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Coronavirus update: Wolf threatens to withhold funds from counties that go rogue

The marquee of the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg, P.a, on Friday, May 8, 2020, tells moviegoers it hopes to reopen soon. Some of the retail shops in the town’s Market Street shopping strip reopened after about two months on Friday, with a  trickle of customers, as Union County was considered to be safe enough to begin to loosen social distancing restrictions. (AP Photo/Mark Scolforo)

The marquee of the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg, P.a, on Friday, May 8, 2020, tells moviegoers it hopes to reopen soon. Some of the retail shops in the town’s Market Street shopping strip reopened after about two months on Friday, with a trickle of customers, as Union County was considered to be safe enough to begin to loosen social distancing restrictions. (AP Photo/Mark Scolforo)

Updated at 5:10 p.m.

Pennsylvania had 520 new positive COVID-19 cases on Monday, a .87% increase in total cases over the previous day. Over the past seven days, the commonwealth has recorded an increase of 7,643 cases, or 14.4%.

The state has recorded 60,459 positive cases so far out of more than 29,8149 tested.

Statewide, Pennsylvania had 23 new deaths as of Monday, for a total of 3,767. The Department of Health says this is the result of “continued work to reconcile data from various sources,” and that the deaths have occurred “over the past several weeks.”

Philadelphia reported 102 new positives Monday. The city has recorded 18,313 cases so far, and 893 deaths.

Wolf threatens to withhold funds from counties that go rogue

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf threatened counties that are agitating to reopen businesses without being given the greenlight from the state.

During a press conference on Monday, Wolf said these local officials are trying to “desert in the face of the enemy,” and said he would withhold discretionary state and federal funding from counties, such as Cumberland, Beaver and Lancaster, if they begin to “operate illegally.”

Starting on May 8, the state allowed 24 of its 67 counties to reopen some commercial activity.

But elected officials from at least six other counties, also including Dauphin, Schuylkill and Lebanon, have said they would no longer enforce the governor’s ban on most commercial activity, feeling that their constituents’ economic pain outweighed the public health value of staying home.

The governor also indicated he would use the state’s licensing capacities to enforce the shutdown order, saying businesses could lose their insurance, as well as occupancy licenses, liquor licenses or health certificates if they fail to follow the order.

“Under the constitution, the judiciary has ruled that I do indeed have the ability to do this,” said Wolf.

Later on Monday, the Department of Labor and Industry said it would help impose “negative consequences” on businesses that flout the shutdown order.

“If a business opens in defiance of the Governor’s and Secretary of Health’s stay-at-home order … then those employees may stay home and not lose their unemployment compensation benefits,” said DLI Secretary Jerry Oleksiak.

He said the state would not sue counties to enforce the orders.

Pa. will release nursing home outbreak data this week

As COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities continue to make up roughly 68% of the state’s deaths, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday aggregate data regarding outbreaks in these facilities will be released later this week.

“The well-being, the safety, and the health of individuals in long-term care living facilities, such as nursing homes, are really our top priority,” said Levine.

The state has faced mounting pressure to release information about the 540 long-term care facilities, spread across 44 of the state’s counties.

Previously, officials had cited a decades-old Pennsylvania law that protects people’s medical privacy. More recently, Levine attributed the delay to making sure the state was meeting guidelines put out by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid before releasing any information.

In addition to releasing outbreak data, Levine said the state has shifted personal protective equipment from hospitals, which appear to have a manageable number of COVID-19 patients, to long-term care facilities in need.

The National Guard has also been deployed to offer direct patient care at facilities that need additional help.

Most recently, the National Guard has been called to help a Beaver County nursing home where at least 60 people have died.

Philly cases continue to drop

For the second Monday in a row, Philadelphia reported no new deaths due to COVID-19.

Though Mondays have typically seen the lowest numbers — due to reporting lags — the data suggests the virus is receding, said city health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

“There are too many cases for us to say that we can safely restart our activities,” said Farley. “But there’s clear signs we’re making progress against this epidemic.”

Officials also noted downward trends in new cases and hospitalizations. Philadelphia reported 102 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. The number of hospitalized patients battling the illness has dropped roughly 20 percent since its peak, Farley added.

Farley and Mayor Jim Kenney would not say when the city could safely begin to reopen some nonessential businesses. One remaining concern, Farley said, is the lack of testing.

The city is currently administering about 1,500 tests a day, but Farley would like that number to be around 5,000.

Montco commissioner tests positive for COVID-19

After attending a Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium testing event in Pottstown last Friday, Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence received some unexpected news.

“Much to my shock, the test came back positive,” said Lawrence, who said he was strongly encouraged to get tested due to his public role.

Lawrence said he has no symptoms and no known exposure to someone with COVID-19. He is quarantining at home. Commission chair Val Arksoosh said she was awaiting test results, and commissioner Joe Gale, the only Republican commissioner, said he “did not plan on getting tested.”

Montgomery County now has 5,110 positive cases and 417 confirmed deaths due to coronavirus. 93 long-term care facilities have cases. However, test results are showing that the rate of infection is decreasing.

“Thanks to your many many sacrifices, our trendlines are all going in the right direction,” said Arkoosh. The county was the original hotspot for coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania, and is still in the “red” phase under Governor Wolf’s traffic light system for which counties may begin to resume modified business openings.

$100 million from feds for Pa. child care providers

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is encouraging child care providers in 24 “yellow” counties to reopen if they can follow safety guidelines.

Child care providers there should adhere to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that include cleaning frequently, keeping the same children together in small groups, and requiring masks for kids older than two when possible, DHS officials said on a call Monday. Currently, however, state regulators do not have the authority to enforce these guidelines.

DHS Secretary Theresa Miller said the state hoped to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and others “to see if we can get some enforcement authority.”

Officials also said that the state had received roughly $100 million of federal funding through the CARES act to support childcare providers, though they declined to give specifics on how or when the money will be spent.

“Those are conversations we are having with the governor’s office and the legislature,” Miller said. “But hopefully we will be able to do that soon.”

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered most of Pennsylvania’s child care providers to close in March, allowing some to reopen with a waiver. About 80% of the state’s providers are currently closed and advocates say many will not reopen without financial assistance.

WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent, Ximena Conde and Miles Bryan contributed reporting.

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