Coronavirus on Smart Talk Thursday: Mental health providers face challenge treating from a distance and Pa to see some restrictions eased

“We’re all in this together.” That is a sentiment that we’ve heard often during the last two months as the coronavirus has changed our ways of life significantly. Staying at home, not being able to visit or even communicate with others, losing jobs, worrying about our finances, and the anxieties that come with protecting ourselves from the COVID-19 virus and becoming ill.

All can affect our mental health.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has another motto — “You’re not in this alone.”

The COVID-19 pandemic may leave many feeling alone or not part of a larger community. Especially vulnerable are those who suffered from a mental illness before their worlds were turned upside down.

The restrictions may have an impact on their state-of-mind and treatment.

On Thursday’s Smart Talk we’ll discuss mental health during the pandemic with Christine Michaels, National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania, along with Richard S. Edley, PhD., President/CEO, Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association. NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania helpline: 1888-264-7972

Also, Republican State Senator Scott Martin is one of several Lancaster County government and local officials who have questioned why Lancaster County has been designated as a southeastern county in the state’s plan to lift coronavirus restrictions. Martin and others say the county is more like those in the south central region and not the heavily populated southeastern counties that may be under restrictions longer than other areas of the state.

It’s one of the topics we’ll talk about with Sen. Martin about on Thursday’s Smart Talk.

Coronavirus on Smart Talk Wednesday: How grocers and farmers are managing shift in demand and increase in business

Throughout the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. we heard that food was plentiful at the nation’s grocery stores. Certain non-food items like toilet paper or cleaning supplies were in such demand that stores couldn’t keep them in stock and still are limiting purchases if the stores have those items at all.

Weeks later, though, there are concerns about the food supply chain. Again, it’s certain items like meat, frozen vegetables and pasta, but there are trends that are worrisome.

Meat, in particular, because the COVID-19 virus has infected thousands of workers in meat processing plants across the country who often work in close proximity to one another. President Trump has ordered meat processing plants to stay open because he says they are essential.

There also are instances of dairy farmers dumping milk into manure pits because they can’t get their products to market in a timely way before it could spoil and closed restaurants and schools are not buying dairy products.

Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association President and CEO Alex Baloga, along with Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokesperson Shannon Powers appear on Smart Talk Wednesday to talk about the impact of COVID-19 to the supply chain, as we have progressed more than a month into this crisis.

Also, the demand for food has made many realize how valuable grocery stores and their workers are.

The President of the Giant Company Nicholas Bertram joins us on Smart Talk to discuss how the central Pennsylvania food company is keeping shelves stocked, their recent hiring initiative and the emergency grant program with Team Pennsylvania.

Coronavirus on Smart Talk Tuesday: Right-to-repair medical equipment; Social media during pandemic

Consumer groups are behind a campaign to enact “right-to-repair” legislation in Pennsylvania. According to PennPirg, a consumer rights organization, “manufacturers often withhold critical information, tools, and parts to fix a wide range of products including cell phones, hospital equipment, tractors, and other devices.”

PennPirg says the proposal has taken on urgency during the coronavirus pandemic because hospitals sometimes don’t have what they need to repair ventilators – one of the most essential pieces of medical equipment during the pandemic.

Some repair information was released last week by at least one manufacturer.

Appearing on Tuesday’s Smart Talk to discuss right-to-repair are Emma Horst-Martz, Campaign Associate with PennPirg and Barbara Maguire, Vice President of Quality at ISS Solutions and Geisinger Clinical Engineering.

Also, while the world is in the pandemic, many people are sharing information on social media that may not be accurate. At the same time, many are sharing life stories, updates, and using social media to keep community alive. COVID-19 may have made Facebook more relevant. Government agencies are using social media to share updates.

Professor Charles Palmer, Executive Director for the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is on Tuesday’s Smart Talk to talk about the plusses and negatives of social media.

Coronavirus on Smart Talk Monday; Public Health Nurses integral to virus battle and COVID-19, fact vs. fiction

Public health nurses are often under-appreciated for their role as first responders. Their job in the community is to educate and serve at-risk populations, with a focus on disease prevention.

Their responsibilities in the community have put them front and center in the battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But limited staffing and past budget cuts have made it harder for public health nurses to do their jobs.

Spotlight PA reporter Aneri Pattani investigated the impact this is having on tracking the spread and what public health nurses are expected to do. Pattani joins Smart Talk on Monday to share her findings.

Scientists around the globe are working at a frenetic pace to try and understand, treat and prevent the coronavirus; a novel, or new, virus with few treatment options.

Even though it is a new virus to medical researchers, it does have some similarities to other viruses. Symptomatically, COVID-19 can be mistaken for the flu; both cause fever, cough, and body aches. Both viruses are transmitted from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person. That is essentially where the similarities between the viruses end.

Where facts are missing, there is plenty of speculation about COVID-19 all over the internet. With limited, and developing, factual information known about the virus, it is often hard to discern between what is truth and what is fiction.

Appearing on Smart Talk Monday to sort through both is Professor Tammy Tobin, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Biology at Susquehanna University. For individuals seeking web information, Dr. Tobin mentioned several websites that contain information about COVID-19: the Federal Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Coronavirus on Smart Talk Thursday: Pandemic puts emergency responders in tough spot; PennDOT adapts

Nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania’s Emergency Medical Services shut down between 2012 and 2018 due to a lack of funding and not enough emergency service technicians, paramedics or volunteers to staff ambulances. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, emergency responders face exposure to patients infected by the virus and risking their own health, as well as money being even tighter.

The pandemic has made a looming crisis even worse.

Where they are paid, paramedics and EMTs earn an average of $34,000 annually. In Pennsylvania’s more rural areas, ambulances are often staffed by volunteers. There are fewer of them than just a few years ago.

Ambulances count on reimbursements from private insurers, Medicaid and Medicare as well as contributions from the public. Often, the reimbursements go directly to the patient and don’t make it to the EMS.

Thursday’s Smart Talk examines emergency services with Jerry Ozog, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute and Donald DeReamus, Legislative Chair, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania.

Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has instituted several changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent limitations. Included are the closings of the state’s driver license centers, extending expiration dates for licenses, registrations and inspections and restricting construction to emergency needs.

Yassmin Gramian, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Transportation, appears on Thursday’s Smart Talk to provide details.

The coronavirus on Smart Talk Wednesday: Insurance questions answered and Pa. state universities at a turning point

Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities were facing major financial challenges before the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the schools to online classes only, but the coronavirus outbreak has made the institutions’ situation even more dire.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s 14 universities are projected to lose up to $100 million as a result of the spring semester being shut down.

Declining enrollments at the schools and stagnant state funding created financial hardship for the system.

Reform plans were underway but may now have to be accelerated.

The Chancellor of PASSHE, Dan Greenstein is on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to explain.

Also, many Pennsylvanians have questions about health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who have been diagnosed with the virus and are being treated are also concerned about paying their medical bills while those who haven’t contracted the coronavirus hope their insurance is strong enough if they do come down with the illness.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman is on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to answer health insurance questions.

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.

Smart Talk and coronavirus on Tuesday: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman appears on Tuesday’s Smart Talk to address several questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fetterman was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf last week to lead a task force to address the disparity between how African-Americans, Latinos and Asian Pacific Pennsylvanians are affected by the COVID-19 virus. Pennsylvania doesn’t have thorough statistics on the racial and ethnic backgrounds of those who have tested positive for the virus and those who have died from it. Anecdotally, health care workers have said they have seen a higher percentage of minority deaths. New York does have demographic information and has reported more than 60% of the COVID patients who have died were Latino or African-American.

Also, Fetterman has long advocated for the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes and says legal pot could help bring the state’s finances back after the pandemic wanes.

We’ll also discuss the policies established by the Wolf Administration related to the COVID-19 pandemic with the Lieutenant Governor, including plans to re-open.


Smart Talk on Monday; coronavirus questions answered

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported last week that the social distancing and stay-at-home order were doing what they were intended to do: flatten the curve.

The “curve” refers to the rise of the number of daily reported cases. Once those numbers level off or decline, the “curve” has flattened.

Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, MD, cautioned, though, that it is still not time to return to normal. Virus mitigation guidelines are still in effect for the state and no decision has been made when they might change.

Even as the pandemic has dominated the news for more than a month, many people still have questions about the virus and COVID-19 illness.

Smart Talk has devoted at least one program each week during the current coronavirus emergency to answering medical and health-related questions.

Appearing on Thursday’s Smart Talk is Dr. Ami DeWaters, MD, associate division chief of Hospital Medicine, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Leave a voicemail question at 1-800-729-7532 or email


Coronavirus on Smart Talk Thursday; Army deploys medical response teams and Pa. revenue planners project huge shortfall

The national response to the coronavirus pandemic is not slowing down, even as some states and regions begin planning to open their economies and lift work restrictions.

The Department of Defense has a robust medical capability that has been directed to aid in hard-hit communities around the county. The US Army is a big part of the response and many of the Army’s medical resources are found in reserve units, which are located around the county, to include Pennsylvania.

The Army has also created response teams known as “Urban Area Medical Task Forces” from its reserves. The task forces are intended to augment communities that are particularly hard hit by COVID-19.

Maj. Gen. Michael O’Guinn is the Deputy Chief of the US Army Reserves and he joins Smart Talk on Thursday to discuss the military’ response to the pandemic.

Also, the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office released revenue projections for the remainder of the year, and preliminary projections through 2021.

The revenue projections are estimates and based on the impact of COVID-19 business closures and the state-wide stay-at-home order.

Matthew Knittel is the Director of the IFO and appears on Smart Talk to discuss the revenue report, which is based on different scenarios.

Coronavirus on Smart Talk Wednesday: Pa. Education Secretary Rivera; College towns without students

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, K-12 classes were disrupted in Pennsylvania for only days at a time by a snowstorm, mold or a plumbing problem in a school building or maybe a teachers’ strike.

Students attended classes physically for the last time in March and last week Gov. Tom Wolf announced schools would closed for the remainder of the school year. In the meantime, educators are making what the state called “good faith” efforts to educate students who are now out of class. Whatever transpires between now and when classes open normally in the future, it is unprecedented.

Some students are continuing classes online, if they have internet access, while others are having materials sent to their homes. WITF launched Learning at Home — an initiative designed to augment the education of children utilizing public TV programs and resources on a website.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera appears on Wednesday’s Smart Talk along with Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Matthew Stem to discuss how students are continuing to learn during the pandemic.

Also, we’ll hear from Nathan Mains, CEO of the Pennsylvania Schools Boards Association about what local schools are going through at this time.

Finally, with colleges and universities shutdown, except for online classes, how have the towns and cities where they’re located been impacted?

Smart Talk focuses on the Borough of Shippensburg Wednesday.