COVID-19 update: Pike County is not flattening the curve

Milford. The number of cases reported Wednesday reflects more than a three-fold increase in Pike's COVID-19 cases from just 12 days earlier. Pennsylvania launches a COVID-19 hiring portal for job seekers and the life-sustaining businesses looking to hire. Pennsylvania representatives in Pike and Wayne counties support a bill that would allow many businesses the choice of whether or not to resume operations. Gov. Tom Wolf says the state labor department has started sending out expanded federal unemployment compensation payments provided by the coronavirus relief package approved by Congress. At least four meat processing plants in Pennsylvania have shut down because of the high number of workers testing positive. Remote voting applications are in demand throughout Pennsylvania. More than 850 Pennsylvania National Guard members have been working to support commonwealth communities with combating COVID-19. Gov. Wolf authorized the early release of as many as 1,800 inmates from Pennsylvania state prisons in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

15 Apr 2020 | 02:19

Pike sees a big jump in cases

Pike County is not flattening the curve. With 268 cases and seven deaths as of April 15, the line is getting steeper by the day.

The number of cases reported Wednesday reflects more than a three-fold increase in Pike's COVID-19 cases from just 12 days earlier.

The more that testing is done, the more positive cases are reported. But Pennsylvania has tested just one percent of its population of 12.8 million so far. According to the health department, a total of 137,584 tests have been completed statewide as of Wednesday.

Pennsylvania has lost 647 people to COVID-19. A total of 26,490 cases have been reported statewide.

"The continued rise in the number of cases of coronavirus COVID-19 cited on the pikepa.org website is a clear indication that we need to practice social distancing but also need to get people in our county tested," wrote Dr. Robert-A. Ollar of Milford, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., in a letter to the editor last week. "We do now know that in the early stages of this viral infection a person is often asymptomatic but, highly infectious. Thus, if we are to maximize the effectiveness of social distancing, we need to identify asymptomatic carriers of this pathogen and have them placed in house quarantine."

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said this week,"We must continue to stay home to protect ourselves, our families, our community. If you must go out, please make as few trips as possible and wear a mask to protect not only yourself, but other people as well. We need all Pennsylvanians to continue to heed these efforts to protect our vulnerable Pennsylvanians, our health care workers and frontline responders."

PA launches COVID-19 job hiring portal

Pennsylvanians looking for work can now find life-sustaining businesses that are hiring through the new online COVID-19 job portal at PAcareerlink.pa.gov.

Life-sustaining businesses can also list their job openings on the portal through an online form

The job portal is updated daily so that businesses in need are spotlighted and people searching for employment have the latest job information.

People seeking employment can visit and select the green “PA COVID-19 Jobs – Hiring Immediately” job portal banner to see active job openings. Selecting the “Apply Now” button for a listed position will redirect individuals to the employer’s website or email where they can apply directly with the employer and speed up the hiring process.

The portal is part of the PA CareerLink system, a one-stop shop for Pennsylvania job seekers and employers. Although PA CareerLink offices across the commonwealth are physically closed, the majority of staff are teleworking and providing virtual services to both job seekers and employers.

“Many life-sustaining businesses across Pennsylvania are hiring and this new portal will help connect them with people looking for a job,” said Jerry Oleksiak, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. “A top priority of L&I is to provide businesses with access to the workforce they need to maintain their life-sustaining operations and help our workers find jobs, especially during this unprecedented and challenging time.”

PA reps look to reopen businesses

Pennsylvania representatives Jonathan Fritz (R-Susquehanna/Wayne) and Mike Peifer (R-Pike/Wayne) say they support a bill that would allow many businesses the choice to reopen. The bill was passed on Tuesday by the Pennsylvania House with a vote of 107-95.

“Our small businesses and their employees have been hit extremely hard during this pandemic, with most having to close their doors,” said Peifer. “I believe this bill will allow many of our businesses the choice of whether or not to resume operations, provided they are in strict compliance with recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 from our nation’s leading health professionals at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This will not only provide a measure of consistency for our businesses, particularly those in rural Pennsylvania, but more importantly, it will help to restore a degree of normalcy for many Pennsylvania in these unprecedented times.”

Senate Bill 613 would require Gov. Tom Wolf to develop and implement a plan to allow Pennsylvania businesses to operate during the Proclamation of Disaster Emergency issued on March 6 provided the business is in compliance. The plan must be developed using mitigation recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and guidelines from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“Saving lives and saving livelihoods are not mutually exclusive," said Fritz. "I am certain that we can get folks back to work in a safe manner, while still being vigilant with social distancing and adherence to CDC guidelines in order to continue to suppress the spread of the virus.”

For more information about Senate Bill 613, visit bit.ly/2V97950.

New unemployment benefits being implemented in PA

(AP) Gov. Tom Wolf says the state labor department has started sending out expanded federal unemployment compensation payments provided by the coronavirus relief package approved by Congress.

The measure temporarily provides an additional $600 per week and makes self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers eligible for benefits. It also extends unemployment compensation benefits for an additional 13 weeks.

The federal benefits are in addition to Pennsylvania's regular unemployment benefit, which is about half of a person's full-time weekly income up to $572 per week for 26 weeks.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry issued the first $600 payments Friday, and officials said eligible people who filed biweekly claims for the week ending April 4 and who received their regular unemployment compensation payment should expect to see the additional money either Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

A measure signed by the governor last month waives the one-week waiting period for filing for unemployment compensation as well as the job search and work registration requirements.

Meat plants shut down

(AP) At least four meat processing plants in Pennsylvania are shut down, including one facility outside the hard-hit city of Hazleton, where more than 160 workers have tested positive, according to a union official.

Cargill Meat Solutions, which employs about 900, has been closed since Tuesday. The 230,000-square-foot plant in Luzerne County packages beef and pork products destined for supermarket meat cases.

Also shuttered are JBS' beef processing facility in Souderton, the largest plant of its kind east of Chicago; Empire Kosher Poultry in Mifflintown; and CTI Foods in King of Prussia, said Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776. Those plants reported smaller COVID-19 outbreaks.

Young said a beloved shop steward at the JBS plant, Enock Benjamin, succumbed to the virus after spending weeks ``doing everything he could to keep everyone safe.''

Remote voting applications are in demand

(AP) Pennsylvania counties have processed about 283,000 absentee and mail-in ballots for the June primary, and requests from Democrats are three times more common than from Republicans, state elections officials said Tuesday.

The Department of State said 89,000 absentee ballot requests have already been processed, with the June 2 primary still seven weeks away.

During the 2016 primary, 84,000 votes were cast under the absentee ballot system, which is available only to those who offer an acceptable reason they would not be able to vote in person.

Counties have already processed 195,000 requests for mail-in ballots under a state law passed last fall that permits them for any voter who requests one.

Pennsylvania has about 4.1 million registered Democrats and 3.3 million Republicans. Of the absentee and mail-in requests for the primary processed so far, about 209,000 are from Democrats and 73,000 from Republicans.

Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said remote voting applications jumped after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf issued orders closing schools and businesses not considered essential to sustaining life.

"First of all, the mail-in option is brand new, and now, with the COVID-19 situation, people want to vote at home, and we're encouraging that,'' Murren said. "We really have no way of knowing what this will end up looking like.''

In a Wisconsin statewide judicial election held last week, preliminary results indicated absentee ballots accounted for about seven in 10 of all ballots cast, compared with 12% during a Wisconsin Supreme Court election last year.

Some of Pennsylvania's most populous counties have begun asking about conducting the June 2 primary election entirely by mail amid fears the pandemic will pose a threat to poll workers and voters.

Pennsylvania National Guard supports communities

More than 850 Pennsylvania National Guard members have been working to support commonwealth communities with combating COVID-19, according to Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He also reassured veterans that they will continue to receive their benefits.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has called upon state employees and the National Guard to go ‘outside the wire’ in this war against the virus to help save the lives of our families, neighbors, friends, veterans and fellow citizens,” said Carrelli. “We are providing the critical support to continue training for our deploying units, fueling the state active duty enterprise, continuing veteran benefit programs, and caring for the residents in our six veterans’ homes.”

The Pennsylvania National Guard was called early-on during COVID-19 to provide transportation to 30 Pennsylvania residents who were on the Grand Princess cruise ship back to their homes throughout the commonwealth, after they arrived at Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown.

As COVID-19 began making its way throughout Pennsylvania communities, the Guard has been called upon even more to set up a drive-through testing site in Montgomery County, help a food bank pack emergency food in Pittsburgh, unload medical supplies in Harrisburg, and install a federal medical facility in Delaware County.

Inmates are being freed

(AP) Gov. Tom Wolf on April 10 authorized the early release of as many as 1,800 inmates from Pennsylvania state prisons in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan is similar to what other states and some Pennsylvania counties have undertaken, and it comes after talks broke down with Republicans who hold a majority in the state Legislature.

Wolf's office said releasing inmates will save lives, help stop the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming Pennsylvania's already-burdened health care system.

The releases, to halfway houses or home confinement, were expected to start this week. The plan allows the release of inmates serving time for nonviolent offenses who are within nine months of scheduled release, or within 12 months for those considered at heightened risk from the virus.

The temporary reprieve does not apply to inmates incarcerated for certain crimes, including violent crimes, crimes committed with a firearm, drug trafficking and sexual offenses. And it does not apply to inmates who have been denied parole or convicted of any offense while incarcerated.

House Republican leaders had sought to cap any release of inmates at 450.

Wolf's executive order said the Department of Corrections will discuss each eligible inmate with the courts, the state attorney general's office and county district attorney's offices.

Inmates given reprieve are to be monitored similarly to parolees and supervised by parole agents, the administration said. They would return to prison to complete any remaining portion of their sentences when the order expires, it said.