If problems persist, Pa. reopening plans could be reversed, governor says

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio/AP) — As Pennsylvania anticipates the reopening process next week, the governor says efforts could be reconsidered and altered, if necessary. 

“We can say we are going to open, but if people don't feel comfortable, we are not going to be open,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday.

Wolf agreed that starting the process of reopening some businesses on May 8 is the responsible thing to do.

“But if … it looks like they are in good enough shape to open and we see that things are not looking real good — that the health care system looks like it's being stretched beyond capacity — then we do reserve the right to walk that back,” he said.

As the Wolf administration continues to develop the reopening plan, he said the goal remains the same: Keep people safe, no matter where they are in the state.

“That's what is going to be guiding us,” he said. “What’s not going to be guiding us is some arbitrary definition of an area or some region.

“We will be looking at the number of new cases,” he continued. “We will be looking at the mortality rate. We will be looking at basically, how are we doing? And again, let’s remember what we are trying to do here: We are trying to bide time to keep the disease from over-running our health care system, and I think we have done that.”

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said details of the reopening plan will be announced on Friday.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

School revenue loss

Pennsylvania's 500 school districts are facing a projected loss of as much as 5% in the revenue from local taxes as the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns take a heavy toll on the economy, a leading public schools group said Tuesday.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers said it is projecting a loss of $1 billion, or 5%, in revenue from local school taxes if economic recovery lags. A quicker turnaround could limit the damage to a loss of $850 million, or 4%, the group said.

School districts reported spending about $30 billion in the 2017-2018 school year, according to state data, the latest available for that statistic. About $17.5 billion in revenue that year came from local sources, primarily property taxes, and $11.5 billion came from the state, according to the data.

Rising unemployment will probably mean a loss in real estate transfer tax revenue as the economic downturn slows the real estate market, Timothy Shrom, director of research for the school business association, said in a written statement.

Property tax revenue will decline as people need more time to pay, and interest rate reductions will depress interest earnings, Shrom said.

Meanwhile, a massive deficit facing state government, as well as a delayed July 15 deadline for filing taxes, is casting doubt on how much state aid schools can expect.

Cases

More than 1,200 additional cases of the coronavirus were reported in Pennsylvania on Tuesday by the state Health Department, raising the total to more than 43,200.

The agency reported 119 additional deaths, boosting the statewide total to above 1,700 deaths.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. The department, however, does not have statistics on how many of those people reported to be infected have since had a full recovery.

Most hospitalizations and deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older, officials said. The disease has spread to every county in the state.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Delaying commutations

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons, said he will indefinitely delay a June consideration of dozens of requests for clemency from state prison inmates while the coronavirus outbreak threatens public health.

Fetterman said it was the largest such collection of requests to be considered at one single board meeting.

However, he said, it is impossible to hold the meeting and give each inmate due consideration, including in-person interviews, while protecting the health of the inmates and the board members during the outbreak.

Requests for clemency require in-person interviews with board members in a cramped prison meeting room and then closed-door discussion between board members in group settings, Fetterman said Tuesday.

It would be grossly unfair to inmates who have applied for commutation to deny them their in-person prison visits and interviews, Fetterman said.

Currently, prisons are closed to visitors to help prevent the virus's spread, and the state Capitol, where the five-member Board of Pardons meets, is closed also to those without electronic key card access.

Fetterman said work continues on cases, however, and he hopes to reschedule the hearings within 30 days of the reopening of the Capitol Complex.

Social distancing reminder

On Tuesday, Montgomery County officials announced another 13 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total to 233. To date, there are at least 3,865 confirmed cases.

Hospitals in the county are still reporting available bed space — both general and ICU. County Commissioner Val Arkoosh said they’re hearing that those hospitals are more full than they were, but they do seem to be levelling off.

Still, Arkoosh reiterated that everyone has a personal responsibility to practice social distancing — that includes home improvement chain stores, which, she said, need to do a better job with social-distancing policies. 

She advised residents to vote with your feet: If you go to a store that does not have safety measures in place, take your business somewhere that is being responsible.

“All kinds of people are walking around with the coronavirus without any symptoms, but they can transmit the virus. They are contagious,” she continued. “The best way for us to get a handle on this thing is for people to just stay home.”

And until widespread rapid testing is available, she said we’re “like a pilot flying without radar on a moonless night. We are just flying blind.”

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KYW Newsradio's Jim Melwert, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this report.
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