Pa. coronavirus recovery: Remembering first responders, both on 9/11 and now

In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, with the skeleton of the World Trade Center twin towers in the background, New York City firefighters work amid debris on Cortlandt St. after the terrorist attacks.  (Mark Lennihan/AP Photo, File)

In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, with the skeleton of the World Trade Center twin towers in the background, New York City firefighters work amid debris on Cortlandt St. after the terrorist attacks. (Mark Lennihan/AP Photo, File)

Updated: 2:30 p.m.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 1,008 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total statewide in Pennsylvania to 142,885.

There were 17 new deaths reported, bringing the total death count to 7,837.

State officials also announced a record one-day high of 30,855 test results reported through 10 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Philadelphia reported 99 new coronavirus cases Friday, bringing the city total to 34,985. The city reported 7 additional deaths, bringing the total to 1,770.

Remembering the work of first responders, back on 9/11 and today

On the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine remembered the sacrifice first responders have made — both on 9/11 and now with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Without hesitation, our health care providers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, advanced life support teams, National Guard members, firefighters and police officers have once again answered the call to save lives,” she said at a Friday morning press conference. “They have worked nonstop to save lives in our community, in hospitals and in long-term care facilities. And they have spent time away from their families to keep them safe after treating COVID-19 patients.”

Levine said that as the state prepares for winter with the flu and another possible wave of coronavirus cases, the work of those individuals will become more vital.

State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego discussed how the work of first responders during the pandemic has resulted in frequent exposure risks.

With colleagues in his line of work, Trego said, he sees dedication to serving people in need no matter what every day. But on 9/11, that memory is different.

“We all watched as countless fire service, police, emergency medical services, port authority and indeed many others rushed into the Twin Towers with a singular purpose: to save lives,” Trego said.

Similarly, on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that day, many people rushed into the cockpit to thwart a further attack, and federal employees and soldiers worked together to get Pentagon employees to safety.

Trego said that as important as it is to remember those who died while serving that day, it is of equal necessity to remember those who “walked away that day with deep wounds both physical and mental.”

Suicide among first responders in the United States is increasing, he said. In 2017, there were more suicides among fire personnel than there were line-of-duty deaths. And as of the end of August, there were already 60 confirmed suicides of first responders for 2020, Trego said.

Thursday, Sept. 10, marked World Suicide Prevention Day. Trego said the Wolf administration, state lawmakers and Prevent Suicide Pennsylvania recently released the state’s suicide prevention plan.

It includes a four-year strategy to reduce suicide in the state by fighting stigma associated with mental and behavioral health, and increasing training and education about suicide.

The state fire commission office also recently announced the availability of free online classes for fire and emergency medical personnel through Train PA, on topics such as being a first responder during a pandemic, dealing with a “bad call” and how to better support fellow first responders.

Trego closed with a quote from Sandy Dahl, the widow of United Flight 93 captain Jason Dahl, in capturing its relevance to dealing with the devastation of the pandemic today.

“If we learned nothing from this tragedy, we must learn life is short and there is no time for hate.”

The Eagles and social distancing

In the more regularly scheduled coronavirus briefing question-and-answer portion of Levine’s press conference, she discussed this weekend’s return to pro football, with the Philadelphia Eagles playing the Washington Football Team on Sunday.

Although the National Football League is leaving it up to individual teams to decide whether fans can attend games, there will be no fans allowed in Lincoln Financial Field or at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for now — per guidance from state and local officials.

Levine said it’s hard to predict the future and when fans would be allowed back in stadiums or arenas, but she noted there would need to be a substantial reduction in community spread before that would even be on the table.

“Of course in the future, we are hoping for a vaccine and other measures … but given at this time, we feel it’s in the public’s best interest not to have fans for those football games,” Levine said.

Pa. investing $4M for direct care worker training

To help improve the quality of work by direct care workers in Pennsylvania, the state Department of Labor & Industry announced that $4 million in Direct Care Worker Training Grants is available.

Direct care workers support and help patients who cannot look after themselves on their own in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. State Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said 90% of direct care workers are women, who often earn low wages and receive limited health benefits.

“The Direct Care Worker Training Grants benefit our loved ones who need this type of assistance and the workers who care for them,” Oleksiak said.

The $4 million will go toward the creation and development of training programs that offer specialty certifications, and create more career opportunities for certified nursing assistants, home health aides and personal care assistants.

This comes after last year’s Blueprint for Strengthening Pennsylvania’s Direct Care Workforce, a report from the Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council, which recommended standardized core training for direct care workers. It also comes as more people may require long-term care assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Applicants that would be eligible to receive the funding for training include local workforce development boards, nonprofits and non-governmental entities, education organizations, health care organizations, labor organizations and more.

The deadline to apply is Oct. 2. Grant awardees will be notified by the end of November, with the funds available by January 2021.

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