May. 15, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
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Time to Change COVID Strategy

This week Gov. Wolf announced another slate of counties that he is moving from the “red” phase to the “yellow” phase, all part of his three-phase approach to reopening the state. It is unfortunate that Gov. Wolf continues to argue that Franklin County should remain in the fully shutdown “red” phase. The COVID statistics and other conditions in our county, such as the availability of hospital beds and access to testing, do not justify continued restrictions.

The governor and Secretary of Health argue that the state’s approach to reopening is based on data and science. That is not accurate. Data and science are among the tools which a leader uses to inform decision making. When and how to reopen our Commonwealth is really just a matter of prudential decision making.

Despite the governor’s insistence to the contrary, neither he nor the Secretary of Health have laid out any comprehensible metric by which the governor is making decisions. They both say that they look at a variety of models but there is no explanation as to how they evaluate the conclusions of each, what weight they put on any particular model, or even what the results of any of the models are. Many are beginning to feel like the governor must be consulting with Punxsutawney Phil each Friday before he comes out of his house for his weekly no-press conference.

In the meantime, we discover that Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being one of the few states which ordered COVID positive patients to be housed in nursing homes, the one place which we know has the highest concentration of vulnerable people. The result, Pennsylvania has a very high rate of COVID cases in nursing homes.

Using the data which we have, we know that we need to protect people who are vulnerable. That would be the old and the sick. We can do that without locking everyone else down and depriving people from pursuing their occupations. Our strategy needs to change from one of quarantining everyone to one of facilitating the ability of the old and the sick to live safely at home or in the facility where they reside. If we move to a new strategy rather than moving to new colors on the governor’s code sheet, we can do what we aren’t doing now, protecting the vulnerable while promoting activity among everyone else.
Bill to Help Safeguard At-Risk Seniors from COVID-19

Responding to published reports and finally released data regarding COVID-19 deaths occurring among Pennsylvanians living in the state’s nursing home facilities, personal care homes and assisted living residences, the Senior Protection Act was introduced this week.

The bipartisan effort, led by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, seeks to establish a coordinated, collaborative public-private-partnership approach of regional health system collaboratives. These health collaboratives would administer/manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect the seniors in these facilities. The legislation was developed with the help of medical experts at UPMC with the goal of saving lives and giving families whose loved ones reside in these facilities peace of mind.

As of mid-week, according to the Department of Health, there are more than 12,500 resident cases of COVID-19 and nearly 2,000 cases among employees, for a total of more than 14,000 at more than 540 distinct nursing and personal care facilities. Of the state’s total COVID fatalities, nearly 70% were citizens who lived in a nursing home or personal care home.

According to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, there are approximately 123,000 individuals living in 697 nursing facilities, 1,143 personal care homes and 58 assisted living residences throughout Pennsylvania. These facilities employ 143,000 people.

Read more about the Senior Protection Act here.

Additional bills being introduced to aid this vulnerable population would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health to conduct testing of all employees and residents in long-term care facilities and prohibit the department from requiring nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to admit COVID-19 patients without first confirming a negative test for the patient. Previous orders by Secretary of Health Rachel Levine required nursing homes to readmit COVID-positive patients despite the risk to other residents and staff. Levine announced this week the department will start testing all residents and staff and require a patient to be free of COVID-19 before being readmitted.
Committee Advances Bills to Address COVID-19 Impacts

The House State Government Committee advanced three bills designed to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation efforts.

To help restaurants and food establishments, which are often small, family-owned businesses, the committee passed bills to allow outdoor and indoor seating to resume in areas of the state in the yellow or green phases of mitigation. Specifically, House Bill 2506 would allow establishments with existing decks, patios and courtyards to open those outdoor areas and would allow up to 50% of the outdoor maximum seating capacity in order to properly institute the federal and state mitigation guidelines. For those establishments with parking lots but no existing outdoor seating space, the bill would allow those establishments to design limited seating in a designated part of the parking lot. These temporary seating areas would have to follow the same rules as decks, patios, and courtyards, and have a “roped” off single entry point. House Bill 2513 would allow establishments to use 50% of their indoor seating capacity under the same rules outlined in House Bill 2506.

House Resolution 867 directs the speaker of the House to establish a special committee to examine various aspects of the state’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and make recommendations regarding issues of importance and long-term recovery. The committee will be composed of four House members appointed by the speaker and three House members appointed by the minority leader.

The special committee would be empowered to hold hearings, take testimony, make investigations and issue subpoenas commanding any person to appear before the committee to answer questions and produce documents and other records the committee deems necessary. The committee would also be directed to develop a recovery plan that describes how the state and its political subdivisions may expeditiously resume mission-critical functions, including the restoration of housing, transportation, education and other public services and economic activity to levels equal to or better than their pre-disaster states. A final report of the committee’s activities, findings and recommendations would be due by Nov. 19.

Finally, House Bill 2505 would require the administration to retain records related to COVID-19 for 14 years after the end of the emergency order. It would apply to an executive agency, contractor, employee of a contractor or owner of a contractor. The extended retention period is designed to ensure ample time to assess what worked and what didn’t in the state’s response.   
Primary Election June 2

The primary election is now just over two weeks away. Regardless of the status of your county of residence (red or yellow), voters may choose to either vote by mail or in person. Even if your county is still under a stay-at-home order, you can vote in person if that is your preference.  

Details and deadlines are below.
What’s New?

The Department of Health this week distributed the investigational antiviral medication, remdesivir, to treat patients in the hospital with COVID-19. The federal government distributed the first shipment of 1,200 doses to the department on Tuesday and those doses are being shipped to 51 of the state’s hospitals. The receiving hospitals were chosen based on the number of COVID-19 patients at the hospital over a recent seven-day period, and the severity of the illness of those patients, based on whether they are on a ventilator. Remdesivir is given to a patient through an IV once per day for up to 10 days, depending on how critically ill the patient is. According to the FDA, remdesivir may help decrease the amount of coronavirus in the body, helping the patient recover faster.

To help reduce the number of people coming into driver and photo license centers, PennDOT announced it will use existing photos on file for customers who renew their driver’s license and identification card. All customers who renew online or through the mail will receive a new product using the most recent photo that exists in PennDOT’s system. No camera cards will be issued to these customers, and they will receive their new product by mail within 15 days. The renewal process is complete when the final product is received. PLEASE NOTE: People who renewed BEFORE May 10 will receive a camera card in the mail and must visit a photo license center to obtain an updated photo. Additionally, non-U.S. citizens must also visit a driver’s license center in person to complete a transaction. For a list of reopened locations, visit Expiration dates on driver’s licenses, photo ID cards, learner's permits and camera cards scheduled to expire from March 16 through May 31 have been extended until June 30. For more information and an update on REAL ID products, click here.

PennDOT also announced an extension of expiration dates for vehicle registrations and safety and emission inspections. Items scheduled to expire between March 16 and May 31 are now extended through June 30. Persons with Disabilities parking placards scheduled to expire from March 16 through May 31 are also extended through June 30.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced it will begin a phased restart of some of its field operations to help ensure an accurate count. All returning staff will receive safety training to observe social distancing protocols in the COVID-19 environment. For their safety and the safety of the public, the Census Bureau has ordered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all field staff, including those who work in a field office. These materials will be secured and provided to staff prior to restarting operations. For more information, visit
PennDOT Roadwork for May 18 to 22


  •   Interstate 81 in Guilford and Greene townships, bridge washing
  •   Amberson Road, Fannett Township, grading
  •   Big Spring Road, Fannett Township, grading
  •   Rocky Moutnain Road in Greene and Guilford townships, crack sealing
  •   Mentzer Gap Road, Antrim Township, crack sealing
  •   Locust Level Road, Montgomery Township, headwalls
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