Wolf warns of case ‘surge,’ but remains optimistic
HARRISBURG — There was a glimmer of good news on Pennsylvania’s health front Monday: The number of new virus cases and deaths reported by the state health department did not set single-day records in either category.
Gov. Tom Wolf warned that a “surge is coming,” but expressed some optimism that his worst fears may be avoided.
“We are starting to see that the early exponential increase in cases has given way to a much flatter (curve), so the surge may not be as great as we once anticipated, that’s our fervent hope,” Wolf said at a video news conference.
However, he also said that success depends on people staying home — and state police said Monday that troopers have started enforcing the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order.
One Pennsylvania mayor has become so frustrated with residents’ failure to adhere to social distancing guidelines — and so alarmed by a huge increase in virus cases in his area — that he began enforcing a curfew over the weekend.
From March 16 through Sunday, more than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment benefits. That’s about one-sixth of the nearly 6.6 million people in Pennsylvania’s civilian labor force in February.
Money has started flowing to about half the people who filed, state Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said Monday.
Wolf apologized for the claims backlog and said the state is working to speed things up.
Pennsylvania State Police have issued six warnings and one citation since Wolf’s statewide stay-at-home order took effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday, the agency said Monday.
Residents may leave their homes for a number of reasons that include working at a business that’s still open, going to the grocery store or pharmacy, visiting a doctor, caring for a relative or heading outside to exercise. Otherwise, they are under orders to remain at home.
The governor’s office has said that police would focus on informing residents of the order rather than on enforcement.
Pennsylvania’s top prison official said the administration may act on its own if lawmakers don’t approve a measure to release inmates.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said Monday in a letter to lawmakers that if acceptable legislation does not pass this week, he will recommend that Wolf, a Democrat, use his power of reprieve to thin the inmate population and reduce the risk of virus outbreaks.
A House GOP spokesman said the chamber has no plans to consider the legislation sought by Wolf.
Hazleton, a northeastern Pennsylvania city of about 25,000 people, began enforcing a curfew Saturday night in response to an alarming rise in virus cases.
Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat told The Associated Press on Monday that, by his count, 763 people in the city and suburbs had contracted the virus. He said his numbers come from hospitals and other health providers in the area.
Many Hazleton residents who have tested positive for the virus are originally from New York and New Jersey, still have out-of-state driver’s licenses, and thus are not included in the official Pennsylvania case count, Cusat said.
“I don’t think at the beginning that people believed Hazleton was affected the way it was,” he said. “A lot of things went unheeded.”
John Fletcher, president of Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hazleton, said last week that too many people in the Hazleton area have been ignoring calls to stay away from each other and to avoid unnecessary travel.
The state Department of Health reported 1,470 more coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total to 12,980 in 65 of 67 counties. The department also reported 12 more deaths, for a statewide total of 162.
A state House committee passed legislation to force the Wolf administration to allow construction and retail firms to resume limited operations.
Wolf ordered “non-life-sustaining” businesses to close indefinitely during the pandemic.