Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf threw his support behind “universal masking” Friday, as the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic continues to worsen and threaten the lives of residents, in spite of extensive containment efforts that have included closing all K-12 schools and shuttering most businesses until at least April 30.
In a livestreamed news conference, Wolf said he wants all Pennsylvanians to begin wearing masks in public, even if they are only makeshift, handsewn or DIY face coverings.
“Pennsylvania is continuing to climb to the peak cases,” Wolf said in his address. “We’re adding more than 1,000 a day to our tallies. And we know we have community spread occurring in many different areas. The only way we can cut the growth of this virus is to act as if we all have it.”
“Today I’m asking all Pennsylvanians to wear a mask, anytime you leave your house,” Wolf continued. “Masks help prevent people from sharing illnesses.”
Wolf acknowledged that the use of masks is not a foolproof prevention method, and reminded residents that they should only use a mask if they truly need to leave the house for one of the reasons permitted under his statewide stay-at-home order.
“Some trips are unavoidable,” he said. “We might need to go to the grocery store to get food. We might need to go to the pharmacy to get medication. We might need to get supplies to care for our pets. Wearing a mask will help us cut down the possibility that we might be infecting an innocent bystander like that grocery store cashier, the pharmacist or someone stocking shelves.”
“These folks are keeping us alive by getting us the supplies we need,” Wolf added. “We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe. Right now that means wearing a mask.”
Wolf specifically asked that N95 and “paper masks” be reserved for use by health care workers, many of whom are facing critical shortages of masks and other PPE (personal protective equipment).
“Universal masking is expected to be recommended by the CDC shortly, and in Pennsylvania we want to be ahead of the nation in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf said. “And so far I think we have been ahead of this curve. … But we know we still have a way to go until we’re through this crisis. And if we want to come out of it with the most Pennsylvanians alive and the best economic prospects, we all need to continue to do our parts. So please, stay home unless you absolutely cannot. And when you absolutely must leave home, wear a cloth mask.”
Wolf also urged religious leaders to do their part to help slow the spread of the disease by not bringing people together in person for Easter services or Passover observances. Instead, he recommended the use of technology for livestreaming services or even socially distanced gatherings in parking lots, in which everyone remains in their cars.
Wolf concluded his remarks by condemning hate crimes against all Pennsylvanians and particularly those of Asian-American ancestry, some of whom have been targets of hate due to the fact that the coronavirus is believed to have originated in China. Wolf said acts fueled by racial hatred will not be tolerated, and announced that the Pennsylvania State Police are tasked with prosecuting bias-related crimes to the fullest extend of the law.
“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,” state police commissioner Col. Robert Evanchick said Thursday in a news release. “We will not tolerate hate or bias of any kind in Pennsylvania.”
State health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine also provided an update during the daily briefing.
Levine announced that there have been another 1,404 positive cases of COVID-19, which brings the statewide total to 8,420 cases in 63 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
The department also reported 12 new deaths among positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 102.
In Lehigh County, the total number of cases again rose by more than a hundred to 584, which represented a 21.9 percent increase in the total number of cases there. There were no additional deaths reported Friday in Lehigh County.
In Northampton County, the total number of cases rose from 378 to 466, which represented a 23.3 percent increase. One additional death was reported in Northampton County, bringing its death toll from COVID-19 to 10.