Rich Howells

Gov. Wolf issues guidelines to suspend Pennsylvania gatherings and events for 14 days

Gov. Wolf issues guidelines to suspend Pennsylvania gatherings and events for 14 days
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Yesterday, Governor Tom Wolf provided guidance to mitigate the spread of coronavirus across Pennsylvania over the next 14 days, including a “suspension of large gatherings, events, conferences of 250 individuals or more” that has made many local venues, bars, and restaurants cancel or postpone concerts during an important weekend for both businesses and artists in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.

After planning to move forward, the Scranton St. Patrick’s Parade Association reversed their decision and postponed the parade on Wednesday, and Wilkes-Barre soon followed suit. The Scranton parade alone typically has over 12,000 participants and draws 100,000 spectators annually, and nearby bars are always packed with thousands of partiers who start early early in the morning and drink long into the night. Many of these bars plan to go ahead with their own festivities, but several have canceled their live bands.

On Thursday, Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine gave an update on coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania and provided statewide guidelines to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. While Wolf focused on Montgomery County, where there are more reported cases than anywhere else in the state, he also issued a statewide visitor ban for correctional facilities and veterans homes as well as guidelines for public places all over Pennsylvania for at least the next two weeks, though it could be longer if the situation escalates.

“I strongly encourage the statewide suspension of large gatherings, events, conferences of 250 individuals or more and discourage people from traveling to recreational activities such as gyms, movie theaters, and shopping malls,” Wolf said. “And while people are free to travel, I ask that everyone refrain from non-essential travel. We all need to do our part to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The time to do this is now. We cannot wait.”

“Essential services in Montgomery County – police, fire, and emergency medical services, public transportation, essential services for vulnerable populations such as our facilities for people with intellectual disabilities and autism – will still be operational,” Wolf added. “Supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations will remain open, but we do recommend that non-essential retail facilities close.”

“This situation is quickly evolving, even for us here at the Department of Health,” Levine said. “It can be overwhelming and scary to hear that you should stay home. Aside from practicing good health habits, we want you to practice good self-care to ensure your body is getting the proper nutrients from fruits, vegetables, and getting enough sleep.”

“As this situation evolves, we will continually update Pennsylvanians through our website,, our Facebook page, and our Twitter account,” Levine continued. “It’s important to remember that the most accurate and timely information regarding this outbreak is available through the Department of Health.”

Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported that there are 27 presumptive positive cases and six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania – 17 in Montgomery County, four in Delaware County, three in Philadelphia, three in Monroe County, two in Bucks County, and one reported case each in Chester, Northampton, Pike, and Wayne counties. Wolf also announced that all K-12 Pennsylvania schools will be closed for 10 business days starting Monday, March 16.

“I am ordering that all schools in the commonwealth close for the next two weeks. Be aware that no school district will be penalized if it fails to meet the 180 day or school hours requirements. The Department of Education will work with intermediate units and other stakeholders to support school districts with any continuity of learning plans they may be pursuing,” he stated.

“Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced today that it received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to low income students in a non-congregate setting, such as a drive-through or grab and go, during this closure. We will also work with schools to assist them with those plans.”

While only about five reported COVID-19 cases are in Northeastern Pennsylvania, even one is enough to force businesses to err on the side of caution. The last few days have seen dozens of cancellations and postponements at the Mohegan Sun Arena, F.M. Kirby Center, Karl Hall, River Street Jazz Cafe, Stage West, The Theater at North, Penn’s Peak, the Sherman Theater, and more while others like The V-Spot, Border Bar, and Mauch Chunk Opera House are going forward with shows this weekend while cautioning patrons to use their own discretion and stay home if they’re not feeling well.

“Although many of our live music events have been canceled, we will still be open as a bar/restaurant, and yes, we have great food! Please come and support Stage West and all of the other local service industry businesses struggling through this difficult time,” Stage West in Scranton posted on Facebook today.

The artists are also looking for alternative ways to make up for paid gigs that are now canceled.

Scranton actor Conor O’Brien, co-founder of the Scranton Fringe Festival, was about to announce New Orleans and New York City runs of an original show he created with musician Daniel Amedee called “Static,” but “our financial backing, venues, and marketing support is being placed on hold for quite some time,” leaving them both “really, really devastated” after years of work.

“I know this is such a tiny, silly, minor thing in the sea of chaos this virus has created (Tom Hanks), but we find ourselves in a situation a lot of touring artists and ‘gig’ creatives are navigating right now. Our work and large portion (if not all) of our livelihoods come from the gathering of people to share an experience. Both he and I are not only losing these opportunities (for now), but both of us are experiencing halts if not full-on cancellations of paid work” and “bills gotta get paid,” he explained in a public Facebook post.

His temporary solution was to offer a high-quality video online of the show performed live at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe for $5 to $10 via a private link. Both artists will split the profits.

“We are not only doing this to recoup some revenue; we want to create a community of those who love original works of art and who want to still be part of a community – even under quarantine.”

Expanding on that idea, the Scranton Fringe Festival is currently accepting proposals at from “anyone who has (or can create) professional-level, high-quality video/audio recordings of their original works so we can start promoting a virtual series of works to our international following.”

“We want works and performances that will engage and entertain our audiences, for small ticketing fees. … We can ‘ticket’ via Eventbrite and share proceeds with the artists, and most audio/podcasts will be offered for free. This will help us keep our organization alive, modest revenue flowing to our artists, and help our community stay creatively entertained in the weeks to come. This is still in development, but we are working hard to move forward as quickly as possible. Art can be thrust into the world, even while we are all socially distancing ourselves for the time being.”

To avoid contracting the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, public health officials are encouraging people to regularly wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes with their elbow, and avoid touching their face. Those who are showing symptoms like a fever, cough, and shortness of breath are encouraged to stay home and contact their doctor by phone to avoid exposing others.

“Pennsylvania has taken a different approach than most other states and countries,” Wolf said today. “We’re trying to approach the coronavirus outbreak in a measured way. Where there is evidence of exposure to COVID-19, the commonwealth has taken decisive action. Closing schools and early learning centers – both public and private, prohibiting visitors from entering senior care and long-term care facilities, and closing government offices. We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds to determine if – and when – we will do this in other counties in Pennsylvania.”

“I want to personally thank everyone for doing their part in helping contain COVID-19,” he continued. “That includes the business owners who have shifted their operations to offer no-contact points of sale, work-from home options, or other changes to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Thank you to everyone for doing your part.”