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State aims to humanize fight against COVID-19

Wolf orders new restrictions

In an attempt to humanize the numbing pandemic statistics it shares every day, the Wolf administration Monday introduced the daughter of a man from northeast Pennsylvania who died recently of COVID-19, while announcing new restrictions designed to arrest a burgeoning caseload that one model predicts could triple last week’s daily record in December.

Also on Monday, a Blair County native living in Washington spoke of his father who lay dying at UPMC Altoona — a reminder that one needn’t go far to humanize the depredations of the coronavirus.

Bernie Thompson lives in Seattle now, but grew up in Altoona, son of George Thompson, 75, who died Monday evening — after feeling dizzy and sick last weekend, getting tested Monday, going to the emergency room Tuesday and being put on a ventilator on Thursday.

“From the moment he checked into the hospital, he had to be alone,” Bernie said. “We feel so powerless.”

George was “obviously scared,” based on phone calls, Bernie said.

“We’re really hoping he turns it around somehow and walks out of there,” Bernie said, a few hours before he reported his father’s death.

Bernie is not sure how his father got infected.

He’d been cautious throughout the pandemic, wearing a mask “when it wasn’t cool,” while limiting his social contacts, Bernie said.

His father was an accountant who made a career working for the state of Pennsylvania in various capacities, Bernie said.

After retiring, he spent much of his time in volunteer work.

He was a member of the Altoona Planning Commission, the treasurer for the Blair County Democratic Party and a panelist on a local access policy talk show, “Plain Speaking,” Bernie said.

The quality of the discussion on that panel show compared favorably with that nowadays on some Sunday political broadcasts, Bernie said.

His father was always interested in other people, and could “sit with anybody and have a wonderful conversation that was all about them,” he said.

That was partly because he was interested and partly because he was simply kind, Bernie said.

“I was kind of just proud of him,” Bernie stated.

The number of deaths in Pennsylvania due to COVID-19 have quadrupled in the past week, and the average daily case count is seven times higher than two months ago, according to a Department of Health news release — companion to a news conference Monday with Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

The death number, now under 10,000, could go to 32,000, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, if people don’t adhere to mitigation practices, according to the news release.

The daily case count could go to 22,000 by next month, from last week’s record of just over 7,000, if nothing more is done, according to the DoH.

The new measures the administration has enacted:

* Public schools from pre-K to grade 12 in counties with “substantial” transmission levels for two consecutive weeks (it currently applies to 59 of the 67 counties) must attest to their adherence to safety guidelines, and must comply with those guidelines, or else go to full remote learning with no extra-curricular activities.

* Employee telework is mandatory unless impossible, while cleaning, social distancing and masking is required for businesses; online sales and curbside pickup is encouraged for all businesses.

* Indoor attendance is limited to 10% of maximum occupancy for venues with maximums of up to 2,000; 5% occupancy for venues with maximums of up to 10,000, with no indoor attendance over 500 at any events.

* Outdoor attendance limited to 15% of maximum occupancy for venues with maximums of up to 2,000; 10% of maximum occupancy for venues with maximums up to 10,000; and 5% of maximum occupancy, up to a hard limit of 2,500 people for venues that can hold more than 10,000.

* Household gatherings ought not to include non-household guests.

* Local municipal leaders should “exercise their authority and influence to support public health efforts that will protect residents and local economies.”

* State agencies, including the state police and the Departments of Agriculture and State and the Liquor Control Board will be “ramping up” enforcement of the orders related to out-of-state travel, mask wearing, business safety, including teleworking; restaurant mitigation, including occupancy, masking and social distancing; gathering limits; and school “attestation” and mitigation: citations, fines and regulatory penalties are among the tools, according to the news release.

The DoH was planning to bolster staff to respond to complaints from customers, employees and the general public, the news release said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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