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March 23, 2020

Philly suburbs ordered to stay in place due to expanding coronavirus threat

Failure to do so could overwhelm hospitals with COVId-19 patients, Gov. Wolf says

Residents of the Philadelphia suburbs must stay at home except for essential trips or business as the coronavirus threat worsens throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered Monday afternoon. 

The stay-in-place order affects residents of six Pennsylvania counties including Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware. Philadelphia officials already have enacted a stay-at-home order that took effect Monday. 

Wolf's order goes into effect at 8 p.m. and will persist for two weeks, Wolf said. It also extends school closures an additional two weeks. 

The order is necessary to prevent health care systems from being overrun with COVID-19 cases, a situation that has played out in Europe. 

"We don't have the capacity in our health care system, so we need to buy time," Wolf said. "Clearly, this is not a great answer. But it's all we have until the health system gets the stock of protective equipment – like beds, ventilators and other things our system needs – to treat people with this disease. And the only way we can buy time is to distance ourselves from others."

There are 644 COVID-19 cases in 34 Pennsylvania counties, – an increase of 165 cases from Sunday. That marked the second straight day that daily cases were in the triple digits. There have been six deaths, including one in Montgomery County.

Sixty cases have required hospitalization – just under 10%, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. 

"The mitigation efforts that the governor is putting in place are essential public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in those areas," Levine said. "If we don't do this, we would anticipate a large surge of cases, as was seen in Italy and other areas. That could overwhelm our hospitals and our health systems."

Last week, Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses across Pennsylvania to shut down – or face fines, citations and license suspensions. 

This latest action requires people in the counties where coronavirus is most prevalent – which includes Allegheny and Monroe counties – to stay at home unless they must buy essential items, like groceries or medicine. It also exempts people working in essential businesses. 

It does not involve a curfew, as was implemented in New Jersey.

Wolf urged residents to ask themselves whether they absolutely need to venture outside their homes before doing so. If not, he encouraged them to stay home, saying they could end up saving a life. He noted that he and his wife, Frances, have yet to meet their latest grandchild, born two weeks ago, as they practice social distancing.

"Now, we're saying, to the extent possible, stay at home," Wolf said. "Keep distancing yourself. That's what's going to buy us the time we need to allow our health care system to build the capacity they need to be able to treat all of us – when and if we get this disease."

Wolf and Levine spoke in measured tones as they fielded questions during the daily press briefing. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was more emphatic in delivering a similar message earlier Monday.

"It's up to people to have personal responsibility to understand that if their selfishness drives them outside, they're going to be responsible for somebody else's death," Kenney said. "And that's really serious stuff. Some of these young folks who think they're invincible and want to party and ... go on the beach in Florida, they're coming back to potentially kill their grandparents and parents.

"If they could get that in their head, perhaps common sense would prevail. But in a democracy – we're not China, we can't lock people up and keep them contained. I don't want to get to that point. We're hoping that people will use their common sense and lack of selfishness to do what is right and stop putting us all in danger."

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