DOYLESTOWN >> Gov. Tom Wolf’s office signaled on May 13 that Bucks County is “rapidly moving” toward reopening, and pledged to provide more information within a week, the county commissioners said in a statement released on May 13 (read the entire statement below).
The governor did not grant the commissioners’ request, made Saturday, that the county be given a certain date for moving from shutdown “red” mode into partially reopened “yellow” status. Twenty-four less-populated counties entered yellow status on Friday, and 13 others in western Pennsylvania are set to join them this Friday.
Instead, a Wolf representative spoke this afternoon with Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia and reached “consensus that we are rapidly moving toward the `yellow phase’ of reopening and there should be more information within the next week,” the commissioners’ statement said.
Wolf’s office also agreed to involve a staff member in Bucks County’s daily conference calls with fellow officials from the five-county Philadelphia region. Marseglia said she also pushed for regular, if not daily, communication between Bucks County Health Director David Damsker, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and Levine’s epidemiology staff.
In a conference call Saturday that included Levine, members of Wolf’s staff, the county commissioners and Damsker, Bucks officials sought consideration of different metrics for allowing the county to reopen than what Wolf has proposed, as well as more frequent communication and a date certain for moving into “yellow” status.
“(W)e never stated an intention to defy Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home order as some have inferred,” the commissioners said in their statement.
The commissioners acknowledged the hardships being endured in the meantime by small business owners whose enterprises remain shuttered. The county has pledged $6 million of its CARES Act funding from the federal government to provide relief grants to small businesses in the near future.
They advised businesses against defying Wolf’s order by opening prematurely, as doing so could cost them their business licenses, occupancy permits and insurance – effectively their ability to operate.
“We appreciate the frustration, fear, and anxiety that many small business owners are feeling right now,” the commissioners’ statement said. “While it may be extremely difficult to remain closed now, the alternative of potentially never being able to open again because you’ve lost your business license or insurance is far worse.”
The county health department today announced 63 new positive cases of COVID-19, as well as seven deaths of residents who had tested positive for the virus.
Thirty-five of the new cases are in long-term care facilities, as well as three among staff. Twelve people were infected within their households, two are healthcare workers, one caught the virus at a non-medical workplace, and seven were unable to be reached today by contact tracers.
Three of the infections were the result of pure community spread, meaning the infected person had no indication of where or from whom he or she acquired the virus.
The seven decedents, ranging in age from 105 to 59, all had underlying health conditions. Six were residents of long-term care facilities.
A total of 180 coronavirus patients are hospitalized in Bucks, including 24 in critical condition and on ventilators. Of the county’s 4,133 positive cases during the pandemic, 1,140 patients are confirmed to have recovered.
Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.
"Message to Citizens and Businesses"
"We are pleased to report Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia did hear from Governor Wolf’s office this afternoon. The representative was very helpful and appreciated the difficult position everyone is in due to the prolonged stay at home order. Commissioner Marseglia reported there was consensus that we are rapidly moving toward the 'yellow phase' of reopening and there should be more information within the next week.
"Cognizant of the need for increased communication, Governor Wolf has agreed to having a staff designee join our daily regional calls with neighboring southeast PA counties. Commissioner Marseglia believes she has a commitment to be able to reach out to the Governor’s office more effectively from here on in and she advocated for regular, preferably daily, communication between Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker and the PA Department of Health’s epidemiology staff and Secretary Rachel Levine.
"To be clear, as Bucks County Commissioners we never stated an intention to defy Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home order as some have inferred. In a meeting with Governor Wolf’s staff and Secretary Levine over the weekend and in a joint letter to Governor Wolf, what we had requested was: a) consideration of adopting modified metrics b) frequent, if not daily, communication with their administration and c) a certain date of moving into the “yellow phase,” like so many other counties in Pennsylvania have received, in order for our businesses and citizens to adequately prepare to reopen the economy. These were requests, not demands.
"We remain optimistic that Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine may reconsider their reopening metrics, as has been the request of many counties. We look forward to continued, close, and frequent communication from Governor Wolf, Secretary Levine and their staffs, so we can learn from each other and move as quickly and safely as possible to reopening our economy and returning to some level of normality.
"Governor Wolf very clearly articulated Monday that counties opening early in defiance of his order run the risk of not receiving state funding, which we understand to mean PEMA disaster relief funding and other discretionary state funding that would reimburse local boroughs and townships for COVID-19-related expenses. Additionally, he said that businesses that open in defiance of his closure order run the risk of having their licenses revoked, occupancy permits rescinded, and insurance put in jeopardy, without either of which, businesses cannot operate.
"We appreciate the frustration, fear, and anxiety that many small business owners are feeling right now. While it may be extremely difficult to remain closed now, the alternative of potentially never being able to open again because you’ve lost your business license or insurance is far worse.
"For our small businesses in Bucks County, help is on the way. County government has received funding from the federal CARES Act and we plan to use $6 million of this funding to distribute widely in the form of relief grants to small businesses as quickly as possible. We will continue to be your advocates in communicating a safe and speedy reopening to Governor Wolf and his administration.
"Many people have asked what they can do to help us assist Governor Wolf in moving Bucks County to yellow and staying on the path to green. It may be tiresome to hear, but the answer is social distancing, the use of face coverings, and taking related precautions. As long as our numbers continue to trend downward and stay down, we will be on the way to full GREEN.
"We stand united in praising the outstanding, tireless work of Bucks County employees during this time, in particular the teams led by Dr. Damsker and by Emergency Services Director Scott Forster.
"Through their efforts, Bucks County is proud to have a statewide-best contact tracing program for COVID-19 cases, with 95% successful contact tracing of those testing positive, helping to reduce community spread. Additionally, our hospitals’ COVID-19 bed and ventilator capacity utilization rate remain extremely low and we are confident any future spike in cases will be handled without issue. Finally, our testing capacity is among the best in the region and will be able to meet the needs of wider public COVID-19 testing."