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Local coronavirus briefing - March 23, 2020

Pennsylvania says 165 new positive cases of COVID-19, one new death
The Pennsylvania Department of Health today confirmed that there are 165 additional positive cases of COVID-19, and one new death in Montgomery County, bringing the statewide total to 644 in 34 counties. That includes 43 cases in Bucks County, 129 in Montgomery County, 54 in Delaware County, 40 in Chester County and 128 in Philadelphia. All people are either in isolation at home or being treated at the hospital.

“Our notable increase in cases over the last few days indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We have seen case counts continue to increase and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home.” Statewide, there are 644 cases of COVID-19 reported from commercial, hospital and state labs. There are 6,595 patients who have tested negative, and three total deaths. With commercial labs being the primary testing option for most Pennsylvanians, data is not available on the total number of tests pending.

Pennsylvania Department of Education extends school closures through at least April 6
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) announced today that all schools in the commonwealth will remain closed through at least April 6 as a result of the COVID-19 response efforts. The closure order could be extended beyond April 6 if necessary to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. When it’s determined that students can return to school, administrators, teachers and other staff will be given two days to prepare classrooms, set up cafeterias, schedule transportation and arrange other business operations. Students would return on the third day. Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said his decision to close all schools for the additional period aligns with the governor’s stay-at-home directive announced today for seven counties – Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery and Philadelphia.

Mercer County, N.J., reports 50 cases
The New Jersey Department of Health today announced that there are now 50 positive cases of COVID-19 in Mercer County, which includes Trenton, Princeton, Hopewell and Titusville. Contact tracing, including information gathering, is underway on the new cases and continuing on the remaining ones where needed. The county expects that these numbers will continue to grow as more testing sites come online.

Libby Nieburg dies after long illness
Libby Gross Nieburg, familiar to local residents as part of the photography partnership of Libby and Gordon Nieburg, passed away peacefully at her New Hope home surrounded by her family March 21. Because of the restriction on gatherings larger than 10, her service is limited to immediate family. An obituary will appear in the March 26 Herald. contributions can be made to the Bucks County SPCA, Eagle Fire Co, and Kehilat Hanahar, or the Little Shul by the River.

Rite Aid Joins White House COVID-19 Response Working Group
Rite Aid to Pilot COVID-19 Testing at Philadelphia Location
With fewer than 100,000 people tested in the United States to date, the significant Increase in COVID-19 tests is made available by Genetworx, a subsidiary of Recovery Centers of America. Genetworx, a Virginia-based molecular laboratory certified in 50 states, announced today that it will begin shipping at least 800 COVID-19 tests a day with the ability to increase capacity to 5,000 tests per day and up to 150,000 per month during April. The company also stated that it will have the capability of providing results from the Genetworx COVID-19 tests to patients in 24 hours upon receipt of sample. The test follows the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved Assay kits required for sample testing for the Coronavirus genome.

Rite Aid to pilot testing at Philadelphia site
Today, Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD) announced it has joined the White House COVID-19 Response Working Group. Beginning Monday, March 23, the company is piloting COVID-19 testing at one location in Philadelphia seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Based on guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services, the only people who can be tested at this site are: First Responders, Healthcare Workers (regardless of presence of symptoms). This includes only staff with direct contact with patients (not those in administrative roles) or as determined at the state level. Testing will occur in the Rite Aid store parking lot at 7401 Ogontz Ave., Philadelphia 19138. As part of the testing process, people must remain in their vehicles from the time they arrive and until they depart.

Ivy Hill Equestrian Center practices social distancing
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Ivy Hill Therapeutic Equestrian Center will practice social distancing. We have temporarily closed our barn to protect and care for those who work with us, our riders, and the public. The barn has been closed to the public. Right now, the nonprofit is in need of funding to care for its equine partners. Without lessons going on, donations are needed to see that the horses’ care continues without interruption. Contact 215-822-2515.

Construction company donates masks and protective equipment
A local construction company is donating masks and other protective equipment to St. Mary Rehab Hospital, Langhorne. Pereira and Son Concrete Co., the donor, is owned by Carl Pereira.

NFIB Study: COVID-19 impact on small business
The NFIB Research Center’s latest survey on the current impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on small business offers a stark contrast from the survey released 10 days ago. The magnitude of disruption now on the small business sector is profound. Currently, 76% of small businesses are negatively impacted by the outbreak of the coronavirus, a dramatic escalation from just under one-quarter of small businesses reporting the same earlier this month. About 5% are positively impacted. These firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods, and services. This will presumably ease in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels. One-in-five (20%) small businesses are not currently affected by the outbreak, but 77% of them anticipate that changing if the outbreak spreads to or spreads more broadly in their immediate area over the next three months.

Department of Aging releases COVID-19 guidance on protective services for older adults
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging has released COVID-19 guidance on handling protective services for older adults. This temporary guidance provides operational flexibility to protect older adults and staff during investigative cases while following the ongoing directive from Gov. Tom Wolf to stay home and practice social distancing. “One of our primary responsibilities at the Department of Aging is to protect older adults from abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or abandonment by investigating suspected cases of abuse quickly and thoroughly,” said Aging Secretary Robert Torres. “During the governor’s COVID-19 mitigation effort, we want to ensure we are reducing the risk of exposure to both the older adult and investigator while ensuring the safety and protection of the older adult.” Anyone suspecting elder abuse should call the statewide abuse reporting hotline at 800-490-8505 which is operational 24/7, 365 days per year.

Fisherman's Mark in need of donations
Fisherman’s Mark, the social services agency in Lambertville, N.J., is seeing an increase in people needing help. There will be a dramatic impact on the number of people who are already close to the edge. Ralph Fey, the architect, and other business owners and citizens are partnering with Fisherman’s Mark to make sure those less fortunate don’t go under. One supporter came up with his own metric — recognizing how much money he is saving every week now that he is staying home, he is now giving a portion to Fisherman’s Mark. Donate to Fisherman’s Mark by clicking HERE.

PECO extending customer support to ensure all residents have safe and reliable service
Company to provide electric service to previously disconnected customers
PECO is taking several steps to help ensure all customers have access to electric service during this critical time. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close physical locations to slow coronavirus spread. With more people, including children, at home during the day, PECO will be working with customers who have had their service disconnected to reconnect service and help ensure access to safe and healthy environments. Customers who have had their electric service disconnected should contact PECO at 800-494-4000 to begin the reconnection process. No new connection fees or deposits will be required however customers will continue to be responsible for previous unpaid balances.

DCNR extends closure of state park and forest facilities, open spaces remain accessible
Today, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn announced that all facilities at state parks and forests in Pennsylvania will be closed until April 30 to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The public will still be able to access trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking.

Dunn noted this includes campgrounds, cabins and all overnight accommodations. Anyone with reservations in this time period will be contacted, and full refunds will be made.

“During the past week we’ve seen many people hiking trails and heading to the outdoors as a way to get exercise and relieve stress,” Dunn said. “We remind everyone that it’s OK to go outside, but we should still be practicing social distancing to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Dunn said. Public programs, events, and trainings also are canceled through April 30. Information about state parks and forests is available on the DCNR website.

Bucks County police officer diagnosed with COVID-19
A Middletown Township police officer who tested positive this week for COVID-19 has experienced moderate symptoms and hopes to return to work when cleared. Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub spoke Saturday via video messaging with Officer Ryan Morrison, who learned Friday that he is infected with the virus. He will remain isolated in his home for a minimum of seven days. Morrison never had any symptoms while working and has not returned to work since becoming symptomatic. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, police across Bucks County continue to serve the public while armed with new protocols in place to protect themselves from the virus while keeping the public safe. In addition to enhanced hygiene measures, the protocols include a mutual aid agreement which allows the county’s 900-plus officers to patrol any Bucks County jurisdiction should exposure to the virus cause manpower shortages.

Bucks County Community College adapts to remote learning and operations
Bucks County Community College, in adapting to the COVID-19 state of emergency, has moved credit courses to remote instruction and equipped administrative staff to work remotely from home. Custodial staff began deep-cleaning more than 900,000 square feet of college facilities in Bristol, Croydon, Doylestown, Newtown, and Perkasie on March 14. Remote administrative operations began Monday, March 16, when credit students began spring break. Remote instruction of credit courses began March 23, after spring break. Bucks initially announced the changes March 12, several days before Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the statewide closure of all nonessential businesses to combat the spread of COVID-19. The college is closely following all mandates from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Department of Health, and the Governor’s Office.
A full list of resources for students is available at, noted Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt, college president. “We have also listed community and mental-health resources; if you need help, please use them. Many of us are anxious, so take care of yourself and your family.” Students are encouraged to take advantage of online tutoring to help them transition to online courses, which may be a new method of learning for some. Certain deadlines have been extended for payments and scholarship applications, added Shanblatt, in an effort to fully accommodate students’ needs. College offices are functioning with staff working remotely, who are able to respond to email and voice mail messages. Video-conference tools are being used in place of in-person meetings.