The coronavirus on Smart Talk Tuesday; Emergency food distribution, COBRA insurance and pets and COVID-19

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture received approval from the Federal government last week to operate emergency food assistance through area food banks and pantries.

The Disaster Household Distribution program allows the Department of Agriculture to provide critical food supplies to Pennsylvanians in need. The program is available under the federal government’s declaration of a national emergency.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding joins us on Smart Talk Tuesday to offer details about the program and discuss the availability of food. For information about volunteering or food access visit the website of Feeding Pennsylvania, a partnership formed among Pennsylvania’s Feeding America member food banks.

Now that thousands of Pennsylvanians are suddenly out of work during a global health crisis, the availability of health insurance is in the spotlight.

COBRA is a temporary government health insurance continuation program for employees and their families whose coverage is stopped for reasons like a layoff or termination.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman appears on Smart Talk to discuss insurance options. Consumer services hotline for questions or issues relating to insurance is 1-877-881-6388. Consumers can also visit the Pennsylvania Insurance Department for information.

Pennsylvanians are understandably worried about the spread of the coronavirus and most are doing their part to maintain social distancing.

But what about their pets? Can animal companions’ contract or spread the virus? And what should a person do with their pet if the owner requires hospitalization?

Joining Smart Talk to offer guidance for pet owners are Kristin Donmoyer, director of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement with the Department of Agriculture, along with Dr. Bryan Langlois DVM, Medical Director of the Pet Pantry of Lancaster County and Immediate Past-President of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA). For information on pet pantry resources or caring for your pet visit the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The coronavirus on Smart Talk Monday: Learning at Home, UPMC testing sites and why some don’t feel at risk from COVID-19

WITF is offering a new initiative for learners in preschool through twelfth grade who are out of school during the coronavirus crisis.

It’s called Learning at Home and everyone is invited to explore the curated collection of free resources that includes videos, games and project ideas. WITF will broadcast programming linked to curriculum over both of its channels, WITF and WITFK PBS KIDS 24/7.

The programs focus on a specific academic content area and are suggested for different age groups.

WITF and the Harrisburg School District are the first to partner to bring free, over-the-air curriculum to students and families who are learning at home.

Joining us on Monday’s Smart Talk to discuss the partnership are Dr. Susan Sneath, Chief Academic Officer for the Harrisburg School District, Chris Celmer, Acting Superintendent of the Harrisburg School District and Ron Hetrick, the President and CEO of WITF.

Pittsburgh-based UPMC established their first coronavirus testing site in Dauphin County last week. They began testing patients who received a physician’s referral for any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Appearing on Smart Talk to describe the process for testing and where UPMC may establish additional testing sites is Dr. Craig Skurcenski, MD, Vice President of Emergency Services, UPMC, central Pennsylvania region.

Finally, as the global pandemic worsened many states and U.S. cities mandated social distancing to stop the spread of the virus.

It wasn’t long before social media and media organizations showed throngs of beachgoers and park visitors who were apparently ignoring the mandates.

Why are some people refusing to change their habits and acknowledge the risks of the viral spread?

Appearing on Smart Talk to explore why there are people who see themselves as less susceptible to risk than others is Dickinson College Professor of Psychology Marie Helweg-Larsen, Ph.D. Professor Helweg-Larson is also the director of Dickinson’s Science Study Abroad program in England and she’ll also share her observations on how England is battling the pandemic.


Your coronavirus stories on Smart Talk

When the history books are written, March 2020 will not be remembered fondly. It is when the coronavirus spread day-by-day in the United States. In Pennsylvania alone, two people tested positive for COVID-19 on March 6. As of yesterday, less than three weeks later — there are almost 1,700 cases and 16 people have died.

In those three weeks, Gov. Tom Wolf has declared a disaster emergency, ordered non-life-sustaining businesses to close and encouraged Pennsylvanians to stay home and maintain social distancing as ways to limit spread of the illness.

Often, the scene at grocery stores has been reminiscent of an impending winter storm — only this time it’s not just bread and milk everyone is after — it’s toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

In what has become a bit of a rallying cry, we hear: “We’re all in this together.”

Many have taken that to heart and shown compassion and kindness and have reached out to help their neighbors. With children home from closed schools, families are closer and have tried to find ways to enjoy themselves or pass the time.

On Friday’s Smart Talk, we want to hear your stories — especially the positive ones. How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Share your stories by calling 1-800-729-7532 or sending an email to

Roger Baumgarten, owner of Roger That Photography, is participating in The Front Steps Project — a concept launched by a Boston-area photographer — to capture socially distanced family portraits. He joins us to talk about the project.

Your stories

As a flower farmer this has been a very concerning time. But the positive is, the seed and flowers don’t know that. They just keep growing! Its a helpful reminder that there will be a time after this is all over, and there will be flowers, because I’m planting them! As they say, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” — Longbourn Blooms

Going to the grocery store and seeing joyful celebration of things we normally just take for granted like finding a bag of flour on the shelf or a box of tissues. Everyone seems to be noticing all the positives and just dealing with the hard parts. It’s almost a party atmosphere. — Ginny Bishop

As a retired teacher I have been able to teach my 7 year old granddaughter on facetime while her parents work from home. Special moments! — Ronni Wolkow Cook

I live with my 83 year old father who is English and as a child survived the blitz.. he has been sheltering in place and is working on a puzzle of Spitfire that I got him.. last Saturday we watched a documentary about spitfires and the female pilots who delivered them during the war.. as we are watching he casually says that when he was a kid they use to save their pennies for a spitfire.. I was confused and thought he meant a toy.. he clarified and said No.. as part of the war effort towns saves their pennies/ change and purchased spitfires … the towns name would then be painted on the plane .. I asked him if his town saved enough to buys a plane and he said yes.. several… about this time the documentary is interviewing the one of the female pilots who is being reunited with the last spitfire she flew and the closeup included the name of the town that had paid for it .. the documentary didn’t call that detail out but my dad noticed and did point it out .. I’m 51.. and i have heard a lot of his stories, I have never heard this story.. had we not been sharing this moment.. I most likely never would have … I’m so grateful for this experience… — Lulu Bisney

The coronavirus on Smart Talk Thursday: School continuity plans, rural Pa disparities and watching for child abuse

It is not business as usual for Pennsylvania schools.

All K-12 schools have been closed in Pennsylvania for the last 10 days and none will be open through at least April 6.

What does this mean for learning continuity?

Pennsylvania Intermediate Units are tasked to provide technical assistance to the districts and provide help for school districts to develop continuity plans. Appearing on Thursday’s Smart Talk are Tom Gluck, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units, and Dr. Andria Saia, Ed.D., Executive Director, Capital Area Intermediate Unit #15 to discuss how IU’s will support the schools.

The digital divide is a significant impediment to any online school options. There are many areas of the state that do not have broadband internet coverage and often inconsistent cell service. What does this mean for rural schools?

Barry Denk, director of the Center for Rural PA joins us on Smart Talk to discuss the impact the coronavirus emergency is having on rural education, healthcare and hospitals.

Finally, during the stay-at-home and work-from-home mandate, there is concern for the welfare of children in abusive environments.

Angela Liddle is the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (for parenting resource support) and she appears on Thursday’s Smart Talk to address keeping children safe from abuse during the coronavirus emergency. If you believe that a child is at risk of abuse, call the toll-free intake line, 1-800-932-0313. This number is available 24 hours/seven days a week.

The coronavirus on Smart Talk Wednesday: lung health and the virus, learning at home, and tax day delayed

While the number of cases of the COVID 19 or the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow in the U.S. and Pennsylvania, WITF’s Smart Talk focuses on many aspects of the illness and the nation’s response to it. Smart Talk is committed to providing context and answering questions during these extraordinary times.

Featured on Wednesday’s Smart Talk coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus emergency are discussions that focus on COVID-19 and lung health and the respiratory system; a WITF initative to help students learn while they’re out of school and at home; and details of Pennsylvania’s income tax deadline being delayed.

COVID-19 is an illness that attacks the respiratory system. One of the most noticeable symptoms is that those afflicted present with a dry cough. The illness becomes more critical when the patient is having trouble breathing and or goes into respiratory failure. That’s one of the reasons ventilators are so important to save lives.

Penn State Hershey allergist and immunologist Dr. Timothy Craig, MD, is on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to provide more information and answer questions about COVID-19 the coronavirus. Dr. Craig is on the American Lung Association Camp Hill’s local leadership board. (Dr. Craig recommends listeners visit the Centers for Disease Control website for the latest information on the COVID-19 emergency)

Also, hundreds of thousands of students are at home in Pennsylvania after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools to close earlier this month. It will be at least two weeks before they re-open. Some classes are continuing online and through distance learning but many students have little access to educational resources or materials.

WITF is launching a new initiative called Learning at Home that includes a website with dozens of educational resources for children, their parents and families while the emergency continues.

WITF’s Director of Education Debbie Riek and Director of Programming and Promotions Fred Vigeant are on Smart Talk to provide more details.

The income tax bill won’t be due April 15th both federally and in Pennsylvania due to the coronavirus outbreak. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Revenue Dan Hassell joins us on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to explain and answer questions. For more information visit the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue website.


The coronavirus on Smart Talk Tuesday: security of the food supply, vaccine trials and helping aging Pennsylvanians

While many businesses in Pennsylvania have closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Governor Tom Wolf and First Lady Frances Wolf reminded Pennsylvanians that this does not include grocery stores and food suppliers.

Governor Wolf said that all Pennsylvanians should have faith in our food system and that if everyone only buys what they need there will be enough for everyone.

Since the outbreak began there have been shortages of certain products, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, leaving some uneasy about the reliability of the food supply.

Representing the Pennsylvania Food Merchant’s Association, Scott Karns, CEO of Karns Quality Foods, and Joe Fasula, owner of Gerrity’s Grocery Stores appear on Smart Talk Tuesday to discuss food network security.

Meanwhile, there is no cure for COVID-19. The first clinical trials for a vaccine to protect against the virus began just over a week ago. Public health officials say it will take a year to 18 months for a a potential vaccine to be fully tested.

University of Pennsylvania Professor of Biostatistics, Medical Ethics and Health Policy Susan Ellenberg, PhD. is an expert on clinical trials and medical product safety. She’ll appear on Tuesday’s Smart Talk.

Also, there are certain people and age-groups who are at greater risk for the coronavirus.

Robert Torres, Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging, is on Smart Talk to discuss how older adults and especially those with underlying medical conditions are the most vulnerable during the outbreak and how the state is continuing to offer services and support.

The PA Link to Community Care website is designed to help persons with disabilities and seniors find information that will connect them to supports and services in their community, or call 1-800-753-8827. 

For individuals who would like to volunteer for emergency disaster response visit here. 

Patient assistance clearing house call 1-800-955-0989. 

For suspected elder abuse or abuse of an adult with a disability call 1-800-490-8505.

The coronavirus on Smart Talk Monday: human services, domestic violence concerns, how PA businesses are dealing with closures, and a look at what happened during the 1918 flu pandemic

Childcare centers around the Commonwealth are facing a tough choice; close their doors or get permission from the state to stay open.

They can’t operate without a waiver since Governor Tom Wolf issued a blanket shutdown order to thousands of “non-life-sustaining” businesses across the state.

The decision for some centers is based on the population they serve. For others, they are weighing the risk of COVID-19 against the needs of their employees and the parents who use their service.

Secretary of the Department of Human Services Teresa Miller joins Smart Talk on Monday to discuss the departments guidance during the COVID-19 emergency. Waiver information for day care centers can be accessed by calling 1-877-4PA-KIDS.

Also, when families are asked to quarantine at home those who fear or experience domestic violence are suddenly thrust into a potentially dangerous situation.

The Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence is spotlighting the need to remain vigilant and safeguard programs that support victims. Julie Bancroft is the Chief Public Affairs Officer with the PCDV and appears on Monday’s Smart Talk.

Since Governor Wolf ordered all non-essential businesses to cease operations to limit the spread of the coronavirus, more than 10-thousand business have sought waivers to remain open. Gene Barr is the President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and will appear on Smart Talk to discuss what happens next.

Finally, one-hundred-years-ago, the 1918 flu claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 in the United States.

Dr. Michael Neiberg, Ph.D., joins Smart Talk to talk about what happened a century ago. He is a Professor of History and Chair of War Studies in the Department of National Security and Strategy, United States Army War College.

**The Pennsylvania Department of Health has added a link to a coronavirus self-checker guide to help people make appropriate decisions about their medical care. Users are advised that it is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition**

The Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence offers this information: To find your local domestic violence program and hotline.

National Domestic Violence Hotline or 1-800-799-7233 or Text LOVEIS to 22522

PASafeLaw (this hotline is not for crisis situations) – 1-833-727-223


The coronavirus on Smart Talk Friday: feeding the hungry, going outdoors, the view from Italy

While the number of cases of the COVID 19 or the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow in the U.S. and Pennsylvania, WITF’s Smart Talk focuses on many aspects of the illness and the nation’s response to it. Smart Talk is committed to providing context and answering questions during these extraordinary times.

On Friday’s Smart Talk, we discuss the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s role in meeting the needs of the region’s food insecure and hungry people, Pennsylvania state parks and going outdoors while maintaining social distancing during the pandemic and speak with a midstate man who is living in Italy — a country that may have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus.

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank says it is “committed to meeting the elevated need” that they believe will be developing as thousands are out of work, on top of a sizable population that was already food insecure.

Executive Director Joe Arthur is on Friday’s Smart Talk.

Also, all facilities at Pennsylvania’s state parks are closed. However, the public can access trails, lakes, roads and parking while mitigation efforts continue.

Cindy Adams Dunn, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is with us on Smart Talk to provide details and discuss what activities are available outdoors while many people are holed up at home.

Finally, more people have died from COVID-19 in Italy than any other country in the world and in fact the number of cases and deaths continue to grow.

On Friday’s Smart Talk, we speak with a Carlisle man who is living near Naples, Italy.



The Coronavirus on Smart Talk Thursday: Blood needed, impact on restaurants, funerals

While the number of cases of the COVID 19 or the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow in the U.S. and Pennsylvania, WITF’s Smart Talk focuses on many aspects of the illness and the nation’s response to it. Smart Talk is committed to providing context and answering questions during these extraordinary times.

On Thursday’s Smart Talk, we’ll discuss the critical need for blood from donors, how Pennsylvania’s restaurants that are shutdown, except for pick-up and delivery are faring, and how funerals are different due to the outbreak and social distancing.

Across the country, more than four-thousand blood drives have been canceled, resulting in some 130,000 fewer blood donations due to the coronavirus concerns. That’s according to the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, which supplies blood to 23 hospitals in 10 counties.

We’ll learn more about the need for blood on Thursday’s program with Patrick Bradley, President and CEO and Jay Wimer, Director of Community Relations  with the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank.  For information about how you can donate blood call 1-800-771-0059 or visit

Also, nearly all of Pennsylvania’s restaurants and bars are closed under the direction of Gov. Tom Wolf, to keep people from coming into contact with someone who may be infected with the coronavirus. It will create a financial hardship for business owners and the thousands of workers who have been laid off from their jobs.

Meanwhile hotels have fewer overnight customers.

Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association President and CEO John Longstreet is on Smart Talk with details.

We’ll also hear from Mandy Arnold, co-owner of The Left Bank restaurant in York about her coronavirus plans.

Finally, one of the most sacred of rituals — funerals — are being affected by the coronavirus precautions.

Appearing on Thursday’s Smart Talk is David Peake, Jr., President of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association and a licensed funeral director with Robert L. Mannal Funeral Home in Philadelphia to explain.

Smart Talk broadcast on March 19, 2020, with Host Scott LaMar and Engineer Craig Rhodes.

Smart Talk

Smart Talk broadcast on March 19, 2020, with Host Scott LaMar and Engineer Craig Rhodes.

The coronavirus’ impact on ERs, schools and prisons

Emergency room doctors and healthcare providers have found themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus response.

There has also been an impact on the acute care system and how hospitals are dealing with the crisis. A major part of their response involves first responders.

Joining us on Wednesday’s Smart Talk is Dr. Arvind Venkat, MD, a Pittsburgh-area Emergency Physician and President of the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians. Dr. Venkat is an ER doctor who will talk about what people need to be doing, and not doing, in response to COVID-19.

Also, millions of families around the country are now managing their children’s education outside of their brick and mortar schools and inside their own homes.

Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but that is exactly what many families need to do while schools are closed.

Appearing on Smart Talk to offer her perspective on making it work for new homeschooling families is Devany LeDrew, a blogger and teacher who wants to share her families play-based educational activities.

And finally, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has taken unprecedented steps to curb the coronavirus outbreak in Pennsylvania prisons.

Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel is on Smart Talk to outline the steps they are taking to sanitize the facilities and support inmates.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel appears on Smart Talk January 22, 2020.

Alexandra Stein

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel appeared on Smart Talk January 22, 2020.



Dr. Arvind Venkat, MD, and Devany LeDrew appear on Smart Talk on March 18, 2020.


Dr. Arvind Venkat, MD, and Devany LeDrew appear on Smart Talk on March 18, 2020.