TIMELINE: Pennsylvania coronavirus updates April 15

Allegheny Co. officials: Social distancing is working, but it's too soon to step off the gas

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Shell Cracker Plant calling back hundreds of workers

About 200 workers will be returning to the Shell Cracker Plant in Beaver County next week, company officials announced Wednesday,

Shell has no plans to fully restart production during the COVID-19 crisis, but an additional 200 employees will return gradually over the next week to join the roughly 300 workers already tasked with repairing and maintaining the petrochemical complex. More could return in the coming weeks.

Below is the full statement from company officials:

"Our mission currently has not changed; there are no plans for the immediate future to “ramp up” construction activities to the level seen before the construction pause announced on March 18. We have key personnel onsite to repair, preserve and maintain the site. To continue to meet those preservation and maintenance goals, we plan to reintroduce some additional workers in the next several weeks, while maintaining social distancing guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH).

"For this week, we will remain below the 300-worker threshold we shared on March 20 related to the immediate needs of repairing, preserving and maintaining the site. In the weeks ahead, we anticipate reintroducing more workers to the site, at a measured pace so we can integrate limited personnel onsite while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Next week, we anticipate having approximately 500 workers onsite, which - for now, is the number we believe we need to do the critical repair, preserve and maintain work. We will be reviewing our staffing numbers week by week, while also meeting CDC and DOH guidelines.

"To that end, we will have workers park within the site itself so we will not require busses to and from offsite parking lots, eliminating a key challenge with regard to social distancing guidelines. As a practical matter, this will also limit the number of workers we will be able to reintroduce to the site. We have also established other procedures to keep workers safe, including temperature screening before coming onsite, and lunchroom protocols that will allow workers to maintain social distancing by having one worker eat at each table.

"Regarding the state’s waiver review process, we did hear back from the State, which indicated that we did not require an exemption to remain open to perform such work, but with the understanding that the site will remain in compliance with the social distancing and other mitigation measures which have been established by the DOH and CDC.

“It is important to note that the current repair, preserve and maintain activities we are doing, and all the activities we are planning to do for the next few weeks, were not foreclosed by Governor Wolf’s and Secretary Levine’s recent orders related to the closure of non-life sustaining businesses.”

Beaver Co. reports additional COVID-19 deaths

UPDATE 6:55 p.m.: The Beaver County coroner says there have now been a total of 24 coronavirus-related deaths in the county.

This is an updated number from the state’s earlier report that said there were only 14 deaths in the county.

We’re working to learn more about this jump in the number of deaths.

Pa. Health Secretary signs order providing worker safety measures

UPDATE 4:15 p.m.: Dr. Rachel Levine, the Secretary of the Department of Health, signed an order directing protections for critical workers who are employed at businesses that are authorized to maintain in-person operations during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.

The order establishes protocols to help employees maintain a social distance during work:

  • Provide masks for employees to wear during their time at the business, and make it a mandatory requirement while at the work site, except to the extent an employee is using break time to eat or drink, in accordance with the guidance from the Department of Health and the CDC. Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with this guidance;
  • Stagger work start and stop times for employees when practical to prevent gatherings of large groups entering or leaving the premises at the same time;
  • Provide sufficient space for employees to have breaks and meals while maintaining a social distance of 6 feet, including limiting the number of employees in common areas and setting up seating to have employees facing forward and not across from each other;
  • Conduct meetings and training virtually. If a meeting must be held in person, limit the meeting to the fewest number of employees possible, not to exceed 10 employees at one time and maintain a social distance of 6 feet.
  • Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of employees to perform all measures listed effectively and in a manner that ensures the safety of the public and employees;
  • Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of personnel to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing of at least 6 feet;
  • Prohibit non-essential visitors from entering the premises of the business; and
  • Ensure that all employees who do not speak English as their first language are aware of procedures by communicating the procedures, either orally or in writing, in their native or preferred language.

Upon discovery of an exposure to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, businesses are also ordered to implement temperature screenings before employees enter the business prior to the start of work and send any employee home who has an elevated temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with the health care providers and state and local health departments. Employers are encouraged to implement liberal paid time off for employees who are on home isolation.

Upon an exposure, businesses are also ordered to do the following:

  • Close off and ventilate areas visited by that individual;
  • Wait a minimum of 24 hours, or as long as practical, before beginning cleaning and disinfection;
  • Clean and disinfect all spaces, especially commonly used rooms and shared electronic equipment;
  • Identify and notify employees who were in close contact with that individual (within about 6 feet for about 10 minutes); and
  • Ensure that the business has a sufficient number of employees to perform these protocols effectively and immediately.

In addition to the social distancing, mitigation and cleaning protocols, businesses that serve the public within a building or defined area are ordered to implement the following, based on the size of the building and number of employees:

  • Require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks, unless the business is providing medication, medical supplies, or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of goods, except individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children the age of 2 years) may enter the premises without having to provide medical documentation;
  • Conduct business with the public by appointment only and, to the extent that this is not feasible, limit occupancy to no greater than 50 percent of the number stated on their certificate of occupancy as necessary to reduce crowding in the business and at check-out and counter lines in order to maintain a social distance of 6 feet, and place signage throughout each site to mandate social distancing for both customers and employees;
  • Alter hours of business so that the business has sufficient time to clean or to restock or both;
  • Install shields or other barriers at registers and check-out areas to physically separate cashiers and customers or take other measures to ensure social distancing of customers from check-out personnel, or close lines to maintain a social distance between of 6 feet between lines;
  • Encourage use of online ordering by providing delivery or outside pick-up;
  • Designate a specific time for high-risk and elderly persons to use the business at least once every week if there is a continuing in-person customer-facing component;
  • In businesses with multiple check-out lines, only use every other register, or fewer. After every hour, rotate customers and employees to the previously closed registers. Clean the previously open registers and the surrounding area, including credit card machines, following each rotation;
  • Schedule handwashing breaks for employees at least every hour; and
  • Where carts and handbaskets are available, assign an employee to wipe down carts and handbaskets before they become available to a new customer.

Failure to comply with these requirements will result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines, or license suspensions. Compliance with the order will be enforced beginning Sunday, April 19 at 8:00 PM.

The governor has directed the following state agencies and local officials to enforce orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic to the full extent of the law:

  • Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Labor and Industry
  • Pennsylvania State Police
  • Local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions

Gov. wolf & Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announce new task force to address how COVID-19 affects minorities

UPDATE 2:10 p.m.: Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced the creation of a COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity that will help communicate issues with how the pandemic is affecting the state’s minority and vulnerable populations.

"We know of instances in Pennsylvania where major COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in vulnerable communities, including ones where people do not speak English,” Wolf said. “We’re working to improve our data collection so we can get a better statistical understanding of how the virus has affected different groups of people. The Lieutenant Governor will be chairing a new Health Disparity Task Force that will work to identify short- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in our vulnerable communities.”

Wolf Administration announces loan deferrals for businesses

UPDATE 1:16 p.m.: Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin announced the forbearance of loans administered by DCED.

“This pandemic has presented new and unforeseen challenges to Pennsylvania’s businesses, and the Wolf Administration has been committed to supporting our business community to the fullest extent every step of the way,” said Sec. Davin. “This extended deferral will help ease the burden on small businesses and enable them to focus and prioritize their efforts as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth.”

Next week, Governor Tom Wolf and Sec. Davin will request loan deferrals for all borrowers with the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Commonwealth Financing Authority (excluding PENNWORKS program loans), the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, and the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority.

Human Services Secretary encourages Pennsylvanians to report child abuse

UPDATE 1:01 p.m.: Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller and Angela Liddle, President and CEO of the PA Family Support Alliance, is reminding Pennsylvanians that DHS’ ChildLine, a 24/7 hotline for reporting concerns of child abuse or neglect, is still fully operational and available at 1-800-932-0313 for Pennsylvanians seeking to report potential cases of child abuse or neglect.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and as scheduled recognition activities and regular life has shifted due to COVID-19, DHS and child welfare advocates implore all Pennsylvanians to learn signs of potential abuse or neglect and, if they suspect abuse, make the call to ChildLine.

ChildLine is available 24/7 to anyone wishing to report child abuse and general child well-being concerns at 1-800-932-0313 and at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.

Relief for Pennsylvania taxpayers

UPDATE 12:01 p.m.: The Department of Revenue is providing relief to Pennsylvanians and businesses affected by the pandemic. The department is offering taxpayers increased flexibility, additional time to meet their tax obligations, and a pause on several of its standard enforcement actions.

COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania update

UPDATE 12:00 p.m.: The Pennsylvania Department of Health said there are 1,145 new positive cases in the state.

State health officials said there are now 26,490 positive cases with 63 new deaths across the state. Of the total cases, 1,802 of them are in our area.

Here is a local breakdown by county:

  • Allegheny Co.: 904 cases, 26 deaths
  • Butler Co.: 150 cases, 5 deaths
  • Beaver Co.: 158 cases, 14 deaths
  • Washington Co.: 71 cases, 1 death
  • Greene Co.: 23 cases
  • Fayette Co.: 58 cases, 3 deaths
  • Westmoreland Co.: 237 cases, 17 deaths (According to the Westmoreland Co. coroner)
  • Indiana Co.: 43 cases, 1 death
  • Armstrong Co.: 29 cases, 1 death
  • Clarion Co.: 16 cases
  • Venango Co.: 6 cases
  • Forest Co.: 5 cases
  • Lawrence Co.: 55 cases, 5 deaths
  • Mercer Co.: 47 cases

Of the patients who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows:

  • Less than 1% are aged 0-4
  • Nearly 1% are aged 5-12
  • 1% are aged 13-18
  • 6% are aged 19-24
  • 40% are aged 25-49
  • Nearly 29% are aged 50-64
  • 22% are aged 65 or older

State health officials said 111,094 people have tested negative so far.

Food distributed to families in Millvale

UPDATE 11:40 a.m.: Dozens of people picked up food Wednesday during a distribution in Millvale.

A spokesperson for North Hills Community Outreach said they almost doubled the number of families they can serve since their distribution last month.

Officials said they normally serve 50 or 60 families, but they were ready for 100 families today.

Many people wore masks as they picked up their food. Volunteers also took more precautions, including moving the food distribution outside to a parking lot.

Food distributed to families in Millvale

COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County: Wednesday update

UPDATE 11:05 a.m.: There are 11 new positive cases of the coronavirus in Allegheny County, bringing the total to 904, the Allegheny County Health Department announced.

Officials said 146 people have been or are currently being hospitalized, and two more people have died, bringing the total number of deaths to 26. All deaths in the county have been people between the ages of 56 and 103, the Health Department said.

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Here is a breakdown of cases by age group:

  • 0-4 years: 2
  • 5-12 years: 4
  • 13-18 years: 10
  • 19-24 years: 72
  • 25-49 years: 344
  • 50-64 years: 250
  • 65+ years: 222

Of the cases, 475 are female and 429 are male.

Temporary changes made to CHIP during COVID-19 crisis

UPDATE 10:35 a.m.: Temporary changes are being made to Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to keep families enrolled for the duration of the public health emergency, the Department of Human Services announced.

“COVID-19 has created economic challenges for families across Pennsylvania, and we want to be sure that families are able to keep health care coverage to protect themselves and their children during this time. These changes are designed to ease access to CHIP and to keep families enrolled in health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic,” DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said.

The following changes are in effect for CHIP until the end of the public health emergency:

  • Families will not be denied or disenrolled from coverage for administrative or financial reasons. An example of an administrative reason is not being able to provide proof of income.
  • Families will not pay a copay for services that are for COVID-19 screening, testing or treatment.
  • Families who cannot provide paperwork to verify information on an application or renewal, can provide self-attestation of information by signing the application or renewal.
  • Families will be given more time to pay premiums, if needed.

Families still have to provide verification of information on applications and are still responsible for copays for services not related to COVID-19.

Pittsburgh environmental services worker dies from COVID-19 complications

UPDATE 10:20 a.m.: A City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works employee has died from complications of the coronavirus, officials said.

The employee worked as a truck driver in the Environmental Services Bureau. He began working with the city in 1995.

“I am praying for his family, friends and co-workers in these tragic times. The pandemic may be global but it’s still hitting us very close to home,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said.

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Officials said the employee, who is not being identified at this time, did not contract the virus while at work.

Black ribbon decals are being put on refuse and recycling trucks in his memory.

The man is the first city employee to die because of complications from COVID-19, officials said.

Pittsburgh environmental services worker dies from COVID-19 complications

Greater Washington County Food Bank asking for mask donations

UPDATE 9:30 a.m.: The Greater Washington County Food Bank is asking for a donation of 50 washable masks.

They are needed for volunteers and staff to use help box and distribute food to people in need, according to a post on the organization’s Facebook page.

ISO Masks! That’s right, Greater Washington County Food Bank needs masks. We would love to have about 50...

Posted by Greater Washington County Food Bank on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Pittsburgh Public Schools preparing to start remote learning

UPDATE 7:30 a.m.: The transition to remote learning for Pittsburgh Public Schools starts Thursday, when high school seniors resume classes. The rest of the district’s 23,000 students start next week.

Teachers are in the process of getting in touch with families to go over what remote learning will be like.

Devices for online learning will be provided by the district to families who don’t have them. Laptops are being distributed Wednesday to high school seniors.

Families with students in pre-K through grade 11 will be able to pick up instructional packets starting Thursday.

Pittsburgh Public Schools preparing to start remote learning

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania: Wednesday morning

UPDATE 4:30 a.m: Pennsylvania had 25,345 cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday and 584 people had died.

Of the 2,306 people who have been hospitalized statewide because of COVID-19, 666 of those patients have required the use of ventilators, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.

Roughly 42 percent of all hospital beds, 37 percent of ICU beds and nearly 70 percent of ventilators are still available, according to Levine.

Levine said efforts in the state are paying off and the curve is flattening.

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Sen. Pat Toomey said he wants to see the state's economy reopen sooner rather than later, stating he is having preliminary conversations with state leaders on how that could happen.

Toomey said he thinks parts of the economy could reopen soon with businesses enforcing social distancing rules.

Push to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy gaining momentum