Note: New coronavirus case numbers were released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health Monday morning. According to the latest data, there are 644 confirmed cases in the Commonwealth. Lehigh County had 25 confirmed cases and Northampton County had 23 confirmed cases as of the Monday morning, March 23 update. Another death from the virus was reported in Montgomery County. Note that these numbers are constantly changing. Follow the Department of Health on Twitter for future updates.
Several weeks into the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has caused major economic, political and social disruption across Pennsylvania there is no real indication that the virus’s spread is being contained.
On Sunday more than 100 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Pennsylvania, where the total number of cases has now topped 500. Just over a week ago there were 63.
At least one additional death caused by the coronavirus has also occurred within the past 24 hours, according to state officials and a map produced by Johns Hopkins which tracks the number of cases.
The hardest-hit part of the state is southeastern Pennsylvania, where Montgomery County remains the epicenter of the outbreak with 110 cases as of Monday morning.
Montgomery, Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe and Allegheny counties have each attributed one death to the coronavirus.
To help slow the disease’s spread, Pennsylvania governor has issued an executive order requiring all businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” to close by 8 a.m. Monday.
Life-sustaining businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations will remain open, along with restaurants and bars that offer takeout and delivery options. Dining inside restaurants is not allowed under the executive order. Click here to view the list of life-sustaining vs. non-life-sustaining businesses.
Wolf and other state offiicals said Sunday the order will be enforced by Pennsylvania State Police, state agents from the PLCB and other departments, who will be assisted by local law enforcement authorities.
Health experts continue to urge residents to stay at home as much as possible, as maintaining social distancing is considered one of the primary ways to help prevent the spread of the virus.
K-12 schools remain closed for at least another week, and in a livestreamed update Sunday evening Wolf said that while he hasn’t yet made any decisions, this week he will consider extending the shutdown of all schools into April.
Responding to another question submitted by a journalist, Wolf also said his office will be reviewing its decision to shut down the state’s wine and liquor stores, at least in part due to issues related to access to alcohol for individuals who are addicted to alcohol. In severe cases of alcoholism, withdrawal from it can cause a condition known as delirium tremens, which if left untreated can lead to death.
Wolf also confirmed that in other states in which there has been a similar shutdown of most businesses, stores that sell alcohol have remained open.
In contrast to the state-owned wine and spirits stores, beer distributors have not closed.
Wolf also addressed the state’s food distribution system, which has come under strain in the past two weeks as panic-buying related to the pandemic has increased demand.
“Even in a pandemic, grocery stores and food banks are life-sustaining and accessible; food production and distribution are continuing,” Wolf said in a news release. “I urge all Pennsylvanians to have faith in our food system. If each one of us commits to only buy what we need; there will be enough for everyone and their neighbors.”
A number of grocery store chains and even convenience stores have reduced their hours in order to give staff time to restock shelves that are emptied of essential items almost daily, and many have imposed limits on the number of items in certain key categories–such as toilet paper–that customers may purchase.
Food banks in the state continue to operate with modifications to how they distribute donations due to the requirement to maintain social distancing. For example, a food bank in Lower Saucon Township last week began distributing food via a drive-thru service in its parking lot.
Due to a record number of unemployment claims filed last week and continuing coronavirus-related business closures, the number of Pennsylvanians seeking assistance from food banks will no doubt rise in the weeks to come.
“Pennsylvania’s charitable food network plays an invaluable role in supporting our communities, and as we all do our part to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, this work is more important than ever,” said First Lady Frances Wolf in the news release about the state’s food supply. “Those of us who are fortunate enough to know where our next meal will come from must consider donating our resources or time to supporting our local food banks to ensure that no Pennsylvanian goes hungry–now or ever.”
The following information about coronavirus is from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. For more information as well as news and updates follow the PA DoH on Twitter.
Health and safety officials continue to recommend regular handwashing with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds as the best means of helping to 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.