March 12, 2020
All Montgomery County schools, including universities, must close for at least two weeks as Pennsylvania officials seek to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
The restrictions, set to begin Friday, are part of a "significant and decisive" social distancing effort announced Thursday by Gov. Tom Wolf. All community centers, gyms and entertainment venues in Montgomery County must close for 14 days.
No mass gatherings should be held, including rallies and concerts, Wolf said. All non-essential retail outlets are encouraged to close, too.
Critical infrastructure will remain open, Wolf said. That includes health care facilities, pharmacies, urgent care facilities, outpatient facilities, long-term care facilities, gas stations, grocery stores, government facilities, correctional facilities and mass transit operations.
Across Pennsylvania, state officials are "strongly encouraging" the cancellation or postponement of all gatherings of more than 250 people. They are discouraging recreational activities and asking religious leaders to use their discretion to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"These actions may seem severe but they are far less draconian than what we may have to do in the future if we don't act now," Wolf said at an afternoon press conference.
Pennsylvania has 22 coronavirus cases, including 13 in Montgomery County. The state's first cases, including one in Delaware County, were announced last Friday. Montgomery County reported its first two cases on Saturday.
Watch the press conference below:
Montgomery County is being subjected to greater restrictions because it is the "epicenter" of the state's epidemic, Wolf said. He stressed that the restrictions are a "work in progress" and would be continually re-evaluated.
"The goal is not to shut anybody down," Wolf said. "The goal is to keep Pennsylvania safe."
The actions signal that Pennsylvania is shifting from a containment strategy to one of mitigation. Wolf said the measures are aimed at avoiding the more stringent restrictions currently in place in New Rochelle, New York, where the National Guard is enforcing a containment zone.
"I think this is responsible," Wolf said. "It's decisive, but it's a responsible way of getting us to a point where we don't have to do those draconian things."
Pennsylvania has not yet seen sustained community spread, in which cases cannot be traced to another known coronavirus case or travel to affected areas, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.
The new restrictions are aimed at avoiding that.
"We don't want to wait until we have sustained community spread," Levine said. "The cat's already out of the bag. We want to try to prevent that. That's why we're taking these mitigation methods."
Health officials continued to stress that the best way to prevent coronavirus infection is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, clean surfaces and stay home when sick.
Facial masks offer little protection to healthy individual and should be reserved for medical professionals.
Coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. They do not include a runny nose – a symptom associated with the common cold.
Anyone who develops symptoms is urged to stay home and call their doctor. Their doctor will determine whether they should be tested for coronavirus.
Pennsylvania residents with questions can call 1-877-PA-HEALTH or visit the state's coronavirus web page.