SHAMOKIN — The Rotary Club will welcome Santa back to the city, albeit under health and safety guidelines due to the pandemic.
To keep children safe this year, on Monday, Dec. 7, Santa will land his sleigh in a lot directly behind Bader’s Fine Furniture, 704 N. Liberty St., where it will remain until Friday, Dec. 11. The sleigh, which is provided on-behalf of the organization, will not be traveling this season to neighboring communities.
Weather permitting, each night between 6 and 8 p.m. children will be welcome to meet Santa from the confines of their vehicle. Unlike past years when children could have their photo taken with Saint Nick, Rotary Club members and other volunteers will direct children and parents to social distance from others by remaining in their vehicles.
“It’s a big change. We can’t go around and meet kids and let them up on the sleigh. We really regret this, but we wanted to try and do something for the kids in the community,” commented Mike Buriak, the committee chairman for the Santa Sleigh. “Hopefully next year we can get things back to normal.”
A microphone will still allow youngsters to speak with Santa. Letters can be given to Rotary members, who will provide each child with a small gift.
Youngsters should not be alarmed, Buriak said, if they see Santa’s helpers wearing gloves, masks and face shields.
Buriak said motorists will access the lot from North Liberty Street and exit via North Orange Street, similar to a recent metal collection event. There will be no pedestrian traffic allowed into the area.
Buriak said the Rotary Sleigh will likely travel to other communities next year, but noted the organization has been reviewing safety protocols, aside from the pandemic, because of the increased popularity of the traveling sleigh.
Monetary donations will be accepted at this year’s drive-through Santa visit, which will go toward the organization’s third annal coat drive.
The organization is seeking coats, hats, scarves and mittens for those in the community who struggle as the temperature drops. Due to the pandemic, only new clothing will be accepted. Items can be dropped off until Dec. 15 at Bader’s Fine Furniture, BB&T Bank, 521 N. Second St., and Fulton Bank, 100 W. Independence St.
Anyone wanting to volunteer with Santa’s Sleigh or wanting to donate toward the coat drive may contact Buriak at 570-847-0191.
In a related note, the pandemic has also halted the Rotary Club’s annual Turkey Trot that has been held Thanksgiving morning on the campus of the Shamokin Area School District. The event, which typically draws 100 or more participants, has been canceled.
The Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way (GSVUW) hosted a webinar on Thursday evening in which six local health care leaders provided an in-depth discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic. That conversation included a wide range of issues, such as the proper use of face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, hospitalizations and internal nursing staff issues related to COVID-19 patients. The moderator was Joanne Troutman, GSVUW President and CEO.
Among the six health care panelists were Benjamin Willard, Family Practice Center CFO; Kendra Aucker, Evangelical Community Hospital (ECH) president and CEO; Dr. Jaewon Ryu, Geisinger Health System president and CEO; Janet Tomcavage, Geisinger executive vice president and Chief Nurse Executive; D. Lynn Yannes, Evangelical RN, critical care manager; and Dr. Margaret M. Still, Geisinger internal medicine and pediatrics.
Willard opened the forum by speaking of the importance of seeking healthcare, mask wearing and behavioral health relative to COVID-19.
“One general trend we’re seeing right now in speaking with our physicians is that we have a lot of patients who feel they aren’t infected by COVID-19 because they’re not experiencing any of the typical symptoms such as a fever,” said Willard. “It’s important to note that the symptoms do not just include fever, cough, loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath. Many patients have confirmed that they haven’t had many symptoms at all, while others have had headaches, nasal congestion or GI issues. That’s what makes it even more important to get checked.”
Willard stressed the importance of masking and social distancing as a means of helping to minimize and control the spread of COVID-19.
“Masking is something we take very seriously here at FPC and we firmly believe that it’s the key to keeping everyone safe,” he said. “Moving into the holiday season we need to focus on staying within our own households. Bringing a bunch of people together in an enclosed area drastically increases the chances of spreading the virus.”
Aucker provided an update at Evangelical Community Hospital.
“As of this evening we have six patients in the COVID ICU, 17 patients in the COVID unit. There are four patients waiting in the emergency room for more COVID beds to become available,” she pointed out. “This is on top of all of the other patients in our care in other areas. We are extremely busy right now.”
Aucker said that her hospital is also creating a separate and safe non-COVID ICU that will open Friday.
“We’ve added four negative pressure COVID beds to the existing ICU to be able to handle 10 COVID ICU patients and we’re prepared to expand COVID bed capacity in other areas of the hospital as the need arises,” she said. “We’re averaging about 160 tests daily and over the past three weeks our positivity rate has been 12.3% and in the last seven days that number has climbed to 18%.”
Ryu said that one of the ways that you know you’re fighting a tough battle with COVID-19 is when multiple health care organizations are dealing with similar issues. He displayed a graph titled “COVID-19 Patients in Geisinger Hospitals by Region from Oct. 1 to Nov.17” which depicted a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations from 60 on Oct. 1 to roughly 190 on Nov. 17.
“There are several things that we’ve seen are effective in preventing and combating the spread of the virus such as masking, making sure that we avoid large gatherings, particularly indoors and being near those who aren’t in your household without a mask is really asking for trouble,” he said.
Tomcavage and Yannes both provided an internal perspective on what their hospital’s nursing teams are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With regard to nurses and rounding, Jaewon (Ryu) and I make rounds throughout all of our hospitals and the devastation that’s being caused by COVID is just overwhelming,” Tomcavage said. “It’s really felt deeply by our frontline workers — the exhaustion, fear and in some cases the unending tired feeling is deeply emotional, not only for our workers but family members who can’t be there in person, who our workers are often substituting for.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of the nursing staff who care for these COVID patients and have done so every day since March 24 when we received our first patient. They do it, they don’t complain and our absentee rate is less than it would be normally at this time of the year,” said Yannes. “The staff are really tired it’s physically exhausting for them and mentally taxing, yet they do such a great job. It’s devastating in here to be with these patients and watching them die alone. Their families drop them off at the ER and often never see them again.”
Yannes said that COVID-19 patients at Evangelical Community Hospital have ranged in ages from 18 to 107.
Still, who practices at the Lewisburg Geisinger Clinic, concluded the discussion by speaking about how her clinic is currently dealing with regard to COVID-19 patients.
“We have 30 to 40 staff members here and everyone of them has already had their flu shots which we feel is very important. Also, we’ve made a lot of changes in our staff to deal with the uncertainties of this coronavirus and with many of our protocols, including more telemedicine appointments where patients can speak with our team remotely from home,” Still explained, and added, “We certainly have been seeing rising cases here and encourage our patients to go to authorized testing sites to get tested for COVID-19. We’re also very careful about screening and who is allowed into our office.”
COAL TOWNSHIP — It’s rare when a municipality adopts a budget containing a slight tax decrease from the year before, but that’s what happened Thursday night when Coal Township commissioners unanimously approved a $3.5 million tentative spending plan for 2021 during a brief special meeting.
Voting to approve the $3,516,176 budget that calls for the debt service tax to be reduced from 2.65 mills to 1.80 mills were Commissioners Craig Fetterman, Bernie Rumberger, Gerard Waugh III and Matt Schiccatano. Commissioner George Zalar was absent.
Township secretary Rob Slaby said the proposed debt service tax decreased due to two loans for the purchase of police and street department equipment being paid off earlier this year.
Fetterman, who serves as board president, commended Slaby for preparing the budget and all department heads for staying within their respective budgets.
The tentative spending plan includes the following:
• Library fund, $12,727.
• Pension fund, $487,692.
• Fire protection fund, $79,365.
• Special highway fund, $379,732.
• Construction code inspections fund, $50,510.
• Debt service fund, $122,655.
Recreation fund, $210,800.
The commissioners also approved the following proposed tax rates for 2021:
Library, 1/4 mill; earned income tax, 1/2%; realty transfer tax, 1%; per capita tax, $5; local services tax, $52; occupation tax, 200%; business privilege tax, 1 1/2 mills; pension fund tax, 1/2 mill; fire protection tax, 1 1/2 mills; general fund tax, 30 mills; debt service tax, 1.80 mills, and recreation tax, 3/4 mill.
One mill is equivalent to $45,600 in collected taxes.
The budget for the current year is $3,720,631. The 2019 spending plan totaled $3,472,826.
Final adoption of the 2021 budget and tax rates is expected to occur at the Dec. 3 commissioners’ meeting.
DEN-MAR GARDENS — The Borough of Mount Carmel approved the purchase of a building that council said will house the police department.
Council unanimously voted at their monthly meeting Thursday night at the municipal authority offices to purchase 30 W. Third St., Mount Carmel, for $160,000 from Heit Holdings LLC.
The building, which until recently was the location of Compass Academy, is located two doors east of the former Wells Fargo Bank building, 50 W. Third St., which will house administrative offices.
Council had originally intended to place offices for LATS, the municipal authority, code department, police department and other borough offices into the bank building, but the purchase of a second building, they said, will free up space and likely save energy because only the police department operates 24/7.
Voting to approve the purchase was President Robert Shirmer, Jack Spade, Ed Fegley, Robert Barrett, Clement Plisiewicz Jr. and Leroy Moser. Absent was Kevin Powell.
“It will be less crowded in the bank, which was too small for both (the police department and borough), especially working with the police department to put in a sally port,” Shirmer said of the purchase.
According to council, PB Vandross LLC charges rent in the amount of $400 to the municipal authority and $2,400 to the borough to have its offices inside a former school building at Fourth and Vines streets.
Shirmer said what the borough will save in rent in 2021 will be used to pay utilities of both borough buildings.
Moser commented on the new purchase, “It’s a couple of steps away and is really convenient that it came out this way. Even though we are purchasing two buildings, it will come out to the same amount for having two buildings instead of being in the (current building). It’s better for us to do it this way.”
Plisiewicz and Fegley said renovation work inside the former bank will mostly be cosmetic in nature while the Compass Academy building has all the required plumbing and electrical work. Although construction bids have not been advertised for either project, the councilmen expressed confidence that the borough is heading in the right direction.
“What’s important to recognize, is that once we do this, the borough now has these buildings as assets,” Fegley remarked. “Right now, we have been paying for over a decade to rent this place (school building) and we having nothing to show for it.”
Fegley thanked the public for its patience, adding that “a lot of factors” came up since the borough moved on from its initial plan to construct a municipal building at 125 S. Oak St.
“It will be safer. And, once both buildings are done, it will give us a better, more efficient working atmosphere,” Mayor Philip Cimino said. “It will better serve Mount Carmel.”
Council said the purchase of the former Compass Academy building is earmarked in next year’s proposed $1,770,445 budget, which will hold the line on taxes.
Shirmer praised borough officials for not raising taxes — the 14th straight year. He noted that the borough is also debt free.
Barrett echoed Shirmer’s compliments by stating that the borough at one point had utilized anticipation notes to temporary finance operations.
“We haven’t done that in years. We are not borrowing money. That, to me, is a big deal. We are down to about 5,800 people and we are still keeping our head above water,” Barrett remarked. “Once again, no new taxes. It amazes me that we are not raising taxes again. That takes a lot of heard work, mentally too, to do this.”
In regard to the dismissal of John Bucanelli as borough manager, Shirmer did not disclose the reason for the firing, but stated, “At council’s desire, we did not feel comfortable having Mr. Bucanelli in the position as manager. We moved forward with him and will continue to move forward.”
In other business, council approved the purchase of a new computer for the code department and the payment of $8,950 to a data recovery company upon the delivery of borough data potentially lost due to what council said was a malfunction of two servers.
Spade said data was not compromised, but the cause of the malfunction is not yet known. To prevent future incidents, data will now be stored off-site on secure severs.
The mayor and council members took turns complimenting borough employees and wished all residents a safe and happy holiday season.
“Be safe and use common sense,” Cimino said. “Be careful where you are going, and so forth. The biggest thing, is to help us beat this COVID.”
In other business, the board:
• Ordered street signs for the First Ward from Braco Supply in the amount of $7,527.38
• Approved the purchase of a paper shredder for $1,865. Approximately 150 boxes of paper need to be properly disposed of, borough secretary Megan Janolek reported.
• Appointed John Wascavage to the borough planning commission and building code appeals board.
• Appointed William McClaflin to the planning commission.
• Hired Frank Mostik Jr. as a full-time borough worker at a rate of $15 an hour; and James William to the municipal authority.