Indiana 15701: straight poop on the pandemic

Wastewater Covid-19 concentrations, related measures, ZIP code 15701, April 8-Sept. 19, 2020

Source: Borough of Indiana, Pa. The vertical axis represents the number of Covid-19 viral copies per liter of sampled wastewater (times 1,000). It does not reflect individual infections. The horizontal axis reflects chronology. Click to enlarge.

 Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Scatological references were inevitable. Last week’s local pandemic oozed news by, shall we say, the process of elimination.

The news source was the borough’s wastewater treatment plant, where Biobot Analytics, a Cambridge, Mass., startup, has been analyzing the community’s effluent for the presence of Covid-19 RNA since spring.

“Everybody poops and pees, every day,” Biobot explains on its website. “We analyze viruses, bacteria and chemical metabolites that are excreted in urine and stool and collected in sewers. This information is a readout of our health and well-being as a community. We map this data, empowering communities to tackle public health proactively.” (Note for local policymakers: Biobot performs similar analyses for communities plagued by opioid misuse.)

Health proactivity should be welcome to Indiana County, where policymakers have struggled to speak with a reliably coherent public voice since the first Covid-19 death was recorded here on April 8.

Bungled coronavirus testing and contact tracing by federal officials have trickled down to Indiana County, Pa., where nasal-swab methods have been plagued by delayed turnaround times, supply shortages, fits and starts. The Covid-19 test numbers needed to make informed policy decisions here have been too low and too slow.

Last week, the problem-plagued local testing collaborative asserted that its shortcomings have been fixed. (“We have been ecstatic with the results,” enthused one IUP administrator.)

Biobot, the new testing outfit in town, says its wastewater sampling aims to complement clinical nasal-swabbing, not to replace it. Biobot’s method is comparatively cheaper, the company says. An Indiana borough administrator reported receiving the first two months of wastewater sampling for free; continuing samples will be paid for with federal Covid-19 relief funds administered through the Community Development Block Grant program. And Biobot’s methodology may be safer. A federal Centers for Disease Control spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that standard wastewater-treatment practices “should render the coronavirus inactive.”

 

WHAT DO BIOBOT’s Covid-19 RNA data tell local policymakers? As the graph above suggests, ZIP code 15701 is a hot spot for viral infection and has been hot since Aug. 26, the start of the fall semester at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Moreover, the graph forecasts a further rise in infection.

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Judge Martin’s retirement to-do list

Indiana County Court of Common Pleas President Judge William J. Martin. Source: court website.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – William J. Martin, president judge at the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas, announced his retirement earlier this month. He plans to step down Jan. 4.

His news release gave no reason. (Mandatory retirement age is 75; he is 66.) But the release suggested he might seek to continue serving part-time in retirement, wherever needed.

By January, Mr. Martin will have served nearly 30 years since his elevation to the bench in 1991. Before then, he served as Indiana County district attorney and assistant D.A. between 1980 to 1991.

His longevity and two successful retention elections testify to his public service. But his retirement announcement arrives amid national uproar over fairness and justice in America. Questions also have been raised in review of Mr. Martin’s career in Indiana County:

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The red-flag incident at the Taco Bell

Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer, Feb. 16, 2018

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – At 10:26 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 7, Todd Matthew Jakosh, 32, fired three shots from a handgun at a woman at the Taco Bell on Oakland Avenue opposite the IUP campus, police say. No one was injured.

Police charged Mr. Jakosh with five felonies and two misdemeanors. The charges included recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, criminal mischief, aggravated assault, discharge of a firearm into an occupied structure and “firearms not to be carried without a permit.”

On the day of the Taco Bell incident, Mr. Jakosh had been out of jail awaiting a Sept. 2 court hearing on charges involving property damage, assault and harassment committed on July 7 in White Township.

Published comments on the Taco Bell report suggest that Mr. Jakosh was in a simmering domestic dispute aggravated by child-custody concerns and by a traumatic brain injury dating to 2010.

Indiana County District Attorney Robert F. Manzi Jr. described the incident as “an incredibly serious crime that was a potential life-and-death incident.”

In a region that ranks high on diseases of despair, citizens might be relieved that no one was hurt during Mr. Jakosh’s rage. But they should not have to rely on luck alone to avert a tragedy.

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Indiana County’s slow-mo rollout of high-speed internet

Indiana County broadband map. Source: Indiana County Emergency Management Agency. Click to enlarge.

Broadband chronicles

By David Loomis

INDIANA — Indiana County commissioners agreed last week to spend some of their federal pandemic-relief money on expanding broadband internet service to under-connected rural areas of the county – a need that has grown as the Covid-19 pandemic has persisted. The progress is welcome, but it has come slow.

As The Indiana Gazette reported, commissioners in 2011 began wiring the county’s emergency-services communication network – police, fire, ambulance, etc. — with state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable. The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the focus to economic and scholastic development, including work-at-home parents and study-at-home students.

Meanwhile, Starlink, a project by entrepreneur Elon Musk, is launching thousands of small satellites into low-earth orbit to deliver high-speed internet service worldwide. including parts of North America, by late this year.

So, how many rural Indiana County residents will be served by the commissioners’ proposed expansion? Where? How soon?

Thomas A. Stutzman, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, oversees the county’s broadband improvements. He briefed commissioners on the planned improvements.  The HawkEye invited him to elaborate. He agreed. Following is Mr. Stutzman’s Sept. 4 elaboration:

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Signs of the times at Home

Defaced campaign sign, U.S. Route 119 north of Home, Pa., Sept. 5, 2020. Submitted photo.

By David Loomis

HOME – Malcolm Hermann saw the graffiti first thing Friday morning and called state police.

“I wanted people to see the police arrive,” Hermann said in a phone interview on Saturday afternoon.

He had erected the 4-by-8-foot Biden-Harris campaign sign the previous Sunday on his property at the southwest corner of the well-trafficked intersection of U.S. Route 119 and Wrigden Run Road just north of Home, Pa.

“I wanted a big sign,” Hermann said.

Sometime Thursday night or early Friday morning, Hermann’s sign was sprayed with black paint during a graffiti rampage that blanketed blacktop and road signs around Rayne Township, according to township Supervisor Craig Andrie.

Two stop signs were spray-painted “Biden,” Andrie said. A Nazi swastika defaced another sign, “Bunker Joe” yet another. An obscene non-political message covered a stretch of roadway.

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RGGI power plays

Homer City, Pa., coal-fired power plant. Photo: Reid Frazier, State Impact PA

Carbon chronicles

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A state Senate committee voted Thursday to advance identical bills sponsored by Indiana County’s fossil-fuel-friendly, legislative tag-team of Sen. Joe Pittman and Rep. Jim Struzzi, both R-Indiana. That moves the measures forward for final floor votes and for the governor’s signature.

As political and policy matters in Harrisburg, that probably won’t happen. The governor opposes the legislation, for some of the same public-health-and-safety reasons he opposes Pittman-Struzzi’s anti-masking postures during the pandemic. And Republican lawmakers probably lack the votes to override a likely gubernatorial veto.

News media are covering the legislative debate as a process story and a conflict story. But Thursday’s legislative discussion widened the frame beyond the procedural push and pull of legislative sausage-making.

It featured Sen. Pittman, whose election-year support for the legislation is full-throated and oft-stated, and the committee’s minority chair, Sen. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks County, who opposes the legislation. It wasn’t exactly a debate. But the two senators spoke extemporaneously, virtually, one after the other, during the 23-minute hearing.

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Truth, Trump and Biden

Direct-mail postcard, sample, summer 2020.

Appalachian Fact Check

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A cartoonish campaign mailer arrived during last week’s Republican National Convention, well before Joe Biden’s visit to Pittsburgh today. With fewer than 100 words and two photographs printed in full-color, double-sided on 9-by-12-inch postcard stock, the political ad succinctly echoed the convention’s televised fib-riot. And it targeted battleground-Pennsylvania voters, especially voters here in carbon country.

The ad, like the convention, masqueraded as reality. But it’s the unreality of Bizarro World, a fictional upside-down Earth (“Htrae”) portrayed in a ‘60s comic book.

The postcard’s creator is a conservative super PAC claiming independence from any political campaign, a common fiction.

Its postcard goes postal at first glance: “For decades, Joe Biden let China steal our jobs.” The claim is footnoted with two unsupported citations. Neither citation refers to Biden.

One citation refers to a Jan. 30 article published by a left-leaning think tank. The article reports that U.S. trade with China cost around 3.7 million U.S. jobs economywide since the millennium.

But that widely reported job-loss figure for the period 2001 (when China entered the World Trade Organization) through 2018 fails to count total U.S. jobs created during the same period — nearly 40 million, or more than 10 times the number of jobs lost in trade with China. The ad gives Biden no credit for the gain.

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Rep. Thompson’s Trump toadyism

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Huge majorities of Democrats and Republicans agree: They share a favorable view of the U.S. Postal Service, recently the target of another fib-filled, White House election-year distraction.

Despite the efforts of the superspreader of distraction, 91 percent of Democratic-leaning adults and 91 percent of Republican-leaning adults like the USPS, according to an Aug. 9 survey by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan, non-profit fact tank in Washington, D.C.

Kumbaya!

The postal service, in fact, is more popular than apple pie. So, it seems, politicians would be wiser to oppose apple pie than to mess with the mail service.

Unwisely, Republicans have messed with the mail service in Pennsylvania. They include President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-15th.

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The HawkEye Poll: Readers support mask ordinance, etc.

Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Local residents and workers overwhelmingly support a draft ordinance to enforce state orders to wear a mask, to keep a safe distance from others and to enforce these provisions more assertively during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to results of The HawkEye Poll.

The Aug. 19 poll asked readers about the controversial provisions of a draft ordinance debated last week by members of the Indiana Borough Council.

 Readers of The HawkEye said they supported provisions of the proposed ordinance by 83 percent to 15 percent – a margin of 5½ to 1.

 

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Saving Indian Springs Golf & Country Club

The pro shop and patio at VFW Post 1989’s Indian Springs Golf & Country Club. Photo: Loopnet.com

An opinion

By Maria Kaminski

INDIANA — The VFW Country Club Golf course is for sale and listed on Loopnet.com. The listing is for the golf course, 109 acres, the pro-shop, maintenance buildings, equipment and the golf business, all for $1 million.

Recently, Chestnut Ridge Golf & Convention Center in Blairsville sold for $2.4 million at auction.

When Chestnut Ridge went on the market in 2012, it sold for $6.1 million. Its sale price last month was a fraction of its sale price eight years ago because it sold at auction, for quick sale. The bidding started at $500,000.

The non-profit Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1989 cannot take such a loss. It’s an organization for veterans who have helped the community but never have helped themselves. For the community’s sake, it should survive.

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