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Local coronavirus briefing - April 3, 2020

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Department of Health provides update on COVID-19, 1,404 positives bring statewide total to 8,420
The Pennsylvania Department of Health today confirmed as of noon, April 3, that there are 1,404 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 8,420 in 63 counties. The department also reported 12 new deaths among positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 102. Bucks County had 446 cases and eight deaths; Chester 226 case and two deaths; Delaware 542 cases and 10 deaths; Lehigh 584 cases and five deaths; Montgomery 875 and 11 deaths; Northampton 466 cases and 10 deaths; Philadelphia 2,284 cases and 14 deaths. All people are either in isolation at home or being treated at a hospital.

There are 53,695 patients who have tested negative to date. Of the patients who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows: Nearly 1% are age 0-4; nearly 1% are age 5-12; 1% are age 13-18; 8% are age 19-24; nearly 41% are age 25-49; nearly 29% are age 50-64; and nearly 20% are age 65 or older.


Gov. Wolf Calls for Universal Masking
During a COVID-19 press briefing today, Gov. Tom Wolf recommended that all Pennsylvanians wear a mask any time they leave their homes for life-sustaining reasons. As COVID-19 cases steadily rise in the state, Wolf stressed the need to intensify all measures to help stop the spread of the virus. “Two days ago, I amplified our social distancing efforts by instituting a statewide stay-at-home order, and today I am asking all Pennsylvanians to wear a mask any time they leave their houses,” Wolf said. “Masks help prevent people from sharing illnesses. But, they don’t do a great job at keeping people from getting sick; and, they’re not foolproof, so it is critical that our first act is to ask ourselves if we really need to leave our house. If we don’t really, truly need to leave, then we shouldn’t.”

“Staying home is the most effective way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19,” Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “But, if you must go out because you are out of food or medication, then wearing a mask, or even a bandana across your nose and mouth, could be an extra layer of protection. You don’t need a surgical mask – we need those for our health care workers and first responders. We have guidance on universal masking on our website, including instructions on how to make your own mask using materials you have at home.”


Pennsylvania will stop accepting waiver requests from nonessential businesses
Pennsylvania officials said the state will close the waiver process for nonessential businesses seeking permission to operate during the coronavirus-induced shutdown. The Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) said businesses can continue submitting applications through 5 p.m. Friday. As of Monday, the department was sifting through more than 32,000 requests.


Phoebe Allentown employees, volunteers, seniors create protective masks for staff
Phoebe Allentown employees, community volunteers, and even Phoebe’s senior residents are banding together to create 3,000 masks by the end of the week – enough to supply every Phoebe Allentown employee with two masks each. Staff from various departments, family and friends of staff, community volunteers and church groups are also all assisting Phoebe Allentown in reaching its goal. Phoebe employees have created kits of materials to distribute to community members who have offered their sewing skills and time to help out. “There is always a positive in a situation. I could not be prouder of everyone who is coming together to help assemble mask kits so we can get them out to our volunteer sewers; we have a third of the total masks already completed, which was done in one week,” said Sue Schlener, executive director of Phoebe Allentown. “We have implemented universal masking already and have already started handing out masks to staff across the organization.” To help Phoebe Allentown reach its goal by donating N95 or any other type of protective masks, mail them to 1925 Turner St., Allentown, PA 18104 to the attention of Linda Plunkett.


St. Mary Medical Center seeks medical supply donations
Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic hospitals, which include St. Mary Medical Center, are accepting medical supply donations from the community to support its COVID-19 response. Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic hospitals are accepting donations for the following unopened items: powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), regular masks, N95 masks, face shields, gowns, surgical caps/protective caps, eyeglass shields/goggles, nasal testing swabs, M4 Viral Media, Lysol or Clorox wipes and sanitizer, and transparency sheets. Individuals and businesses may drop off donations Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at St. Mary Medical Center – Carty Conference Center (behind hospital and left of the emergency room), 1201 Langhorne-Newtown Road, Langhorne, Pa., 19047. To learn more and keep up to date on Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic’s response to COVID-19, visit www.trinityhealthma.org/covid19/.


Support & Referral Helpline created for Pennsylvanians in need of behavioral health resources, referrals
The Department of Human Services (DHS) announced the launch of a statewide Support & Referral Helpline staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers who will be available 24/7 to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions due to the COVID-19 emergency and refer them to community-based resources that can further help to meet individual needs. The toll-free, round-the-clock support line is available at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600. To create and staff the support line, DHS has partnered with the Center for Community Resources (CCR), an experienced regional crisis and call center provider based in Butler County and licensed to provide crisis services. CCR staff are trained to be accessible, culturally competent, and skilled at assisting individuals with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, co-occurring disorders and other special needs. Staff use the principles of trauma-informed care to listen, assess needs, triage calls, and provide appropriate referral to community resources to children, teens, adults and special populations. CCR will collaborate with individuals, families, police, emergency medical teams, hospitals, schools, and human service providers on the local level to provide quality care to their community members.


Pennsylvania School Bus Association applauds new law providing payments to school bus contractors during COVID-19 emergency
Pennsylvania school bus contractors now have an opportunity to receive continued payments from schools during the COVID-19 emergency, which has resulted in all K-12 schools being closed indefinitely. On March 28, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 751 into law as an amendment to Pennsylvania’s Public School Code of 1949. The new law, known as Act 13 of 2020, confirms that schools are permitted to negotiate interim agreements or contract amendments to pay school bus contractors to assure that the contractor’s personnel costs, fixed costs, administrative costs and equipment costs are maintained during the period of school closure. The new law states that if a school continues to pay its school bus contractors, the school shall be eligible for reimbursement from the Pennsylvania Department of Education at the rate the school would have received had the Pandemic of 2020 not occurred. Under the provisions of this law, school bus contractors are required to submit weekly reports to the school confirming that staffing and equipment readiness is being maintained during the school closure. The Pennsylvania School Bus Association (PSBA), which consists of approximately 300 school transportation contractors and industry partners, met with numerous legislative leaders in early March. Locally, PSBA members contacted state legislators seeking their support on this issue. School bus contractors represent the overwhelming majority of school bus operators in Pennsylvania where over 1.5 million students are transported to school each day on a school bus.


Voices Chorale NJ offers “Can we Sing the Darkness to Light?” concert footage online
With no end in sight for this forced time away from rehearsals, the members of VOICES Chorale NJ really miss singing together. Until they can perform again, they will be sharing inspiring music from their previous concerts online to stay connected with their audiences, each other, and the sounds of choral music. “Can We Sing the Darkness to Light” by Kyle Pederson, performed in December 2019, has lyrics which seem particularly poignant in these troubled times, the chorale said. The video features VCNJ accompanist Akiko Hosaki on the piano, with music director Dr. David A. McConnell conducting. This piece is available at youtube.com/watch?v=jvgapCKmtHk, or by visiting Voices' website voiceschoralenj.org. VOICES Chorale NJ is looking forward to sharing more music with the public. Meanwhile, they wish everyone peace, safety and good health, now and always.


Philadelphia Art Museum extends closure until June 30
Following guidelines from the state and federal governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia Museum of Art is extending the temporary closure of the museum up to June 30. “If we can responsibly and safely open sooner, we will,” the museum said via email. “All spring programs and special exhibitions are also cancelled. We, like our friends, neighbors, and broader community in Philadelphia and beyond, are doing everything we can to help slow the spread of the virus. In the meantime, we’re working hard to share our collection with you online. We know that art can offer comfort, inspiration, and a much-needed respite from the serious challenges of these very difficult times.” Visit the museum online for updates.


Bucks County Playhouse hosts livestreaming storytelling events on Sundays
While in-person live performances are waiting in the wings, Bucks County Playhouse is inaugurating an online, streaming version of its popular story-telling series, “Word of Mouth.” Held on Sundays at 7 p.m. — live on Bucks County Playhouse’s Facebook page (TheaterBCP) — these events will bring some of the nation’s top storytellers and raconteurs to an intimate conversation with well-known storyteller, Michaela Murphy, Bucks County Playhouse’s director of education. Titled, “Word of Mouth: Eavesdropping,” the Sunday, April 5 program will feature five storytellers. National Public Radio’s, Ophira Eisenberg (“Ask Me Another”), will co-host with Murphy. They will be joined on the program by David Crabb, Adam Wade, and Playhouse Producing Director Alexander Fraser. The theme for Sunday’s broadcast is “Freedom.” Audiences wishing to join Murphy and company for “Word of Mouth” can join the Zoom webinar from the Bucks County Playhouse homepage or see it stream live on the Playhouse’s Facebook page at facebook.com/TheaterBCP. Information about guests for upcoming editions of the series will be announced shortly. A recording of the event will also be available on the Bucks County Playhouse website at BucksCountyPlayhouse.org following the live performance.


Hunterdon County Prosecutor says COVID-19 restrictions being enforced, warns of scams, price gouging
Law enforcement in Hunterdon County, N.J., is actively enforcing COVID-19 state directives to not gather, avoid traveling, and to practice social distancing. The public should also be on the alert for COVID-19 scams and price gouging, Acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor Michael J. Williams said. The notice from the Prosecutor’s Office states that Executive Orders issued by Governor Phil Murphy, Directives from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and Administrative Orders from State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, have the force of law and are being actively enforced by state, county and local law enforcement.
“Orders closing non-essential businesses and for the public not to gather are designed to protect the public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage everyone not to put yourself, your family or friends, or law enforcement officers tasked with enforcing these rules at risk,” Williams stated. “The public must also be aware that unscrupulous types may try to take advantage of the crisis to defraud them. If you believe that this has occurred, please contact your local police department, the State Police, or the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office (908) 788-1129. Another unfortunate result of the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘price gouging’ on the cost of needed products.” New Jersey law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency, or for 30 days after the declaration ends. Such price increases are defined as those that are more than 10% above the normal price prior to the state of emergency. Anyone who believes that such illegal practices are occurring is urged to contact the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and file a complaint at NJConsumerAffairs.gov or call 973-504-6240.


Bethlehem Bach Festival canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic
The 113th Bethlehem Bach Festival, a tradition that has continued largely uninterrupted since 1898, will not take place this year, due to the coronavirus. The annual Bethlehem Bach Festival is presented by The Bach Choir, Bach Festival Orchestra, and distinguished soloists performing under the direction of Greg Funfgeld. It had been scheduled for mid-May. Founded in 1898, the Bach Choir is completing its 122nd season this year, and presents more than 40 concerts and educational programs for an audience of more than 22,000 who attend from across the country and around the world.


Hunterdon Healthcare opens Respiratory Illness Tent
Hunterdon Healthcare opened the Respiratory Illness Tent stationed directly behind Hunterdon Medical Center on April 3. The tent will be open daily from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

The purpose of the Respiratory Illness Tent is to accomplish the following:
 
– Expand existing evaluation and testing capacity for individuals who meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 screening criteria.
 
– Offer individuals experiencing symptoms potentially related to the COVID-19 virus a direct and convenient connection to screening and treatment.
 
– Alleviate volume strain on the Emergency Department, which allows them to focus on patients who present with conditions not presumably related to the COVID-19 virus.

Following CDC guidance, Hunterdon Healthcare has been actively sharing testing criteria and instructions to receive care with its patients and the community through their patient portals, social media outlets, website (hunterdonhealthcare.org), and local media partners. All Hunterdon Healthcare providers and affiliates are providing existing patients access to virtual visits and have strategically identified specific locations as Upper Respiratory Sites where patients who meet COVID-19 screening criteria are directed to receive a coronavirus test.

Additionally, Hunterdon Healthcare launched the Hunterdon Healthcare COVID Hotline, staffed by nurses who are available from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., seven days a week to answer questions and/or triage potential patients to the appropriate location for care. On average, the Hotline has received approximately 130 calls per day. The phone number for the Hotline is 908-788-6440.

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