Wolf orders ‘non-life sustaining businesses’ to shut down; Philly closes playgrounds

Clinical staff workers conduct a drive-through COVID-19 test Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion in Wexford, Pa. (Steph Chambers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP Photo)

Clinical staff workers conduct a drive-through COVID-19 test Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion in Wexford, Pa. (Steph Chambers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP Photo)

Updated 6:20 p.m.

To date, there are 185 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 742 in New Jersey, and 30 cases in Delaware.

Wolf orders shutdown of all ‘non-life sustaining businesses’

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced late Thursday afternoon that all “non-life sustaining businesses” in the state must close their brick-and-mortar stores by 8 p.m.

The long list notably includes residential and nonresidential building construction, as well as laundry services.

It also covers most retail, including book stores, shoe stores and furniture stores, as well as gyms and beauty salons.

Beer distributors will remain open.

“To protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, we need to take more aggressive mitigation actions,” said Wolf in a statement. “This virus is an invisible danger that could be present everywhere. We need to act with the strength we use against any other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.”

Enforcement against businesses that do not close physical locations will start at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, according to a news release.

The governor has directed the following state agencies and local officials to enforce the closure order “to the fullest extent of the law:”

  • Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Pennsylvania State Police
  • Local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions.

The Independence Visitor Center Corporation announced Thursday that it is temporarily closing the following sites in Philadelphia:

  • Independence Hall
  • Liberty Bell Center
  • Independence Visitor Center
  • Independence National Historical Park
  • City Hall Visitor Center
  • Love Park Visitor Center
  • Fashion District Concierge Services
  • Rocky Statue Pop-Up Visitor Center

The start of the season for the Philly PHLASH Downtown Loop has been pushed to May 1.

Newly reported Philly cases include 20 health care workers

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced 10 new coronavirus cases in Philadelphia Thursday, bringing the total to 44. He said while that may not seem like a dramatic increase, his department expects way more to come.

“Up until now, for most people, this has been something theoretical — something you see on television,” he said. “This is about to get real.”

Among the positive cases, the age breakdown is as follows: 23 are between 20-39;

13 are between 40-59; six are 60 and older. Eight of the individuals have been hospitalized.

Notably, 20 of those infected are health care workers. Because of this, Farley said, the first priority for the city’s planned public testing site in South Philadelphia will be health care workers with symptoms. He said he hopes to have that site up and running by Friday afternoon.

Currently, there are 14 testing sites throughout the city run by different hospital systems, each with slightly different testing criteria. Among them, Farley said, 1,100 samples were collected Wednesday, up from 700 on Tuesday. But, he said, as is true nationwide, the sites are up against a shortage of test kits.

Farley also encouraged doctors, nurses, and those who were otherwise willing to offer clinical services to volunteer for the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps,  which is called upon to serve the city in case of a public health emergency. Volunteers will be trained, and don’t need a medical degree, he said.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy announced Thursday that Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department would close all playgrounds and athletic courts. All rec center and park events are canceled, buildings and bathrooms closed. Parks themselves will remain open, with the strong recommendation to socially distance.

“Running down the street 6 feet apart is in line with our recommendations,” he said.  “Hanging out with your friends on the corner is not. If you don’t need to be outside, if you’re not performing an essential function, stay home.”

In response to growing numbers of layoffs around the region, Abernathy appealed to employers to continue paying low-wage workers to the best of their ability, and to comply with the city and state’s order to shut down nonessential businesses, despite the hardship it causes.

“I just want to make clear this is not an optional thing,” he said. “Please help us manage this crisis.”

When asked if he thought it was likely that Philadelphia would order a “shelter in place” directive, as the San Francisco Bay Area has done, Abernathy said he didn’t know but that he thought asking people to stay inside and lock their doors would be “next to impossible.”

The mayor urged anyone who witnesses acts of racism against the Philadelphia Asian and Asian American community to report it to the police.

The city also announced the launch of a 6.5 million fund that will go towards grants to nonprofit organizations with a successful track record of serving at-risk populations such as seniors, people with disabilities, and those who are experiencing homelessness or are economically disadvantaged. These grants will allow the nonprofits to continue providing community safety nets such as food pantries and health services, as well as preparedness and protection services, such as hygiene supplies and access to accurate information.

Daily case counts ‘increasingly rapidly’ in Pa.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, said Thursday that daily case counts of COVID-19  are “increasing rapidly” throughout the state, but especially in urban areas and in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

New cases are also beginning to appear in other counties, “suggesting that community spread is happening,” Levine said during a news conference.

As part of the state’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Health Department is asking hospital officials to evaluate whether their facilities should continue performing elective surgeries and procedures during the pandemic.

Pennsylvania reported its first related death Wednesday, a person from Northampton County. New Jersey has recorded nine deaths.

Chester County Health Dept. to provide Delco with COVID-19 services

Under an agreement approved Wednesday, Chester County will begin providing COVID-19 health services to Delaware County, which does not have its own health department.

Chester County will provide expanded testing, case investigation and surveillance, quarantine designations, and daily monitoring of emergency room volume in Delaware County hospitals, among other services.

“It’s one thing to answer the bell when it rings in your own backyard, but it’s quite another to answer the bell when it’s a little more distant,” Delaware County Council Chair Brian Zidek  said during a joint news conference.

“We are truly taking this as a heartfelt combined effort,” said Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz.

The agreement requires Delaware County to pay Chester County 30% of all unreimbursed COVID-19 costs Chester County incurs while serving both counties during the pandemic, according to the Delaware County Daily Times.

Zidek said establishing a health department in Delaware County would take between 18 and 24 months.

As of Thursday morning, Chester County had recorded 10 positive cases of COVID-19. There are currently 14 positive cases in Delaware County.

Drive-thru testing site opening in Montgomery County

As of Thursday afternoon, Montgomery County is reporting 13 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total reported cases in the county to 55, according to officials.

Only one of the 13, a 72-year-old man, is hospitalized. The rest have symptoms that do not require hospitalization and are being monitored at home.

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, the county will open a drive-through testing site at Temple University’s campus in Ambler.

Residents must have an appointment, and medical professionals will only test individuals who fit at least one of the following four criteria:

  1. A fever at or above 100.4 degrees with respiratory symptoms, a dry cough and/or shortness of breath
  2. A temperature above 99.6 degrees and age 65 or older
  3. First responders who are concerned they were exposed to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 or respiratory symptoms
  4. Healthcare workers who are providing direct patient care and cannot get tested by their employer

“Due to the limited number of tests currently available, generally healthy individuals who have mild symptoms and no underlying medical conditions do not need to be tested at this time. They should stay at home,” said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, during a news conference.

Registration for the mobile testing site opens at 8 p.m. on Friday. Residents can sign up for a time slot at www.montpa.org/covid-19, through the county’s social media accounts, or by calling the county’s coronavirus hotline at 610-631-3000.

Phone-call registration will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

SEPTA to switch to Saturday schedule

Starting Sunday, SEPTA will begin operating on a typical Saturday schedule,  seven days a week, until further notice as part of an effort to “maintain a safe environment for customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said in a news release on Thursday.

The announcement means there will be reduced service on all buses, the Market-Frankford Line, the Broad Street Line, trolleys, and the Norristown High Speed Line.

SEPTA had previously reduced service on its Regional Rail lines.

Starting Friday, SEPTA will temporarily close outlying Regional Rail station ticket windows and waiting rooms.

Pa. bars visitors from state hospitals, youth centers, forestry camp

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health is barring visitors from all state centers, state hospitals, youth development centers, and youth forestry camps.

Exceptions include visits by probation departments, lawyers, and family and clergy approved by the facility’s director.

All visitors will have to pass a medical screening before entering any of these facilities.

$1 million for food aid

The Lincoln Financial Foundation has announced that it’s upping its funding to food banks, community pantries and soup kitchens to $1 million.

The money will go to nearly 30 organizations in 11 cities, including Philadelphia, that distribute food to these facilities, as well as help dispense school lunches to students who are out-of-school and meals to seniors.

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