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Gov. Tom Wolf says Pa. coronavirus business restrictions, school closures could extend beyond two weeks

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AP Photo / Matt Rourke

This story was produced as part of a joint effort among Spotlight PA, LNP Media Group, PennLive, PA Post, and WITF to cover how Pennsylvania state government is responding to the coronavirus. Sign up for Spotlight PA’s newsletter.

The Pennsylvania State Police on Monday will begin enforcing the statewide shutdown for all but “life-sustaining” businesses across the state, as Gov. Tom Wolf warned that emergency measures may last longer than initially anticipated.

“I want to be honest with you, and what we face,” Wolf said during an early evening briefing with reporters. “What we are trying to do here is buy time … we cannot overload our health system.”

He added: “If we aren’t successful, the consequences are going to be even more dire than the consequences that we are facing now.”

In a statement, Colonel Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, said “private businesses, organizations, and other noncompliant entities face possible criminal penalties.” The violations are summary offenses punishable by fines and jail time.

Other agencies involved with enforcement include the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, and “local officials, using their resources to enforce closure orders within their jurisdictions.”

“Troopers and liquor control officers will make every effort to achieve voluntary compliance by educating business owners and using discretion when appropriate,” Evanchick said. “But our message is clear: COVID-19 is a serious health and public safety risk that requires an extraordinary response from law enforcement and the public.”

Asked Sunday whether he would consider implementing a stay-at-home directive, similar to what Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced, Wolf said: “That is something that has to be under consideration. And it is for Pennsylvania.”

When asked about whether he would delay reopening schools — which currently are set to reopen the week of March 30th — the governor said he will be making the decision this week.

But he also warned it could take more time to reach the point where life will return to normal.

“We all need to change the way we live our lives,” he said. “We will have to do that for a period of time so that we can emerge safe and healthy.”

“When this time is over,” he added, “we’ll need an even greater effort to get ourselves back on our feet – and back on our feet will mean something different than it did three weeks ago.”

The Democratic governor also said he is in talks with the state legislature to postpone the April 28th primary, although no agreement has been reached.

Since Saturday, there have been 108 new cases of COVID-19 reported. The statewide total is 479 people in 33 counties.

Approximately 47 — or about 10% — of those infected have required hospitalization since March 6, state Health Secretary Rachel Levine said.

“Our data so far indicates that approximately 4% of cases have required intensive care and approximately 2% have required ventilators,” Levine said.

Levine said tests are available not only through the state but through commercial labs including Quest. She reiterated that people with no or mild symptoms should not seek a test, although they can contact their health provider.

“I don’t see a time when we’ll be testing asymptomatic people in the future,” she said.

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