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Schools Closed Indefinitely, Stay-at-Home Order Extended

by on March 30, 2020 2:52 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday said the closure of K-12 schools in Pennsylvania is now indefinite and the stay-at-home order for more than two dozen counties so far has been extended to April 30.

The closure of non-life-sustaining businesses also remains in effect until an undetermined date as the state looks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, the school closure had been extended until at least April 6, with state officials saying they would continue to evaluate a reopening date. On Monday, Wolf said there is now "no set date to resume operations for schools and businesses."

"We're going to keep them closed as long as we need to keep them closed to keep Pennsylvanians safe. Right now it isn't safe," Wolf said. "I know this isn't easy to hear... it's hard being confined to one place. We miss being with our friends; we miss being with our family members. But if we want to save lives, we must continue to distance ourselves from each other."

For schools, Wolf said the state is working on a plan to ensure all students continue to receive an education. While some schools have moved to various forms of online instruction, other districts are for now offering voluntary enrichment materials as they try to find ways to make sure all students have access.

"We are working on a plan to make sure we have a way to provide an education for kids who are not getting an education for the next two months. We are looking at that," Wolf said. "I think the hope is we have that in place in the next few days so by the time we start next week we will have an alternative to the brick and mortar schools."

He recognized that while the state has some capacity to help with laptops for students who need them, there isn't much it can do immediately to expand broadband internet to areas that do not currently have it.

Wolf also added four new counties — Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin and Schuylkill — to the stay-at-home order, which now totals 26 counties, including Centre. The order to limit travel to essential activities only had been in place through April 6, but Wolf said he was extending it to the end of April to reflect federal guidelines for social distancing.

He said his administration will continue to work with county officials to assess potential additions to the order. Maryland and Virginia both issued statewide stay-at-home orders on Monday, but Wolf said for now Pennsylvania is taking "a measured and balanced" approach, though he has not ruled out a statewide order if it is deemed necessary.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano has proposed legislation that would allow non-life-sustaining businesses to reopen but they would be required to follow Centers for Disease Control and OSHA guidelines. Wolf said on Monday that he believes the statewide shutdown is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.

"We’re trying to make sure Pennsylvanians are safe, employers and employees alike," Wolf said. "So the extent we can keep people from congregating from coming together in businesses, anywhere, we’re bending the curve and we’re buying time so that we can get to the point where our health care system can accommodate the demand for services."

He added that a plan is being developed to help businesses recover once they are able to reopen, noting they will need "liquidity." 

"We are looking at that and we’ll have a plan in the next couple weeks," Wolf said. "We understand this isn’t going to happen with a snap of a finger and we’re going to have to have a reasonable and detailed plan to provide the support businesses are going to need to get back on their feet as quickly as possible."

Wolf and the Department of Health have not identified a timeframe for when Pennsylvania will reach a peak in COVID-19 cases. Wolf said again on Monday that hospitals in the state are not currently overwhelmed and that social distancing measures now can help prevent an unmanageable surge in new cases.

The health department reported on Monday 693 new cases, bringing the state's  total to 4,087 in 59 counties. In Centre County there were two new cases and a total of 24.

While the number of new cases initially had been growing exponentially, new positives over the past few days have remained steady or increased at smaller rates. State Epidemiologist Dr. Sharon Watkins said, however, that more time and data are needed to determine if the spread of the virus is flattening.

"Although we are seeing some positive indicators, it’s too soon to say," Watkins said.

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