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Derry student receives two perfect AP scores

Only 8.7% of the students who took the Advanced Placement (AP) Physics 1 test earlier this school year scored a perfect 5, and Derry Area High School senior David McElfresh was one of them. He also finished in the 19% of the students who scored a perfect 5 in the Calculus AB test.

“We are very proud of him,” said Jennifer Welty, a teacher in the Derry Area School District’s gifted supports program.

McElfresh, 17, the son of Michael and Kim McElfresh of Derry Borough, has been an honor student all through school.

He took five AP classes last year, and he is currently taking four.

“AP exams assess a student’s knowledge of AP course material and determine whether they are qualified to test out of similar introductory courses in college,” Welty said. “A high score on an AP test indicates that a student is already working at college level in that subject area.”

Statistics on the AP tests are available at several online websites that monitor how many students take the college board exams, and how they scored. According to College Board’s 2020 AP Exam Score Distribution charts, 422,000 students from 974 schools took 834,000 AP exams.

The level 5 that McElfresh scored is rated “extremely qualified” and is equivalent to an A or A+ in a college level course.

McElfresh is focusing on a career in biological engineering and is waiting to hear if he was accepted at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also submitted applications to Harvard University and about a dozen others on his list.

“I prefer MIT because they are so specialized in science and technology, and going up there to visit really helped me to solidify where I wanted to go,” he said. “They do so much research. A book that I read by one of their past presidents outlined some of what they did there in biotechnology, and they have so much you can work with. I want to go into the research field, but I’m not entirely sure where. That will depend on the opportunities that arise.”

McElfresh has had an interest in science since elementary school.

That general interest found direction when he was in ninth grade and attended a genetics conference by Sam Rhine of the state of Indiana.

He is a renowned educator who travels the country presenting programs about breakthroughs in genetics and biotechnology.

“That really sparked everything when I was there,” he said. “Seeing some of the stuff he was talking about made me really excited about wanting to go into that field. There’s so much happening. There’s so much research into human health and where engineering and biology are coming together. I’m very certain that there will be an explosion in the field and in discoveries.”

Some of the possibilities, he added, are making better prosthetics that can connect to the brain and feel more real and natural. There’s also research into using viruses to create bio batteries, and ongoing research into developing vaccines, to name just a few.

Studying the sciences has not been easy during the shutdown of the pandemic. Derry Area schools had hybrid classes and now are on full remote, tentatively until mid-January.

“We have had to adjust to being at home and trying to maintain motivation,” McElfresh said. “It’s so easy to get distracted, and science is such a hands-on field. The teachers are doing a great job in trying to get us supplemental materials, and I’ve been busy with those and what I find online to keep me engaged and motivated to do other things besides classroom work.”

McElfresh is a founding member and president of a new chapter of the Science National Honor Society. In his spare time, he likes to read and play video games, and he recently started using a 3-D printer for designing and printing props, things like helmets from the Star Wars movies.

“Science is really interesting and I want to help work out some of the challenges that we are facing today,” he said. “I want to be part of something that’s bigger than myself, and I think that science is a great way to do that.”

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Westmoreland County adds 80 new coronavirus cases

Westmoreland County experienced its smallest single-day increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases since Nov. 7 on Monday with 80 new cases reported, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Monday was the first day of 2021 with fewer than 100 cases reported in the county and the first day since Dec. 28 the county’s new case figure has been in double-digits.

The county’s new case rate has slowed in the past week, with fewer than 210 new cases reported in seven of the last eight days and fewer than 175 new cases reported in each of the past four.

With the new coronavirus cases reported Monday, there have now been 23,253 cases in Westmoreland County since the first cases were reported here in March and 3,920 new coronavirus cases reported this since the start of 2021.

There were two new coronavirus deaths reported Monday in Westmoreland County, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 535 and the total this year to 112, averaging more than 6.2 deaths reported per day in 2021 based on state data.

The death rate has slowed since December, which was Westmoreland County’s worst month of the pandemic with 224 deaths (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.

The youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Westmoreland County was 36, according to the county coroner’s office, and the oldest 109.

Statewide, coronavirus cases reached 771,845 as of Monday’s update to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard. That case total includes 681,461 confirmed cases in the state and 90,384 probable cases. Throughout Pennsylvania, 19,390 people have died of coronavirus, according to the state health department, an increase of 80 from Sunday’s update.

Of the state’s coronavirus deaths, 10,022 (51.7%) are associated with long term care facilities, which have been virus hotspots throughout the pandemic.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 59,780 coronavirus cases among residents and 11,184 cases among staff members at 1,520 long term care facilities throughout the state.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 49 long-term care facilities have accounted for 1,830 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 241 cases among staff members and 203 coronavirus deaths as of the state health department’s last update to long term care facility data at noon Monday.

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

The state health department’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard indicates there have been 393,557 initial doses of coronavirus vaccinations administered in the state, including 11,130 in Westmoreland County as of Monday’s update.

Currently, all COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use require two doses spread out several weeks apart.

As of Monday’s update, 63,790 people had received a second dose of their COVID-19 vaccination in Pennsylvania and were considered “full vaccinations” according to the vaccine dashboard. Of those full vaccinations, 2,150 are in Westmoreland County, according to the site.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine shared an update last week on the vaccine, stressing its safety and efficacy.

“I am here to tell you that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe to use, and very good at protecting people who are vaccinated,” Wolf said. “If you hear a rumor about COVID-19 from a friend, or see something online that concerns you, take a few minutes to verify the information before you get too worried. Five minutes of fact checking can save you and your loved ones a lot of worry.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state have continued to decline since last week. There were 4,980 coronavirus patients hospitalized throughout Pennsylvania on Thursday, according to the state health department. As of Monday’s update, there were 4,582 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 throughout the state. Of those patients, 950 were in adult intensive care units and 583 were on ventilators.

In Westmoreland County, the patient total as of Monday’s update had decreased slightly since Thursday after a slight increase as of Sunday. There were 144 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county Monday compared to 147 on Thursday and 153 Sunday, according to the state health department. As of Monday’s update there were 14 coronavirus patients in adult intensive care units in the county and seven on ventilators. Of the 96 ventilators available in Westmoreland County, according to state data, a total of 21 were in use by COVID and non-COVID patients as of Monday’s update.

According to state figures last updated at noon Monday, there were 29 adult ICU beds available at Westmoreland County hospitals — 32.2% of total adult ICU beds — 86 medical/surgical beds and 108 airborne isolation beds.

The state years ago established seven regional Health Care Coalitions, or HCCs, as part of its emergency preparedness plan. Westmoreland County is part of the HCC of Southwest PA, or the Southwest region, which also includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset and Washington counties.

Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown was treating fewer than 30 coronavirus patients as of its weekly update Friday, and had administered more than 1,500 COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Southwest region overall had 861 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 Monday, down from 887 Sunday and 930 Thursday. Of those patients, 201 were on adult intensive care units and 98 were on ventilators.

Overall, 410 of the region’s 1,551 available ventilators were in use as of Monday’s update.

Unable to have a proper ceremony because of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, Greater Latrobe on Monday honored sophomore Vinny Kilkeary prior to the Wildcats’ 43-21 win against Derry Area for winning the PIAA Class 3A state wrestling title at 106 pounds in March. He was honored alongside his parents, Gina and Brad. Kilkeary is Greater Latrobe’s fourth state champion, following Luke Pletcher in 2016.

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More flights to be offered at Palmer airport starting next month

Arnold Palmer Regional Airport will soon expand its Spirit Airlines offerings at the Unity Township facility.

Starting Feb. 12, flights to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, will return two days a week (Mondays and Fridays) and Orlando flights will take to the skies seven days a week. In March, the airline plans to schedule daily flights to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach, along with twice-weekly flights to Fort Myers, Florida.

Currently, only Orlando flights arrive at and depart from the airport five days a week — Sunday and Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“This is marvelous news,” Westmoreland County Airport Authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo said. “Like most, we have certainly had our share of trials and tribulations, but we kept our head down and we kept plowing forward and it’s now looking like that effort and attitude is beginning to pay off.”

Tickets may be purchased in person at the airline counter in the terminal from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday or online at www.spirit.com. Arnold Palmer Regional Airport’s three-digit identifier code is LBE. Reservations may not be made by phone by calling the airport. To book by phone, call Spirit Airlines at 855-728-3555.

Monzo said safety at the airport has been paramount since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reached the U.S.

“We did everything we could envision to make sure that people working in the terminal and passengers coming through were protected and as safe as possible,” he said. “This was uncharted territory for all of us, but we got through it and will continue to keep safety at the forefront.”

Despite the pandemic, the airport authority was able to keep several major projects on track — a runway widening, apron strengthening and passenger hold room expansion that added seats for more than 300 passengers at a time. And now the airport stands ready to serve passengers and return flights back to the level the airline was scheduling prior to the pandemic — or greater.

“We saw these projects through to fruition to make this facility ready when people were ready to come back to fly,” Monzo said.

“And now it’s looking like they are.”

“We’re very excited and we appreciate Spirit’s enthusiasm,” he added. “Perhaps our improvements are paying dividends. This should fill the parking lots again.”