied on whether they would advise tenants about the moratorium if they did not know. But Vough said magistrates in Luzerne County should be informing tenants about it and providing the declaration for them to sign.
“That’s part of our criteria. When a landlord-tenant (case) is filed, if the tenant appears you give him the form and say, ‘Here’s what you have to do,’” Vough said. “At that point, it’s up to the magistrate to make a decision regarding going forward with the case.”
In Nanticoke, Whittaker said that he’s stopped accepting new landlord-tenant filings as a result of the moratorium.
“It’s fruitless, because I can’t even serve the landlord-tenant with the notice to quit,” Whittaker said. “It’s not going to get them out any quicker, and they’re not going to receive any money.”
He said he knows of dozens of landlords who are waiting to initiate eviction actions when the moratorium is eventually lifted.
“Quite frankly, the landlords are taking a beating,” Whittaker said. “They still have the same bills. They still have the same responsibilities. They have to make the repairs as necessary to protect their financial interests. And the tenants know that they can basically live there for free. And that’s what they are doing. A lot of landlords I’ve had come to the window have not had a check since last March.”
Magisterial District Judge Paul Ware, whose office covers north Scranton and Dunmore, stressed that not all the people under eviction orders have lost their housing. Those being evicted for nonpayment only could still stay the process at any time if they submitted the CDC affidavit, even if it was after the judgment was already entered, he said. Ware said he had multiple cases in which constables went to homes to evict people, only to have to turn away because they showed they had presented the affidavit.
Molloy said such cases illustrate the importance for tenants to seek out legal advice prior to a hearing. North Penn Legal Services provides attorneys free of charge to people who meet income guidelines, but many people do not know about the service.
The biggest mistake tenants make is not showing for the hearing, which results in a default judgment against them, Molloy said. Molloy said the tenants often see the situation as hopeless and just give up.
“People realize they have a terrible problem,” she said. “They know they are behind in rent . . . They see it as, ‘I can’t afford my rent. What can I do?’ They get scared and don’t know what to do.”
It’s not known how many of the cases were default judgments because that information is not noted on the court docket sheets.
Help is on the way
Molloy said she’s hopeful the newly enacted rent relief program funded by the federal government will prevent a tidal wave of evictions from occurring.
Luzerne County officials are working to set up the application process and say they hope to have it up and running by mid-March.
To qualify, renters have to show they suffered a pandemic-related income loss and cannot earn more than 80% of the median income for their region.
The rental assistance program is the second one to be offered. Last year, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act offered federal funding that also went to assist landlords and tenants.
Warakomski said that funding helped some of his tenants bridge the gap.
“We do have people that are behind, but there’s no CARES Act anymore,” he said. “If we could get some help from the government, everything’s going to work out right in the end.”
Warakomski said he’s got about six tenants behind on rent, and that all of them are behind because they were either laid off or lost their businesses due to the pandemic.
“Right now I have no deadbeats,” he said. “I am working with all my tenants.”
Some are paying their monthly rent in installments, and Warakomski said he’s OK with that if it helps them afford food and medical care.
For many of the affected tenants, the problem is trying to get through to the state to begin collecting unemployment benefits, he said.
“I have no plan on ever evicting them,” Warakomski said. “Hopefully everything will work out with their unemployment.”
The news of the next round of federal money allotted toward rental assistance, which is being delivered via the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, has landlords like Warakomski hopeful that they will be able to get some relief.
“We’re hoping the landlords will be able to get their tenants on that list and that the money will be there to pay their back rent,” he said. “We all have to think positive and we all have to help each other get through this. And we will.”
Nanticoke Area boys basketball team placed on pause
Steve Bennett – Citizens Voice
Nanticoke Area placed its boys basketball team on pause because of concerns over a COVID-19 exposure.
A player was exposed to an individual outside the program and the school district is taking necessary precautions and following rules and protocols set forth by the Department of Health and CDC.
“It was a contact that happened outside the program,” Nanticoke Area athletic director Ken Bartuska said. “One of the players on the team was exposed to someone not affiliated with the program. We were fortunate enough to stop everything on Sunday as soon as the player experienced symptoms.”
The Trojans can return to practice Thursday, and return to competition Saturday, Feb. 13.
Nanticoke Area canceled tonight’s nonleague game with Pittston Area. Instead, Pittston Area will now play at Holy Redeemer tonight. The Trojans also have to reschedule Tuesday’s game against Dallas and Friday’s game against Holy Redeemer.
Due to the number of Wyoming Valley Conference programs that have had to deal with COVID-19 issues as well as weather-related postponements, athletic directors are scrambling to reschedule games. The final day of league play for boys and girls basketball is pushed back to Sunday, Feb. 28.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming Valley West boys basketball team returns to action this afternoon after it was placed on pause.
Winter sports at Wyoming Seminary and Hanover Area are still on hold because of COVID-19 concerns. The Holy Redeemer girls team will return to competition on Wednesday.
Hanover Area’s boys basketball team can resume competition Tuesday, while the school’s girls team is eligible to resume its season Friday.
Nanticoke woman celebrates 95th birthday
More than 50 friends including police and firefighters drove past her home to wish her a happy birthday.
WNEP Web Staff Published: 5:41 PM EST February 6, 2021
NANTICOKE, Pa. — There was a birthday celebration on Saturday in Luzerne County - Marge Kalinowski celebrated her 95th birthday.
The Nanticoke native was self-isolating at home for months because of the pandemic.
For her big day, more than 50 friends including police and firefighters drove past her home to put a smile on her face.
"I'm shocked, just shocked that they're here! I knew they do things like that but I love it, I love it. I love the attention," said Kalinowski.
Even the Mayor of Nanticoke stopped by for the festivities.
A happy 95th birthday to Marge from all of us at Newswatch 16.
Area school officials planning to spend COVID-19 relief funding
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
Area school officials are busy planning applications for the latest federal allocation of COVID-19 relief money.
School districts in Luzerne County and the Bear Creek Community Charter School will receive a total of $61.7 million, according to a preliminary estimate from the state Department of Education.
The funding is from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund passed by Congress in December. Pennsylvania’s allocation is $2.2 billion.
Allocations will be about four times what schools received in the first round of relief funding last spring. Districts must submit applications to receive their allotments.
Lake-Lehman School District’s allotment of nearly $1.1 million “necessitates time and collaboration prior to making a spending plan,” Superintendent James McGovern said.
Funds may be applied to costs dating back to the onset of the national emergency on March 13, 2020, and can cover spending obligations through Sept. 30, 2023.
“We are carefully analyzing our needs,” Wyoming Area Superintendent Janet Serino said.
Districts and charter schools can use the funds for various purposes including: technology, sanitization, improving indoor air quality, facility improvements to reduce virus-transmission risk and addressing learning loss among students.
Wyoming Valley West School District is “in the very early stages of putting together a committee to examine and implement a comprehensive needs assessment plan” on how to spend its allocation of nearly $7.6 million, Superintendent David Tosh said.
“Recouping lost learning for students and infusing new, more advanced technology will be critical components of the plan that is in the very early stages as we complete the application,” Tosh said.
The state Department of Education plans to allocate the following amounts in federal COVID-19 relief money to the following local education agencies in Luzerne County:
• Hazleton Area: $17,381,554
• Wilkes-Barre Area: $14,625,407
• Wyoming Valley West: $7,573,718
• Greater Nanticoke Area: $3,656,472
• Pittston Area: $3,411,652
• Hanover Area: $3,357,195
• Berwick Area: $3,256,952
• Wyoming Area: $2,484,889
• Dallas: $1,706,180
• Crestwood: $1,461,088
• Lake-Lehman: $1,084,033
• Northwest Area: $913,768
• Bear Creek Community Community Charter School: $820,249.
Area educators get COVID-19 vaccines prior to expansion of first priority group
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
Geisinger Health System provided COVID-19 vaccinations to nearly 350 school employees in the region prior to last week’s expansion of the first priority group in Pennsylvania, Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 Executive Director Anthony Grieco said.
LIU18 was arranging vaccinations with Geisinger on behalf of area school districts and gathered names of interested school employees.
“Those vaccinated represent about 8% of school personnel that have expressed an interest in getting a shot among all school personnel in Luzerne and part of Wyoming counties,” Grieco said in an email.
Last week, the state expanded the 1A category for vaccines from just healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities to include all residents over 65 and other residents with serious underlying health issues. Residents in the 1B category, which includes teachers, are now facing delays in getting vaccines.
“Since the state’s announcement last week we have not been able to receive any mass vaccinations,” Grieco said. “School personnel that meet the criteria under 1A are trying to get appointments on their own but I would estimate from the demands I know of from all schools, that we are still in need of about 3,700 people looking for shots.”
School officials are encouraging employees who qualify in 1A group to get vaccinated and are not mandating vaccinations for employees.
The state has allowed Geisinger to provide vaccinations “to 1B groups when we have unused vaccine or unexpected no shows or cancellations,” Geisinger spokesman Matt Mattei said.
“We are actively working with 1B groups to prepare for when these unplanned occurrences happen so we can use the vaccine and avoid it going to waste,” Mattei said. “In these specific instances, we will contact these 1B groups such as LIU18, to identify people who can receive the vaccine in a timely manner to avoid unnecessary wasted vaccine.”
Geisinger and LIU18 were able to get vaccines for 330 to 340 school employees “as a result of that opportunity and prior to the state shifting gears,” Grieco said.
LIU18 was “trying to coordinate a mass vaccination clinic for school personnel based on indications the state was going to move to Tier 1B” but is “in a holding pattern” because of the 1A expansion, Grieco said.
Barnes-Kasson County Hospital in Susquehanna County provided vaccines to more than 150 employees of the Susquehanna Community and Blue Ridge school districts earlier this month, according to Jan. 8 report in The Times-Tribune of Times-Shamrock Communications, which also is the parent company of The Citizens’ Voice.
The state asked Barnes-Kasson County Hospital to stop vaccinating people who were not health care workers or residents of nursing homes, the Jan. 8 report said. The hospital moved onto people in the 1B category because it was finished vaccinating health care workers and residents of long-term care homes.
Gov. Tom Wolf blamed the federal government for the lack of enough vaccines Tuesday and a backlog that worsened when he expanded 1A eligibility last week. Wolf estimated the state would need 8 million doses — two times 4 million people in phase 1A — to complete that first phase, and the state has received about 1.5 million vaccines.
“Teachers and all of the people in phase 1b play a vital role in our community and we do not want to diminish that in any way,” state health department spokeswoman Maggi Barton said Monday in an email, adding “we need all providers to remain vigilant and work to accommodate this first phase in the process in order to ensure those who are taking care of us and the most vulnerable have access to the vaccine.”
Many school districts in Luzerne County suspended in-person learning in October and November when the number of COVID-19 cases surged in the county. Many are now planning to resume in-person classes in February and March.
“We are extremely grateful to the IU and Geisinger affording the opportunity for vaccinations considering 1B has not been officially opened by the Commonwealth,” Lake-Lehman Superintendent James McGovern said Thursday in an email “In the meantime, we have encouraged our employees to take advantage of the expansion of 1A and independently secure appointments.”
McGovern said “the decision to vaccinate is a personal decision and will not be a requirement” but added the district “will assist any employee indicating interest in being vaccinated.” Lake-Lehman is the only district in the region that has not suspended in-person learning during the current school year.
The member school districts of LIU18 are Wilkes-Barre Area, Wyoming Valley West, Hanover Area, Greater Nanticoke Area, Northwest Area, Lake-Lehman, Dallas, Tunkhannock Area, Wyoming Area, Pittston Area, Crestwood and Hazleton Area.
LIU18 aggregated the vaccine demand for all the districts and for career tech, charter and private schools across the region, Grieco said. The agency is “prepared to coordinate with providers as soon as” the state department of health “gives the green light for Tier 1B,” Grieco added.
Pennsylvania’s 29 intermediate units operate as regional educational service agencies to provide management programs to schools and school districts.
Nalepa sworn in to Nanticoke council
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice
Nanticoke City has a new councilman.
City council recently appointed Joseph Nalepa to fill the seat of the late John Pietrzyk, who died Jan. 2.
Nalepa was sworn in Thursday by Magisterial District Judge Donald Whittaker.
Nalepa, 51, is a Coast Guard veteran who served 17 years in the Pennsylvania State Police.
“I would like to thank the members of council and the mayor for this opportunity to represent the city,” Nalepa said. “I look forward to working on the future endeavors of the city to make it a better place for all citizens.
Area mayors discuss pandemic relief with Cartwright
Help could be on the way for Wilkes-Barre and other municipalities in Northeastern Pennsylvania struggling financially through the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
Mayors from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties held a virtual meeting with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, to discuss the effects of the pandemic on their cities.
Cartwright expressed optimism relief would be forthcoming through President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Package. It includes $350 billion to state and local governments with budget shortfalls from revenue losses jeopardizing public services residents take for granted.
“They’re all at risk unless the federal government steps in,” Cartwright said.
Mayors George Brown of Wilkes-Barre, Paige Cognetti of Scranton, Kevin Coughlin of Nanticoke and Jeff Cusat of Hazleton participated in the hour-long discussion. Each one had the opportunity to highlight their particular concerns.
Brown brought up the city’s revenue loss, estimated to be between $3 million and $4 million for 2020 due to lower tax collections from businesses and the construction projects put on hold.
“He gets the message. He understands what municipalities are going through,” Brown said of Cartwright whose congressional district includes Wilkes-Barre.
Cartwright, who was reelected last year to his fifth term, added Brown raised a good point about how the proposed assistance would be delivered and whether there will be a population threshold requirement for direct aid, cities of 400,000 for example.
“I indicated the more we get directly to the cities, the happier I am,” Cartwright said.
The congressman said he “will be pushing hard to get the administration to make that number low” for direct grants rather than having the state distribute the funds.
The mayors began meeting regularly last year with the aim of sharing best practices to deal with issues common to their cities and speaking in a unified voice to state and federal lawmakers. Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo was unable to attend Friday’s meeting.
Cartwright asked if the group could be expanded to include mayors from Honesdale, Hawley, Milford and other municipalities in his district.
“We’re happy to do that,” Brown said. “We’re looking at, as I said Mr. Cartwright, power in numbers.”
Hanover Area, Greater Nanticoke Area schedule return of in-person classes
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
Hanover Area and Greater Nanticoke Area school districts are moving ahead with plans for in-person learning to return.
Both districts suspended in-person classes and transitioned to fully remote instruction after a surge of COVID-19 cases hit Luzerne County in October.
Greater Nanticoke Area on Feb. 1 will return to a hybrid schedule that mixes online and in-person instruction days for two groups of students at the Kennedy Early Childhood Center and Elementary Center, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said Thursday during a virtual school board meeting. The district will also start providing in-person learning on Feb. 1 for life-skills and autistic-support classes.
“The Educational Center and the high school will remain closed until further notice,” Grevera said. “They will continue in the virtual format.”
Hanover Area will start providing in-person instruction Feb. 16 for its highest need students, for autistic-support classrooms, emotional-support classrooms and life-skills classrooms, Superintendent Nathan Barrett said Thursday during a virtual community meeting.
On March 1, Hanover Area plans to return to a hybrid schedule that mixes online and in-person instruction days for elementary school students, starting with kindergarten.
“And then we’ll take that week by week, and we will continually on a week-by-week basis add another layer of students,” Barrett said, adding he wants to bring back in-person classes “slow and methodically” in order “to see if we remain healthy.”
In-person learning could return for Hanover Area High School students when COVID-19 transmission moves back into the moderate range, Barrett said.
The state had recommended all-virtual learning for schools in counties with substantial COVID-19 transmission for two consecutive weeks. But last week, the state changed its guidance to approve of in-person instruction for elementary-school students in counties with substantial transmission when the second semester starts Jan. 25.
The state guidance is not a mandate. A county has substantial transmission when the test positivity rate is at least 10% or the COVID-19 incidence rate is at least 100 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
Test positivity was 15.3% from Jan. 1 through Thursday in Luzerne County, down from 16.4%. The county incidence rate was 375.8 cases per 100,000 residents, down from 457.4.
Luzerne County moved from moderate to substantial transmission on Oct. 23. The incidence rate was 138.8 from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5 in Luzerne County, and test positivity was 7.9% then.
New Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge needed to unlock development, legislator says
A new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River will be necessary to open up thousands of acres in Nanticoke and Newport Township for new industrial development, said state Sen. John Yudichak.
“We know that’s going to be a tall order,” he said of the estimated $35 million to $40 million funding required for the project. “If we’re going to bring in industry and attract more jobs, we’re going to need a new bridge.”
He said it’s the same business model followed in the South Valley Parkway roadway project, which cost $90 million and provided direct Interstate 81 access to tracts that now house distribution facilities for Chewy.com, Adidas, Patagonia Inc., True Value and others collectively employing more than 4,000.
Privately funded construction along the South Valley Parkway is nearing a billion dollars, said Yudichak, I-Swoyersville.
“I’d say that’s a good return on the investment, and the next big infrastructure on the horizon to continue this great economic progress is the West Nanticoke Bridge,” said Yudichak, who has started discussing the plan with officials at all government levels. “It will get done.”
The estimated 5,000-acre swath he expects to attract thousands more jobs includes the 400-acre Whitney Point Industrial Park and also property owned by the nonprofit Earth Conservancy, he said. Some is abandoned coal mine land that must be reclaimed.
While there has been “very little activity” in the industrial park, he expects that to change now that other land closer to I-81 has been developed.
As possible proof of the site’s potential, Yudichak said he is “encouraged” that a few companies are evaluating the Newport/Nanticoke land for possible projects.
These companies have all indicated an upgraded bridge is “very important” as an access point for increased truck traffic, he said, declining to identify the interested companies due to non-disclosure agreements.
He described the site as the last large-scale industrial development area remaining on “the floor of the Wyoming Valley” with rail access.
Approximately $1 million was secured several years ago to bring rail access to the Whitney Point park, he said. A railroad spur was added off the Norfolk Southern main line that runs through Newport Township and Nanticoke, he said.
Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf awarded a $1.5 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant for infrastructure upgrades and reclamation work at Whitney Point to help attract new industry, Yudichak said.
He credited Wolf for fulfilling a commitment to invest in rebuilding of the Newport Township area following the state’s closing of the State Correctional Institution at Retreat last June, which had 400 workers and was the township’s largest employer.
A portion of the newly state-awarded $1.5 million may be used to expand rail at the industrial park along a former coal rail bed that still exists, Yudichak said. The spur is operational but does not fully extend into the park, he said.
“The strength of the site is rail service,” he said. “That’s a very attractive feature for such a large tract of land that also is very close to Interstate 81.”
As Yudichak works with others to seek funding for a new bridge, the existing county-owned span needs work.
Based on various issues found in an inspection, the bridge was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in May by the county and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
County Engineer Lawrence Plesh has stressed the bridge meets safety requirements, but he cautioned additional weight limits may be necessary at some point if rehabilitation work is not completed.
The problem: the lowest cost for this rehabilitation is $2.67 million based on bids submitted by four companies in October.
Without an additional funding source, Plesh said the county won’t have enough money saved to complete this work for a year or two. And spending all that saved-up money on one span would prevent the county from addressing work needed on others in the county’s inventory of 300 bridges, he said.
The weight limit on the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge was partially necessary because bridge components known as bearings are not fully “moving with the bridge” to help it expand and contract as vehicles cross, which puts more stress on other components, Plesh said.
In addition, some of the pins that secure eye bars no longer meet the original design capacity due to rust and other conditions, he said. These pins must withstand force and cannot reach the stage where they snap, he said.
The rehabilitation would fix strip seals on top of the bearings and replace some of the worn pins, he said.
The problems with the 2,072-foot bridge, which links Nanticoke and Plymouth Township, were discovered during a state grant-funded study of the structure to identify needed rehabilitation work, he said.
Yudichak said he is working with the state transportation department and county officials on funding options and a plan to keep the bridge safe and operational as a replacement bridge is pursued.
The low bidder for the rehabilitation project has agreed to hold its bid until March, Plesh said.
Plesh said this project will only repair the bridge so it can remain at a 15-ton limit.
“It’s slowly deteriorating, and every season takes a little out of it,” Plesh said. “If we do absolutely nothing, the bridge will eventually be closed. If we do the rehab, maybe it can stay at 15 tons for 10 years instead of four or five.”
County Manager C. David Pedri said he is actively working to develop the best plan focusing on public safety and cost and emphasized county council must be involved.
“If there’s a way we can partner with the state to fix and keep the current bridge open and support new future growth, we’re interested in discussing it,” Pedri said.
Local superintendents approach new state recommendations with caution
Mark Guydish - Times Leader
The state announced revised guidance for school districts that, theoretically, could mean some students will return to in-person lessons soon, but local superintendents reacted with some caution.
Previous guidance suggested districts in counties deemed by the state as at “substantial” risk of COVID-19 use remote-only learning. The new guidance suggests districts in substantial counties can consider hybrid learning — some students learning in schools while others learn online — for elementary school students. The state still recommends remote-only learning for middle schools and high schools.
Superintendents of local districts that are currently in remote-only mode said the change will be reviewed carefully, but that won’t be the only factor in weighing when students get back in their classrooms.
Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Brian Costello recently announced the district will stay in remote-only mode at least to the end of January. After the new guidance was announced Thursday, Costello said via email that decision still stands.
Noting the new recommendations were made “to encourage schools to consider returning some students to in-person instruction as local conditions permit,” Costello said the change “allows us to resume in-person instruction for elementary and other specific student groups starting February 1st,” depending on status of the pandemic at the time. “We will be providing more information for our district stakeholders over the next two weeks.”
Pittston Area Superintendent Kevin Booth pointed out that the new guidance don’t officially take effect until the second semester — Jan. 25, according to the state announcement — and that for his district the new semester starts February 1. “There will be several discussions between now and then,” he wrote.
Like Wilkes-Barre Area, Booth had previously announced Pittston Area would likely remain in remote-only mode through January.
Wyoming Area School Board had voted to remain in remote-only mode until at least Jan. 19th. Asked if the new guidance would change plans, Superintendent Janet Serino replied via email.
“I will be meeting with our board in an executive session to discuss the January 19th return date. There are current considerations that must be discussed to determine whether that date will remain or change. Even though state guidance is to be considered, every district is different and must assess what is best for all involved.”
Like Wyoming Area, Greater Nanticoke Area had announced the district will remain in remote-only mode until at least Jan. 19. Contacted Thursday, Superintendent Ron Grevera said via email that “the new state guidance increases the odds of bringing students back in hybrid fashion.”
Grevera noted the district had successfully started this school year in a model that had two groups of students taking turns coming to the schools, with Group A in schools Mondays and Tuesdays while Group B learned live on line, and the two groups switching Thursdays and Fridays. That model worked well for seven weeks, he said, until a surge in COVID-19 cases pushed Luzerne County into the “substantial” designation.
“The new guidance makes it easier for our district to reopen in the hybrid model because it allows us to open even if our county is in the substantial range of COVID-19 transmission,” Grevera wrote. ” There are many factors that places the county in a substantial range including nursing homes and prisons which have little to no effect on our local community.”
The state labels counties in three categories of transmission risk based on two factors: The number of new cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days, and the percent of tests that come back positive. A county is deemed at low risk with fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate below 5%. It is moderate with 10 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents or 5% to less than 10% positivity, and substantial with 100 or more cases or positivity at or above 10%.
The recommendations remain the same for low and moderate counties under the new guidelines: Full in-person or hybrid learning in low counties and hybrid or full-remote learning for moderate counties. The original guidelines recommended remote-only learning in substantial counties; the new guidance suggests hybrid or full-remote for elementary schools but still recommends remote-only for higher grades.
“The research on offering in-person instruction during COVID-19 continues to emerge,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a media release announcing the change. “While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting where community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation efforts, such as universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are followed, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.”
The guidance is not mandatory, with the final decision left up to the individual school districts.