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Geisinger CEO expects COVID spread to worsen

DANVILLE — “Concern” is a word that was repeated constantly Friday afternoon by Geisinger Health System President and CEO Dr. Jaewon Ryu as he discussed a recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the system.

“We are seeing concerning trends,” Ryu said, as he opened an online press briefing. “We are seeing very concerning community trends. The spread is pretty prevalent in our community.”

According to Ryu, someone with COVID-19 who requires hospitalization is admitted every hour to a Geisinger hospital.

Currently, 190 people are hospitalized across the system with the virus. He said that’s the highest number since April, when 130 patients were hospitalized across the system.

“This thing is picking up steam at a rate none of us are happy about,” Ryu said. “The worst is still to come.”

Of those who are hospitalized, he said, 10% to 15% are nursing home residents.

The largest spread of the virus is occurring in people in their 20s, 30s and 50s.

Several weeks ago, Ryu said just 9% of those who were tested for the virus had a positive result. Now, the number has increased to 20%.

He advised everyone to use “extreme caution” when planning Thanksgiving celebrations.

“Anyone who is not in your household could be a carrier of this virus,” Ryu said.

He said everyone should wear a mask if visiting a home other than their own.

With recent state guidelines that anyone traveling from out of state quarantine for 14 days upon return unless they’ve had a negative test result within 72 hours of returning, Ryu was asked if someone with no symptoms of the virus can be tested.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested, he said. However, a physician may not recommend testing for someone who is asymptomatic.

Ryu also said that whether an individual would be charged for the testing would be dependent upon their medical insurance company.

A sharp increase in COVID-19 cases across the Central Susquehanna Valley was reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday.

In Union County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by 103, bringing the number of cases to 1,121.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, multiple inmates and staff at FCI and USP Allenwood are listed as having COVID-19. The numbers are as follows: FCI Allenwood Low Security, two staff; FCI Allenwood Medium Security, 35 inmates, two staff; USP Allenwood, 41 inmates, five staff.

In Northumberland County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by 35, bringing the total number of cases since the onset of the pandemic to 1,979. In Lycoming County, the number of confirmed cases rose by 43, to 1,468.

Other case increases include: Snyder County, 16; and Montour County 5. One new death from the virus was also documented in Union County.

The Southern Columbia girls soccer team celebrates after defeating Greensburg Central Catholic 2-1 in the PIAA Class 1A championship game Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.

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Raising funds for veterans in need

Many areas of need have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and veterans in need are no exception.

The nonprofit Central Susquehanna Valley Veterans Council is hoping to assist veterans this holiday season with the myriad of needs that exist, from homelessness, home heating, food and clothing.

The council is partnering with Northumberland County Veterans Affairs to raise funds for the Northumberland County Veterans Emergency Fund, which relies solely on donations to assist with veterans in need throughout Northumberland County.

“That’s money to cover additional veterans’ needs, such as putting heat in a veteran’s home,” said Belinda Albright, the retiring director of Veterans Affairs in Northumberland County.

Each winter, much of the funding is used to assist with keeping heat in the homes of veterans. No matter the heating source, administrators ensure veterans in need have a supply of heat, and that that source of heat isn’t shut off.

“Coal, oil, getting gas tanks filled,” explained Albright. “I’ve ordered a skid of wood pellets for a wood stove.”

Typically, the fund relies on two annual fundraisers — a poker run at the Sunbury Airport Campground and the Keystone Fish and Game Association chicken barbecue, trap shoot and raffle, held annually in Irish Valley. Those events were not held this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s going to be tight this year,” said Albright, who noted the fund is about $10,000 short of where it normally is at this time of year. “That assists between 40 and 80 (veterans), depending on need.”

Incoming Director Jeff Wojciechowski noted the fund assists with homelessness, utility costs, eviction, heating and food. The Veterans Affairs office works with landlords and utility companies in order to prevent termination or eviction.

The office also shops for veterans, providing food and other needs to the individual veterans. No money is given directly to the veterans.

“This is something we started a while back,” said Albright. “I was getting phone calls from veterans that needed help.

“If a veteran needs groceries, I’ll get a check and I’ll go do the shopping. Even if a veteran gets food stamps, they need things like tissue paper, towels, trash bags, toothpaste, whatever it may be.”

Contrary to what many may think, the Veterans Affairs office receives no state or federal funds.

“Our department is fully supported by the county general fund,” said Albright. “We always want to do more, but our resources are so limited. We receive no state or federal support.”

The goal is to raise $15,000 to assist veterans this holiday season, and into the winter months that follow. Tax-deductible donations may be made to the Central Susquehanna Valley Veterans Council and mailed to The Standard-Journal, 21 Arch St., Milton 17847. Those needing the EIN number for tax filing purposes can email chris@standard-journal.com.

“Even $1, it adds up,” said Albright. “These veterans, they are on fixed incomes, some are disabled and rely on getting help through our program.”

All proceeds will benefit the Northumberland County Veterans Emergency Fund.

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Garage/shed, Mustang, lawn mower destroyed in fire; Paxinos blaze spread into nearby woods

PAXINOS — A fire at a garage/shed Friday afternoon at a property along Route 61 destroyed the building and its contents, including a Mustang GT, a lawn mower and other personal belongings, before spreading to a nearby wooded area.

No injuries were reported in the 12:13 p.m. two-alarm blaze at 5101 State Route 61, Paxinos, that caused extensive damage to acreage leading to the top of a mountain behind the property.

Firefighters from 10 municipalities battled the blaze for several hours and heavy smoke could be seen for miles in the rural area of Shamokin Township.

Kristina Chelborg, 43, who resides at the home with her boyfriend, Jesse Brown, 44; and her three children, Gilbert, 17; Gabriel, 9 and Nevaeh, 7, said her teenage son was burning garbage in burn barrels when leaves on the ground caught fire. The fire quickly spread to a garage/shed about 10 feet away and a nearby wooded area, where it burned trees, leaves and extensive acreage.

Kristina Chelborg and Brown were visiting Chelborn’s brother in Mount Carmel when the fire broke out and quickly rushed home upon being notified about the blaze by her son, Gilbert.

Although very distraught about the fire, she said her main concern was the health and welfare of her children, one of whom was able to rescue a dog that was outside near the burn barrels.

In addition to losing Brown’s Mustang GT, a lawn mower and many personal belongings stored in the garage/shed, Chelborg’s 2006 Chevrolet Aveo also sustained front-end damage from the fire.

Brown said he has no insurance on the garage/shed.

Firefighters from the local and surrounding area did a great job preventing the fire from spreading to nearby homes, including the Brown and Chelborg residence. They had to utilize tanker trucks to transport water to the remote mountainside above the property and used brush trucks to battle the fire in the woods.

Firefighters remained on the scene until 4 p.m. to water down hot spots in the woods and on the torched remnants of the garage/shed.

Stonington Fire Chief Kerry Yordy directed firefighting efforts at the scene.

Responding to the call were firefighters from Elysburg, Overlook, Sunbury, Upper and Lower Augusta townships, Shamokin, Coal Township, Trevorton, Riverside and Mahoning Township. Also assisting were Americus Ambulance personnel from Sunbury, local fire police and employees from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Traffic along Route 61 was reduced to one lane for about an hour as a result of the fire.

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Elysburg man dies from injuries suffered in Thursday's crash

DANVILLE — A 68-year-old Elysburg man died Thursday from injuries suffered in a one-vehicle crash at Route 487 and Knoebels Boulevard.

Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn said John J. Lasko Jr., of 291 E. Valley Ave., was pronounced dead at 5:04 p.m. Thursday by a trauma team in the emergency room at Geisinger Medical Center. Lynn said the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries suffered in the accident.

Ralpho Township police reported Lasko was driving a Buick Enclave north on Route 487 at 3:20 p.m. Thursday when his vehicle exited the highway, crashed into a section of guard rail and descended an embankment off Knoebels Boulevard at the former main entrance to Knoebels Amusement Park.

Police said Lasko was unresponsive at the scene before being transported by Elysburg Ambulance to Geisinger Medical Center.

Lasko’s sport utility vehicle sustained extensive damage and was towed by Tire Ranch, of Elysburg.