COVID-19 update: Wear a mask whenever you leave the house, governor says

Milford. Governor says to wear a mask whenever you leave the house. Pike isn't moving much, according to Google. Pike County now has 83 COVID-19 cases. Pike County Correctional approves early release for some prisoners. National Park Service closes PEEC trails. Governor temporarily halts short-term rentals. The Upper Delaware Litter Sweep scheduled for April 22-25 is cancelled, but individual clean-ups are still encouraged. Report hate crimes against Asian Americans. Helpline is established for those struggling with coronavirus anxiety. Gambling on-site is not allowed, liquor board reminds Pennsylvanians. COVID-19 not transmissible through food, the agriculture secretary says. To save masks, neuter/spay is not required for new pet adoptions. Lethal weapons requirement gets an extension. Medicaid recipients encouraged to get early refills.

03 Apr 2020 | 09:35

Governor: Wear a mask whenever you leave the house

It's time for everyone to start wearing a homemade mask.

At a press briefing on Friday, Gov. Wolf said all Pennsylvanians should wear a mask any time they leave their homes for "life-sustaining" reasons, like shopping for food or picking up prescriptions.

Gov. Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine stressed that staying home is the most effective way to protect against COVID-19. A stay-at-home order is now in effect statewide.

“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," said Wolf.

Since surgical masks are needed for health care workers and first responders, he said, Pennsylvanians should make their own masks with materials they have at home.

Dr. Levine said face masks protect people other than the wearer. "My mask protects you, and your mask protects me," she said.

Wolf said wearing a mask will cut down the possibility of infecting an innocent bystander, like the grocery store cashier, the pharmacist, or someone stocking shelves, Gov. Wolf said.

“These people are keeping us alive by getting us the supplies we need," he said. "We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe. Right now, that means wearing a mask.”

There is a face mask-making group in Milford. To contribute materials or join the sewers or management group, email milfordmaskgroup@gmail.com.

Pike isn't moving much, according to Google

People in Pike County are complying with the stay-at-home order, according to data in Google's new COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports (google.com/covid19/mobility).

Google has launched a new website shows how much social distancing is taking place in locations around the world.

It shows trends in six categories: retail and recreation; grocery and pharmacy; parks; transit stations; workplaces; and residential.

The baseline is the median value, for the corresponding day of the week, during the period Jan. 3-Feb. 6. The reports show trends over several weeks with the most recent data representing from two to three days before.

On March 29 in Pike County, there was 39 percent less work-related travel than during the baseline period, and 48 percent less retail and recreation travel. Earlier in the month Pike County saw a 40 percent spike in grocery and pharmacy travel before falling below baseline on March 29. (See chart above.)

Pike has 83 cases

There are 83 cases in coronavirus in Pike County as of April 3. One person has died.

Statewide there are 8,420 cases. The age breakdown is as follows: 1% are 0-4; 1% 5-12;• 1% are 13-18; 9% are 19-24; 40% are 25-49; 29% are 50-64; and 19% are 65 or older. There have been no pediatric deaths to date. More data is available here.

Pike County Correctional approves early release for some prisoners

Some offenders at the Pike County Jail were eligible for some kind of early release, whether through furlough, parole, bail reduction, or time served.

Prisoners were considered if they committed low-level offenses and were thought to be unlikely to recidivate.

The Pike County district attorney and the county solicitor reviewed data submitted by the warden on low-level offenders. The county inmate population was reduced by about 43 as of April 2.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the federal government have jurisdiction over the detainee population, and are working to reduce the ICE detainee population, with a reduction of 32 detainees as of April 2.

One inmate has tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently hospitalized. Three staff members and one contract employee at the Pike County Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolated at home.

Inmates/detainees are examined for symptoms and temperature-checked twice daily, according to the Pike County Prison Board. Staff members are symptom and temperature-checked upon arrival to the facility and as necessary.

All PEEC trails now closed

As of April 2, all trails on the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) campus in Dingmans Ferry will be closed, and all winter closures have been extended until May 22. The trails, located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, were closed by the National Park Service.

In New Jersey, the extended closures include Mountain Road, Blue Mountain Lakes Road/Crater Lake Area, Watergate, Namanock, Rivers Bend Group Campground, and the dirt section of Old Mine Road.

In Pennsylvania, the extended closures include Dingmans Access, Dingmans Falls Visitor Center and Parking Area, Hialeah Picnic Area, and Valley View Group Campground.

Without vehicles on the roads, and because they are wider than park trails, areas like Mountain Road, Blue Mountain Lakes Road, the dirt section of Old Mine Road, and the Dingmans Falls access road provide additional locations where visitors can safely maintain social distancing if they chose to visit the park at this time.

Most of park’s outdoor spaces, including more than 150 miles of trails, remain accessible to the public. Public restrooms, volunteer and partner-operated buildings and the visitor information desk at Bushkill Meeting Center were closed on March 17 and the Kittatinny Point area in New Jersey was closed on March 28.

Updates on Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can be found at nps.gov/dewa and Facebook.com/DelWaterGapNPS.

Governor temporarily halts short-term rentals

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office halted short-term rentals by reclassifying them as “non-life sustaining" instead of “essential" businesses.

PA Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe/Pike) said she and other Pocono legislators brought "intense pressure" on Wolf to make the change.

“I thank the governor for this action and although I have been advocating for weeks on this, sending him information and speaking with his office, I am very pleased he understands how this measure can protect the residents of Pennsylvania, especially the northeast,” said Brown. “I am extremely pleased our voices were heard and we can move forward on other ways we can help combat this pandemic in our area, that functions very differently than some other areas in Pennsylvania.”

Brown said advertisements courted people in metropolitan New York, which is now experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, with pitches like "coronavirus free," "escape the epicenter," and "social distance in comfort."

Brown said she also urged the Community Association Institute of Pennsylvania, an advocacy group for private communities, and local private communities to implement emergency bylaw changes as it relates to short-term rentals.

She encouraged people to report violations to her office by calling 570-420-8301 or filling out a form at repbrown.com/contact.

Upper Delaware Litter Sweep is postponed

The Upper Delaware Litter Sweep scheduled for April 22-25 is cancelled, but individual clean-ups are still encouraged.

"In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: 'Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean," says the Upper Delaware Council.

Any solo cleanups would require using personal supplies and stockpiling collected litter at home until area disposal sites re-open and non-essential travel bans are lifted. Individuals should practice social distancing guidelines, wear gloves and brightly colored clothing or a safety vest, be aware of private property, and only pick up easily disposable items that are in the open.

The Upper Delaware Recreation Project founder Dan Paparella is posting updates at https://sites.google.com/view/upper-delaware-litter-clean-up/home on state and county-specific litter programs as well as on Facebook.

For more information, call 570-468-3904 or email paparelladan15@gmail.com.

Report hate crimes against Asian Americans

The Pennsylvania State Police has affirmed its support of Asian American communities as law enforcement across the country has seen an increasing number of incidents targeting Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Asian American Community and other minority groups should know that the state police take every allegation of hate/bias crime seriously, and each complaint receives a full investigation,” said Colonel Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “We will not tolerate hate or bias of any kind in Pennsylvania.”

The PSP Heritage Affairs Section is a unit dedicated to the prevention and investigation of hate/bias crimes and incidents. To date, the state police has not investigated any hate/bias crimes related to COVID-19 targeting Asian American communities in Pennsylvania. If you feel you, or someone you know is a victim of a hate/bias crime or incident, contact your local law enforcement agency. In Pike County, call 570-226-5718.

“Victims may be reluctant to come forward for cultural reasons, or because they don’t feel the crime against them rises to the level of law enforcement involvement," said Evanchick. "We want the community to know that any crime motivated by hate or bias is unacceptable."

Helpline for those struggling with anxiety

Pennsylvania has created a new toll-free support line for those struggling with anxiety related to the coronavirus. The number to call: 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' helpline is staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers who will be available 24/7 to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with challenging emotions resulting to the COVID-19 emergency and refer them to community-based resources that can further help them.

Gambling on-site not allowed

The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement recently received many public inquiries about liquor licensees allowing patrons inside their establishments to play video games of skill, in violation of restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“While our position on the legality of these devices remains unchanged, ensuring public safety in the midst of the ongoing health crisis is our top priority,” said Major Jeffrey Fisher, director of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. “Liquor licensees are cautioned that in addition to potential unlawful gambling charges, they are subject to citation if they fail to take steps to prevent patrons from remaining on premises to operate video gambling devices.”

Gov. Wolf authorized licensed retail establishments, including licensed restaurants and bars, to remain open during the COVID-19 epidemic for carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service, so long as social distancing and other mitigation measures are employed to protect workers and patrons.

COVID-19 not transmissible through food

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Department of Agriculture Food Safety Director Jeff Warner assured Pennsylvanians that there is no evidence that human or animal food or food packaging is associated with transmission of COVID-19.

Redding also reviewed the department’s recommendations to retail food and agriculture operations for continuity of business, inhibiting transmission, and maintaining a healthy workforce to ensure continuous access to food during COVID-19.

“I want to assure Pennsylvanians and ease their fear: food is safe,” said Warner. “There is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmissible through food or food packaging.”

To save masks, neuter/spay not required

To conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for human healthcare workers, the Pennsylvania Dog Law that requires shelters and rescues to spay/neuter dogs and cats prior to adoption would be waived for pets adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This waiver is not something we take lightly, but it’s a matter of weighing the costs,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Waiving the requirement to spay or neuter prior to adoption allows us to conserve critical PPE supplies and also limit the risk of exposure for veterinarians.”

The waiver comes with a contingency: shelters must keep a list of adopters to follow up with post-pandemic and provide a copy of all contracts to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. Once the pandemic is in the past, shelters would be required to follow up on all pets adopted during COVID-19 mitigation.

Adoptive pet owners will have up to 120 days from the time of adoption – timeframe to be re-evaluated as necessary – to have the procedure completed and come into compliance.

With approval from the department, shelters and rescues can continue adopting pets out to Pennsylvanians even during stay at home orders, to ensure that shelters are not overly full of animals with short staff numbers.

Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania State Director for The Humane Society of the United States, said, ”Before adopting, Pennsylvanians should consider if they’re able to provide for all the pets’ needs during COVID-19 mitigation and follow the department’s Guidance to Pet Owners."

For information visit agriculture.pa.gov/COVID..

Lethal weapons requirement gets an extension

The Pennsylvania State Police announced that Gov. Wolf has granted a six-month extension to the certifications held by privately employed agents pursuant to lethal weapons training.

The Lethal Weapons Training Act provides certification to privately employed agents to carry a lethal weapon. Privately employed agents include individuals employed by hospitals, health care facilities, and other life-sustaining businesses vital to the ongoing fight against COVID-19. The governor’s action allows a six-month extension of the certification for any agents whose five-year certifications expire from March 6, 2020, until September 7, 2020. This extension was necessary because of the unavailability of recertification training courses during the current state of emergency

Medicaid recipients encouraged to get early refills

Medicaid recipients may obtain early refills of all prescriptions at their pharmacy to reduce trips and interactions during the stay-at-home order.

“By asking Medicaid providers and pharmacists to allow for earlier prescription refills and longer prescription supplies, we are all doing our part to practice social distancing to keep everyone safe and well," said Gov. Wolf.

If the prescription is current and there are refills remaining on the prescription, the pharmacist will be able to issue early refills. If the prescription is out of refills, contact your health care provider for a new prescription.

This directive extends to both recipients covered by HealthChoices managed care organizations and fee-for-service Medicaid. Consumers may obtain early refills for opioids for pain management, but the prior authorization requirement remains in effect.

Editor's note: This article has been updated from the original.