Your afternoon update on the coronavirus in Pa.: Wolf says shelter-in-place is ‘under consideration’; lawmakers push to delay primary

Deaths in Montgomery, Monroe counties bring state's total to four

  • The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf said Sunday night that a shelter-in-place order “has to be under consideration” if current efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus aren’t enough.

He said the healthcare system in Italy, where almost 5,500 people have died according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker, has been overwhelmed. He said the measures Pennsylvania has put in place, such as closing schools for two weeks and ordering non-life-sustaining businesses to close during the pandemic, are an effort to prevent a similar outcome here.

What Pennsylvania has already done “is aimed at doing just that, and if we have to do more, we will,” Wolf said.

Other developments from Wolf’s livestreamed news conference:

  • He said there is no agreement with the legislature to postpone the April 28 primary.
  • Asked if schools could be ordered to close beyond the end of this week, Wolf said, “I haven’t made a decision yet but that’s something that we’re going to be facing this week.”
  • Asked when the restrictions the state has put in place might ease, Wolf said he’s waiting to see a decline in new cases. “We’re not there yet. … I want to see that curve start to bend, and when that happens, I’ll be the happiest person in the world to say we don’t need to do these Draconian things anymore.”

Earlier Sunday, the state confirmed another big increase in coronavirus cases as lawmakers are drafting legislation to delay the state’s April 28 primary election and relax rules around how mail-in ballots can be processed in advance of polls closing.

A look at coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Sunday:

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CASES

Pennsylvania health officials on Sunday reported more than 100 new cases in Pennsylvania, for a total of 479. The Morning Call in Allentown, citing county officials, reported that a 72-year-old man in Montgomery County died after having been hospitalized with COVID-19; and reporter that a 56-year-old Monroe County man died. Pennsylvania now has four deaths related to coronavirus.

They include 52 cases in the central Pennsylvania counties of Adams, Berks, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Schuylkill and York.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Saturday that people with mild symptoms do not necessarily need to get tested, and, after calling their doctor, they may be able to stay home, rest and take fluids and anti-fever medication.

Testing is being prioritized for symptomatic people who are health care providers, elderly, very ill or for those who have chronic medical conditions, Levine said.

For most people, the virus 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. The vast majority of people recover.



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ELECTION

Pennsylvania House State Government Committee Chairman Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, said Sunday that legislation is being drafted to delay the state’s primary from April 28 to June 2.

Everett said he hopes to get the legislation out of his committee on Monday and through the Republican-controlled chamber this coming week, to send it to the Senate.

Everett said he believes support for it is bipartisan, with overwhelming backing from counties and county election directors.

“We want to get ahead of the game, rather than the Ohio example, where we pull the trigger at the last minute and scramble around,” Everett said. “We want to do it in organized fashion.”

With the virus spreading and Wolf asking residents to stay in their homes, election directors don’t see how they can get ballots printed and poll workers hired and trained to conduct a primary on April 28, Everett said.

Pennsylvania’s five-month-old mail-in ballot law lets any voter cast a ballot by mail. But Everett said usage of mail-in ballots will far exceed earlier projections of 20% because of the coronavirus.

To help county election directors process the crush of mail-in ballots, Everett said he wants the legislation to allow them to process the ballots in advance, to verify that the ballot is valid, and then start counting them at 8 a.m. on Election Day.

Wolf, a Democrat, has said that he is working with lawmakers on it, but has not said exactly what sort of changes he will support.

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Dennis Davin, Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, said Sunday that almost 10,000 businesses and organizations have asked for waivers from Wolf’s shutdown order.

With enforcement set to begin at 8 a.m. Monday, Davin said his department is working to process all of the requests by then.

The state police said Sunday that violators could face fines or jail time.

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WITF’s Scott Blanchard contributed to this story.

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Disclosure: The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

 

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