In a historic move, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf told residents of Philadelphia and six other counties–one of which includes Pittsburgh–to stay at home for the next two weeks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“Residents must stay home unless someone’s life depends on leaving,” Wolf tweeted.
“Someone’s life depends on (residents of those counties staying at home),” Wolf said in a 2 p.m. livestreamed speech about the unprecedented order.
Examples of life-dependent reasons for leaving one’s home which were cited during the livestream include buying food or medicine and taking care of a loved one.
In another tweet, Wolf noted that roads in the stay-at-home counties “will stay open.”
The new order takes effect at 8 p.m. this evening–Monday, March 23–and in addition to Philadelphia also applies to residents of Bucks, Chester Montgomery, Delaware, Monroe and Allegheny counties. Philadelphia residents were already under a city-issued stay-at-home order.
There is no mandatory curfew as part of his stay at home order, Wolf said in answer to a question.
The order is not statewide, he said, because he is trying to be “measured” in what he does and because “the counties that are included in the stay-at-home order are where we’ve had a big outbreak.”
He added that he hopes the order won’t have to be applied to the rest of the state.
“If we do a good job with the stay at home order and people respond positively, the virus will not spread,” he affirmed.
In response to a question by a reporter about whether residents of the counties where the stay-at-home order is in effect can do things like go for a walk or go get takeout food, Wolf said residents shouldn’t leave home unless what they are doing is “life-sustaining.”
Although Northampton and Lehigh counties aren’t directly affected by Wolf’s order, they are sandwiched in between several counties that are; namely Bucks and Montgomery counties in the Philadelphia area and Monroe County in the Poconos.
Many Lehigh Valley residents work in those counties, and it wasn’t immediately clear how or if individuals who work at businesses which have been classified as “life-sustaining” and are located in the “stay at home counties” will be impacted by the order.
Combined, Lehigh and Northampton counties have reported nearly 50 cases of coronavirus to date.
As of mid-day Monday, there were 644 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania and at least six deaths attributed to the disease.
The first cases of coronavirus were reported in Wuhan, China, in December, and since then the illness has killed thousands in what has become a global pandemic.
“If we don’t stay at home we’re putting many other people in danger,” Wolf emphasized.
He acknowledged that compliance with his stay at home order will be “difficult,” particularly because it is something Pennsylvanians en masse have never done before, and said he and his wife have not been able to hold their own newborn grandson yet because of the pandemic.
“This (order) is something that adds to the social distancing–that will help us buy time” and help prevent the state’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed by what’s been called a “tsunami” of coronavirus cases in other hard-hit parts of the world, Wolf said.
“If we do not do this we would anticipate a large surge of cases as was seen in Italy…and that could overwhelm our health care system,” agreed health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
“About every two days we are more than doubling the number of cases of COVID-19,” she noted. “That is called an exponential rise in cases. And that is why the governor is putting in place this order.”
Levine also said the surgical masks some volunteers have begun sewing to help hospitals and health care workers are not the type that are needed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is the N95 mask. “They’re actually not necessary,” she told a reporter.
Wolf also announced that all K-12 schools in the state will remain closed for at least another two weeks. Schools were already closed per executive order until Monday, March 30.
He said there has been a favorable response to his executive order that all non-life-sustaining businesses close by 8 a.m. Monday or risk enforcement action by the state police and/or other authorities.
“There are very, very few businesses that are not complying,” he said.
Note: The following information about coronavirus is from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. For more information as well as news and updates follow the department on Twitter. Health and safety officials continue to recommend regular handwashing for at least 20 seconds as the best way to help stop the virus’s spread.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:
- Shortness of breath
The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying.
How can the coronavirus spread?
Human coronaviruses spread just like the flu or a cold:
- Through the air by coughing or sneezing
- Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it
- Occasionally, fecal contamination
How can I help protect myself?
- Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Do not use your hands.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Clean surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones, remotes and other frequently touched items.
- If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better.