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Welcome to the Bethlehem Gadfly!

Definition of gadfly
1: any of various flies that annoy livestock

2: a person who stimulates other people especially by persistent criticism
3: someone who challenges people in positions of power

The main goal of the Gadfly blog is to provide a space for healthy public dialogue about issues of concern to Bethlehem, Pa., residents. All sides, all perspectives welcome.

For good examples of in-depth coverage of continuing serious issues, see the threads onGadfly 54 candidates for election, Martin Tower, Parking, and on 2 W. Market St.

As context for and balance to the serious issues, we also have some fun stuff relating to Bethlehem as well.

Please use your contact list to pass the word about “The Bethlehem Gadfly” to others and, most importantly, click the button on the sidebar to follow us.

And follow the Gadfly on Facebook @TheBethlehemGadfly

The Gadfly — Ed Gallagher — would like to hear from you!

Slowdown in coronavirus cases locally

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The City press conference with that important budget information covered in our last post also had some important health information.

Christina Tatu, “Wind Creek closure hits Bethlehem’s budget, contributing to projected $5 million to $7 million deficit.” Morning Call, April 9, 2020.

Thursday’s press conference also included an update on Bethlehem’s coronavirus cases.

Health Bureau Director Kristen Wenrich said the city was up to 222 positive cases by Wednesday evening, with one death and 29 hospitalizations.

Bethlehem has seen a slowdown in the number of positive cases being reported. A couple weeks ago, the city was nearly doubling its case count every couple of days. On Tuesday, there was a less than 20% increase in new cases within the city.

“We are continuing to stress the stay-at-home order and how important it is. We don’t want people to get complacent,” Wenrich said.

Bethlehem budget takes a gut-punch

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Christina Tatu, “Wind Creek closure hits Bethlehem’s budget, contributing to projected $5 million to $7 million deficit.” Morning Call, April 9, 2020.

As the coronavirus shutdown drags on, Bethlehem is looking at a $5 million to $7 million budget deficit this year, driven significantly by a reduction in the host fee the city receives from Wind Creek Bethlehem.

The casino was expected to pay Bethlehem a $9.8 million fee this year, city officials said. But the fee is based on gambling revenues and the casino has been closed since March 15.

Mayor Robert Donchez, during a news conference Thursday, said the city loses more than $800,000 each month the casino is closed. If the closure extends through the end of April, that will amount to more than $1 million.

“There are so many unknowns. We try to make adjustments on particular line items, but it’s very difficult to do. We do not have any lead time on how long the casino could be shutdown,” said Eric Evans, the city’s business administrator. He warned the $5 million-$7 million deficit is a conservative estimate that could change in the coming weeks.

“We definitely took a punch in the gut with this. We are fortunate, in the last several years we have strengthened our financial position and rainy-day fund. By the September-October budget season we should have a clear idea of what damage we are facing,” Evans said.

Other line items in Bethlehem’s $80 million budget that are contributing to the projected deficit include a loss of earned income tax and amusement taxes paid by attractions like Wind Creek and ArtsQuest.

To stem the loses, the city has implemented a hiring freeze and is considering freezing the budget on major projects, Donchez said.

One option would be to delay the opening of Memorial Pool until next year. The 63-year-old flagship pool had been closed for $5.2 million in renovations and was set to reopen this summer. City officials could also delay certain infrastructure projects.

Bethlehem officials said they have discussed furloughing city employees but no decisions have been made.

The 1918 apex arrives in the Lehigh Valley

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For perspective on our current coronavirus situation, we are following the entrance of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, that paragon of pandemics, into the minds and bodies of Lehigh Valley residents who got their news through the Morning Call (the files of the Bethlehem Globe are closed to us at the moment).

Gadfly hasn’t heard the word “apex” so much since sophomore geometry.

For the first half of the month of October 1918 readers of the Morning Call were greeted each day with a steady stream of influenza death notices, sometimes 6-8 individual ones per page. A death on S. 4th St., one on N. 6th St., one in Catasauqua, one in Whitehall, etc. And often with descriptive information about job, family, funeral arrangements.

Then, on the morning of Wednesday October 16, under the matter-of-fact headline of “Deaths at Easton due to Influenza Epidemic,” readers were greeted with a list of 50 names arranged as simply and as clinically as if they were ingredients in a recipe: Frank Clayton, forty five, 627 Milton Ave.; Joseph Sparta, three months, 185 E. Canal St.; Pedro Fransciare, Phillipsburg; Walter Koch, nineteen, Nazareth. And so forth. 50 of them. One after the other. Without pause. Without a word of commentary. As if the number were too great to give each victim some individuality. As if there were only time now for bookkeeping.

Easton was reaching its apex of Spanish Influenza cases.

In this graph of the 13-month period between January 1, 2018, and February 27, 1919, done by a Gadfly faithful follower, we can see that there were an astonishing 93 Flu deaths in Easton October 14 — Easton’s apex.

Obituaries

The second weekend in October 1918 was, in fact, a good weekend to be out of the Lehigh Valley completely, for Bethlehem, too, we know, also reached its apex then.

Look at the research about burials at St. Michael’s cemetery, Bethlehem, done by Rosemary C. Buffington and published in the April 1 Bethlehem Press.

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It  took literally just one month from its “arrival” in the United States as reported in the Call September 13 for the Spanish Flu to reach and to wreak its greatest havoc in the Lehigh Valley.

We have all learned in the past days that for the coronavirus what we are seeing now is the result of something that happened two weeks ago.

One is tempted to say that Spanish Flu acted the same way. Social distancing was implemented October 3-4 at the direction of state authorities. And the curve of deaths started to drop approximately 10-11 days later.

One is tempted to say that social distancing worked.

Live from Bethlehem! It’s BAPL Online!

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“Library”: from the Latin liber, book.

Do you remember when libraries were just books?

The small library tucked away just over the railroad hump in Lansdowne, Pa., during the 1940s and 1950s was as instrumental in shaping my mental and moral character as the Highland Ave. playground was in shaping my physical and social one.

There the building still is. Thank god it’s not a tattoo parlor or something. The spirit of the bun’d, bespectacled Miss Barrow must still reside beneath the eaves.

library

Our BAPL is not your grandfather Gadfly’s library. It’s so much more.

Would you join me tonight at the virtual library ?

Support your local artists!

Bapl

Join us on Thursday April 9 for a live online reading! Lehigh Valley author Joyce Hinnefeld will read from her latest collection of short fiction, THE BEAUTY OF THEIR YOUTH, online, via Facebook Live and Zoom. Stream from anywhere. A live Q&A will follow.
Order a copy online from Let’s Play Books or your favorite local bookstore!
This reading will take place ONLINE, via Zoom and on Facebook LiveRegister here, or email kracculia@bapl.org to request a Zoom link and password. You will receive your log-in credentials on the afternoon of the reading.
Author Joyce Hinnefeld Reads Live
Online!
Thurs April 9, 2020
7:30 pm EST

Eerie similarities to our situation abound

logo Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus/Spanish Flu logo

For perspective on our current coronavirus situation, we are following the entrance of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, that paragon of pandemics, into the minds and bodies of Lehigh Valley residents who got their news through the Morning Call (the files of the Bethlehem Globe are closed to us at the moment).

Allentown and Bethlehem shut down during the weekend of October 4-6, 1918, at the direction of the state health authorities.

As cases of Spanish Flu rose, readers of the Morning Call would learn of school closings on October 9 and churches — the last hold-out — closing on October 12.

Social distancing was slow but eventually took hold.

The reluctance to give up on these sites is familiar to us. The arguments the same.

But the eerie similarities to our current situation doesn’t end there.

In paging through the October 1918 issues of the Call, we could be reading our own newspapers, listening to our own television news.

For we find a call for volunteer medical staff, enlistment of medical students, a re-enlistment of retired medical personnel, visitors banned from hospitals, and — of course, of course — an inability to fill the “urgent demand” for masks.

Flu 49
Flu 50

And ghoulishly analogous to our image of the refrigerator trucks clustering at hospital backdoors to handle the backup of corpses, in Easton “it was necessary for the prison inspectors to call for volunteers among the prisoners in the county jail to dig graves in the cemeteries.”

Dear Governor Wolf: those warehouse workers need help

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Greg Cook served as a magazine editor with Better Homes and Gardens in Des Moines IA for 20 years before moving to the Lehigh Valley in 2006 as a freelance writer. He participates in the Appalachian Mountain Club, launched the now annual Monocacy Park Day, brought into being the Monocacy Creek Watershed Coalition, and tours with Vote Common Good.

Gadfly:

I had no idea we had these problems at the warehouses. Here’s the message I sent Governor Wolf. I need to think more about this.

Dear Governor Wolf,

Please read this plea from Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negron about workplace injuries and the COVID-19 danger to warehouse workers in the Lehigh Valley. What can we do? How can we protect these workers? How can I help? Thank you.

https://thebethlehemgadfly.com/2020/04/08/yesterday-was-a-difficult-day-i-fear-for-my-people/

Gregory Cook