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Coronavirus update: Pa. Gov. rejects GOP efforts to adjust stay-at-home orders

(Provided to Billy Penn)

(Provided to Billy Penn)

Updated at 6:05 p.m.

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To date, there are 28,096 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 75,317 in New Jersey, and 2,075 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 8,045 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 837, New Jersey’s at 3,518, and Delaware’s at 52. Philadelphia’s death toll is 264.

 

Wolf rejects GOP efforts to adjust stay-at-home orders

Governor Tom Wolf is planning to veto two proposed bills that would allow more Pennsylvanians to return to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republicans who control the state House and Senate are trying to roll back Wolf’s stay-at-home orders, arguing they’re needlessly stringent and don’t need to apply across the state.

One of their bills, Senate Bill 613, would have Pennsylvania follow a set of federal guidelines that are more permissive than Wolf’s. The other, Senate Bill 327, would let county governments develop their own coronavirus plans following those federal guidelines.

The guidelines come from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Twenty-two states and Washington D.C. have based their stay-at-home orders on them.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Wolf said he thinks both bills are too risky.

“There’s no reason to take our feet off the brakes at this point,” he said. “We need to get through this phase as quickly as possible and keep Pennsylvanians safe, and so that’s what I’m focused on.”

The vetoes won’t come as a surprise to Republicans, many of whom have been criticizing Wolf for refusing to compromise on closures by opening up businesses they deem low-risk, or bringing Pennsylvania into line with states that have adopted looser stay-at-home rules.

On Twitter, GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai criticized Wolf and other Democrats for not getting on board with Republicans’ efforts to adjust COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

“Many times we asked the Democratic leaders for their thoughts and ideas,” he wrote. “We got nothing from them. We have been consistently trying to work WITH the governor, but the administration seems more interested in dictating what they want.”

The governor says he’s constantly thinking about when it will be safe to start letting more businesses reopen, but doesn’t have a date in mind yet.

New Montco test site opens; county has C- social distancing rating 

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh announced 114 additional positive COVID-19 cases and eight new deaths. This brings the countywide total to 2,544 positive cases and 128 deaths.

Sixty-five percent of Montco’s deaths have been in long-term care facilities. Arkoosh said starting Thursday, county representatives have started to visit these facilities to advise on state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The commissioner said they hope to visit at least two facilities per day going forward.

One week after the county’s community-based testing site at Temple University Ambler closed, a new testing site opened Thursday on Montgomery County Community College’s campus in Whitpain Township.

The new drive-through testing location opened at 10 a.m. on Thursday, offering 250 appointments per day. At this location, patients themselves are performing a self-swab nasal test, with supervision from health professionals. Appointment registration opens daily at 8 a.m. and can be made at montcopa.org/covid-19.

The site will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday as testing supplies allow.

Amid social distancing efforts, Arkoosh said new county movement data shows Montgomery County now has a C– score for its stay-at-home efforts.

The information is collected through anonymous cell phone data pre- and post-pandemic, by Unacast, which has created a national dashboard for tracking social distancing scores on a state and county level.

“I know how hard this is, and I know how tired everybody is and I know the weather is getting nicer and everybody has cabin fever,” Arkoosh said. “We have to ask you to continue to resist that temptation and stay home. Limit your travel to the most essential trips.”

Pennsylvania’s overall score is also C–.

Masks mandated for life-sustaining businesses

Pennsylvania officials reported 1,245 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, with a total of 27,735 Pennsylvanians who have tested positive in all 67 counties. According to Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, approximately 1,401 of the total cases are health care workers.

A total of 707 people have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania as of last night, Levine said.

There were 2,503 patients hospitalized due to coronavirus as of Thursday, which represents slightly less than 10% percent of the total cases reported, Levine said. Of those, 664 have required the use of a ventilator or breathing machine.

But Levine said approximately 41% of hospital beds, 37% of intensive care unit beds and nearly 70% of the state’s ventilators are still available. And that according to the state’s data, mitigation and prevention measures taken by the governor have been working.

“Our trends show that the Pensylvanians’ sacrifice to stay at home is working. We have been able to flatten that curve, and to date our health care system is staying stable and we have not had a wave of cases that have overwhelmed our health care system,” she said.

Levine stressed that the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus need to continue, especially now that they’re proven to be successful.

Yesterday, the state’s health department announced an order that required, among other measures, that all workers and customers of life-sustaining businesses should be wearing a mask by the evening of April 19. On Thursday, Levine said the state won’t provide retailers with more time to implement the order.

“We recommend that if someone comes to a store, a grocery store, and doesn’t have a mask, that they be asked to go home and get a mask,” Levine said.

“We want to protect the workers that are in those life-sustaining activities, the really, very brave workers that are in groceries stores, in pharmacies, in other types of businesses that really help us everyday. So the best way to protect them is for everyone to wear a mask. Remember my mask protects you, and your mask protects me,” she said.

According to the state order, users of public transportation, or companies such as Uber or Lyft, are not required to wear a mask. But Levine said the state “strongly recommends it.”

Levine said the state is working to increase testing sites. Officials are discussing whether to extend the orders to stay-at-home orders beyond April 30. New York has extended theirs until May 15.

“At the right time, the government will make announcements related to all of those issues,” Levine said.

The highest concentration of cases in the state have been reported in the southeast and the northeast of the state, but the virus has impacted every region. In an effort to provide more information on the spread, the state will now provide data for negative results at a county level, and include gender and race and ethnicity.

Philly appears to have hit a plateau in COVID-19 cases

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday that the city appears to have hit a plateau in COVID-19 cases.

“I can’t say that we’ve seen decreases yet,” said Farley during a virtual news conference. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be turning a corner soon.”

On Thursday, the city reported 604 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 8,045. Farley said the uptick in new cases may be tied to an apparent delay in getting back test results from labs.

On Wednesday, the city got roughly 800 test results. On Thursday, it got roughly 1,500.

The city reported 42 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 264. Nursing home residents comprise roughly half of those deaths, said Farley.

City officials also announced that the medical site set up inside the Liacouras Center in North Philadelphia is now open if hospitals run out of beds. Right now, Farley said that is not an issue.

Bucks County to reopen parks

Amid complaints from residents, Bucks County is reopening its public parks on Monday, nearly a month after they were shut down as part of the county’s social distancing protocols.

“Riding bikes or walking or hiking or taking the dog for a walk is fine. Obviously, we’re not going to be allowing people to be congregating in big numbers,” said County Commissioner Bob Harvie.

Park rangers will be working to enforce social distancing at county parks.

To date, 1,490 Bucks County residents have tested positive cases of COVID-19. A total of 60 county residents have died from the virus.

Montco nursing home evacuated

Residents at the Phoebe Wyncote, a nursing home in Montgomery County, are being evacuated due to staffing problems related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to county officials.

Residents will relocate to an empty facility in the Lehigh Valley owned by the same company, said Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

“We were told and … you really have to go back to the owner … that they were having staffing problems due to staff that were positive with COVID-19, and that’s all the information that I have,” Arkoosh said during a media briefing Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Phoebe Wyncote did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As of Wednesday, 120 residents in Montgomery County had died from COVID-19, with 77 of them connected to long-term care facilities.

1 in 5 Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment

About one in five Pennsylvanians who could work has filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown began in mid-March, according to the latest data published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Around 238,000 Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of initial new claims to more than 1.3 million. Nationally, the commonwealth trails only California in the total number of new claims filed during that timeframe, although New York state is not far behind.

But, while new claims are still surging in Pennsylvania, they have slowed. Fewer people filed new claims last week than in each of the previous three weeks.

The state reported that’s due to fewer layoffs in the transportation, warehousing, accommodation, food services and manufacturing industries.

In New Jersey, 140,600 people filed new claims last week, while the number was 13,272 in Delaware.

Wolf backs calls for more federal aid for states

Gov. Tom Wolf has written to President Donald Trump to back calls from other leading governors for another $500 billion in federal aid for states fighting the spread of the coronavirus, warning that his office is projecting a budget deficit of up to $5 billion.

The letter, dated Wednesday, was issued with two other Democratic governors, Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Trump won all three states narrowly in 2016, states that had long backed Democrats in presidential contests.

In the letter, they acknowledge that the federal government is making an initial $71 billion available to meet some immediate cash flow needs of state and local governments. But, they write, “the magnitude of the crushing economic impact this virus has had on our states and residents cannot be overstated.”

In Pennsylvania, Wolf said the projected deficit ranging between $4.5 billion and $5 billion will make it incredibly difficult to focus the state’s efforts on supporting workers and businesses as it attempts to rebuild its economy.

WHYY’s Katie Meyer, Emily Scott, Catalina Jaramillo, Nicholas Pugliese and the Associated Press contributed reporting.

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