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Lucy Pollock, 98-year-old Facebook celebrity, died Sunday

It wasn’t the live broadcast that Mary Ellen Raneri wanted to do on Sunday morning.

Since March, she and her mother, Lucy Pollock, had been airing live segments on their “Baking With Lucy” Facebook page, and this weekend wasn’t supposed to be any different. They were planning to make buns in their kitchen in Lawson Heights.

They made it a point to livestream on Sundays and randomly showed up during the week, too. Last Tuesday, though, when Pollock wasn’t feeling well, she asked her daughter to post her favorite Christmas fruitcake recipe. She seemed to be feeling better on Thursday, but when her condition worsened on Friday she was admitted to the hospital with a lung infection.

Raneri asked Pollock’s 40,000 followers to pray for her and to send positive and happy thoughts.

“Lucy loves you all so much,” she posted.

Her mother showed some signs of improvement on Saturday.

“But she is not out of the woods yet,” Raneri wrote, adding that her mom would fight with all her might. “She is an amazing strong woman with so much yet to offer the world.”

On Sunday morning, Raneri and her husband Phil posted a 10-minute Facebook message announcing that Lucy Pollock, 98, died early that morning from lung infections. They said that she had also tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

“I can’t believe that I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning doing this,” Raneri said through her tears.

She and her mother would have been spending that time scurrying around the kitchen looking for ingredients and making plans for the latest live broadcast that would be seen all over the country and abroad.

They had viewers in Germany, Ukraine, Australia, Tasmania, Italy and many other places where Pollock’s delightful personality and her delicious and simple recipes attracted loyal followers. They sent messages, they asked questions, and they told her how much her posts meant to them.

It was a fame that few 98-year-olds ever expect.

Pollock’s story was in a number of publications, including the Latrobe Bulletin, and last Wednesday she was on NBC’s “Today” show. Copies of her cookbook, “Baking With Lucy,” were expected to be delivered to her home Monday. It features 222 recipes in honor of her birth year — 1922.

Pollock was born to Italian immigrants who settled in Homer City. Her father was a coal miner and a carpenter, and her mother raised nine children. One died at an early age.

“My mother baked and there was nothing that she couldn’t do,” Pollock said. “So naturally, we were always taught to do something.”

That’s how Raneri learned to cook, too.

“From the time I could walk, I was in the kitchen with my mom,” she said.

Pollock’s late husband Michael was a Pennsylvania State Trooper stationed in Punxsutawney. Raneri, who retired from teaching in the Ligonier Valley School District, was their only child. She grew up enjoying food from her parents’ Italian and Slovak backgrounds.

“Baking With Lucy” was created when one of Raneri’s friends requested a recipe from Pollock and suggested that they do a cooking demonstration online. Pollock was all for it. The lockdown had just started, and they were tired of watching politics and pandemic news on TV. Maybe they could do something fun that people would enjoy. So, Pollock got out her box of recipes, the two women went into the kitchen to make something, and Raneri’s husband Phil filmed it.

Friends watched it at first, then it went viral with tens of thousands of people tuning in. Pollock had no idea that something like that could happen on the internet.

She got a lot of fan mail from people who loved watching her cook and bake. She enjoyed reading their messages, or having Raneri read them to her when she struggled with her eyesight.

The success was beyond her wildest dreams, but Lucy Pollock, after all, was just being herself. That’s what was so endearing. She joked around and she was serious, too. Don’t burn the garlic, she admonished. Don’t bake when you’re tired because it’s not going to turn out right if you do. Allow enough time for cooking projects. Knead dough with your hands, she would say, holding up her hands and pointing to the heels of her palms.

No, she didn’t keep a lot of tools and gadgets in the kitchen, just basic stuff like a really good dough board and rolling pin. “My hands are my tools,” she said.

And forget about fancy things. If ingredients weren’t commonly found in an ordinary kitchen, she didn’t bother making the recipe. Her focus was on breads, buns, rolls, pizza, eggs, cheese, sauces, meats dishes, desserts and more. Like her famous applesauce cake and all those pies.

Raneri plans to continue sharing her mother’s recipes on the Facebook page, but it won’t be the same without her.

“I’m not Lucy and I’m not going to try to be,” she said.

But she’s going to carry on. That’s what her mom — her best friend and hero — would have wanted.

The cookbook “Baking With Lucy” is priced at $19.99. A portion of the sales will benefit Helping Hearts & Healing Tails rescue based in the Ligonier area. Information will be posted on the “Baking With Lucy” Facebook page.


These demonstrators at Saturday's protest in Greensburg supported President Donald Trump’s theory that not all votes cast during November's presidential election were valid.


Jeff Hartung was one of the speakers during Saturday's protest outside Westmoreland County Courthouse in downtown Greensburg. He is the founder of "Stand Up Stand Strong."


Local
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Spots still available for LCRP's tree decoration program

Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming…and six Christmas tree spots are still available to sponsor through the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program’s (LCRP) annual tree decorating program in downtown Latrobe.

For $50, LCRP will deliver a six-foot Fraser fir Christmas tree to one of the many black planters located downtown.

Jarod Trunzo, LCRP executive director, said the nonprofit organization has been placing trees throughout the week. Trees can be decorated immediately after arrival.

“A lot of people are using solar Christmas lights (on the trees). It’s been a nice improvement,” he said.

To sponsor a tree, visit www.latroberevitalization.org and select the “events” tab for a numerical aerial map of available spaces. After confirming a location, sponsors should make a $50 check payable to “LCRP” and mail to LCRP, PO Box 920, Latrobe, PA 1650, or make arrangements to drop off at the door at 816 Ligonier Street, 4th floor, Suite 409, Latrobe. Email project organizer Tracy Ulewicz at tracy@latroberevitalization.org with first choice of location — but LCRP asks sponsors not to send their check until a location is confirmed.

Trunzo said Christmas trees have been difficult to obtain this year, but that Lowe’s Home Improvement in Unity Township has been assisting with LCRP’s Fraser fir needs.

In addition to the tree decorating, Latrobe’s downtown will be brightened with over 30 new LED wreaths that will be interspersed with the city’s Christmas banners that were introduced last holiday season.

“They have the three candles in the middle, and they are fully lit,” Trunzo said.

Through community donation and partner organizations, LCRP was able to raise about $15,000 to purchase the new wreaths. Trunzo said LCRP will install a “very large banner” downtown to thank donors by name for their donations towards the wreaths project.

Latrobe’s public works department will begin placing the wreaths this week.

“Putting up those wreaths is a lot of work; they are big,” he said.

LCRP’s goal is to have all the decorations in place by Thanksgiving.

“Every year, we try to keep making Christmas a bit nicer,” he said. “Hopefully next year, when all the construction is done, it’s going to be one of the nicest towns for Christmas.”


Covid19
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Westmoreland County's surge in new coronavirus cases slows slightly

After back-to-back days setting single-day highs for new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases last week, Westmoreland County’s daily new cases dipped back below 200 per day over the weekend, according to figures from the state health department.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s online COVID-19 Dashboard, last updated at noon on Sunday, indicates Westmoreland County had 204 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and added 174 new cases Saturday.

The county’s case total since the start of the pandemic grew to nearly 7,500 cases, according to the state health department. That figure includes 5,897 confirmed cases and 1,593 probable cases. There had been 60,200 negative tests in the county as of Sunday’s update.

According to Westmoreland County’s website, last updated at 4 p.m. Friday, the county had 7,097 total coronavirus cases, an increase of 189 cases from Thursday, when the county set a single-day high with 259 new cases. The county’s case total as of Friday’s update included 5,669 confirmed cases and 1,428 probable. As of the update, there had been 59,625 negative COVID-19 tests in Westmoreland County (89.36%).

The daily coronavirus figures on the Westmoreland County website typically differ slightly from those on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated at noon each day. The county’s site is updated at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a weekend recap included with each Monday’s update.

The surge in cases in recent weeks has pushed some school districts to return to remote learning, as Westmoreland County has now spent two straight weeks in the “substantial” category of community transmission after a week where case totals had waned enough to drop the county into the “moderate” category.

The level of community transmission of COVID-19 factors in the incidence rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day span — and the positivity rate among those tested.

Westmoreland County had remained in the “moderate” level of community transmission since before the start of the 2020-21 school year, but for three weeks had fallen into the “substantial” category after weeks of surging coronavirus case totals. In order to fall into the “low” level of community transmission, the incidence rate over a seven-day stretch must be fewer than 10 residents per 100,000 and the positivity rate must be less than 5%.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Westmoreland County’s incidence rate for the seven-day period of Oct. 30 through Nov. 5 was just below the “substantial” threshold at 99.8 per 100,000 and the percent positivity rate fell to 6.7%.

But the county’s incidence rate since then has spiked. For the seven-day period of Nov. 6-12, the county’s incidence rate increased to 144.3 per 100,000 and the percent positivity rate increased to 8.2%, according to the state’s COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard. The incidence rate skyrocketed for the seven-day period from Nov. 13-19. According to the state health department, Westmoreland County’s incidence rate for the period of Nov. 13-19 was 249.3 per 100,000 — an increase of 105 — and the percent positivity rate grew to 10.9%.

Ligonier Valley School District on Saturday announced it would be returning to a full-remote instructional model for at least two weeks, beginning today, Nov. 23, and extending until at least Friday, Dec. 4. The change comes a week after the district returned from two weeks of remote learning to its hybrid model of instruction — a portion of the district’s learners attending in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday while another portion attended on Thursday and Friday, with all learners participating remotely on Wednesday.

Greater Latrobe School District, which returned to full-time in-person instruction on Nov. 16, had not issued any announcement as of 5 a.m. Monday that the instructional model would be changing for the shortened week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Students are scheduled to attend classes Monday and Tuesday, with an early dismissal on Wednesday. The district had been operating under a full-remote instructional model from Nov. 2 through Nov. 13 before resuming in-person classes.

Derry Area School District on its website announced Friday a schedule change for the holiday week. The district on Nov. 16 returned to full-time in-person instruction for elementary students, while middle- and high-school students returned to a hybrid model similar to the one utilized at Ligonier Valley. Derry Area students had been in a full-remote instructional model since Oct. 13 after learning five staff members tested positive for the virus. According to the announcement on the district website, each of the two groups for hybrid learning will attend school in-person one day this week — either Monday or Tuesday — ahead of the early dismissal planned on Wednesday. The schedule revision doesn’t affect fully remote students or elementary students receiving full-time in-person instruction.

The county eclipsed 200 daily cases three times in November, according to the state health department, while Westmoreland County’s website lists four days with new daily coronavirus case totals topping 200 as of Friday’s update.

Westmoreland County added eight new coronavirus deaths on Friday, according to the county’s website.

There had been 158 deaths among Westmoreland County residents attributed to coronavirus as of Friday’s county update, as confirmed by the state health department through the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS). The Pennsylvania Department of Health as of its update Sunday listed 163 coronavirus deaths among Westmoreland County residents.

The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office as of early Monday still listed a total of 141 coronavirus deaths — 134 confirmed by testing and another seven presumed cases based on symptoms.

The coroner’s COVID-19 death total includes any individual whose death occurred in Westmoreland County, regardless of their county of residence. Of Westmoreland County’s coronavirus deaths, 89 were associated with long term care facilities, according to the state health department.

There were 75 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county as of Sunday, according to the state health department, 14 of them on intensive care units, and four coronavirus patients on ventilators.

Statewide coronavirus numbers have also continued to surge through the weekend, with 6,526 new cases Friday and 6,279 new cases Saturday bringing the state’s total cases to nearly 310,000. That figure includes 288,938 confirmed cases in the state and 20,701 probable cases as of Sunday’s update. Throughout Pennsylvania, 9,842 people have died of coronavirus, according to the state health department. Of those deaths, 6,179 are associated with long term care facilities.

There were 3,379 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide as of Sunday’s update from the Department of Health, 775 on intensive care units and 371 on ventilators.

Long term care facilities have been coronavirus hot spots throughout the pandemic. Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 31,148 coronavirus cases among residents and 6,315 cases among staff members at 1,197 long term care facilities. There have been 6,179 coronavirus deaths in the state attributed to long term care facilities.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 36 long term care facilities have accounted for 965 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 131 cases among staff members and 89 coronavirus deaths as of Sunday’s update.


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