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Borough Council Cancels Special Events in State College Through May 10

by on March 17, 2020 1:55 PM

State College Borough Council on Monday voted to rescind special activity permits issued through May 10, canceling or postponing events that were to use public property.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said the recommendation was made in accordance with new Centers for Disease Control guidance to avoid gatherings and events of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration also advised on Monday avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people.

Upcoming events that had permits canceled include: Downtown State College Improvement District's First Friday (April 3), Our Lady of Victory Preschool 5k and Fun Walk (April 18), Up & Up Festival (April 24), Pop Up Ave (April 25) and Out of the Darkness Walk (April 26).

Fountaine added that organizers of other special events already approved beyond May 10 have been notified that cancelation is possible. Among those are Summers on Allen, which would close the 100 block of South Allen Street from May 11 to July 3 to create a pedestrian plaza and pop up park with special programming throughout the closure.

"For now, Summers On Allen is moving ahead as planned," said Brad Groznik, who is organizing the project with Centre Foundation. "The borough canceled events on or before May 10 and SOA starts May 11. In light of the cancellation, we see SOA serving an important purpose of bringing our community back together following this outbreak. We'll be ready."

Groznik also organizes Pop Up Ave, the outdoor urban flea market, which was canceled for April.

"As for Pop Up Ave, we're bummed but agree with the decision to cancel," he said. "It's one of our favorite days of the year and it's disappointing that it won't happen this spring. We're also bummed for our vendors who depend on the sales to keep their businesses going. We're going to promote and encourage our community to buy online from our vendors if they can."

Other special activity permit applications that have been presented and are in review will be withheld from the approval process "until this matter sorts itself out and is clarified," Fountaine said.

Council also voted to change its meeting schedule for April. The meetings scheduled for April 6 and 20, while the April 13 work session will now be a regular meeting. Fountaine said there are currently two public hearings that are required by law to be held and those would take place on April 13.

"This is an evolving activity and we’ll determine as best we can what’s essential business and what needs to be reviewed and approved by council and act accordingly," adding that staff could still make a recommendation for further changes.

Authorities, boards and commissions were formally directed to cancel upcoming meetings. Centre Region Council of Governments previously issued guidance to municipalities for operations, including restricting upcoming ABC meetings to only those needed for immediate decisions impacting essential services. Fountaine said the borough's ABCs had already begun to modify meeting schedules.

Emergency Planning Update

No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Centre County to date, but emergency management and other agencies have been preparing in the event the pandemic strains the Centre Region.

Shawn Kauffman, Centre Region Emergency Management coordinator, said local emergency management currently remains at level 3 activation, meaning it is monitoring information and sharing it among the region's municipalities. Level 2 or 1 activation would be partial or full activation of the emergency operations center.

"We are not currently staffing our EOC 24/7 and do not plan to do that until we have a trigger point where we feel any of our services are in crises where we can’t deliver them on a normal day-to-day basis," Kauffman said. "Usually that comes with staffing issues, whether it be police, fire or public works, those type of entities that we might need to manage on a regional basis."

The strategy locally, as it is at the state and national level, is to "flatten the curve" of COVID-19 cases so that the number of patients would remain manageable for hospitals, Kauffman said.

The Infectious Hazards Planning Group — a collaboration between Penn State and local agencies — is meeting weekly and will do so more frequently as needed. The group allows for a joint information system among the university, municipalities, Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College Area School District and other agencies.

Kauffman said that services at Mount Nittany Medical Center are so far unchanged and the hospital is operating on its all-hazards plan in the event it needs to meet a surge capacity.

He added that he is worried about the public getting "COVID-19 fatigue," from an overload of information.

"This is a marathon not a sprint. We’re getting a lot of information really fast," he said. "This is not gonna go away tomorrow. It’s not gonna go away in the next two weeks, I can guarantee you that. And I’m not the expert but the next two weeks is just the beginning of this. 

"This is very important that people take this serious and when we put information out we want people to react to it."

State College Health Officer Brian O'Donnell said Fountaine, assistant managers and borough directors have been meeting three times a week and departments have been updating their continuity of operations plans.

O'Donnell also sent a letter to food establishments in State College following Gov. Tom Wolf's announcement on Monday for bars and restaurants across the state to close dine-in service and only offer takeout or delivery.

"In response to the potential for an outbreak in State College, PA, The State College Division of Health and FoodSafety is encouraging all retail food service establishments to be vigilant by emphasizing employee health and good hygiene and sanitation practices for your employees," the letter said. "While COVID-19 is not spread by food, actions should be taken to prevent the person to person spread of COVID-19 from an infected food worker to coworkers and/or restaurant patrons."

He also noted reports from Mount Nittany Medical Center that food service employees have come in saying they were told to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work. "Do not instruct your employees in this manner," O'Donnell wrote, explaining the CDC has specific guidelines for testing based on symptoms and circumstances.

Councilman Evan Myers said he was concerned about local businesses and employees and wondered if the borough had authority to prohibit evictions of people who lose their jobs as a result of business closures during the pandemic.

"I realize that’s also a hardship on the people who  own those buildings because they have certain things they have to pay, but it all trickles across," Myers said. "I’m not 100 percent sure what we can do but I think we need to try to do something."

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said that is a conversation ongoing at the state and national level and suggested council should vote on a resolution supporting efforts to assist communities and residents. Council signaled support for addressing the resolution at its next meeting.

Fountaine also said Bloomberg Philanthropies recently established a fund for COVID-19 response and the borough is registering to potentially receive funding. 

Public Concerns

To promote social distancing, Monday's meeting had a virtual option for public participation, but a few people were still in attendance to speak during public hour.

Penn State Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) President Claire Kelling called for an additional representative to be added to council who would specifically address the concerns of graduate students. Currently, only one student representative is appointed to council by the University Park Undergraduate Association.

Kelling said that many graduate students who were required to continue their research despite Penn State’s transition to remote learning had returned to State College, and that some were now “struggling to get by.” Council needs a voice for such concerns that may be felt by graduate students specifically.

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer expressed support for the idea, and council motioned to consider a resolution to appoint a graduate student representative at its next meeting on April 13.

Charles Tierney told council about the recently formed Centre County COVID-19 Community Response group, which recently convened a virtual meeting of 52 people to discuss "how to support those members of our community most likely to be impacted by the coronavirus and shutdowns."

He said with schools closed some parents who still go to work may need child care they didn't previously have or could not afford, he said. Some people will also need emergency assistance for things such as food and medicine and some may face housing insecurity if they cannot pay rent or mortgages. International students whose access to services had primarily been through Penn State find themselves "in limbo" and may be unable to access services available to other members of the community, he added. Finally, he said incarcerated people are at risk from the virus and need to be ensured access to adequate sanitary supplies.

"We hope to work together in the weeks and months ahead on an inclusive community response to this crisis," said Tierney, who added he was glad to hear the discussions already taking place among borough and regional representatives.

Onward State's Jim Davidson contributed to this story.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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