Photo by Pennsylvania Dept. of Health
In a press conference live-streamed the afternoon of Monday, March 23, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued a Stay at Home order for Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe and Montgomery counties, which went into effect 8 p.m. on March 23. This follows the recent Stay at Home Order for the city of Philadelphia Monday morning. Wolf also announced an extension to school closures, stating that all schools in Pennsylvania will remain closed through at least April 6 to protect the health of students, staff and families.
The counties that have been issued with Stay at Home orders are among those that have been impacted the hardest by the coronavirus. According to Pennsylvania’s government website, as of this morning, the total number of positive coronavirus cases in the state reached a total of 644 in 34 counties in addition to a new death in Montgomery County. This new order that extends the shutdown in Philadelphia affects about 5.5 million people, around 40 percent of the state’s population.
Wolf said of the decision, “We are trying to confine the stay-at-home order to places that have had an outbreak…we need to actually do something to save lives and buy time, and that’s why I’m focusing on those counties [that have had outbreaks] and those counties alone.”
Dr. Levine weighed in on the new order, saying, “Our notable increase in cases over the last few days indicates we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Levine continued, “Pennsylvanians have a very important job right now: stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We have seen case counts continue to increase and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home.”
Activities allowed under the order include outdoor activities like walking/running, shopping for groceries or medical supplies, caring for someone or a pet in another household, going to the doctor or hospital and attending work at a life-sustaining business. Travel for these approved activities is permitted as is travel for child care and life-sustaining services like food banks.
Wolf stressed that everyone should observe proper social distancing (six feet apart from others) for the time being to mitigate any additional spread of the virus.
The areas issued with Stay at Home orders make up about three-quarters of the state’s coronavirus cases. Wolf recognized the difficulties of the recent policies but stated that the crisis will only be weakened if people take the recommended precautions.
This recent action comes after Wolf ordered that all “non-life-sustaining businesses” must close. This order began to be enforced this morning at 8 a.m. on the night of March 20. A specific list of businesses allowed to stay open, including hospitals, post offices, gas stations, pharmacies and food production companies, is available on the PA.gov website. Wolf used his ability under PA’s disaster declaration law to implement this order. Businesses that do not follow this order risk citations, fines or license suspensions, and “forfeit their ability to receive any applicable disaster relief and/or may be subject to other appropriate administrative action.”
Dr. Levine said of Wolf’s order that measures are being put in place to prevent the strain on hospitals and healthcare services. In terms of medical equipment shortages, Dr. Levine shared that they are receiving stockpiles from the national supply of masks and that they are looking for other ways to obtain these masks since home-made masks are not the ones that are most needed. “Hospitals,” said Levine, “need M-95 masks that are designed to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.” Wolf added, “We have much to do to get our health system to the point where they can deal with the surge.”
“This virus, you know, is sneaky,” Wolf said in the press conference. “You get it before you know you have it. Now, 80 percent who get it, they’re going to be OK. And if you’re part of that 80 percent you can be forgiven for saying, ‘What’s the big deal?’ The big deal is that 20 percent are in danger. And that 20 percent includes our loved ones and our neighbors. And our problem right now is that we cannot treat that 20 percent if the virus takes off as it did in Italy. We don’t have the capacity in our healthcare system so we need to buy time.”
“Most of us have not experienced a disruption in daily life of this type ever before, our Commonwealth has not experienced a disruption of this magnitude in its supply chain since at least the civil war,” Wolf stated. “We will not come out of this unscathed. But if we work together we can prevent more damage to our economy, more damage to our people, and to our way of life. We must act as soon as possible and we must act decisively.”
West Chester University buildings were expected to stay open this week for faculty use but are now closed, except for emergency circumstances. West Chester Borough Mayor Dianne Herrin has issued a State of Emergency to limit social gatherings of 10 or more people, with any violation punishable by citation. In an update to the campus community on Monday, President Fiorentino announced that a West Chester student has contracted the coronavirus. The student has not returned to campus since contracting it and is doing well, self-isolating at home.
The PA.gov website has a list of resources available to individuals, families, businesses and schools during this crisis. Updated information about the statewide total of COVID-19 cases and deaths are also included in addition to information on medical marijuana, meals for students and unemployment compensation.
Maria Marabito is a third-year English major with a literature and diverse cultures minor. MM883631@wcupa.edu.