What You Need to Know: Looking back to first COVID cases, vaccinating teachers with Johnson & Johnson, and Pa. primary election

Written by on March 5, 2021

What You Need to Know: Looking back one year to the first COVID-19 cases, the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and vaccinating teachers, and looking ahead to Pennsylvania’s primary election

By Brad Klein and Jen Rehill

March 5, 2021

Photo | Carlos Giusti / AP

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.

They begin with a look back to one year ago this weekend. That’s when the first COVID-19 cases were detected in Pennsylvania. This week, the big story was the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and plans to make it available to teachers and school staff in an effort to reopen schools in the Commonwealth. And a look ahead to the May 18th primary. The last day to register is May 3. And the last day to request a mail-in or absentee ballot is May 11.

Listen to the story.

Brad Klein

“Tomorrow marks an important anniversary. It was March 6 of last year that we heard of the first coronavirus cases in the state of Pennsylvania.” 

Jen Rehill

“Two cases were announced on that day in the Philadelphia suburbs and in Wayne County. And this came on the heels of the first case being announced in the U.S. in mid-to-late January. So, it took a little while for it to get to Pennsylvania. But I think looking back at anniversaries like that day and others show us how very quickly, in fact, things progressed from having the first two cases announced in Pennsylvania to within that week, the first case popping up in Northampton County and then local schools preparing for closures. By March 12, the Allentown School District was closed for cleaning because there was a staff member who was being tested for the virus. So, that was six days later. And then 10 days later — just 10 days — Gov. Tom Wolf announced the shutdown of government offices and all nonessential businesses.”

Gov. Tom Wolf

“This isn’t a decision that I take lightly at all. It’s one that I’m making because medical experts believe it is the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”

Klein

“And that was the beginning of pandemic mitigation measures that go on to this day. It’s interesting to hear the governor emphasize the possibility of the hospitals being just overwhelmed by patients.” 

Rehill

“Brad, that really did prove to be the concern. And this move from the governor also set off a pitched battle between the Pennsylvania legislature and the governor that’s continuing to play out today as the Legislature is taking aim right now at the governor’s ability to declare a health emergency.”

Klein

“So, bringing us to today, we had the good news of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine being approved. And the governor has announced that teachers and school staff will be moved up in the line.” 

Rehill

“In fact, the governor signed a bill just yesterday, putting the National Guard in charge of that roll out. The goal is to get kids back into school by mid-April. Those are some of the dates that we’re hearing and 100,000 doses of that vaccine are arriving in the Commonwealth this week. Some outstanding questions include the governor saying he’s not sure they can make teachers and staff get it. The Allentown Diocese, for instance, opposes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of cell lines that were used in the production of the vaccine. So they’re leaving it up to people’s own moral decision whether or not to get it. But it raises questions about whether school teachers in the Allentown Diocese will get the vaccine.” 

Klein

“But big picture, it’s certainly something that the school unions have been adamant about. They want the teachers to have the choice to be able to get the vaccine before going back to all in-person schooling.” 

Rehill

“Absolutely. They have been calling for that for about the past six weeks saying, ‘Hey, you can’t reopen schools without getting teachers vaccinated.’ So, this is exactly what they were looking for.”

Klein

“In politics, let’s look forward to the May 18 primaries. Next week is the deadline for candidates to turn in signatures. Will we know by next week exactly who will be on the ballot in May?” 

Rehill

“We should. That deadline is Tuesday, March 9, and typically the thinking is, if you filed a petition, you’re going to end up on the ballot now. Folks will have about a week if anybody wants to challenge a petition or challenge any signatures, and that does sometimes happen. But basically, on Tuesday we should find out who is going to be on the ballot across the Lehigh Valley.”

Klein

“And the big races to watch?”

Rehill

I would say the Allentown and Bethlehem mayoral races and City Council race in those cities and in Easton. Also the races for county executive. In some statewide races, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court is another one that we’re watching.”

Klein

“And a few dates to keep in mind: The primary is May 18, the last day to register is May 3, and the last day to request a mail-in or absentee ballot is May 11. And independents don’t vote in Pennsylvania primaries. You have to be registered with a political party, right?” 

Rehill

“Unless there’s a ballot measure, that’s the only thing independents can vote for.” 

Klein

“Thanks, Jen, for joining us again.”

Rehill

“You got it, Brad.”

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