As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Dec. 30 implored Pennsylvanians to stand united against the virus over the next three weeks by adhering to the most recent mitigation measures.
The mitigation orders that took effect on Dec. 12 (see below for details) will expire at 8 a.m. on Jan. 4. Wolf said he does not plan to extend the orders beyond that date.
Pennsylvania saw an all-time high of new coronavirus cases on Dec. 10, with 12,786 new cases. They have been dropping since the mitigation orders went into effect. On Dec. 30 there were 7,695 new cases. That’s still much higher than the new daily caseloads of the spring, summer, and early fall, which averaged a few hundred and never exceeded 2,000.
“The virus continues to strain our health care systems and the dramatic rise in cases among all age groups, including among school-age children, is alarming,” Dr. Levine said on Dec. 12.
The commonwealth has set up a dashboard to track the number of vaccinations administered to residents in each county. As of Dec. 31 in Northeast Pennsylvania, 110 vaccines were administered to Pike residents; 295, Wayne; 1,067, Monroe; and 2,049, Lackawanna. The dashboard is available at health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Vaccine.aspx.
The closest Pennsylvania locations to Pike to receive vaccines are the Wright Center in Hawley, which received 200 doses on Dec. 29, and Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale, which received 700 doses on Dec. 29, according to the health department.
Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers announced Dec. 31 that vaccine clinics are being held for area healthcare professionals with direct patient contact. Eligibility is in accordance with the Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines for those who fall into Category 1A. Healthcare workers who have not already been contacted by WMCHC staff may either email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 570-253-8197 for information. Clinics will be held in Wayne and Pike Counties as well as Carbondale. If calling for a group, leave one person as a primary contact.
Supplies are limited and prioritization is based on health Department guidelines. First to get the vaccine will be healthcare personnel, emergency medical first responder, and residents and staff of congregate care settings.
So far, vaccines have been delivered to only two local nursing homes, The Gardens at Stroud for Nursing and Rehabilitation in East Stroudburg and Brookmont Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Effort, both in Monroe County.
Vaccines are also available to high-priority individuals at three Sussex County N.J. ShopRite Pharmacies, but you need to live, work, or go to school in New Jersey in order to qualify. For more information see related story “Vaccinations underway at ShopRite in Byram and Newton.”
Mitigation orders in effect until Jan. 4 include:
In-person dining and alcohol sales
All in-person indoor dining at businesses in the retail food services industry, including, but not limited to, bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, social clubs, and private catered events is prohibited.
Outdoor dining, take-out food service, and take-out alcohol sales are permitted and may continue, subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law or other orders from the Wolf administration.
Multiple studies have found indoor dining to drive case increases and fatalities, including research from Stanford University that found that restaurants accounted for a significant amount of new infections and research from Yale University that found that closing restaurants reduced fatality rates. A study by JP Morgan analyzed credit card spending of more than 30 million Chase cardholders and Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker and found that higher restaurant spending in a state predicted a rise in new infections there three weeks later.
Indoor gatherings and events of more than 10 persons are prohibited.
Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other places of congregate worship are specifically excluded from the limitations set forth above during religious services, these institutions are strongly encouraged to find alternative methods for worship, as in person gatherings pose a significant risk to participants at this time. While this an incredibly difficult recommendation to make, particularly at this time of year, faith leaders must carefully weigh the health risks to their congregants given the immense amount of community spread of COVID-19.
A new study from Stanford University and published in the journal, nature, used cellphone data collected from 10 U.S. cities from March to May to demonstrate that restaurants, gyms, cafes, churches and other crowded indoor venues accounted for some 8 in 10 new infections in the early months of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic.
Outdoor gatherings and events of more than 50 persons are prohibited.
According to a Yale University study, limiting outdoor gatherings was among consistent policies found to reduce fatality rates.
The CDC states that medium-sized outdoor gatherings carry a higher risk of COVID-19 spread, even with social distancing. CDC notes that the more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading, and that the higher the level of community transmission in the area that the gathering is being held, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during a gathering.
Capacity limits for businesses
All in-person businesses serving the public may only operate at up to 50% of the maximum capacity stated on the applicable certificate of occupancy, except as limited by existing orders to a smaller capacity limit.
The same Stanford University study that collected cellphone data also noted that limiting indoor capacity can reduce COVID-19 transmissions.
Gyms and fitness facilities
Indoor operations at gyms and fitness facilities are prohibited.
Outdoor facilities and outdoor classes can continue, but all participants must wear face coverings in accordance with the Sec. of Health’s Updated Order Requiring Universal Face Coverings, including any subsequent amendments, and practice physical distancing requirements.
According to a Yale University study, closing businesses like gyms was among consistent policies found to reduce fatality rates.
All in-person businesses in the entertainment industry serving the public within a building or indoor defined area, including, but not limited to, theaters, concert venues, museums, movie theaters, arcades, casinos, bowling alleys, private clubs, and all other similar entertainment, recreational or social facilities, are prohibited from operation.
The CDC puts movie theaters and other indoor settings on its list of higher-risk activities for contracting COVID-19.
In-person extracurricular school activities
Voluntary activities sponsored or approved by a school entity’s governing body or administration are suspended, but these extracurricular activities may be held virtually. This includes, but is not limited to, attendance at or participation in activities such musical ensembles, school plays, student council, clubs, and school dances.
Our top priority is stopping the spread of this virus so students and teachers can return to their classrooms as soon as possible. Data from the Department of Health notes that one-quarter of the cases of COVID among school-age children have occurred within the past two weeks, increasing the need to keep children safe outside of school so that they can return to classrooms.
K-12 school sports and youth sports
All sports at K-12 public schools, nonpublic schools, private schools and club, travel, recreational, intermural, and intramural sports are paused.
The Pennsylvania Principals Association is recommending a delay to the start of the winter sports season. The surge in cases among school-age children increases the risk that asymptomatic participants will spread the virus at a game or practice, in the locker room, while traveling to and from events, or at team meals, parties or other gatherings.
Professional and collegiate sports
Professional or collegiate sports activities may continue in accordance with guidance from the CDC and the Department of Health.
Spectators may not attend such sports activities in person.
The CDC warns large gatherings create a high risk of COVID-19 spreading.
“We know that COVID-19 thrives in places where people gather together,” Gov. Wolf said. “Therefore, these mitigation measures target high-risk environments and activities and aim to reduce the spread of this devastating virus.”
According to Yale University research, mitigation measures such as mandatory mask requirements, and gym and restaurant closures are policies that most consistently predict lower four- to six-week-ahead fatality growth.
“The work we do now to slow the spread of COVID-19 is not only crucial to keeping our fellow Pennsylvanians safe and healthy,” Gov. Wolf said. “It will help all of us get back to normal, and back to all of the things we’ve missed, faster. And it means more Pennsylvanians will be alive to celebrate that brighter future. This year, we show our love for our families and friends by celebrating safely and protecting one another.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include today’s announcement by Wayne Memorial Health Centers.