Starting Sunday night and ending on Tuesday morning, Wyoming County got hit with its first big winter storm of 2021. A storm that according to County Emergency Management Director Gene Dziak, left 18-20 inches of snow with some places measuring as much as two feet of the white stuff.
Dziak said that the biggest problem facing this storm was its duration. This snowstorm was a three-day spread out event, which is different compared to previous Nor’easters.
“It just kept snowing for almost three days,” Dziak said. “That put a lot of hours on all of the plow truck drivers, and there’s a lot of roads to try and keep clean. They did a very good job though.”
This snow event was a little different from past snow events.
Dziak said that the snowfall still caused hazardous travel, but allowed plow truck drivers to keep the streets clean.
“There were no major issues that required our office to step in,” Dziak said. “There were no major accidents reported. The headache coming up is that there’s going to be a lot of snow to remove.”
As with every snowstorm, crews are going to be working on snow removal for the next couple of days to make sure that sidewalks, streets and parking lots are accessible again.
“We got two feet of snow to remove from some areas,” Dziak said. “Lucky we do have a lot of places to put it, but this is probably going to take a couple of days. We were prepared for this though, so we’re ahead of the game.”
Lackawanna Trail Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas addressed the topic of virtual snow days at a Trail School Board virtual work session on Monday night.
Instead of traditional snow days like in the past, Trail pivoted to virtual instruction days on Monday and Tuesday because of the snowstorm that hit the area. On these virtual instructional days, students log into class using their Chromebook computers to complete their lessons for the day.
Factoryville resident Joe Strauch said that he had seen on social media that some parents were unhappy about traditional snow days being taken away in favor of virtual instruction. Rakauskas said that although he knows the students miss snow days, that this is better for their education.
“We missed so much quality education time in March, April and May last year during the shutdown,” Rakauskas said. “We are trying to get in as many days as we can without having to extend the school year. I believe that these virtual days are good for the students’ education.
The school board members agreed with Rakauskas that virtual days will benefit the district in the long run.
“Not having to use excess snow days will help us with not having to go deep into the month of June,” Board President Kevin Mulhern said. “I know the kids would much rather be stuck in the house now than in June when the weather is nice.”
At next week’s regular meeting, the board will be voting to approve the first reading of some of some policies, most of which have to do with district curriculum and academic standards.
Rakauskas also said that the district wants to take a look at Trail’s mission statement and shared values. He shared that he intended to form a steering committee to work on this.
The committee would consist of board members, administrators, teachers, parents, and students. The mission statement of the district has not been adjusted in a couple of years and Rakauskas said that having representatives from every group in the district will benefit future students.
Also at next Monday’s board meeting, the board will vote to:
Board members David Bianchi, Joe Ross and David Thorne were absent from the work session.
The Lackawanna Trail School Board will have its next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. The Zoom link for the virtual meeting will be on the district’s website, www.ltsd.org.
The Tunkhannock Area School Board on Thursday said it was hoping for full return to classes by the fourth quarter and concerned that educators have not been allocated yet for vaccines.
Superintendent Heather McPherson gave an update on where the district was in its efforts to keep COVID-19 at bay.
She noted that the positivity rate for the state was at 9.7 percent, still high but headed in the right direction. She said the rate of 153 cases per 100,000 residents for Wyoming County was trending low “but still not yet where we want to be.”
She said the district was tracking a seventh grade case, but no longer any in the high school.
McPherson was proud at the district’s attendance rate in the different school buildings even if not yet in brick and mortar classes every day.
She noted that a couple of neighboring school districts that were touting full return to in-school classes were showing much lower attendance rates than Tunkhannock’s. She felt that 80 percent in the primary center, 74 percent in the intermediate center, 70 percent in the STEM academy and 73 percent in the high school were very promising.
She pointed out numbers for specific classroom assignments and noted that social distancing and staffing were not idea, but noting, “Right now we are at a low risk.”
Chief operating officer Shane Powers said she had been following recent statistics for the county, and noted the county was some weeks showing 8 or 10 new cases a day, but the numbers have been dropping since the weeks immediately following Thanksgiving.
Board member John Burke said he has seen the weekly increases, too, which he said were in the 45-65 range.
Board member Holly Arnold said, “I think if we get the vaccines mid-to the end of February, we should look to full return by the fourth quarter of the school year.”
“Nothing would make me happier than to announce a plan to make that happen” Burke said, a point also echoed by board member Lori Bennett.
Addressing a question about why Elk Lake’s educators got vaccinated the previous day with 170 vaccinations, and Wyoming County seemed to be a seeing a seeing a hold up, McPherson said, “I do not know where the holdup is. I’m keeping tack of where the possibilities are, but the windows close up quickly. My advice is that if you are able to get an appointment some place, than do it.”
Powers scheduled a building and grounds committee meeting for the board on Feb. 11 at 6 p.m., before the next full board meeting.
From the superintendent’s report, the board approved
a list of volunteers which includes John Burke, Sacha Hoff, Colleen Newswanger and Christine Slusark.
pproved a memorandum of understanding with the Tunkhannock Area Education Association regarding the outsourcing of physics/astronomy position duties; and
Absent from Thursday’s meeting were Rob Parry, William Prebola, and William Swilley.
As the state continues with Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout, Wyoming County EMA Director Gene Dziak said the county is going through plans on how to widely distribute the shot when there are enough doses.
“We’re planning vaccine clinics,” Dziak said. “It’s going to be like the drive-thru testing was only we’re looking at the Wyoming County Fairgrounds as the possible site for it. We have watched other counties try these drive-thru clinics and we think that we can pull it off.”
When the state expanded Phase 1A to anyone who is currently 65 or older, and anyone ages 16-64 with preexisting medical conditions, Dziak said that the demand went up, but the amount of doses the county received didn’t.
“What I’ve been telling the residents who have been calling is that we simply don’t have enough doses,” Dziak said. “We have been working with the Department of Health to try and get more doses, but they have told us that they don’t know when more of the shots are going to be available to us.”
In a statement from the Department of Health, the department said it looks at many factors such as: population, population 65 and older, percent positivity rate, and death rate to determine how many doses of the vaccine a facility receives. The DOH also said the number of doses a county will receive in the upcoming weeks is information that is not yet available.
According to the DOH website, 1,611 Wyoming County residents have received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. 294 people have received both doses.
Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock, has been one of the places distributing the vaccine in the county, but not to the general public. Commonwealth Health spokeswoman Annmarie Poslock said in a statement that Tyler is not sure as to when it will have shots for the general public.
“Tyler Memorial Hospital has a limited amount of vaccines available and these are all prioritized to help protect our healthcare workforce,” Poslock said. “They are working through the first round of vaccines and focusing on healthcare providers which include first responders as well as starting to administer second rounds of doses. The hospital has no vaccine doses available to vaccinate the general public.”
Geisinger is offering COVID-19 vaccination appointments to patients 65 and older at four different community vaccine centers that have opened up as long as the number of doses allows.
“As vaccine supplies and state guidelines allow, Geisinger will offer COVID-19 vaccination appointments to patients 65 and older at community vaccine centers in Jenkins Township, Danville, Lewistown and Jersey Shore,” spokesman Matt Mattei said in a statement. “Geisinger patients and Geisinger Health Plan members should use their myGeisinger account to schedule an appointment. Information about vaccines and scheduling appointments, including instructions for creating a myGeisinger account for those who haven’t been cared for by Geisinger and don’t have Geisinger Health Plan insurance, are available at www.Geisinger.org/covidvax.”
The lack of doses has not been the only problem for senior citizens. The main ways to register to get a vaccine are either on a computer or smartphone, which a lot of seniors do not have access to. Luzerne/Wyoming County Area Agency on Aging executive director Mary Roselle said that she and her staff have been trying their best to help seniors with the process.
“We’re trying to walk them through the process the best that we could,” Roselle said. “We are helping them with the questionnaires to make sure they are prepared to answer all of the questions. We have also been giving them lists of different phone numbers to keep just in case they need them. We know this is very hard for them.”
Roselle said that anyone 65 and older who doesn’t have access or is having trouble registering for a COVID-19 vaccine can call the Luzerne/Wyoming County Area Agency on Aging at 570-822-1158 and ask for an Intake Worker. The worker will then help them through the registration process.
In this time of anxiety waiting for the vaccine, Dziak urges all county residents to be patient.
“The doses will come, we just don’t know when there will be enough for everyone,” Dziak said. “We’re spending a lot of time planning, so the county will be ready when the doses are available.
Eaton Township officials are working on plans for opening up the once popular Roadside Rest park area this spring and summer. The park area on Route 29 has been closed since late 2019, because of declining conditions to the area. Eaton Township Supervisor Paul Rowker said that running the park is going to be a joint effort between the Eaton Township supervisors and the County Commissioners.
“The commissioners have been really great in helping us out trying to get the Roadside Rest back open,” Rowker said. “We’re both working on trying to get a grant so we can buy a new lawnmower to keep the area looking fresh in the summer. We’re really looking forward to making this a recreational area again.”
Rowker said there has been multiple cleanups that have already taken place and that many volunteers have already come forward about taking care of the area during the spring and summer.
“The people from the area want to be able to help,” Rowker said. “When I saw how many people showed up to the cleanups that we had in the fall, I realized that this place is important to people. That’s why we want to open it back up.”
The township is looking for help to make some more improvements to the area. Linda Coolbaugh, one of the Roadside Rest volunteers, is looking to purchase at least five new picnic tables for the area, and is asking the public to help out.
“We’re looking to build 7-foot tables with rounded edges for the park,” Coolbaugh said. “If the public can help us out with donations of lumber or wood, or if someone handy wants to help us build the tables, that would be a huge help.”
Coolbaugh said that she is looking for ways to recognize anyone who donates materials or a table. She is looking at purchasing plaque with the family or individual’s name on it. The plaques can also be made in memory of someone if the person chooses.
“People have enjoyed this area for generations,” Coolbaugh said. “If someone has a relative who has passed on but spent a lot of time at Roadside Rest, this would be a perfect way to honor their memory.”
Coolbaugh said that she is trying to get the ball rolling on this project now, so that when warm weather comes, the tables can be put in right away.
“Whenever the weather breaks, we don’t know when that’s going to be, the volunteers are planning on having some more cleanups,” Coolbaugh said. “We want to be ready with the new tables, because it could be a really nice touch to the area.”
Rowker said that when Roadside Rest does reopen, it will be open from dawn until dusk, and things like weed whacking and cleaning will be completely done by volunteers.
“It’s amazing how many people have committed to being volunteers for the summer,” Rowker said. “There’s still some planning to do, but we’re going to be having meetings in the future.”
There will be a public meeting concerning the reopening of Roadside Rest on Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at the Eaton Township Building.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering or helping out with the picnic table project can email Linda Coolbaugh at email@example.com.