COVID Update, Nov. 23: Wolf issues stay at home advisory, new limits on schools, gatherings

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Gov. Tom Wolf warned Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen seriously in commonwealth with today’s peak cases that average more than 6,000 per day could spike to more than 22,000 per day by December and overwhelm the state’s hospital system, asking — but not ordering – residents to stay home as much as possible.

Wolf did announce some new containment measures, impacting schools, businesses and restaurants — raising safety rules for schools, mandating telework unless impossible and further capping the size of gatherings.

“As our hospitals and health care system are facing greater strain, we need to redouble our efforts to keep people safe,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. “If our health care system is compromised, it isn’t only COVID-19 patients who will suffer. If we run out of hospital beds, or if hospital staff are over-worked to the breaking point, care will suffer for every patient – including those who need emergency care for illnesses, accidents, or chronic conditions unrelated to COVID-19.”

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday that COVID-related deaths have quadrupled and the daily new case count is seven times higher than it was two months ago. Levine suggests that modeling says Pennsylvania will run out of hospital beds in December if case growth continues on the same pace.

“As the Secretary of Health, I have issued a series of advisories and orders intended to help stop the spread during this critical time, to protect our hospitals, our health care workers and the lives of our fellow Pennsylvanians,” Dr. Levine said in a statement. “Our collective responsibility continues to be to protect our communities, our health care workers and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians from COVID-19. That has not changed.”

Here in Chester County, where new cases had been lagging other areas of the state, PCR test rate is now averaging 8.7%, with hospitalizations and ICU usage are up locally.

The Wolf Administration is requiring Pre-K to 12 public schools in counties that have been in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks to commit to safety measures to ensure the safety and well-being of students and educators. If they choose not to, they must move to fully remote learning without all extra-curricular activities. As of Friday, Nov. 20, there are 59 counties in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks.

Requirements for Pre-K to 12 public schools in substantial counties for at least two consecutive weeks:

  • Schools are mandated to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building.
  • By 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, chief school administrators and the governing body president/chair must sign an attestation form stating they have either transitioned to fully remote learning or are complying with the orders if they are conducting any in-person instruction while in the “substantial” range of transmission.
  • Those schools that do not sign or comply with an attestation are required to provide only fully remote learning and suspend all extracurricular activities as long as the county remains in the substantial transmission level.
  • “All of us have a responsibility to slow the spread of this virus so our children can stay or return to the classroom,” Gov. Wolf said. 

There are new restrictions for businesses as well:

The administration is revising and reissuing its orders to protect businesses, customers, and employees. This order will consolidate previous orders and includes reiterating cleaning and social distancing requirements, mandatory telework requirements unless impossible, and other safety measures.

  • Telework is mandatory unless impossible; safety measures required for businesses including cleaning, social distancing and masking.
  • Online sales and curbside pickup for all shopping are encouraged.

Furthermore, to help with enforcement of existing masking orders in businesses, the administration is introducing liability protection for all businesses that maintain in person operations and are open to the public. Businesses will receive immunity from civil liability only as related to the Secretary’s masking order given that individuals and entities are engaged in essential emergency services activities and disaster services activities when enforcing the order.

Gatherings are facing new restrictions as well.

As Pennsylvania sees an increase in cases, the commonwealth is strengthening gathering restrictions. All large events and gatherings are now reduced until further notice. In addition, the retail food services industry, including bars, restaurants, and private catered events must end alcohol sales for on-site consumption at 5 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2020 only.

  • All indoor and outdoor events/ gatherings categories size limits will be reduced
  • New limits are as follows:

Maximum Occupancy

Allowable Indoor Rate

0-2,000 people

10% of Maximum Occupancy

2,001 – 10,000 people

5% of Maximum Occupancy

Over 10,000 people

No events over 500 people

Maximum Occupancy

Allowable Outdoor Rate

0-2,000 people

15% of Maximum Occupancy

2,001 – 10,000 people

10% of Maximum Occupancy

Over 10,000 people

5% of Maximum Occupancy up to 2,500 people

  • Household gatherings are also advised against when attendees include non-household members as noted through the Secretary of Health’s Stay at Home Advisory.
  • To specifically address large crowds, on Nov. 25, 2020 only, all sales or dispensing of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption at businesses in the retail food services industry, including bars, restaurants, and private catered events must end at 5 p.m. Indoor dining may continue, takeout is encouraged.

“As Pennsylvanians, we have a responsibility to one another, to do what we can to protect each other and preserve the life we all love in this commonwealth,” Gov. Wolf said. “For those who refuse to do their part to protect their neighbors and communities and refuse to accept that their actions have consequences that cause pain and suffering for others, we will be stepping up enforcement of all of the public health orders Dr. Levine and I have put in place.

“We are in a very dangerous situation, and we need to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 right now because if we give in to the virus, we will lose many more Pennsylvanians. And that is unacceptable.”

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