COVID-19 Update, March 31: Pa. cases, deaths continue to rise; Devon Horse Show cancelled

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Updated 1:35 p.m.: Adds extension of essential services only through April 30 for Chester County.

Updated 1:20 p.m.: Includes seven new counties under stay at home order.

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Cases of COVID-19 continue to grow in Pennsylvania and Chester County and the death toll in the commonwealth continues to rise.

The state Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday that there are now 4,843 positive tests in now 60 of 67 counties, an increase of 756, and recorded 14 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 63.

“The continued rise in cases combined with our increasing deaths from COVID-19 reflects the seriousness of this situation,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement. “We need everyone to listen to the orders in place and to stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We know that these prolonged mitigation effects have been difficult for everyone, but it is essential that everyone follows these orders and does not go out unless they absolutely must.”

There are 37,645 patients who have tested negative to date, DOH, suggesting about 44,000 of Pennsylvania’s slightly less than 13 million residents have been tested. Gov. Tom Wolf expanded his “Stay At Home” order to seven more counties: Cameron, Crawford, Forest, Franklin, Lawrence, Lebanon and Somerset counties. for a total of 33, including Chester County.

In Chester County, a day after the first in-county death was announced, cases increased to 160 up from 146 on Monday, with 1,515 negative tests reported. Tredyffrin continues to have the highest number of cases in the county, with 16 reported in the township.

The County Commissioners moved Tuesday to extend the County’s essential services-only operation to April 30. Essential services identified by Chester County Government range from the 9-1-1 Center, Chester County Prison, Pocopson Home long-term care facility, the Chester County Youth Center and the Coroner’s Office, to crucial court-related and Human Services functions.  Following state guidelines, a no visitor policy remains at the Chester County Prison, at Pocopson Home and at the Chester County Youth Center.

Locally, yet another annual landmark event was cancelled Tuesday– The Devon Horse Show and Fair, a show that has not missed a year since World War II. The event, which would have held its 124th edition this May, could not count on the crisis easing anytime soon, to allow its volunteers, competitors and vendors to make appropriate plans to participate this year. Earlier this month, the Willowdale Steeplechase was cancelled as well.

Also on Tuesday, county officials announced a pair of telephone town hall event on April 2 — Thursday — the Chester County Commissioners and leaders from the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry (CCCBI), Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and elected officials and staff are scheduled to participate. The sessions focus on the new CARES Act as well as other programs available – from loans to grants to unemployment compensation. 

There will be two sessions, one for for-profit companies and another for non-profits.

For-profit businesses 11 a.m. telephone town hall:

Non-profit organization 2 p.m. telephone town hall

Business are asked to register by 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday the approval of part of his request to the President for a major disaster declaration to support state, county and local response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Pennsylvania.

“We are grateful for federal funding that will support all levels of government as we work together to stop the spread, and support those who care for the ill,” said Governor Wolf. “But I remain unwavering in my call for the approval of the rest of my request, which will provide more direct support to our friends and neighbors who are facing financial difficulties that otherwise could be insurmountable.”

Elsewhere on the state government side, state officials also announced a federal waiver allowing schools to feed all children during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Schools and community organizations can now use recent and local economic data, including unemployment claims and business closures, to request approval from PDE to qualify as an open meal site,” said Vonda Ramp, PDE state director for Child Nutrition Programs. “Once approved, they can provide meals to all children in their community, age 18 and under, for free.”

Local education agencies (LEAs) – school districts, charter schools, intermediate units and career and technology centers can operate their sites under the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) or Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). LEAs can begin applying to PDE for a waiver immediately, and the department is prepared to expedite reviews and approvals.

Additionally, the state received another waiver from the federal government for increased flexibility for Medicaid and CHIP programs in the commonwealth.

The waiver temporarily grants flexibility of requirements for providers of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to ensure availability and access to health care and public assistance programs for people who need them in light of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

“My administration will do everything in its power to ensure that people have access to health care coverage to protect themselves and their family during this unprecedented time,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. “We are grateful that the federal government quickly granted us flexibility to ensure human services programs are able to make critical adjustments necessary to fighting this public health crisis.”

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