COVID-19 Update, April 9: Wolf moves to close schools for remainder of the year

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Gov. Tom Wolf moved Thursday to end all in person school instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, as the state added nearly 2,000 new positive COVID-19 cases, although the number of deaths dropped to 29 on Wednesday after having been in the 70s the previous two days.

Wolf announced the extension of the schools closure, noting he made the decision in consultation with Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera.

Although buildings will remain closed, teaching will continue on a remote basis, Wolf said, until the end of the school year.

“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Gov. Wolf said. “This was not an easy decision but closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, school employees and families.”

Rivera said it was a difficult decision.

“While the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its mitigation efforts have created uncertainty in our schools and communities, today’s action to close schools for the remainder of the academic year provides school communities with predictability and understanding of the conditions under which they’ll be operating and serving students,” Rivera said. “As schools and communities adapt to the prolonged school closure, PDE will continue to work with our state, educational, and business and nonprofit partners to meet the needs of students.”

Students and families can continue to pick up meals at designated sites.

The decision applies to all public K-12 schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units. Colleges and universities may not resume in-person instruction or reopen their physical locations until the governor permits them to open or lifts the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health said in its daily press briefing there are a total of 18,228 positive cases with 338 fatalities from the virus, statewide.

“Now more than ever, as we continue to see COVID-19 cases and deaths rise in Pennsylvania, we need Pennsylvanians to take action,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Those actions should be to stay calm, stay home and stay safe. If you must go out, please limit it to as few trips as possible and wear a mask to protect not only yourself, but other people as well. We need all Pennsylvanians to heed these efforts to protect our vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and our healthcare workers and frontline responders.”

87,374 patients have tested negative in the commonwealth.

In Chester County, positive cases jump from 369 to 425 with an additional fatality identified.

Elsewhere, on Thursday, Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel announced that he is extending the inmate visitation suspension and the use of enhanced employee screenings indefinitely at all state-run correctional facilities, or at such time as the Disaster Emergency proclaimed by Gov. Wolf on March 6 is terminated.

To offset the lack of visits for inmates, DOC officials implemented video visitation and are providing inmates with additional free phone calls and emails. The DOC is under a systemwide quarantine to protect inmates and staff.

“We are closely monitoring our entire system and individual facilities daily,” Wetzel said. “While we now have seven cases confined to one state prison, we continue our efforts to mitigate the virus’ impact on our system and protect our employees and inmates across the state,” Wetzel said.

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