During a press conference streamed on Facebook last Friday, Bucks County Commissioner Robert Harvie Jr. tried to brace viewers for the news he was going to share.
“It’s unsettling,” he warned before confirming what scenes of shuttered stores and empty bars had been foreshadowing since mid-March, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. “Unemployment numbers for Bucks County indicated a 200% increase in people filing for unemployment – 2,500 people.”
“That’s a 200% increase over the previous month,” he repeated. “We know that number was not just taken today. Those are numbers from several days ago.
“We know that the pain is setting in for many people, and we’re trying to do everything we can to help.”
Among the steps being taken to mitigate financial hardship during the coronavirus outbreak, Bucks County has extended the property tax payment penalty deadline by 30 days, from July 1 to 31, Harvie announced.
In addition, a zero-percent interest loan program for businesses, administered by the county Redevelopment Authority, has begun taking applications, though some restrictions on how the money can be used apply, Harvie noted.
An information hotline for businesses is also in the works, he added.
“The state and federal government as we know are passing a lot of laws regarding different kinds of policies and things they are going to be doing – incentives, tax breaks, all kinds of things,” Harvie said. “We’re still trying to digest everything that’s coming out of Harrisburg and D.C. We’re looking to set up a hotline here in the county where businesses can call and get some direction on where to apply and hopefully take advantage of those programs.”
As of Tuesday, there were 319 confirmed cases of COVID-19 spanning 44 municipalities in Bucks. Twenty-nine residents were reportedly hospitalized, nine in critical condition. Six residents who had COVID-19 have died – a man and a woman in their 60s, two men in their 80s and a man and a woman in their 90s, all with underlying health issues, the county reported on its website.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, respiratory issues and fatigue, but “what’s very striking now over the past several days is between 80% to 90% of all of our patients now have loss of smell and taste,” Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker noted during the March 27 news conference.
As shortages of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies are being reported around the country, Bucks County Emergency Management/Services Director Scott T. Forster said public safety agencies, community partners and health care workers are working around the clock to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
“At this point, we continue to work at finding very scarce resources that are not available in large quantities,” he said last Friday. “But we are finding them. We are sharing them with our providers and responders. We work together as a team daily. [We] communicate, share and assist each other as needed.”
County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo also recognized the county’s health care workers, first responders and police officers for “the outstanding job they are doing, and I’m sure they will continue to do to protect the lives and welfare of the citizens here in Bucks County.”
In keeping with social distancing guidelines, county officials, for the first time last Friday, held their news briefing virtually via Zoom. During the conference, the commissioners urged residents to remain vigilant about social distancing, especially in public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies where, as Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia reminded, six feet of distance between others should be maintained.