Residents from across Bucks County logged on to the commissioners’ virtual town hall Monday morning, many pushing for reopening businesses that have been shuttered for some two months due to the pandemic.
While sympathetic, the three-member board said the county has not yet reached Gov. Tom Wolf’s yellow phase that would allow reopening, with restrictions, of some businesses. The governor has created a color-coded system for the state’s economy reopening. Bucks is among the 18 counties that remain in the red zone.
“We are getting close,” said Commissioner Gene Di Girolamo, stating the county’s health department reported 24 new positive COVID-19 cases Monday. “That’s the lowest number in a while,” he said.
Counties must report no more than 22 new cases for 14 days in order to meet the state’s metrics to move into the yellow phase.
“We know you’re frustrated, you have every right to be,” said Commissioner Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who wore a yellow jacket. “If we could wave a magic wand, we would.”
As business owners struggle to hold on to their stores, restaurants and retail operations, Commissioner Vice Chairman Bob Harvie announced a $6 million grant program for small business owners with 49 or fewer employees.
Those with no more than $700,000 in annual revenue can apply for the program, offering up to $25,000 grants, said Harvie. The money is part of the approximately $100 million the county is receiving from the federal CARES Act fund.
Details about the grant program and how to apply should be posted on the county’s website this week, said Harvie, who chairs the board’s economic recovery committee. An economics’ recovery resource page is also being developed.
Other issues discussed included, the upcoming election on June 2. Mail-in ballots should be arriving in the mail this week, said Marsegila, adding the county has received some 80,000 requests for mail-in ballots, so far. DiGirolamo said, 100,000 are expected. With such a large number, Bucks has received permission from the state to begin counting mail-in and absentee ballots when the polls open, rather than having to wait until they close. The ballots will be counted by machine, Marseglia noted.
For those who vote at polling places, the board offered assurances that the stations will be sanitized and hand sanitizers, clean pens and masks will be available for those who arrive without one. Anyone declining to wear a mask will need to wait until no other voters are present before casting their ballot, DiGirolamo said.
Guidelines are being developed for day care centers, swim clubs and summer camps, for when they are allowed to reopen, although no date has been set for those types of operations, said Harvie.
The commissioners applauded the county health department for its contact tracing efforts, saying about 95 percent of those who had contact with someone who has or had the virus are being reached.
There will be no town hall next Monday, which is Memorial Day.
“I hope we can be having a different conversation then,” said Marseglia.