By Stephen Caruso and Staff Reports
For the Pittsburgh Current
State health officials on Friday afternoon announced eight new cases of COVID-19, including the first ones outside of eastern Pennsylvania, as Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the shutdowns of businesses and public spaces in one more southeastern county and layer ordered the closure of all public schools.
The new COVID-19 cases bring Pennsylvania’s statewide total to 41, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced at a 5 p.m. press conference. They include one case in Washington County, in southwestern Pennsylvania. Three cases were also identified in Cumberland County in central Pennsylvania.
Also, late Friday, Wolf announced that he was closing all Pa. schools for the next two weeks.
Wolf said in a release:
“We understand that these are trying times and recognize the impact of the coronavirus on our students and communities.
“First and foremost, my top priority as governor – and that of our education leaders – must be to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities.
“As such, 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.
“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.
“We appreciate your collaboration as we work together to deal with this difficult issue.”
Wolf also asked that community centers and entertainment venues be shut down in Delaware County outside of Philadelphia. On Thursday, Wolf ordered the same for Montgomery County.
The two suburban Philadelphia counties are home to more than half of the state’s COVID-19 patients.
“This is self-enforcement, I’m not ordering the state police or the National Guard out,” Wolf said.
He insisted that grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations in both counties should remain open, but urged businesses such as gyms, movie theaters, and non-essential retail outlets to close their doors to prevent unnecessary exposure to other people.
The Department of Human Services announced in a press release Friday that it would close county assistance offices in Delaware and Montgomery Counties for two weeks starting Friday, March 13.
Stephen Caruso is a staff writer at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.