Pennsylvania extends stay at home orders as jobless claims mount

Pennsylvania extends stay at home orders as jobless claims mountA sign with corrected spelling, tells visitors the playground at the Community Park is closed until further notice due to COVID-19, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s stay at home order now covers 19 counties as Gov. Tom Wolf continues his targeted mitigation efforts against the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 2,200 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 22 have died, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Friday. The 31 percent increase, while smaller than Thursday’s new case count, remains too statistically insignificant to be considered a shift toward declining numbers, she added.

“We would need to show a consistent decline in cases,” Levine said. “I think it’s too early to tell.”

The administration said residents in the following counties must stay at home until April 6, at least: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York. Exceptions for leaving the house can be made if a resident is food shopping, visiting the doctor or working for an essential business.

As the state tightens restrictions on public life, jobless claims approach 700,000 – an expected side effect of Wolf’s early action to control the virus’s spread, his administration said. Pennsylvania unemployment benefit requests represent one-fifth of the 3.3 million Americans forced out of work by the pandemic this week.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said Friday the governor should reopen construction sites in an effort to get some residents back to work. His House Bill 2400 would require the Department of Community and Economic Development to grant waivers to all public and private construction sites that can still follow social distancing guidelines. 

“Pennsylvania is the only state to shut down all active public and private construction sites, while issuing some selective waivers on an ad hoc basis,” Turzai said in a cosponsorship memo distributed to the chamber. “There is no consistency. While Governors in New Jersey, California, Illinois and New York have issued shelter in place orders, they have all included exemptions for construction personnel and construction activities.”

Nonessential businesses that don’t comply with the administration’s order to shutdown indefinitely face a range of enforcement actions – from fines to forgoing disaster aid to criminal prosecution. The state police have given warnings to 78 businesses across the state since Monday who were still operating and said citations will follow.

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