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Sharon Detar of the Connections Café stirs her crockpot of Spicy Corn Chowder for the Ligonier Chamber of Commerce's annual Soup's On! event on the Diamond.

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County coronavirus case total increases by 50 Monday

Westmoreland County had 50 new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and no new coronavirus-related deaths reported Monday, according the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

As of Monday’s update to the state health department’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there had been 28,221 coronavirus cases reported in Westmoreland County since the start of the pandemic — 19,724 confirmed cases and 8,497 probable cases. There have been 89,810 negative tests so far in the county, according to the state health department.

Since the start of 2021, there have been 8,888 new cases reported in Westmoreland County, an average of 109.73 per day this year.

The county added 559 new coronavirus cases over the third full week of March, an average of 79.85 cases per day. That daily average was up from 62.85 in the second week of March and 57.85 for the period of March 1-7. Prior to the past two weeks, average daily cases in the county had been steadily declining since mid-January.

There were no new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the county on Monday, as Westmoreland County’s total since the start of the pandemic remained at 698, according to the state health department, and the total in 2021 stayed at 275.

The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office at 11 p.m. Thursday updated its COVID-19 death total for the county, increasing the total by two, from 425 to 427.

The coroner’s total includes coronavirus deaths that occur in Westmoreland County, regardless of the deceased person’s county of residence, while the state health department’s coronavirus death figures include any person considered a resident of Westmoreland County, regardless of where their death occurred. The youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Westmoreland County was 36, according to the county coroner’s office, and the oldest was 109.

The virus-related death rate in Westmoreland County has slowed since December, which was the county’s worst month of the pandemic with 224 deaths reported (7.2 per day) and more than 10,000 new cases. The first coronavirus deaths for Westmoreland County were reported April 5, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Statewide, coronavirus cases reached 988,435 as of Monday’s update to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard. That case total includes 844,567 confirmed cases in the state and 143,868 probable cases. So far, 4,058,854 people in the state have tested negative for coronavirus.

According to the state health department, there have been 24,789 coronavirus-related deaths throughout the state since the start of the pandemic — an increase of just a single death statewide since Sunday’s update.

Of the state’s coronavirus deaths, 12,834 (51.77%) are associated with long term care facilities, which have been virus hotspots throughout the pandemic.

Data for long term care facilities on the state health department’s site was last updated at noon on Monday.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there had been 68,861 coronavirus cases among residents and 14,065 cases among staff members at 1,566 long term care facilities throughout the state as of Monday’s update.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 51 long-term care facilities have accounted for 2,094 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 322 cases among staff members and 288 coronavirus deaths.

Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is continuing, and residents and staff of long term care facilities are among those being vaccinated in the first phase of the state’s vaccine rollout.

A push is underway from state officials to get through the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution by scheduling appointments for all interested Pennsylvanians in the most at-risk category by the end of the month.

Phase 1A of the rollout focuses on getting vaccines to those most at-risk of illness, according to the state health department, such as health care workers and Pennsylvanians living in long-term care facilities, persons age 65 and older, and those age 16-64 with high-risk conditions.

Westmoreland County added a COVID-19 vaccination information page to its county website, available at https://www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/2934/Vaccine-Info.

Excela Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carol Fox recommended those in Phase 1A still seeking to be vaccinated visit the health system’s website, www.excelahealth.org, frequently for updates regarding vaccine availability. Beginning next week, the health system’s website is expected to include a feature allowing those in Phase 1A to register in advance for a vaccination appointment when new appointments become available, Excela spokeswoman Robin Jennings said.

The state health department’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard indicates there have been 2,781,210 partial coronavirus vaccinations administered in the state, including 88,779 in Westmoreland County as of Monday’s update.

The state recently passed 1.5 million “full vaccinations,” and as of Monday’s update, 1,529,898 people were considered full vaccinations after receiving vaccinations in the state according to the vaccine dashboard. That total includes 97,460 out-of-state residents, according to the site. Of the full vaccinations in Pennsylvania, 44,900 were administered in Westmoreland County, according to the site.

COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state increased over the weekend from 1,486 on Thursday to 1,554 as of Sunday’s update, then continued to climb, reaching 1,577 on Monday according to the state health department. Of coronavirus patients hospitalized Monday throughout the state, 335 were in adult intensive care units and 189 were on ventilators.

The moving 14-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide reached a peak of 6,105.6 on Christmas Day and had steadily declined until Friday’s update (1,496.9). The 14-day average for statewide coronavirus hospitalizations had increased to 1,501 as of Monday’s update.

Westmoreland County’s coronavirus hospitalization total increased by one in Monday’s update, climbing from 26 to 27. Of COVID-19 patients in Westmoreland County hospitals on Monday, two were in adult intensive care units and three were on ventilators, according to the state health department.

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Airshow tickets can be reserved at Shop ‘n Save stores

Individuals planning to attend the 2021 Westmoreland County Airshow can now reserve tickets at area Shop ‘n Save locations.

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, plans are in place to hold a drive-in airshow Memorial Day weekend, May 29-30, at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity Township.

According to a news release, ticket buyers must choose which day of the airshow they will attend. Car passes are $100 per vehicle, with up to eight occupants, with an additional charge for oversized vehicles. Oversized vehicles can be accommodated at a nominal extra charge.

Attendees do not have to remain inside their vehicles, per the news release, but they need to remain with their vehicles. Vendors and exhibitors will be on site within walking distance to guests’ vehicles.

The drive-in event will follow social distancing recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as airshow attendees will park and remain with their vehicles on the airport’s former secondary runway, which parallels Route 981.

For more details, visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section of the airport website at www.palmerairport.com.

This year’s airshow will feature the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary in 2021 and flying their first local performance in the team’s new Super Hornet F-18 planes. They’ll be given an assist at the event from the Navy Seals Leap Frogs parachute team, which will skydive from the Blue Angels’ “Fat Albert” C-130 cargo aircraft.

The news release added that the airshow lineup will also include a F-22 Raptor demonstration team, along with a P-51 Mustang World War II-era fighter plane flown by Scott Yoak, a debut local performance by Skip Stewart in a Pitts Special, returning aerobatic performers Rob Holland and Greg Koontz, “along with a few other surprises.”

Suspicious package prompts police response at Hempfield Twp. shopping center

State police cordoned off a section of the parking lot at Greengate Centre Plaza in Hempfield Township on Monday after receiving a report around noon of a suspicious package left in a shopping cart.

“A concerned citizen called in a suspicious bag resembling luggage in a shopping cart in the parking lot,” according to an update issued by the Twitter account for Pennsylvania State Police Troop A Public Information Officers Steve Limani and Cliff Greenfield. “We blocked off the area and had PSP field expert examine the bag to determine it was empty.”

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Latrobe approves bond issuance, restructuring to finance capital projects

Latrobe City Council on Monday approved restructuring a 2016 general obligation bond, aiming to fund various capital projects while taking advantage of low interest rates.

Council authorized a maximum bond issuance of $5 million, but only plan on increasing the current $2.78 million 2016 bond by around $550,000.

City Manager Mike Gray said the bond increase will help pay for repairs to the downtown parking garage’s deteriorating concrete cantilevers, compactor at the transfer station, as well as reimbursement for the $105,300 excavator the city purchased in October. Gray also anticipates the bond increase will fund reconstructing the handicapped-accessible ramp and steps at the Courtyard Plaza. He estimated the increase will extend the bond’s term — which currently ends in 2034 — by 3.5 years.

The city’s bond counsel, Lynch and Lynch, indicated that the bonds could carry a maximum interest rate of 2.5%. Gray said current interest rates fluctuate between 2-3%.

“It fluctuates year-to-year on the current one,” he said.

“It’s not as stable as something like this. We’re trying to secure something stable and lower to take advantage of.”

Underwriter RBC Capital Markets is now able to float the bonds, which could be sold in mid-April. After the underwriter sets a closing date with an agreed purchase price, the actual interest rate would be finalized. The money could be available to the city on Aug. 1, officials said.

In other business, two weeks after hiring one police officer, the department is looking to add another one, as Sgt. Joe Angus plans on retiring at the end of the year.

Council last month approved hiring Jacob Cholock as Latrobe’s newest full-time patrol officer.

Angus has been on indefinite sick-leave, Gray said.

Hiring another full-time officer would save the city approximately $15,000. Gray said hiring a new officer would cost the city around $30,500 for the remainder of the year, but the cost to fill Angus’ shifts is around $45,700.

“During the absence of a sergeant on the shift, the next highest commanding officer is appointed the (officer in charge) of the shift, so you’re still paying the equivalent wage of the sergeant,” Gray said.

Added councilman Ralph Jenko, “It sounds like a very smart move.”

Gray said a new sergeant will be appointed to replace Angus at a future voting meeting. Current Latrobe police officers having served five years with the department can apply for the position. So far, Gray said two sergeant candidates have undergone civil service testing, and a selection will be made once results come back.

Angus served the city’s police department for 31 years.

“I wish he was still around,” Gray said. “He was a really great officer, he was always an asset to the city. He will be missed.”

At its April 6 meeting, council will consider designating the north side of Gertrude Street from the no parking sign to approximately 25 feet west as permit parking.

City officials said a house on the 1600 block of Ligonier Street does not have parking. The resident who lives there has only the option to park on Gertrude Street, but city officials said a recreational trailer is parked in that area, leaving this individual no place to park.

This issue sparked a larger discussion amongst council members regarding an ordinance pertaining to street parking.

“This poses a bigger problem,” councilman Jim Kelley said, “People are using the streets to warehouse or store things that should not be there. ... That person should not be parking that mobile home on the street.”

Gray said the city’s current ordinance only prohibits storing waste on a trailer unless it’s closed or covered.

“We probably need to look at our ordinances and correct this problem long term,” Mayor Rosie Wolford said.

Council cited a growing trend of residents parking recreational vehicles on streets within city limits.

“It’s making it tough for residents to find available parking spots,” Gray said.

Also at a future voting meeting, council will consider:

  • Extending the city’s emergency declaration until May 10. Gray said the city could be eligible for federal funding to help local governments with COVID-19-related costs.

“I just don’t feel there’s a need at the present time to take (the emergency declaration) out of the equation,” Gray said.

  • Approving the investment policy statement for Latrobe’s police pension plan;
  • Approving the disposition of the 2011 and 2012 public records of the administration and finance department;
  • The exoneration of $1,000 in local and $8,000 in total taxes at 14 E. Madison St. City officials said a potential buyer of that property withdrew their offer. Kelley proposed the city establish an agreement with a future buyer “indicating the buyer will complete a house or whatever improvements being planned.

“I just don’t want to grant this abatement of taxes and have the buyer back out of what he agreed to do,” he said.

  • An ordinance approving the vacation of an unnamed alley which fronts Jefferson Street and extends into the property at 1501 Ligonier St. Gray said the petition to vacate the alley stipulates the petitioner covers associated costs;
  • Authorizing Public Works Director Scott Wajdic to advertise and seek bids for the 2021-2023 mowing season;
  • Approving the partnership agreement between the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (LHHC) and the City of Latrobe, as the city eyes constructing a new welcome sign where motorists and pedestrians enter the downtown area on Route 981 after crossing the bridge above the Loyalhanna Creek. The Latrobe Community Revitalization Program (LCRP) was awarded a $9,500 mini-grant administered by the LHHC to create and build a new welcome sign in partnership with the City of Latrobe and Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center.

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Tax filing deadline extended until May 17 for Latrobe residents

City of Latrobe taxpayers have an extra month to file their earned income taxes without penalty.

Council during a special meeting Monday approved delaying the deadline from April 15 to May 17, following suit with the federal Internal Revenue Service and state Department of Revenue’s move to extend the tax filing deadline by just over a month.

“Rather than having ours standing out here alone, I think it would be beneficial to all of our citizens if we can extend it,” councilman Jim Kelley said.

The move provides more breathing room for taxpayers and the IRS alike to cope with changes brought on by the pandemic.

Council also authorized the city manager to modify due dates and payment methods for Latrobe property owners facing financial hardship in paying the annual one-time $90 stormwater management fee per equivalent residential unit (ERU).

For residents who have lost employment, receive a fixed income, or for industrial/commercial property owners whose annual fee is more than $1,000 — City Manager Mike Gray said installment payments will be made available until the end of the year without penalty.

City officials previously said that property owners must be in good standing with the city to qualify for the hardship criteria. The city is also offering a credit system that will allow property owners to make certain changes to their properties to reduce the amount of runoff or pollution they contribute to Latrobe’s storm sewer system — resulting in a lower annual fee.

For more information on the credit system, visit cityoflatrobe.com or stop by the city municipal building during business hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.