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2020 News

Wolf Closes All PA Schools; Third Bucks County COVID-19 Case Announced

March 13, 2020

Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

On a day when Bucks County received word of its third presumed positive coronavirus case, Gov. Tom Wolf announced this afternoon that all K-12 Pennsylvania schools will be closed through March 29 as a precaution against COVID-19.

“First and foremost, my top priority as governor – and that of our education leaders – must be to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities,” Wolf said. “As such, I am ordering that all schools in the commonwealth close for the next two weeks.” Wolf closing schools

While the governor was making his announcement, Bucks County health officials were being notified that an adult who had contact recently with a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia cardiologist in King of Prussia had tested presumptively positive for the virus. It was the county’s third such result.

The patient had begun having mild symptoms around mid-week, and is isolated at home, said Dr. David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department. Damsker expressed relief that, as with the county’s first two presumed positive cases, the source of infection was readily identified.

“There’s no community spread in this,” Damsker said. “This came from another confirmed case that we knew about.”

Wolf’s announcement came during a fast-changing day in which superintendents from all of Bucks County’s public school districts had preemptively begun closing their districts up to an hour before the governor spoke.

The Bucks County Commissioners, meanwhile, assured residents and staff that county government and its functions would continue to operate. Policy directives for absences, sick time and work-from-home procedures were distributed to county managers this afternoon.

“[A]ll county government operations will remain fully active until otherwise directed by the commissioners’ office,” said an email distributed to county workers this morning by Chief Operating Officer Margaret McKevitt on behalf of the commissioners.

“We understand that there are employees who … already are required to be home for childcare purposes” because of Wolf’s previous shutdown of Montgomery County schools, the email said. “However, we expect that we will be able to continue providing our full range of services to the public for the time being.

“County officials are working around the clock to prepare for any necessary adjustments to county HR practices and are working to set necessary staffing levels.”

At 11:45 a.m. today, Bucks County Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia issued a declaration of disaster emergency for the county and ordered the activation of the Bucks County Emergency Operations Center to support and coordinate efforts with municipalities and community partners.

According to Emergency Services Director Scott T. Forster, activation of the county EOC gives the county the ability to bring county and state departments together to coordinate a unified response to the coronavirus outbreak, and to communicate to local governments, school districts, and all community partners as one voice in real time.

Forster said the EOC “is currently working on communication coordination, as well as receiving resource requests regarding sanitizing materials and personal protective equipment.”

By the time of Wolf’s announcement, Bucks County’s school superintendents had already reached a decision to close, acting “in close coordination” with one another, Damsker, Forster and the county commissioners.

While county officials had opposed wholesale school closings purely on health grounds, the superintendents cited concerns over being able to maintain adequate staffing in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Specifically, superintendents were worried about the impact on their daily operations created by Gov. Wolf’s order on Thursday that all Montgomery County schools close. The order had compelled a large enough number of school teachers and other staff who live in Montgomery County to stay home with their children. bucks school districts

“As a result, our supervisory staff have been closely monitoring staff attendance to ensure that we are able to maintain adequate staffing and safe environments in our schools,” said a letter distributed at 2 p.m. by Mark Hoffman, executive director of the Buck County Immediate Unit. “I am not willing to take a risk next week and in future weeks with limited student supervision as a result of teacher and other staff absences.”

Variations of Hoffman’s letter were sent by county superintendents to parents and staff in their districts this afternoon.

Wolf said that health officials would continue to monitor COVID-19 while schools are closed, and would re-evaluate after 10 business days to decide whether the closures should be extended. He said that no school district would be penalized if it fails to meet the commonwealth’s requirement for school days or hours for the school year.

The governor also announced that the Pennsylvania Department of Education had received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to low-income students in a non-crowded setting, such as a drive-through or a grab and go while schools are closed.

Throughout the week, Bucks County officials have been taking steps to protect vulnerable populations living in close quarters, especially the elderly.

The Health Department announced Wednesday that the Neshaminy Manor Nursing Home, which is owned by the county, would be closed to visitors. Administrators at other facilities housing the elderly in Bucks were urged to follow suit in a conference call the following day.Neshaminy Manor

Non-essential visitors have also been prohibited at Bucks County’s prisons.

And this afternoon, the Bucks County Free Library announced that its branches would be closed from Saturday through Sunday, March 22. All library-sponsored programs and meeting room bookings are canceled through Saturday April 4, including group events and individual technology help.

Damsker continued to urge residents to practice preventive steps such as:

  • Frequent hand-washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoiding close contact (within six feet) with people who are sick
  • Avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth
  • Staying home when sick
  • Covering one’s coughs or sneezes with a tissue and throwing the tissue in the trash
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces with household cleaning sprays or wipes

The incubation period for a person exposed to COVID-19 – the time between exposure and first appearance of symptoms – is between two and 14 days. Those who have been in contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or those who have traveled recently to areas where there have been outbreaks, are asked to self-quarantine themselves for 14 days from the time of potential exposure.

According to Damsker, county health department continues to contact all travelers returning here from countries where there have been COVID-19 outbreaks, directing them to self-quarantine and helping them monitor for symptoms of the virus.

County health officials are working with healthcare providers and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to determine on a case-by-case basis whether testing is appropriate. This is done in the interest of not depleting resources by testing every person who has a respiratory illness.

Because there is currently no medication or vaccine for COVID-19, Damsker said, simple preventive steps such as good hygiene, avoiding sick people and staying home from work when sick are the best course of action.

Please continue to refer to trusted, credible sources of accurate and up-to-date information, including: