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Large gatherings discouraged during 14-day lockdown, effective Friday

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaking to the press Thursday afternoon. Gov. Tom Wolf and Levine provided an update on the state’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including one new presumptive positive case in Pike County, bringing the state’s total to 22, and guidance on how to reduce the spread of the virus. – PHOTO/PROVIDED

 

Pennsylvania will undergo a 14-day lockdown period beginning Friday, March 13, in response to the spread of the coronavirus, during which time, health officials “strongly discourage” people from meeting in large groups and at recreational areas like gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls.

“These actions may seem severe, but they are far less draconian than what we may have to do in the future if we don’t act now,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

Twenty-two cases of COVID19 have been discovered in the commonwealth, more than half of which are in Montgomery County, where the county’s schools and public venues will be closed for the next 14 days.

Gov. Wolf said essential services in Montgomery County — police, fire, medical services, public transit and essential services for vulnerable populations such as facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism — will be operational during the next two weeks. Wolf recommended non-essential retail facilities in the county also close.

“In Montgomery County, we are aggressively moving to a mitigation phase, and statewide we are providing guidance to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Gov. Wolf Tom said at Thursday’s press conference.

As for the rest of the commonwealth, the Wolf administration is encouraging the suspension of social and professional gatherings, especially those of 250 people or more, and urging religious leaders to “use discretion” to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. State correctional facilities and veterans’ homes have introduced a statewide visitor ban to ensure the safety of inmates, residents, staff and visitors, according to Wolf administration officials.

Although no cases of coronavirus have been found in the midstate region, state officials have canceled all public events in the capitol complex and the governor’s residence to observe precaution. Operations of the governor’s office and the general assembly will continue, but access to the capitol complex will be limited to individuals with badge-card credentials and employees.

Officials from the Department of General Services (DGS) said this restricted access to the capitol complex will be in effect until further notice, possibly beyond the state’s 14-day lockdown period.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of the public,” DGS Secretary Curt Topper said. “This protective measure to limit social distances is being made in consultation with the Department of Health and is in keeping with the CDC’s guidelines. The Department of General Services appreciates the partnership with the General Assembly as we take this necessary step regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

The total number of confirmed cases of the virus in the commonwealth increased to 22 on Thursday, when a case was discovered in Pike County, an adult who state officials say came in contact with someone from another state who tested positive for COVID-19 and is now at home in isolation.

As of Thursday at 2 p.m., two coronavirus cases have been discovered in Bucks County, two in Monroe County and one in Delaware, Wayne, Northampton, Pike and Philadelphia counties.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine urged Pennsylvanians not to panic but to be mindful of hygiene practices.

“This situation is quickly evolving, even for us here at the Department of Health,” Dr. Levine said. “It can be overwhelming and scary to hear that you should stay home. Aside from practicing good health habits, we want you to practice good self-care to ensure your body is getting the proper nutrients from fruits, vegetables and getting enough sleep.”

Justin Henry is the regional reporter for the Central Penn Business Journal and the Lehigh Valley Business. He can be reached at jhenry@bridgetowermedia.com.

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