DOYLESTOWN >> The Bucks County Commissioners announced on July 16 that they will purchase face shields for all elementary and secondary schools in the county, while expressing hope that recent COVID spikes elsewhere in Pennsylvania will not inhibit local schools from reopening in the fall.
The commissioners and Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker also expressed concern for Bucks County bars and restaurants that face closure or curtailed operations under new restrictions ordered on Wednesday, July 15 by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Meanwhile, statistics released by the county health department over the past three days (July 14, 15 and 16) showed only a slight increase in the number of new infections, which averaged 28 per day from Tuesday, July 13 through Thursday, July 16. One death has been attributed to COVID so far in July, and coronavirus hospitalizations remain at the lowest level since late March.
At a news conference, Damsker and the commissioners stressed that while Bucks County’s infection numbers have edged up slightly since the county entered the green phase of Wolf’s reopening plan, the county shows no signs of an impending spike in new cases.
Their remarks came a day after Wolf, troubled by rising case numbers in some parts of Pennsylvania, ordered “surgical” restrictions on bars, restaurants and the sizes of indoor and outdoor gatherings. And they preceded the release of state guidelines for school reopenings, including masking of students and staff throughout the school day and social distancing of up to six feet where feasible.
Damsker responded to Wolf’s tightened restrictions on bars and restaurants by saying that most establishments in Bucks County had been operating safely since being allowed to reopen in recent weeks.
“This order wasn’t really about Bucks County, per se; this order was about what they were seeing in Allegheny County and similar counties where they were seeing outbreaks (related to) bars,” Damsker said. “On the whole, Bucks County bars and restaurants were doing a good job” in complying with safety guidelines.
The county commissioners expressed sympathy for struggling businesses trying to rebound from long weeks of being closed under Wolf’s previous statewide shutdown, but said controlling the virus is essential.
“Certainly I am concerned about restaurants and bars,” said Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia. “They’ve only had a few weeks to recover. But they will never recover if we don’t keep the (infection) count low, if we end up back in red again.”
Commissioner Bob Harvie said that a number of bars and restaurants already have been selected to receive some of the $14 million in back-to-work small business grants allotted so far by the county, and that Bucks officials are considering another round of grants in the future.
“We want every business to be up and running full-speed,” Harvie said. “But the fact of the matter is that the virus is in control right now. And until we have more of a handle on it … it’s best to err on the side of caution.”
The commissioners voiced concern that spikes in other parts of Pennsylvania might lead to overly restrictive conditions for reopening schools here. Damsker has issued recommendations that Bucks County school districts are evaluating in determining how, and whether, they will re-open their schools in the fall.
At the outset of the July 16 news conference, Marseglia announced that the county is purchasing face shields for all Bucks County public and private school students and teachers.
“We know that there’s been a lot of worry about wearing masks, and some can’t wear masks,” she said. “But virtually everybody can wear a shield. More importantly, it allows the teachers and their peers to see everybody’s mouth when they are speaking, and it allows the students to see the teachers’ mouths as well. We are pretty hopeful that this is going to be a big comfort step for everybody as we get adjusted to the idea of going back to school.”
The face shields are in production, Marseglia said, and arrangements will be made to deliver them to all county schools when they are ready.
In addition to the 84 active new infections reported for Tuesday through today, the health department listed 40 delayed reports of cases that no longer are considered infectious.
Of the 124 total cases, 31 were infected while out of state, 28 were from household contacts, 20 were attributed to pure community spread, seven were infected at work, six are residents or workers at long-term care facilities, five are healthcare workers and 27 were unable to be interviewed immediately.
Bucks County now has had 5,888 residents test positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic. A total of 511 deaths have been attributed to the virus, including 409 long-term care residents, while 4,281 are confirmed to have recovered.
The median age of those who have been infected in Bucks is 55, while the median age of death is 82.
A total of 26 Bucks County patients remain hospitalized, four of them in critical condition and on ventilators.
Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.