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Covid19
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Westmoreland County's confirmed coronavirus cases climbs to 11

Westmoreland County’s number of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) grew to 11 on Tuesday, according to updated figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The total represents an increase from eight confirmed cases reported a day earlier by county officials.

As of noon Tuesday, the state Department of Health confirmed 207 additional positive cases of coronavirus, along with four new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 851 cases in 40 counties and seven deaths in five counties. Another 8,643 patients have tested negative for the disease, officials said.

“Our notable increase in cases over the past few days indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a news release. “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.”

Locally, a resident at Loyalhanna Care Center in Derry Township has tested positive for coronavirus, according to a letter posted on the facility’s Facebook page. The center said it was notified of the positive test by the state Department of Health.

Loyalhanna Care Center administrator Kelly Pynos told the Tribune-Review that the woman was transferred Monday to a local hospital. As of Tuesday night, no other residents at the skilled nursing facility had shown coronavirus-related symptoms.

“This resident was identified through our monitoring process for this virus and is currently in the hospital for treatment of her symptoms,” a spokesperson for Loyalhanna Care Center said. “We are working closely with our local, state and federal health departments as we continue to actively monitor our residents for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

“The health and welfare of our residents and employees is our highest priority as we continue to process the information and implement additional measures to mitigate the spread of this virus through our facility.”

Pynos said the center suspended visitors starting on March 13. She said in the letter that staff members continue to follow public health recommendations to reduce the spread of the virus, including “strict hand-washing procedures, and in many circumstances, wearing facemasks, gowns and gloves when interacting with residents who are sick.”

Westmoreland County officials have expressed concerns about the lack of details regarding the county’s cases, such as municipalities where those who have tested positive reside. That information, officials said, could help alert emergency responders to possible virus “hot spots” and show areas where equipment shortages could be likely in the near future.


Covid19
AP
Trump hoping to see US economy reopened by Easter amid virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said he is hoping the United States will be reopened by Easter as he weighs how to relax nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump’s optimism contradicted the warnings of some public health officials who called for stricter — not looser — restrictions on public interactions. But federal officials suggested that advisories could be loosened in areas not experiencing widespread infection.

With lives and the economy hanging in the balance, Trump said Tuesday he was already looking toward easing the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said during a Fox News virtual town hall. Easter is just over two weeks away — Apr. 12.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” Trump said in a subsequent interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country.”

And as scientists warned the worst is yet to come — with hospital systems tested beyond their capacity and health workers sidelined by exposure — Trump addressed the nation, saying he was beginning “to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Trump’s comments came even as White House officials urged people who have left New York City amid the outbreak to self-quarantine for 14 days after their departure, owing to the widespread rate of infection in the metro area. It also follows on the president encouraging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package — estimated at roughly $6 trillion once the Federal Reserve’s actions are included — to ease the financial pain for Americans and hard-hit industries.

Health experts have made clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.

The U.S. is now more than a week into an unprecedented 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities. The guidelines, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are voluntary, but many state and local leaders have issued mandatory restrictions in line with, or even tighter than, those issued by the CDC.

On Monday, the U.S. saw its biggest jump yet in the death toll from the virus, with more than 650 American deaths now attributed to COVID-19. Trump’s comments come after dire warnings by officials in hard-hit areas. New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state’s hospital system will soon hit a breaking point — resulting in avoidable deaths — even with the restrictions already in place.

“I gave it two weeks,” Trump said during the town hall from the Rose Garden. He argued that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from the seasonal flu and in automobile accidents and “we don’t turn the country off.”

When the 15-day period ends next Monday, he said, “We’ll assess at that time and we’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up.” He added, “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”

Trump’s Easter target was not immediately embraced by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House task force, who indicated any move would have to be guided by data still being collected. She suggested that public health professionals could recommend a general easing, while pushing for local restrictions to remain in the hardest-hit areas.

Trump acknowledged that some want the guidance to continue, but claimed without providing evidence that keeping the guidance in place would lead to deaths from suicide and depression.

“This cure is worse than the problem,” Trump said.

During a press briefing Tuesday evening, Trump said public health officials and economists were “working to develop a sophisticated plan to open the economy as soon as the time is right — based on the best science, the best modeling and the best medical research there is anywhere on earth.”

Trump’s enthusiasm for getting people back to work comes as he takes stock of the political toll the outbreak is taking. It sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, did not appear at the virtual town hall, but Trump denied there were any tensions between the two men.

“I will be guided very much by Dr. Fauci and Deborah,” Trump said.

At the press briefing later, Fauci said, “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.” But he suggested he would be willing to examine the potential for easing the CDC advisories in areas that have been less affected by the outbreak.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday that “public health includes economic health.”

“That’s the key point. And it’s not either-or. It’s not either-or, and that’s why we’re taking a fresh look at it,” he said.

During a private conference call with roughly 30 conservative leaders on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence reinforced Trump’s eagerness to lift coronavirus-related work and travel restrictions “in a matter of weeks, not months.”

When pressed on a specific timeline for lifting restrictions, Pence said there would be no formal decisions made until the current 15-day period of social distancing was complete, according to a conference call participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the private discussion.

Pence told the group that accommodations would need to be made for the highest-risk populations if and when restrictions begin to be lifted.

Despite Trump’s rosy talk, other elements of the government were digging in for the long haul. Top defense and military leaders on Tuesday warned department personnel that the virus problems could extend for eight to 10 weeks, or even into the summer.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Defense Department town hall meeting that restrictions could go into late May or June, possibly even July.

He said there are a variety of models from other countries, so the exact length of the virus and necessary restrictions are not yet clear.


Covid19
top story
DASD board member involved in Senate bill; district expected to begin online instruction next week

Derry Area School Board member Sean Kemmerer has been recently involved in a Senate bill that is expected to see a vote today.

On Tuesday, the state House Appropriations Committee inserted an emergency school code amendment into Senate Bill 751 because of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The bill is expected to be voted on today, March 25, and if approved by the House of Representatives, it will return to the state senate for a concurrence vote.

The amendments inserted into Senate Bill 751 address issues that only apply to the current school year for entities, including school districts, intermediate units, career and technology centers, cyber charter, charters, cyber charters and regional charters.

The bill would waive the 180-day requirement for all public and nonpublic schools and allow the secretary of education to close all school entities until the threat to health and safety caused by the pandemic has ended. It allows the secretary of education to increase the number of allowable fixable instruction days (FIDs) to a number determined by the secretary during the 2019-20 school year.

Other waivers by the secretary could include career and technical education program hours, performance data in the teacher evaluation system, pre-K counts hours, along with NIMS assessments and NOCTI exams.

The bill also states, regarding pay and PSERS credit for school employees employed as of March 13, that no school employee shall receive more or less compensation or credit because of school closures or a shortened year. Each school shall also provide any employee responsible for cleaning school facility with appropriate cleaning materials and protective clothing and gear as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each school entity shall also provide written notice to the parent or guardian of each student who receives services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of the school’s plan for ensuring a free and appropriate education.

Each school shall also make a good faith effort to plan to offer continuity of education to students using alternative means during the period of closure.

Other areas of Senate Bill 751 note that a school entity, which was closed as a result of the pandemic may not receive less subsidy payments, reimbursements, allocations, tuition or other payment from the state department of education. Cyber charter schools receive tuition payments based on enrollment as of March 13.

Kemmerer hopes the district can begin online instruction by next week.

“We moved up the purchase of Google Chromebooks to (Tuesday) when they were originally scheduled for next school year in the high school for the one-to-one program,” he said.

In January, Derry Area officials outlined a one-to-one laptop proposal to order 600 Chromebooks for 580 students at the high school.

The district cost was expected to be $35,000 for a four-year lease and students would take the laptops home with them on a daily basis. After the lease is completed, the district is expected to offer graduating students an opportunity to buy their Chromebook.

“Teachers are scheduled for two instructional days Monday and Tuesday with online instruction hopefully happening right after that,” Kemmerer said.

The state department of education said on Tuesday it’s essential that schools revisit their continuity of education efforts, which is the overarching term for any educational practices that occur in the event of a prolonged school closure.

The state said that continuity of education can be achieved through a combination of planned instruction or enrichment and review. Planned instruction is formal teaching and learning similar to that which occurs in a classroom setting, while enrichment and review consists of informal activities that reinforce or extend students’ prior learning.

“We’ve got some challenges because about 20% of our families do not have home internet access,” Kemmerer said. “But we are working closely with (the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit) to try and identify areas to focus resources so that we have the best chance to offer some continuity of education.”

Kemmerer said the district waited for direction from the state before invoking a plan.

“We finally got direction from PDE to try and be as proactive as possible to make sure that we were serving all students,” Kemmerer said. “As frustrating as it is to have to wait for that direction, the superintendent did the right thing. This is an unprecedented challenge, and the fact that we may be up and teaching in any capacity next week is short of a miracle. These teachers are amazing.”

Derry Area has offered drive-through meal distribution service at Derry Area High School and is providing delivery service to four locations throughout the district from Monday through Friday.

A lunch for the current day and a breakfast for the next day is available throughout the duration of the school closure.

Drive-through service will be offered at the high school cafeteria entrance in the school’s rear parking lot from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Meal deliveries will be made Monday through Friday on the following schedule: 1116 Murtha Way from 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.; Holiday Acres at Scott Court by the playground from 11 to 11:30 a.m.; Derry Area Community Center from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., and Dogwood Mobile Home Park on Earl Drive from 12:30 to 1 p.m. Delivery time frames are estimates and may require adjustments.

Those who can’t make it to one of the delivery sites or who have other specific questions should contact Derry Area food service director Gwen Kozar at 724-694-1401 ext. 1442 or by email at gkozar@dasd.us.


Covid19
State police issue warnings to 27 businesses for ignoring order to close

State police issued warnings to 27 businesses statewide Monday during the first day of enforcement of Gov. Tom Wolf’s order that all “non-life-sustaining” businesses close their physical locations.

“As expected, we found the overwhelming majority of people and businesses across the commonwealth are voluntarily complying with the order and doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Col. Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “This process is two phased beginning with warnings to gain voluntary compliance, followed by enforcement as necessary.”

In Troop A, which encompasses parts of Westmoreland and Indiana counties as well as the entirety of Somerset and Cambria counties, four warnings were issued to businesses that had remained open.

No businesses in the state were issued citations for failing to close Monday.

Warnings issued in other areas, by Troop, are as follows: Troop B, 2; Troop C, 0; Troop D, 1; Troop E, 4; Troop F, 2; Troop G, 2; Troop H, 4; Troop J, 1; Troop K, 1; Troop L, 1; Troop M, 3; Troop N, 1; Troop P, 0, and Troop R, 1.

The governor has directed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania State Police, municipal police and local officials, to enforce the closure orders to the full extent of the law using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions.

The Wolf administration has provided all local law enforcement with enforcement guidance that mirrors PSP’s.

The current list of businesses classified as life-sustaining, resources for affected businesses, and information businesses to request a waiver/exemption are available from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

To report a noncompliant business, police recommend contacting your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number. Do not call 911 to report noncompliant businesses.


Covid19
AP
Senate unanimously passes massive coronavirus aid plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unanimous vote Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

“Pray for one another, for all of our families and for our country,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed more than 21,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House’s best guess.

Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think its going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over.

“The government has temporarily shut down the economy because of this disease, and the government must help those who are hurt by it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states whose economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written might give workers like store clerks incentives to stay on unemployment instead of return to their jobs since they may earn more money if they’re laid off than if they’re working. They settled for a failed vote to modify the provision.

Other objections floated in from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has become a prominent Democrat on the national scene as the country battles the pandemic. Cuomo, whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other, said, “I’m telling you, these numbers don’t work.”

Ardent liberals like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were restless as well, but top Washington Democrats assured them that additional coronavirus legislation will follow this spring and signaled that delaying the pending measure would be foolish.

The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers and food aid.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people.”

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which is expected to pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the measure would pass by voice vote without lawmakers having to return to Washington.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

It includes a heavily negotiated $500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

Six days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress’ top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they maneuvered and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure was not an option — nor was starting over — which permitted both sides to include their priorities.

“This is a proud moment for the United States Senate and the country, and we’re going to win this battle,” McConnell told reporters afterward. “We’ve pivoted from impeachment to 100-to-nothing on this rescue package ... this is about as flawless as you could possibly be.” The vote actually was 96-0 because several members missed the vote out of concerns they have been exposed to the virus.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has tested positive for it, while GOP Whip John Thune returned to South Dakota on Wednesday after feeling ill.

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600-per-week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.

Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials, including Trump and his immediate family members, would be ineligible for the bill’s business assistance.

Schumer boasted of negotiating wins for transit systems, hospitals and cash-hungry state governments that were cemented after Democrats blocked the measure in votes held Sunday and Monday.

But Cuomo said the Senate package would send less than $4 billion to New York, far short of his estimate that the crisis will cost his state up to $15 billion over the next year. More than 280 New Yorkers have died from the virus, a death toll more than double that of any other state.

Still, Pelosi said the need for more money for New York is “no reason to stop the step we are taking.”

Pelosi was a force behind $400 million in grants to states to expand voting by mail and other steps that Democrats billed as making voting safer but Republican critics called political opportunism. The package also contains $15.5 billion more for a surge in demand for food stamps as part of a massive $330 billion title for agency operations.

State and local authorities would receive up to $150 billion in grants to fight the virus, care for their residents and provide basic services.

Republicans won inclusion of an employee retention tax credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.

A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to $330 billion, which dwarfs earlier disasters — including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.

Europe is enacting its own economic recovery packages, with huge amounts of credit guarantees, government spending and other support.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has agreed to commit more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in fiscal stimulus and support — roughly 30% of that nation’s entire annual output. France, Spain and Italy have launched similar programs.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

In the United States, more than 69,000 people have been sickened and more than 1,000 have died.


Photo by Ernie Sistek  

Brady McIlnay, 12, goes high to the top of the rope jungle gym during a visit to the 3rd Ward Community Playground in Latrobe last week. With the governor’s announcement this week that school closures will continue, kids — and their parents — are looking for ways to pass the time.


Covid19
AP
Wolf reopens gun shops, orders more residents to stay home

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Even as he ordered residents of another county to stay at home, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday quietly allowed gun shops to reopen on a limited basis during the coronavirus pandemic after several justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court urged him to do so.

Firearms dealers may now sell their wares by individual appointment during limited hours as long as they comply with social distancing guidelines and take other measures to protect employees and customers from the coronavirus, the governor’s office said.

Wolf’s office did not announce the policy change. It was included on an updated list of businesses that are subject to his order to close their physical locations because they have been deemed “non-life-sustaining.”

Separately, Wolf also ordered residents of Erie County, in the state’s northwestern corner, to remain at home with few exceptions, in another sign of the virus’s rapid spread across Pennsylvania. The directive, which includes the city of Erie, the state’s fourth-largest with about 100,000 people, was to take effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Residents of seven other counties — Philadelphia and its suburbs, Monroe County in the Pocono Mountains and Pittsburgh and the rest of Allegheny County — have already been ordered to stay home.

The twin decisions to add Erie to the quarantine and to allow gun dealers to reopen came as the new coronavirus continued its relentless march across Pennsylvania, with the state reporting more than 200 additional cases — an increase of more than 30% from the day before — and another death.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, took another step to delay Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary election.

A look at coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

———

CASES

The state Department of Health on Tuesday reported more than 200 new cases, with the total to date now exceeding 850. Case counts in Pennsylvania have been doubling every two or three days.

Allegheny County reported one more death, bringing the statewide total to at least seven. The victim was a woman in her late 70s, the county said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

———

GUN SHOPS REOPEN

Gun rights advocates hailed the decision to allow gun shops to reopen.

“I am extremely pleased that Governor Wolf has acknowledged that he may not eviscerated citizens’ inviolate rights, regardless of any states of emergency that may exist,” said Joshua Prince, who had filed suit on behalf of a gun shop and a would-be gun purchaser.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had narrowly dismissed Prince’s suit, which challenged Wolf’s authority to shutter businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.”

But in a dissenting statement joined by two other justices, Justice David Wecht said Wolf’s order amounted to “an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this commonwealth — a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment” and the state constitution.

Wecht’s dissent had called on Wolf to make some allowance for the in-person sale of firearms.

“We developed the policy following review of the Supreme Court’s decision,” Wolf’s spokeswoman, Lindsay Kensinger, said Tuesday night.

———

PRIMARY DATE DELAY

The House voted preliminarily on Tuesday to delay Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary election for five weeks, until June 2.

The House and Senate could both pass the bill Wednesday. Wolf will sign it if it reaches his desk, his office said.

The Republican-sponsored amendment would also let counties consolidate polling places, in part because some are currently located within long-term care facilities and because many poll workers are older people who are particularly at risk from COVID-19.

Primary voters will choose candidates for the presidential race, congressional seats, both chambers of the Legislature and the row offices.

The House employed special remote voting procedures adopted as a result of the pandemic, and one leader, Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, wore rubber gloves and used a mask to protect himself.

———

FUNDING REQUEST

Hospitals, nursing homes and child care centers are asking Pennsylvania state government for more money to avoid closures amid a surge of coronavirus-related demands on staffing and equipment.

There is a “legitimate, credible threat” that some hospitals, without financial support from either the federal government or the state government, will close, said Andy Carter, president and CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

The hospital group proposed a state fund that would help hospitals build surge capacity, retrofit critical-care units for highly infectious COVID-19 patients, hire more clinicians, pay for housing, establish on-site childcare facilities for healthcare workers and purchase protective gear, Carter told reporters on a conference call.

He did not provide a dollar figure, but said “we know it’s going to be an extraordinary amount to match the size of the potential surge of care that we will be providing.”

With financial challenges looming over them, hospitals and nursing homes identified $1.5 billion in new, coronavirus-related Medicaid funding for Pennsylvania as a possible funding source.

Nursing home groups and labor unions representing elder-care workers requested help getting protective equipment, a 3% increase in reimbursement rates and a minimum of $290 million in emergency aid to nursing homes.

Child care advocates, meanwhile, said more than $100 million is needed to replace lost tuition and co-pays. They also urged passage of a law protecting the centers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

———

SUPPLIES TIGHT

With hospitals warning they could run out of masks and other protective gear in about three weeks as COVID-19 spikes, Wolf’s administration said it is rushing to procure more medical supplies from the federal government’s stockpile, from other states and countries, and from manufacturers repurposing their factories.

“There’s a full-on effort across the administration to make sure we have the supplies for our healthcare personnel to deal with the surge of patients from COVID-19,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday.

Officials have been vague about the state’s readiness, however.

Levine has steadfastly refused to say how much protective gear Pennsylvania has in its possession, and how much it still needs to help healthcare workers safely treat the anticipated surge of coronavirus patients. Nor have officials answered questions about the state’s supply of respirators, or how many more hospital beds it might need to meet demand.

Carter, of the hospital association, said hospitals are scrambling to obtain enough protective gear to meet demand. Some facilities could run out of masks and other equipment in a matter of days or even hours as they become flooded with COVID-19 patients, he said. Overall, hospitals across the state have about a three-week supply, he said.

———

PRISON TRANSFERS

Moving inmates between prisons poses an unnecessary risk of spreading the virus between institutions, where it will be very difficult to stop it from spreading to other inmates and employees, said Larry Blackwell, president of the 11,000-member corrections officers’ union.

“The governor has called for all non-essential movement to halt, and this isn’t essential,” Blackwell said Tuesday. “And the governor has the authority to shut down the movement of these prisoners. The counties, the state, let’s just freeze everything until we figure out what’s going on.”

No case of the coronavirus has been discovered in the state prison system where roughly 45,000 inmates are housed and 16,000 people work, prison and union officials say.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said through a spokeswoman that halting all transfers is not a “realistic plan at this point” and he urged corrections staff across Pennsylvania to “pull together” against the virus.

“We are doing everything we can to minimize the exposure to the system as a whole, but we are a system — and each facility in the system has a role,” Wetzel said.

The Department of Corrections has shut down some routine transfers between prisons, according to prison and union officials.

But the department is emptying Retreat state prison in northeastern Pennsylvania of hundreds of inmates by transferring them to other prisons, and it announced Monday that it will use Retreat to receive new male commitments from county jails and male parole violators.

Other prisons had previously been used as reception facilities. Retreat, ultimately, is slated to be closed.

———

LEGAL ACTIONS

Several more businesses have filed a legal challenge to Gov. Wolf’s order closing the physical locations of businesses determined to be nonessential.

A petition was filed with the state Supreme Court on Tuesday on behalf of a candidate for state representative, a real estate agent, a laundromat, a timber company and a golf course, all seeking to have Wolf’s shutdown order thrown out.

The petition, which replaced an earlier lawsuit filed with a lower court, objected to Wolf’s determination that some businesses are “non-life-sustaining,” saying he “quite simply made up these categories and their terminology out of whole cloth.”

The suit alleges his shutdown order and subsequent revisions “caused mass confusion and disturbance throughout Pennsylvania.”

Wolf has already beat back two other legal challenges to his authority to order businesses to close.

Separately, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and other lawyers filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking the release of 13 people from civil detention as they await resolution of their immigration cases. The lawsuit says the detainees are older or suffer from medical conditions that put them at greater risk of COVID-19. The detainees are currently being held in the Clinton, Pike and York county jails.

———

BUSINESS CLOSURES

On Monday, the first day of enforcement, Pennsylvania State Police troopers issued 27 warnings, but no citations, based on Wolf’s directive that businesses deemed not life-sustaining close their physical locations.

The overwhelming majority of people and businesses were complying voluntarily with the order, the state police commissioner, Col. Robert Evanchick, said Tuesday.

Other forms of enforcement will follow the warnings, if needed, he said.

———

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.


Covid19
top story
Waste Management to temporarily suspend some services in region

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has prompted Waste Management to temporarily suspend some of its services throughout western Pennsylvania.

Starting today, March 25, the company announced it is suspending collection until further notice of bulk items such as furniture, carpet, mattresses and appliances; collection of yard waste such as grass clippings, brush and tree limbs, and spring and bulk cleanups.

Standard collection services will continue, the company noted, but trash and refuse must be bagged and sealed. Wherever possible, those items must be placed in containers and loose items will not be collected.

Recyclables will also be collected but all items, including cardboard, must be placed inside recycling bins.

Waste Management said it will continue to enforce previously-agreed-upon bag and cart limits.

“(We) will focus its employees on the collection of trash and recycling, which are essential health and safety services,” Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Kardell explained in a statement.