More Mosquito Activity in 2011

State and local officials have stepped up their West Nile virus surveillance efforts this summer, as mosquito samples have already tested positive in 39 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.  That’s up from 37-counties all of last year, and 33 counties in 2009.  “While we are seeing a similar number of positive samples, we are seeing it in a broader geographic area,” says Kevin Sunday with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  He says it’s most likely due to heavy rains.  “Stagnant water that would collect after any rainfall is fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes.”

Since mosquitoes breed anywhere water can collect and become stagnant, Sunday says there are simple precautions you can take at home.  They include everything from cleaning clogged gutters to turning over any wheelbarrows that can collect water.  “So we encourage everyone to dump out any standing water on their property, to drill holes in the bottom of their recycling containers, if not already.” 

West Nile virus has been in the United States since at least 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It affects the nervous system, and can result inflammation of the brain.  However, there have been no human cases of West Nile virus reported in Pennsylvania this year.    

The DEP reported numerous mosquito samples that tested positive last week.  They include Fayette County’s first positive test since 2005 and Tioga County’s first positive test since 2003.  Sunday says, “We are taking aggressive surveillance action across the state.”

Pennsylvania's West Nile Virus Map - 08/08/11

This DEP map shows where West Nile virus has been detected in 2011.

Turnpike Commission Polling Cash Customers About Electronic Toll Collection

The Pennsylvania Turnpike wants to know what cash customers would do if it went to an all electronic tolling system.  The Turnpike Commission has launched an online survey.

Turnpike spokesman Bill Capone says the purpose of the survey is to get input on the possibility of the toll road converting to a cashless system, or all electronic tolling system.  He says for people who don’t have EZ Pass, electronic tolling would involve taking a photo of their license plate and billing the vehicle owner by mail. About one-third of the turnpike’s customers pay with cash.

The survey ends on August 22nd.  It can be found at  By completing the survey, you will be eligible to win a $100-dollar Sunoco gas card. 

Capone says people in some other states who are passing through Pennsylvania on the turnpike may not have easy access to EZ Pass, so an all electronic system would take that into account.  Right now, EZ Pass is available in 14 states.

The turnpike commission announced recently that tolls would go up 10% for cash customers beginning January 1st, 2012.  There will be no increase for EZ Pass customers.

Capone says the turnpike commission is currently conducting a feasibility study to look at converting the turnpike to an all electronic tolling system, so they need to know from their cash paying customers how that might affect them.  He says they want to know whether those customers would be willing to convert to EZ Pass or pay their tolls in another way.

Parents Reminded About Vaccine Changes

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month and state health officials are reminding parents there are some new requirements for school children.      Heather Stafford, director of the Division of Immunizations, says students in the seventh grade, or age 11 to 12, will now need a TDAP, or Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis booster and a meningococcal conjugate vaccine.  

Stafford says students in all grades need to be sure they’ve had three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine and a second dose of the mumps and chicken pox vaccines.

Stafford says there’s a “grace” period.  She says they allow an eight month provisional period for students to become compliant.

Stafford says if you have health  insurance, work with your family physician or pediatrician to make sure school children are up-to-date. For those who lack sufficient insurance, there are state health centers where  children can be vaccinated at no cost.

Stafford says there are many vaccine-preventable diseases and parents of pre-schoolers and infants should make sure they’re up-to-date on their immunizations. Adults should also be current on all of their shots. Some to consider for children and adults include the rotavirus vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine for infants and adults and a vaccine to protect older adults from shingles. One type of meningitis vaccine, Menactra, has now been approved for use in children as young as 9 months. Influenza vaccines are recommended for everyone age 6 months and up.

Adults who need to get a tetanus booster should are now being advised to consider the TDAP instead.  Stafford says this helps prevent the spread of pertussis.

To learn more about vaccines, go to or   

Are State Parks Ripe for Privatization?

It’s no secret that Governor Tom Corbett supports privatizing Pennsylvania’s liquor stores, but a pending task force will examine other government functions that may be better served in the private sector.  “It’s business that creates the jobs,” Governor Corbett stressed to reporters during a recent stop in Hershey. 

Clay's Bridge can be found near Holman Lake in Little Buffalo State Park.

Corbett even offered some first blush ideas: “In the prisons, what are we doing with health care?  Who’s maintaining the health care? Can we privatize some of that?  Can we privatize the running of the state parks?  I will be, during the course of the summer, stopping by some of the state parks with the Secretary to see what’s going on there.” 

But talk of privatizing state parks’ operations concerns PennFuture president & CEO Jan Jarrett.  “If the state is having trouble funding state park operations, then how is a private vendor going to take them over and make money, unless they charge people for services that have traditionally been open to all Pennsylvanians for free.”

Jan Jarrett says PA already has the best state run park system in the country.  “They were recognized as that last year, they won a gold-level award for how well the state park system is run by the current public employees that work there,” Jarrett said in an interview with Radio PA. 

This is all just speculation, for now, as the governor’s task force hasn’t even been created yet.  However, Corbett did offer one example of how privatization could work in the state parks, on a limited basis.  “There are some places where we don’t have lifeguards in state parks.”  He suggests privatizing that function may make it affordable again.  “Having been a lifeguard, I would like to see lifeguards there, at least during the summer season.”

Library of Congress Exhibit Rolls into PA

The Library of Congress “Gateway to Knowledge” exhibition arrived in Uniontown, PA via self-contained tractor trailer.  The XL trailer expands to three times its road size to provide a first rate museum experience.  “We’re introducing people – or reintroducing them – to some of the resources that are available at the Library of Congress,” says traveling docent Abigail Van Gelder.  “The displays inside use graphic panels and graphic reproductions to get deeper into what’s in some of the collection.” 

Van Gelder spoke with Radio PA via telephone from Uniontown where the exhibition is stationed through Saturday.  Then, it’s off to Lancaster for a stopover on Tuesday and Wednesday.  These are the only two Pennsylvania stops on the big rig’s itinerary.  Van Gelder says they’ve spent the past year down South and in the Midwest.  This begins their tour of America’s East. 

Spider Man - 1962

Spider Man first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1962. A reproduction is on display inside the Gateway to Knowledge exhibition.

Some of the more popular reproductions and displays include the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.  “Something our younger visitors really enjoy learning about is the Library’s comic book collection, and especially the original drawings of Spider Man,” Van Gelder says. 

The Library of Congress has some 20-million items digitized and available for the public to view online.  “So many people don’t realize how easy it is to access [the Library of Congress] and how easy it is for you to use.”

(photo credits: Library of Congress)

Summer Camps Focus on Science

Hundreds of Pennsylvania middle schoolers are wrapping up a “Summer of Innovation.”  Project director Dr. David Morgan, with the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), says they were one of only nine organizations, nationwide, selected to receive NASA grant funding for the Summer of Innovation (SOI) camps:  “To encourage students to get engaged in STEM careers: science, technology, engineering and math; because our country, to continue its competitive edge, needs to have its students involved in those kinds of careers.”

CCIU is partnering with Immaculata University, Bucknell University, Lycoming College and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg to bring ‘out-of-this-world’ science to 2,000 students in 20-school districts, and two cyber charter schools, throughout the state.  “Everything’s hands on, and they are activities selected from NASA, which are considered to be best practice,” says Morgan.  This is the first year of the four year program, and Morgan says the 20-participating school districts will be with them for the duration.    

Women Empowered By Science

Students and instructors enjoy a WEBS science lab at Wilkes University.

SOI isn’t the only summer camp getting students excited about science this summer.  At Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, the Women Empowered By Science (WEBS) program is focused on girls entering the seventh and eighth grades.  “We’re choosing this age because they still are excited, they still want to investigate and they still have the joy of learning.  We can play off of that, put them in our labs and – in a very fun way – continue the learning process,” says WEBS coordinator Debbie Chapman.  The two-week WEBS summer camp at Wilkes University is funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  

The girls have been doing everything from dissecting frogs, to programming robots to dance.  Soon-to-be seventh grader Meghan Cook enjoyed the pharmacy lab the best.  “I think I want to be a pharmacist because they’re the ones making the new medicines.  I want to make a new allergy medicine for my mom, because she has lots of allergies,” Meghan says.  “I loved what we did the past two weeks,” adds fellow WEBS camper Gabriella McElhattan. 

The WEBS camp started out with 15-students, before doubling to 30 last year and 60 this year.  “We’re happy to have 120 [next year],” Chapman says.  “Just working on word of mouth I think we’re going to be able to achieve that goal.”

Locally Owned Small Business May Pack a Bigger Economic Punch

Dr. Stephan Goetz

Small, locally owned businesses and start-up companies tend to provide higher, long term economic growth according to Dr. Stephan Goetz,professor of agricultural and regional economics at Penn State University and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development.  Dr. Goetz and graduate student David Fleming were investigating whether firm ownership and size mattered in terms of economic growth.

Dr. Goetz says the research suggests that the smaller firms and locally owned firms give the biggest bang for the buck in terms of economic growth.

 Dr. Goetz says they suspect there are more opportunities for creative innovation and new process and product development in the smaller companies.  He says over time, you have more of an entrepreneurial hotbed if you have multiple smaller firms that are trying to innovate, than if you have the bigger firms.

Dr. Geotz adds that smaller, local firms would be more likely to use local logistic providers, wholesalers and advertising outlets to meet their supply chain and business needs. He says firms based out-of-state would be providing those services out of centrally located facilities, or outsourcing them overseas.

The study also finds that as a company grows, the economic benefit appears to diminish. Medium and large-sized locally owned businesses were not associated with faster economic growth in later years.

Dr. Goetz says a better strategy to promote economic growth may be encouraging local businesses and creating an environment that attracts local entrepreneurs.

Pennsylvania Among States Affected by Salmonella Outbreak

Federal officials say the government hopes to pinpoint the source of a salmonella outbreak linked to ground turkey very soon.    The outbreak dates back to March and Pennsylvania has confirmed five cases in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. One death has been reported in California and 71 people have been sickened in two dozen other states.

Dr. Andre Weltman, public health physician with the Pennsylvania Health Department, says the cases in Pennsylvania were not recent, they happened earlier in the outbreak.

Dr. Weltman hopes people will not be afraid to eat ground turkey. He says they just need to avoid cross contamination and prepare it properly. This means cooking any raw ground meat product thoroughly, all the way to the middle.

Ideally, Dr. Weltman says a thermometer should be used to check the internal temperature.  The U. S. Department Of Agriculture says ground turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. He says remember to wash or sanitize the thermometer after checking the temperature.

Dr. Weltman says although 77 salmonella cases have been confirmed across the country, many more may have gone unreported. He says there could be as many as 38 cases for every one that is cultured and reported to a local or state health department as having the organism linked to the illness. This is because some people may have only suffered minor symptoms, and did not seek medical care.

 Dr. Weltman says turkey is a healthy alternative and if you take care with it, it’s fine to eat to help reduce fat and cholesterol.  

CareerBuilder Survey: Workers Report Burnout

Is ‘summer fever’ spreading in your office?  In a recent survey of employee productivity, CareerBuilder found that 26% of employers think their workers are less productive in the summer.  Some of the possible culprits: sunny weather, vacation plans and kids being home from school.

But there are other factors at play.  “Workers really have just been overworked.  They’ve had a lot more responsibility, and as a result we’re starting to see them become less productive,” said Mike Irwin, senior career advisor for 

30% of employers say workers are more productive today than when the recession began, and nearly half of employees report heavier workloads in the past six months.  77% of workers also say they’re “always” or “sometimes” burned out on the job.

“The productivity levels have increased over the last couple of years, but we can’t sustain this level without bringing more people in,” Irwin said.  His advice for employers: “Even if you think everything is going well in the office, get out there and see how people are feeling.”  Irwin says many people won’t say they’re overworked or stressed, because they’re afraid of losing their job. 

CareerBuilder surveyed more than 2,600 hiring managers and nearly 5,300 employees, between May 19th and June 8th to compile these results.  During the month of June, the total non-farm job count dipped by 2,600 in Pennsylvania.  The statewide jobless rate also rose from 7.4% to 7.6%.

State House Committee Holds Hearings on School Choice, Charter Schools

The State House Education Committee opened two days of informational hearing today on school choice and charter schools today.   The state education secretary has laid out the Corbett administration’s views on school choice.

Ron Tomalis told the Committee we must ask ourselves why we force parents to send their children to a particular school rather than allow them to choose another school that might meet their needs.  He says students in the lowest 5% of schools, based on the combined math and reading scores in the Commonwealth, should have the opportunity to use state funding to attend another public school or a participating nonpublic school.

Tomalis says the program must be targeted to students trapped in failing schools and be accountable to taxpayers. He says only the state portion of funding would follow the child.   He says the administration believes choice needs to be phased in.

Tomalis says students taking advantage of choice should be held to standards and should be required to take an assessment to measure their academic achievement.  

Tomalis says school choice is not just public to private.  He says public to public choice is an important aspect of the choice program. He says they should promote the ability for students to transfer across district lines. He believes school districts will embrace the potential for public to public choice.  But he says it would be difficult for him to support a mandate that schools participate.

Tomalis also told the committee the administration is looking at taking the growth of student achievement into account when identifying whether schools are hitting their targets.  He says growth has to be part of the mix.

The head of the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association  is questioning how the Corbett  administration could support school vouchers.  In a statement, James Testerman said “This kind of spending is reckless, ill-advised, and dangerous for the students who learn in Pennsylvania’s public schools.”

There are several school choice measures before the legislature, including Senate Bill 1 and several measures in the house.