Leslie Baum Rossi was chosen Saturday as the Republican candidate to run in the May 18 special election for the House seat in Pennsylvania’s 59th Legislative District left vacant by the death of Mike Reese.
Rossi, 50, of Latrobe created the red-white-and-blue Trump House on Route 982 amid the former president’s 2016 campaign. She helped hundreds register to vote or change their party affiliation up through the 2020 election for which she was a GOP delegate for Trump.
Reese died Jan. 2 of an apparent brain aneurysm. He was elected for a seventh-term in the state House of Representatives, running unopposed in the November election.
Rossi was chosen by a panel of 26 conferees of the Republican Party from the state’s 59th District, which includes parts of Westmoreland and Somerset counties. She will run against Democratic candidate and Ligonier Borough councilwoman Mariah Fisher in the special election.
“I believe having spent the amount of time I did on the ground with the voters, I have demonstrated not only my strong work ethic but that I will be the voice of the people as their needs for the district we live in, are my priority,” Rossi wrote in a statement.
“I love our state and it’s the place we call home. It’s up to us to continue on with our conservative movement and legislators must protect our rights according to the constitution.”
She called the Trump House’s creation in 2016 a “grassroots movement.”
“It was nothing to have 1,000 people or more per day come through the Trump House door,” she said.
Also up for the Republican nomination were Angela Reese of Mount Pleasant Township, the widow of Mike Reese; Ligonier Township police Officer Shawn Knepper; Latrobe attorney John Hauser, and Dustin D. DeLuca of Jennerstown.
Westmoreland County Republican Committee Chairman Bill Bretz said each nominee spoke before conferees during the special meeting held at the Fort Ligonier History Education Center.
“It took more than one round of voting. We had five very qualified, capable people that were candidates,” Bretz said. “They had all made a good impression on people. Our conferees were faced with a very challenging decision, and ultimately Leslie was the candidate that we chose.”
Bretz said the Republican Party is united around Rossi.
“We feel that we are going to be very successful with her in the special election, and she’s going to be a great representative of the people of the 59th District going forward,” he said.
Rossi, a mother of eight and business owner, says she is pro-life and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
“I was thrilled to see House Bill 347 presented that seeks to make any additional federal gun control laws unenforceable within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and I will be right beside legislators on this as we must protect our rights and we have the power to do so in our own state,” she wrote.
Rossi said voter integrity is a top issue to tackle if she were elected.
“Act 77 was passed in 2019 which changed our election system after 81 years adding the mail in ballots while it did not offer safeguards that needed to be in place to protect our votes,” she wrote. “Voters want and deserve transparency and legislators need to act now to fix that mess so that every vote is legal and that every legal vote counts.”
She is also pushing for improvements to the state’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine distribution, citing difficulties older adults have experienced with registration and transportation.
“High volumes of people who received their first dose were promised the second dose would be held for them and given to them ‘on time’ yet it was not and there is no explanation being given for this, which is unacceptable,” she wrote.
Pennsylvania voters on May 18 will also vote on a ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment that will determine whether the governor’s powers will be limited during disaster emergencies. If it’s approved, emergency disaster declarations will end after 21 days, unless lawmakers approve an extension through a majority vote. It would also explicitly give lawmakers, with a two-thirds majority vote, the ability to end a disaster declaration without the governor’s signature.
“We need a strong voter turn out as there are two referendums on the ballot that are extremely important, so that in the future the governor never has the sole power ever again to shut us down in an emergency disaster order,” she wrote.
Rossi added that in the past year, Gov. Tom Wolf’s disaster declarations have “crippled our small business owners, hurt our jobs and affected every one of us in a negative way, not to mention it has taken many of our American freedoms away.”
Rossi also renovates and rents out property for Crystal Creek Management. She has been involved with the Greater Latrobe IceCats hockey program for many years.
Excela Health on Friday added a phone line as another way for eligible community members to schedule an appointment for a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carol Fox said Excela Health continues to vaccinate healthcare workers and is now offering a limited number of appointments to members of the public in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine rollout — which includes adults older than 65 and those ages 16-64 with select medical conditions.
“All the vaccine that we have received thus far, we have made appointments for,” Fox said.
With Excela Health’s new phone line, Phase 1A residents may call 724-689-1690 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to register.
A maximum of two appointments may be made on one call.
Additionally, the phone line will not accept messages or make return calls to individuals requesting information or appointments, according to Excela Health’s website. While there are currently no open slots, Fox said Excela Health will offer more appointments once it receives additional doses.
“We expect to get some (today) or Tuesday. We don’t know which day for sure, and we won’t know the final amount until it arrives — but once it does arrive, we will then offer that many appointments,” she said.
Fox encourages people to check the website “on a regular basis” to schedule an appointment. Once Excela Health receives additional doses and makes appointments available, its website and phone line will be active. There is no waiting list.
“I know that’s frustrating for people. And I know there’s some folks who really feel strongly that we should have a waiting list, but it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot of resources entailed in keeping a waiting list and then notifying people,” Fox said.
Excela Health officials stressed that vaccine supply is not meeting demand.
Fox said Excela Health’s staff is currently focusing its resources on getting shots into arms. The health system is scheduled to administer about 1,500 shots this week, she added.
Excela Health initially offered appointments on its website to individuals older than 75. But after the state Department of Health issued new guidance to vaccine providers, Excela Health expanded its limited appointment offerings to everyone in Phase 1A.
Fox said the health system typically requests 6,000 doses each week from the state — but noted that it has never received that many.
Doses of the vaccine are being administered across Excela Health’s three hospitals: Westmoreland in Greensburg, Frick in Mount Pleasant and Latrobe. Excela Square at Latrobe and Norwin are also providing shots.
Excela Health officials said the health system expects it will have administered 14,000 doses by the end of February.
So far, in Westmoreland County, 27,563 residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 14,503 have received both doses, according to the state Department of Health. In Pennsylvania, more than 1.4 million residents are partially-vaccinated, while more than 528,000 are fully-vaccinated. Those figures include residents of long-term care facilities, who are part of their own vaccination programs.
About 70% of Excela Health’s staff has been inoculated, with some employees finishing up their second doses, Fox said.
As more of the county’s Phase 1A residents begin to receive their shots, Fox encourages community members to remain vigilant amid the ongoing pandemic.
“Absolutely wear your mask, maintain social distance, wash your hands frequently and don’t go out if you are ill,” Fox said. “And if you are exposed to somebody with COVID-19, follow the quarantine instructions that you are given.”
Fox said residents who receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine will likely begin to develop “some immunity” 12 days after the first dose. Full immunity occurs 14 days after the second dose, she added.
“The other piece to remember is the studies that were done with the vaccines are really looking at, once you got immunized, did you get ill with COVID-19? It’s still, we believe, possible that you could be a carrier of covid19 and affect somebody else,” she said.
Excela Health is also working with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County Commissioners to coordinate a county registry to aid in vaccine distribution. While plans aren’t yet finalized for a 211 phone line, similar to a partnership in Allegheny County, Fox said it could help “some vulnerable individuals who may not have internet access, may not even be aware of the vaccinations.”
To schedule an appointment online at Excela Health, go to excelahealth.org and click “COVID-19 Vaccine Information.”
After the third full week of February, Westmoreland County’s average new daily coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continued a downward trajectory.
The county added 482 coronavirus cases during the period of Feb. 15-21, bringing its total so far this month to 1,622 for an average of 77.24 new cases per day in February.
The county’s daily average for cases has decreased each week in February, from 82.42 cases per day the first week to 80.42 in the week of Feb. 8-14 and 68.85 in the most recent week. For comparison, the county averaged 238.57 new cases per day in the first full week of 2021 and 406.57 new cases daily during the period of Dec. 8-15.
There have now been 26,325 coronavirus cases in the county since the start of the pandemic — 18,689 confirmed cases and 7,636 probable. So far, there have been 85,489 negative tests in the county.
There have been 6,992 coronavirus cases reported in Westmoreland County so far this year for an average of 134.46 reported per day in 2021.
Westmoreland County has added fewer than 200 new coronavirus cases each day since Jan. 14, and has had fewer than 175 new cases in all but one of those days. Since the start of February, the county has had fewer than 120 new cases each day, and has been below 100 new cases in 19 of the 21 days this month.
Westmoreland County added 45 cases and three new coronavirus-related deaths Friday, followed by 98 cases and three deaths reported Saturday and 50 cases and one death reported Sunday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The new deaths reported over the weekend bring the county’s total since the start of the pandemic to 664 and the total in 2021 to 241.
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.
The county coroner’s office as of Monday morning showed no increase in its coronavirus death total since its last update at 11 p.m. Feb. 15. Prior to that update, which saw the total increase to 408, the coroner’s count had remained steady at 404 since its previous update at 11 p.m. Feb. 8.
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.
Statewide, coronavirus cases reached 913,497 on Sunday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard. That case total includes 787,614 confirmed cases in the state and 125,883 probable cases. So far, there have been 3,822,646 negative tests in the state.
The state health department recently announced a free, drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Rostraver Ice Garden, 111 Gallitin Road and Route 51, Belle Vernon, PA, 15012 would operate daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Thursday, Feb. 25.
Sunday’s update to the COVID-19 Dashboard showed 184 new coronavirus-related deaths had been reported throughout the state since Thursday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 23,597.
Of the state’s coronavirus deaths, 12,223 (51.79%) 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 Saturday.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there had been 65,992 coronavirus cases among residents and 12,816 cases among staff members at 1,565 long term care facilities throughout the state as of Sunday’s update.
In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 50 long-term care facilities have accounted for 1,970 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 275 cases among staff members and 259 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. Westmoreland County recently added a COVID-19 vaccination information page to its county website, available at www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/2934/29523/Vaccine-Info.
Vaccine availability and logistical challenges have kept the state in Phase 1A of the state health department’s vaccine rollout plan.
Phase 1A 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.
Excela Health Chief Mecial 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.
The state health department’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard indicates there have been 1,447,949 partial coronavirus vaccinations administered in the state, including 42,066 in Westmoreland County as of Sunday’s update.
Currently, both COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use require two doses spread out several weeks apart. Those vaccines are produced by Pfizer and Moderna, Inc. A third — a single-dose vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson — is set to be reviewed for possible emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later this month.
As of Sunday’s update, 528,049 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, 14,503 were administered in Westmoreland County, according to the site.
COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state dropped below 2,000 over the weekend, with 1,959 patients hospitalized statewide for coronavirus as of Sunday’s update to the state health department data. There were 2,124 coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide as of noon on Thursday.
Statewide, the moving 14-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a peak of 6,105.6 on Christmas Day and has steadily declined since. Of coronavirus patients hospitalized Sunday throughout the state, 421 were in adult intensive care units and 253 were on ventilators.
In Westmoreland County, the coronavirus patient total decreased to 112 as of Sunday’s update. There were 118 coronavirus patients in county hospitals as of Thursday’s update, the same number as Wednesday and down from 121 on Tuesday and 123 last Monday.
Of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county Sunday, four were in adult intensive care units and five were on ventilators, according to the state health department. Of the 96 ventilators available in Westmoreland County, according to state data, a total of 15 were in use by COVID and non-COVID patients as of Sunday’s update.
According to state figures last updated at noon Sunday, there were 33 adult ICU beds available at Westmoreland County hospitals — 36.7% of total adult ICU beds — along with 96 medical/surgical beds and 104 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.
The Southwest region saw its COVID-19 patient total decrease to 427 as of Sunday’s update. There were 464 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the region Thursday, according to the state health department, down from 483 on Wednesday. Of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the region Sunday, 90 were on adult intensive care units and 41 were on ventilators. Overall, 341 of the region’s 1,564 available ventilators were in use as of Sunday’s update.
Greater Latrobe School District has earned the College Board AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science Principles.
Schools honored with the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award have expanded girls’ access in AP Computer Science courses.
Out of the 20,000 institutions that offer AP courses, 1,119 achieved either 50% or higher female representation in one of the two AP computer science courses or had a percentage of the female computer science examinees meeting or exceeding that of the school’s female population during the 2019-20 school year. That’s nearly 37% more than the 818 schools recognized last year. In 2020, Greater Latrobe School District was one of 831 districts recognized in the category of AP Computer Science Principles.
Greater Latrobe Senior High School (GLSHS) offers several computer science courses for students in ninth through 12th grade, including Introduction to Computer Programming, Intermediate Programming, AP Computer Science A, and AP Computer Science Principles.
The benefits of offering computer science courses in high school are evident, according to Wendy Lint, mathematics and computer science teacher at GLSHS.
“Computer Science curriculums help to develop problem-solving skills, logic, and creativity,” Lint said. “These skills also prepare our students for success in continued higher level education and training.
“Statistics show that the biggest drop off in females in computer science is from ages 13-17. This drop affects the ability for females to be competitive for high tech jobs that are generally higher paying and available. It also limits the types of ideas, interests, and creativity that are involved in the development of new technology.
“Because innovation is what fuels the advancement of our society, we need innovators to include all groups of people in society. If we limit or exclude any group in the creation and development of new technology, then we limit what and how much we can innovate to help us in all areas of our lives,” Lint said. “As a female who graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science, I saw first-hand the development of technology that is taken for granted today, so it is great to see my students become interested and excited about what they can do with technology. Today, the sky’s the limit with what a student can do with their knowledge of computer science. We want all Greater Latrobe students to be able to reach for the stars.”
The Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce will host its 11th annual Soup’s On! Walk in downtown Ligonier from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 20.
A limited number of tickets for this year’s event will go on sale beginning at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 25.
A total of 400 tickets will be sold for the event and at $20 apiece, tickets are expected to sell out quickly.
Tickets will be available online through Eventbrite and a limited number will be available in person at the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce office. Tickets will not be available to purchase over the phone or by voicemail.
Tickets purchased last year will not be redeemed for this year’s event.
Attendees will sample delicious soups from local restaurants and organizations, and vote for “The Best Soup in Ligonier.”
In addition, Soup’s On! attendees can join the fun and support local merchants and businesses by completing bingo cards that can be entered in a drawing to win prizes.
For more information, contact the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce at 724-238-4200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Biden declares disaster in Texas” the Page 1 headline in the Sunday, Feb. 21 edition of the Houston Chronicle read.
Guess what folks?
Texans already knew the state was a disaster because they just lived through, not a cold day in hell, but a full week of hell, experiencing firsthand what it was like to be a third world country sans electricity, running water or — in some cases — food or any type of water.
And, of course, let’s not forget we are in the middle of a pandemic where people are desperately trying to get appointments for the new COVID-19 vaccine, now one week behind schedule because of being without power and water.
The greater Houston area includes the town of Pearland, the place I now call home after spending the first 75 years of my life in western Pennsylvania, more recently Latrobe (Derry Township).
Pearland is 17 miles south of Houston and during last week’s horrific weather the temperature dropped to 10 above zero and a wind chill of minus 1.
If you have lived most of your life in the Latrobe area, that kind of weather isn’t exactly unheard of during the winter months. In Texas, well, it’s very abnormal. This is a state that welcomed my wife Becky and I with almost five straight months of temperatures in the 90s and, at times, over 100 degrees.
For the record, though, we, like every other Texan, keep our home air-conditioning running 24/7, thus managing to stay comfortable despite the sweltering outside heat.
When our power went out at about 1:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 15, we thought it might just be a transformer exploding somewhere nearby and power would be restored within hours or at least in a reasonable amount of time, just like such it always did back in Pennsylvania.
At the time, there was about an inch of snow on the ground, a fourth of an inch of ice on the roads, temperatures were in the teens and by daylight, it was somewhat chilly in the house, enough so that thermal underwear, a turtleneck sweater, and a hooded sweatshirt became my wardrobe of choice. Little did I know I would be wearing those same clothes for the next three days.
Though power was restored for several hours, it went off again and the on-off cycle repeated itself several times with the no power stretches always lasting much longer than the restored power ones.
When the temperature in the house dropped below 50 by noon, I made a big executive decision: Time to search for new living quarters.
Thirty minutes away in Houston, my son Drew and his wife Susan and 2-year-old daughter Juliana had power, so that seemed to be a logical destination. But before I could get there, they lost power and managed to find a hotel room in the downtown.
After about 15-20 calls to hotels and motels, I had no luck finding a place. The places I did reach either had no vacancies or no power.
Many of them had no phone services so I began driving around the Pearland area looking for hotels and motels and finally found a place that, under normal circumstances, I would not have considered staying there.
But the place successfully answered my three questions: 1. Do you have any non-smoking rooms available? 2. Do you have electricity? 3. Do you have heat and hot water?
So at 7 p.m. Monday with the outside temperature in the teens, I checked in and immediately cranked the thermostat up to 72, turned on the TV and began checking through my cell phone emails and messages.
I went to sleep at midnight but awoke at 4 a.m., not as warm as I once was. And with good reason: The motel lost power at 3:15 a.m. With less than an airtight door and frost forming on the aluminum frame windows, it didn’t take long for the room to grow cold since the outside temperature was 10 degrees. Also, the very thin blanket on the bed offered little warmth.
There was enough hot water to shave and shower before I checked out at 7 a.m. to head to my cold Pearland home. The trip to the motel and the trip back was an adventure in itself since there were no lights anywhere, including traffic signals. I was hungry but there were also no food places open and no gas stations. It was a strange feeling.
But the worst was yet to come. At about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the water was shut off. So now not only was there no power but now I was without water. This was not much fun.
Not wanting to be jammed into a very small hotel room with three other adults, a two-year-old and an unhappy cat, I decided to stay home and by Wednesday evening the power came back on at my house.
When a hurricane was heading toward Houston last fall, my son alerted me to stock up on water. The hurricane missed us but the 80 bottles of 16-ounce water I purchased at that time sure came in handy to drink as well as fill up the toilet tank.
Meanwhile, after my son’s home ended up with no power and water on Wednesday, they made a 45-minute trip to the town of Spring, where his in-laws had not only power and water and also a whole house generator in case of emergencies.
Having not showered since early Tuesday morning, I decided to accept an invitation to join them Thursday morning and stayed until Friday morning. We called our neighbor who told us they still had power and the water pressure was slowly returning so we went home.
Yes, the water was a little dirty but good enough to shower and, using bottled water to cook and brush teeth with, it was great to be back in the comfort of our own home.
So how often does this happen in Texas?
According to the weather experts here, not that often. For instance, the seven consecutive days of below freezing weather experienced last week has happened only eight other times in Houston history.
But while my family is back to being warm and comfortable, that is not the case everywhere in the greater Houston area. Some people were still without clean water Sunday, as many as 5 million across the state.
And many families are struggling to buy the basic food items, victims of the pandemic situation and then a week without any income. Virtually all restaurants and eating establishments, including some grocery stores, were closed. Stores that were open saw their supplies of water, milk and bread disappear as fast as they could stock their shelves.
I visited a Walmart 10 minutes before its early closing at 6 p.m. Wednesday and found no water. I got the last half-gallon of milk and took one of the three loaves of bread left on the shelf.
Also shut down were urgent care centers and some hospitals that were without power and/or water. Schools, even those doing all or part virtual learning, were also closed.
When officials announced that NRG Stadium, home to the NFL Houston Texans, would be a site for residents to get free food beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday, the line of vehicles to get into the parking lot was several hundred long at 5 a.m. Officials said they gave boxes and bags of food to 5,000 families.
Many Houston celebrities, like natives Beyoncé and Michael Strahan, have stepped in to help, setting up websites to offer aid to families. Current sport stars also have made big donations for citizens to get free water and food.
And in a notable political twist, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a constant target of Republicans because of her strong left-leaning background, has raised almost $5 million in relief funding for Texas since Thursday.
As for my family, we now realize what valuable commodities electric and clean water are and how quickly things can change.
By the way, it was sunny and 72 degrees Sunday while we celebrated a family birthday at a Houston park.
Troopers are investigating an incident of animal cruelty in Unity Township captured on video that has recently been circulating on various social media platforms, according to state police at Greensburg.
Police say the video involving a girl shows very graphic abuse to the animal involved, which has prompted many calls to emergency services to investigate this incident.
The active investigation consists of multiple troopers, including the Greensburg barracks animal cruelty officer who is specially trained in this type of investigation.
Police are asking that the public give investigators time to assess the incident and prepare a thorough investigation. There is no current danger to the animal in the video, and police say it is believed this incident took place “many months ago.”
The Latrobe Police Department wrote on its Facebook page that it “is aware of a very disturbing animal abuse video circulating on social media. It had been reported to the (Pennsylvania) State Police and they are investigating this incident.”
Theodore Spewock of Derry Township turned 100 years old on Sunday, Feb. 21.
Ted was born on Feb. 21, 1921, in Derry Township, one of eight children of Frank and Pearl Spewock.
Ted was enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1942, and was a technical corporal for the 80th Division, Company G, and served as cook for Army men in England, France, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia until his honorable discharge in December 1945.
After the war, he married Agnes Ulishney of Marguerite and together they raised six daughters.
During these many years, he has enjoyed the company of all his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings and in-laws, and his nieces and nephews.
Theodore liked being his own boss and people will remember him as the one-man coal operator of Clark Hollow Coal Mine in Ligonier. Theodore had been featured in National Geographic in June 1978 as part of an article on William Penn and western Pennsylvania life. Other stories were published in many newspapers about Theodore and his faithful helpers, his ponies Silver, Smokey Joe and Prince.
As always, Ted celebrated his birthday quietly.