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Chester County Press

As COVID-19 cases rise, Gov. Wolf to submit plan to ‘reopen’ Pennsylvania

04/21/2020 03:44PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

In his April 17 address to Pennsylvania residents, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf said that he and his administration will roll out a plan to “reopen” the commonwealth, one “that respects the reality of the situation on the ground and works with our local, regional, and federal partners.”

Referring to it as “a plan for relief, reopening, and recovery,” Gov. Wolf unveiled “A Plan for Pennsylvania,” an initiative, he said, that will set citizens and businesses on a path to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to protect life from the dangers of this deadly virus that will involve the partnership of public health experts, agencies and stakeholders.

The specifics of the plan are expected to be revealed this week.

“I’m offering the framework of a plan to increase wages for all Pennsylvanians, enact better worker protections, expand paid sick and family leave policies, and increase safe, affordable, and high-quality child care,” Gov. Wolf said in his address. “We need to strengthen the unemployment and workers compensation insurance systems. Let’s expand student loan deferments to provide relief for individuals who are on the front lines.

“And we must expand rapid re-employment programs to support businesses and workers affected by mass layoffs.”

Using a six-point strategy, Gov. Wolf said the plan will:

1.  Use a data-driven approach to determine reopenings.

2.  Abide by guidance and recommendations for employers, individuals, and health care facilities for assured accountability while reopening.

3.  Make adequate personal protective equipment and testing available before reopening.

4.  Use a monitoring and surveillance program that allows the commonwealth to deploy swift actions for containment or mitigation.

5.  Keep protections in place for vulnerable populations throughout the reopening process, such as limitations on visitors to congregate care facilities and prisons.

6.  Limit large gatherings unrelated to occupations through the reopening process.

“We need to be careful and deliberate,” Gov. Wolf said. “We need the flexibility to react to new outbreaks. Unfortunately, we cannot flip a switch and reopen the commonwealth.

There won’t be one big day. We need to make smart, data driven decisions. We can’t be impulsive. We can’t be emotional. We need to follow the science.”

Gov. Wolf’s “Plan for Pennsylvania” was introduced two days before an April 19 report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health that confirmed there were 1,215 additional positive cases of COVID-19 recently reported in the state, which brings the statewide total to 32,284, which now includes 1,112 deaths. Pennsylvania ranks fifth-highest in the nation in the number of reported cases of COVID-19.

Chester County remains one of the hardest-hit of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, all of which now have reported COVID-19 cases. The Health Department reported that there have been 839 positive cases in the county, 3,902 cases that tested negative, and 42 deaths from the virus.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine encouraged residents to remain vigilant in their efforts to combat the rising numbers, and stressed that mitigation efforts such as social distancing are working and that the goal of the department is to continue to provide as much data as possible in a timely manner. 

“COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in Pennsylvania, so now is not the time to become complacent,” she said. “We must continue to stay home to protect ourselves, our families and our community. If you must go out, please make as few trips as possible and wear a mask to protect not only yourself, but other people as well.

“We need all Pennsylvanians to continue to heed these efforts to protect our vulnerable Pennsylvanians, our health care workers and frontline responders.”

Stay-at-home orders extended to May 8

On April 1, Gov. Wolf issued a statewide stay-at-home order to all Pennsylvanians, as well as ordered the closing of “non-essential” businesses. On April 20, Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine announced that the statewide stay-at-home orders will be extended until Friday, May 8 at 12:01 a.m. – moving the order up from the original date of April 30.

The announcement comes at a time when the closure of all non-essential businesses has left a severe wound in the state’s economy. In its March report, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) said that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate rose 1.3 percentage points to 6 percent – even higher than the national rate, which rose nine-tenths of a point to 4.4 percent.

Despite the gloomy numbers, Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine offered a silver lining in a cloud that has largely shuttered the state economy for the past several weeks.

“It is clear that our early and aggressive efforts to mitigate this spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus are working,” Wolf said. “While we begin to seek ways to move forward, it’s imperative that we continue to take strong precautions to protect Pennsylvanians and ensure that our health care system is not overwhelmed.”

“We are starting to see a downward trend in the number of positive cases throughout the state, which is definitely encouraging,” Dr. Levine said. “We need to proceed carefully to make sure the strides we’ve made in combatting this virus continue to move forward. Extending our statewide order until May 8 will ensure that we don’t overwhelm our health system, while helping our economy to recover.”

Under the extended order, all non-life-sustaining physical business closures will remain in effect and all life-sustaining businesses and state services will continue. Individuals will be permitted to leave their residences for tasks essential to maintaining health and safety.

Construction, auto sales, curbside pick-up of spirits will restart on May 8

In deference to his plan -- and as a sign that efforts to return Pennsylvania to normalcy are slowly underway -- Gov. Wolf announced on April 20 that beginning May 8, auto dealerships in the state will be allowed to conduct limited car sales and leasing operations, and that auto dealerships may continue to remain open for certain activities, such as repairs to passenger and commercial vehicles and sales of auto parts.

In addition, public and private residential and non-residential construction may resume statewide on May 8, in accordance with safety guidelines that will be issued by the administration. Construction projects already deemed life-sustaining may continue while adhering to social distancing, personnel limits and other guidance as announced by the administration.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has begun accepting orders by phone for curbside pickup of beer, wine and spirits at 176 locations throughout the state. Phone orders can be placed between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., or until reaching a store’s maximum order capacity each day. Curbside pickups will be scheduled from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. within a few days of order placement. Callers will be guided through each store’s unique inventory. There is a limit of six bottles per order, and credit cards are the only accepted form of payment. At pickup, customers will be required to present identification before the order is delivered.

These three limited steps forward, Gov. Wolf said, will be closely observed in the coming days and weeks to ensure that they do not result in a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, in which case the governor will use his authority under the emergency disaster declaration to resume restrictions to protect public health and safety.

While the slow lifting of business closures begins in conjunction with the launch of “A Plan for Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said that the road to full recovery will not happen overnight.

“There is no magic wand to wave to get us there,” he said. “I will work, every day, to repair the damage this virus has caused and I am going to fight, every day, to keep Pennsylvanians alive. I want to get started on the work we need to do to build a new commonwealth and to get our lives back.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].