Wolf calls for large gatherings to be called off statewide in Pa.

AP file

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all schools and day cares in Montgomery County closed Thursday and barred visitors there to prisons and nursing homes.

Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia, has been the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak so far. Thirteen of the state’s 22 known coronavirus cases are in Montgomery County.

In addition, the governor is recommending that large gatherings statewide be cancelled or postponed. He also called on residents to stop making non-essential visits to public gathering places for two weeks while the state tries to slow the spread of coronavirus. The number of presumed cases of coronavirus patients in the state hit 22 on Thursday.

Wolf said that the state is seeking to limit movement by people in Montgomery County for two weeks to try to slow the spread of the disease before it escalates out-of-control.

Wolf signed a disaster declaration to respond to the coronavirus outbreak last week.

“The whole point is to stop the drifting and take decisive action,” Wolf said.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations will remain open in Montgomery County during this period, but Wolf said he is calling on stores selling “non-essential” products to close.

The state announced six new coronavirus cases had been identified by the state lab – including four Montgomery County residents, a resident of Northampton County and a resident of Pike County, said state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

She said that the state has identified 219 people are being possible coronavirus patients. In addition to the 20 cases identified by the state lab and two that have already been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 116 tests completed that didn’t indicate the individual had coronavirus, she said. There are 81 cases in which the test results are pending, she said.

Wolf also announced that the state Capitol will be closed to visitors beginning on Friday.

The General Assembly is scheduled to return to Harrisburg on Monday for the start of its spring legislative session. The governor said that lawmakers are expected to be at the Capitol, but it’s not clear how long they will remain in Harrisburg.

The cancelation of events applies to all interior and exterior venues in the Capitol Complex and will affect public gatherings such as rallies, school or group tours, choir performances and receptions. State employees and media will still have access to the Capitol, according to the state Department of General Services.

Wolf said the move to close the Capitol to visitors was intended to comply with same recommendations he’s giving everyone else.

The governor stopped short of calling for mandatory actions statewide.

Instead, his announcement indicated:

• The governor “strongly encourages” organizers to cancel large gatherings, events, conferences of 250 individuals or more.

• He is discouraging people from traveling to recreational activities like gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls.

• Religious leaders are being encouraged to exercise discretion to “mitigate the spread of illness,” the governor said.

“While people are free to travel, I ask that everyone refrain from non-essential travel,” Wolf said. “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.”