IVYLAND >> The Bucks County Commissioners are urging residents to stay calm and use common sense after Gov. Wolf ordered enhanced restrictions for Bucks and Chester counties in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“There is no need to panic,” Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo said at a news briefing after the governor’s announcement. “We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through this together if we all just use common sense and if we all look out for one another.”
A day after shuttering schools statewide, Wolf added Bucks and Chester to the list of counties ordered to close all state-licensed child- and adult-care centers, and issued a number of recommended practices, including:
- No-visitor policies at correctional facilities and nursing homes
- Refraining from non-essential travel
- Closure of non-essential businesses while essential enterprises such as supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations remain open
- Issuing guidance for non-essential businesses to protect employees, customers and suppliers, and to limit the spread of the virus through personal contact and surfaces
“Over the past two days, we enacted significant social distancing in Montgomery and Delaware counties and, starting tomorrow, we will expand these mitigation efforts to Bucks and Chester County,” Wolf said.
At the county’s subsequent briefing, Commissioner Bob Harvie said that Bucks County already has instituted no-visitor policies at its prisons and at Neshaminy Manor, and has urged all facilities serving the elderly to do likewise. He also noted that Pennsylvania, which has the third-oldest average population in the nation, should emphasize protecting the elderly.
Wolf’s recommended restrictions “obviously are extreme,” Harvie said, but “if it does end up preventing the spread of this virus, especially to members of our senior community, I think we can all agree that it’s worth it.”
At the same time, the commissioners said residents shouldn’t cloister themselves nonstop in their homes, binge-watching Netflix or staring at their cell phones. DiGirolamo described with dismay arriving for his usual 6 a.m. Saturday grocery-shopping trip to find a line at his neighborhood store and shelves stripped bare of water, milk and paper supplies.
“What we’re dealing with here is certainly unprecedented,” DiGirolamo said, but cautioned against unnecessary panic-buying or hoarding.
“The supermarkets are not going to close,” he said. “Utilities are going to continue to deliver the services that you are used to. You’re going to have plenty of gas to put in your car.”
Far more important, he said, is following recommendations for good hygiene, staying home when sick, and keeping a distance during social interaction.
Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia said that Pennsylvania has received federal approval to allow schools to continue to distribute meals to low-income children at no cost while schools are closed. School districts, she said, are working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to expedite those approvals.
Marseglia said that there is a waiver process through Pennsylvania’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) for licensed daycare centers to apply to stay open if there is a compelling reason. She said providers can contact the county if they need assistance with that process.
County government is remaining open, Marseglia said, as are the courts. There will be no jury trials for the next two weeks, she said, though operations could be modified if President Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. deems it appropriate.
“Everyone can take a deep breath,” Marseglia said at the outset of the briefing “Things in Bucks County are fine and your county is open and functioning.”
Marseglia said that some county senior centers already have closed, but that seniors needing meals can still get them from their senior center or the Area Agency on Aging. According to the Bucks County AAA, close to 1,150 congregate meals are served each week, and roughly 1,800 meals are delivered as part of the In Home Meals program.
Marseglia endorsed the governor’s guidelines for social distancing, and urged businesses that do stay open to limit social interaction and close contact as much as possible.
Emergency Services Director Scott T. Forster said the commissioners’ declaration of a disaster emergency on Friday and the opening of the county’s Emergency Operations Center was a call for preparedness, not panic.
The declaration “loosens up things the county can do in order to provide assistance to the municipalities and the county partners that we work with in the community all the time,” Forster said. For instance, supplies and equipment can be purchased more readily without having to go through a bidding process. “We’re able to do things in a much faster way,” he said.
Forster said the public should stop binge-buying supplies such as protective face masks, because they are taking them away from healthcare and public safety workers who need them.
Opening the EOC helps to coordinate alerts and other information to communities by bringing experts together to find solutions to common problems, such as planning for shortages of supplies, services or personnel.
“At this time I will tell you that we are not finding a shortage of emergency responders or any services that would impact public safety,” Forster said. “The public is safe; there is no reason to be worried or to panic about this situation.”
Forster said emergency services workers will be meeting with county school district officials to help them coordinate food services for eligible children while schools are closed.
On the public health front, Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker reported no new coronavirus cases since the county’s third presumed positive case was announced on Friday.
Damsker said he expects that many businesses will remain open, but that they are making efforts to operate as safely as possible – such as restaurants emphasizing take-out meals over eating in close quarters and stores offering self-checkout options.
“I want us to keep those businesses open, but hold them accountable” to make sure they are taking precautions, Damsker said, adding that people should strive to maintain as normal of a lifestyle as possible.
He continued to emphasize that coronavirus is not fatal for the overwhelming majority of people who get it. The state of Washington, which has had 37 coronavirus deaths, has by comparison had 80 deaths from the flu, including six children.
“So the worst-hit state still has twice as many flu deaths, including children, than they do from coronavirus,” he said. “Coronavirus can cause deaths, can cause issues in the elderly, but … I want it very clear that getting coronavirus is not the end of the world” for most people.
“If you can protect the elderly, the death rate from this virus will be way, way down,” Damsker said. “And elderly folks in Bucks County are the ones who may want to think twice about going out to any gathering, just to protect themselves.”
County officials also unveiled a newly created link on the county’s data portal that will serve as a clearinghouse for the public for coronavirus information. Planning Commission Executive Director Evan Stone, whose staff created the new site, said it can be accessed by clicking a link at the top of the county’s home page at www.buckscounty.org, or by going directly to https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com/