COVID-19 update: Milford responds, governor stops short of outright ban

Milford. Milford's new volunteer task force fights fear with facts. Key Foods announces special shopping hours for seniors. Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf adopts mitigation measures of neighboring states but stops short of a ban, saying he didn't want "to expend valuable resources from the state police and PA National Guard because irresponsible people choose not to do the right thing." Orange County, N.Y, COVID-19 cases double in a day to 18, while Sullivan County, N.Y., announces its first case.

17 Mar 2020 | 10:53

A prominent infectious disease specialist and Milford resident is educating the community on the most effective way to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

On Sunday at the Hotel Fauchère Conference Center in Milford, Dr. Doug Manion gave a thorough and extremely clear data-based briefing. About 35 people attended in person, and others saw it on the Internet. From the responses in the room, it was clear Dr. Manion’s presentation did a great deal to allay some of the fears and misinformation currently spreading like wildfire. The briefing is available to everyone at bit.ly/2TXO8Sm.

Dr. Manion invited everyone to join a list serve providing news, ideas, and information regarding Covid 19. To join, go to googlegroups.com and search for Milford COVID-19 Volunteer Task Force and click “join this group.” Or go to groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/protectpike.

Dr. Manion taught virology at Harvard Medical School for four years and is also a leading HIV specialist. He is currently head of Kleo Pharmaceuticals. He's been following the progression of COVID-19 very carefully.

His talk was arranged by a new task force that grew out of the Milford Public Safety Committee to educate the community about COVID-19 and to encourage social distancing. The task force includes Sean Strub, borough mayor; Frank Tarquinio, borough council president; Joseph Dooley and Luke Turano, borough councilmembers; and Annette Haar, a former councilmember.

Dr. Manion talked on Sunday about what the virus is, how it is transmitted, and how you can protect yourself. The following are some takeaways from the briefing, but people should follow the link provided above for more detail, including some compelling data.

What the virus is

COVID-19 is related to SARS and MERS, and while we do know a lot about these cousin viruses, COVID-19 is a novel virus with its own characteristics and we are still playing catch-up in its containment. It spreads exponentially, doubling every two days. For example, last Friday, March 13, there were 1,600 infected cases diagnosed in the United States, and by Friday, March 15, there were 3,300. The numbers change rapidly.

How the virus is transmitted

The virus can be transmitted in the following ways:

1. Person to person via droplets that could land on any surface up to six feet away. These droplets can be propelled by coughing, sneezing, or kissing. Sometimes people propel these droplets when speaking.

2. Self-inoculation from surfaces to one’s face, eyes, mouth, or nose.

3. Can be detected in stools.

4. Can be transmitted through blood products (surgery, transfusions)

The virus probably cannot be transmitted through sex or breast- feeding. There is some possibility that it could be transmitted through maternal fetal transmission.

Dr. Manion said statistics show how long the virus persists on surfaces, up to: 72 hours on plastic, 24 hours on steel, 8 to 24 hours on copper and cardboard. Therefore, it is imperative to wash one’s hands after touching any of these surfaces.

How you can protect yourself

1. Wash your hands often. Some say to wash them for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Dr. Manion advises that soap and water are better than hand sanitizer, especially since the power of the water helps kill the virus.

2. Dry your hands with a paper towel or air dry them, rather than using a cloth towel.

3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

4. Put social distance between you and others. For example, if one is talking face to face with another person, stand at least six feet away for not longer than 15 minutes. If one is in line behind another person, stay three feet away for not longer than 15 minutes. There is data showing that social distancing like this can really curb transmission.

5. Avoid sick people.

6. Stay home if you are sick.

7. Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Then throw tissue in trash immediately or wash your hands.

Dr. Manion conducted a question-and-answer session with the live audience after his presentation.

Mayor Strub ended the session saying, “ As frightening as it is, it will be over. On the bright side a situation like this helps build community and amazing things can happen."

UPDATE: In an online meeting offered Tuesday afternoon by the Sero Project and The Cranky Queer, Dr. Manion answered questions from The Courier, including why cases are doubling daily in Orange County, N.Y., when Pike and Wayne counties in Pennsylvania have only one case each. (Pike has two cases as of Wednesday.) He said the high numbers in Orange County likely indicate there is more testing happening there than in Pennsylvania.

He also stressed that people who are experiencing symptoms or have had contact with a person with a confirmed coronavirus infection should call their health provider first, and not show up unannounced at clinics, doctors offices, or hospitals. These facilities need to be prepared so that they can protect their staff and other patients, he said.

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TUESDAY, MARCH 17

In other local news on the coronavirus:

Key Food announces special shopping hour for seniors

Key Food Marketplace at 501 West Harford St. in Milford has announced a special shopping hour for senior citizens.

Key Food will reserve the hour from 7 to 8 a.m. beginning Wednesday, March 18, for shopping by senior citizens. The store asks other customers to stay away to protect seniors from infection.

The death rate for seniors infected with coronvirus is especially high: 3.6 percent for ages 60 to 69; 8 percent for ages 70 to 79; and 14.8 percent for ages 80 and up.

Governor stops short of outright ban

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf stopped short of the outright ban adopted by the neighboring states of New York and New Jersey in their efforts to stem the tide of COVID-19.

Frustrated with the lack of guidance from the federal government, the governors of those states, plus Connecticut, worked in conjunction to ban dine-in eating and drinking at all restaurants and bars in their states effective 8 p.m. on Monday, March 16. Those establishments are still allowed to provide take-out and delivery services, and will be provided a waiver for carry-out alcohol. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have also mandated the temporary closure of all movie theaters, gyms, and casinos.

"Gov. Wolf is permitted under law to enforce closures; however, the governor’s approach is to reinforce that it is incumbent on all of us to help mitigate the spread, knowing that compliance can help to protect customers, employees, and the community," said a statement Monday night from the governor's office. "The administration supports local law enforcement, permitting entities, and local officials to enforce if needed. The governor does not want to expend valuable resources from the state police and PA National Guard because irresponsible people choose not to do the right thing."

The statewide mitigation effort will last 14 days, Wolf said. It includes gthe following measures:

● All restaurants and bars close their dine-in facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Businesses that offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service may continue to do so but eating and drinking inside restaurants and bars is temporarily prohibited.

● A no-visitor policy for correctional facilities and nursing homes has been implemented and will be evaluated for other facilities.

● Freedom of travel will remain, but all Pennsylvanians are asked to refrain from non-essential travel.

● All child care centers licensed by the commonwealth close as of Tuesday, March 17, and will be re-evaluated at the conclusion of the 14-day statewide closure.

● Adult day care centers, adult training facilities, Provocations facilities, LIFE centers and Senior Community Centers close beginning Tuesday, March 17, and will be re-evaluated at the conclusion of the 14-day statewide closures.

● Essential State, County, and Municipal services will be open: police, fire, emergency medical services, sanitation, and essential services for vulnerable populations.

● Supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations will remain open. The administration issued guidance for non-essential businesses, such as gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls during county-specific mitigation periods to protect employees, customers, and suppliers and limit the spread of the virus through personal contact and surfaces. Additional statewide business guidance is forthcoming.

● All K-12 Pennsylvania schools will be closed for 10 business days effective Monday, March 16.

● The Wolf administration strongly encourages the suspension of large gatherings, events, conferences of more than 10 people, and per White House guidelines, ask that individuals and groups cancel any gatherings planned over the next eight weeks.

● The Wolf administration encourages religious leaders to exercise discretion in order to mitigate the spread of illness.

● Visitors in state centers will be restricted to ensure health and safety for individuals with an intellectual disability.

● Visitors to in assisted living and personal care homes will be restricted to minimize exposure to seniors and individuals with disabilities.

● State employees will be instructed to work from home if feasible. Employees without telework capabilities will get a paid leave of 10 workdays.

● State facilities that provide essential services will remain open.

● County-administered facilities will follow the same procedures as those of the state.

“I know the next few weeks will be challenging," said Wolf. "There is no reason to be fearful, or to panic, but we need to take this disease seriously. Please, stay home. Make as few in-person contacts as you can.”

House Republican leaders on Monday night said they "applaud the efforts of state and federal health officials to keep all citizens safe and informed." But, they said in a statement, "hundreds of business owners in Pennsylvania felt "blind-sided by today’s ‘statewide’ shutdown announcement and confused by what it actually means."

“We agree this is a time to limit exposure to large groups of people, but if you, or a business owner you know, wishes to remain in business, it is their right to do so," said their statement.

Cases continue to rise in Orange County

The number of coronavirus infections continues to rise in Orange County, N.Y. It now has 18 confirmed cases, according to a Tuesday afternoon announcement by County Executive Steve Neuhaus.

That's up from the seven confirmed cases reported yesterday. The first confirmed case in the county was reported last Thursday.

Public health laws forbid Orange County to release any identifying information about patients, including their location, Neuhaus said.

Neighboring Sullivan County, N.Y., is also reporting its first confirmed coronavirus case. County Manager Joshua Potosek issued a state of emergency for Sullivan.

PA Rep. Rosemary Brown closes office

Pennsylvania Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe/Pike) on Monday night announced that she will be closing her East Stroudsburg district office to walk-ins until further notice.

Residents can still reach Brown’s office by calling 570-420-8301 or filling out a contact form at repbrown.com/contact. A box will also be placed outside the office for residents to deliver any paperwork that needs to be processed or any written concerns or questions. Residents who choose to use the drop box are asked to include necessary contact information so they can be reached.

“I want to be sure we continue to keep our state office open and serve the residents of the 189th District,” said Brown. “Because we need to do our part to help lessen the spread of the COVID19, I have decided it’s in the best interest of all to close for walk-in traffic only. This measure protects everyone, but especially our seniors and most vulnerable population who often visit our office."

She said anyone experiencing symptoms -- fever, cough, shortness of breath -- should call the Pennsylvania Department of Health: 1-877-PA-Health (1-877-724-3258); Lehigh Valley Hospital – Pocono: 1-888-402-LVHN; St. Luke’s: 1-866-785-8537 (option 7); or your family physician first and refrain from visiting an Urgent Care or Emergency Center.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at cdc.gov, or the Pennsylvania Department of Health website at health.pa.gov.

For more local news related to the coronavirus pandemic, please see Monday's update at pikecountycourier.com.

Tristate tallies:
Here follows the number of positive cases in the tristate area and beyond as of March 17:
New York State: 950, six deaths
Orange County, N.Y: 18 (up from 7 yesterday)
Sullivan County, N.Y. 1
Pennsylvania: 76
Pike County, Pa.: 1
Wayne County, Pa.: 1
Monroe County, Pa.: 8
New Jersey: 178 (up from 98 yesterday), two deaths
USA: 5,218, 92 deaths
World: 190,140, 7,517 deaths