With all of the surrounding counties set to relax most COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, a group of county and state officials urged Gov. Tom Wolf to add Mercer County to that list.
In a letter dated Tuesday, three state legislators and all three county commissioners asked the governor and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to add Mercer County to the green designation of the the administration’s “red-yellow-green” reopening protocol.
“We do not believe that Mercer County should be held back from the Green phase at this time, due to an isolated and contained flare-up affecting 18 individuals,” the letter said, in an apparent reference to 18 new cases in Farrell between May 8, when the county went to yellow, and Friday, as reported Saturday in The Herald.
The letter was signed by four Republicans — state Sen. Michele Brooks, state Rep. Tim Bonner, and Mercer County Commissioners Matthew McConnell and Scott Boyd — and two Democrats, state Rep. Mark Longietti and county Commissioner Tim McGonigle.
Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren counties are all scheduled to go green Friday. That includes 18 of the 24 north-central and northwestern counties that first moved from the red to yellow phase.
Since moving to the yellow phase, Mercer County cases had gone up 50 percent, from 70 to 105 on Tuesday. However, 18 of the new cases were traced to a single outbreak in Farrell, where officials said an infected person came into contact with several other people.
The contacts were tested and several tested positive, but most of those who tested positive were asymptomatic.
Clinton, Erie, Lycoming, Northumberland and Union also will remain in yellow.
In the letter, the officials argued that continuing the restrictions would have no public health benefits because Mercer County residents would travel to neighboring counties and into Ohio to access services available in those places, and would only hurt Mercer County businesses.
Police, regulators cracking down on businesses
Police and state regulators are cracking down on a handful of Pennsylvania businesses that are supposed to remain shut down during the pandemic but have instead thrown open their doors.
Small business owners have protested Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, saying it threatens to bankrupt them the longer it goes. A few gyms, salons and restaurants have opened in defiance of the governor, risking citations, fines and license suspensions.
In York County, two Round the Clock Diners that resumed dine-in service earlier this month were twice warned by state health officials before the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued an emergency suspension of their operating licenses Friday.
Fines can go as high as $10,000 per day that the restaurants remain open while their licenses are suspended, the agency said.
The diners remained open Tuesday. A message was left with the owner.
Meanwhile, at least two gyms in eastern Pennsylvania reopened this week, with state police already citing one and local police threatening to cite the other.
SuperSets in Hanover Township, outside Allentown, reopened Sunday. State police issued two citations to the business owner, Ed Frack, but the gym was back open for business Tuesday.
Wolf has repeatedly said he prefers voluntary cooperation to enforcement. To date, state police have issued 351 warnings and three citations to businesses that are open despite the shutdown.
Another gym, Danko’s All American Fitness in Plains Township, outside Wilkes-Barre, opened Tuesday. Plains Township Police Chief Dale Binker told The Citizens’ Voice that Danko will be cited for every day he is open.
The P.R.E.P. gym on State Street in Hermitage opened May 1. Hermitage police issued citations against the facility on May 8, a Friday. Officials said at the time that police could issue citations to owner Joe Joseph II for every day he remained open. But Mercer County District Attorney Pete Acker withdrew the citations the following Monday.
P.R.E.P. gym remained open Tuesday.
State confirms cases of illness afflicting children
At least nine confirmed cases of a serious, rare inflammatory condition in children linked with the coronavirus were reported Tuesday by the health department.
The illness has been reported in scores of New York children and in several children in other states. A few children have died.
Some children may have symptoms resembling Kawasaki disease, a condition in children that can cause swelling and heart problems. Symptoms include persistent high fever, rash or change in skin color, swollen lymph nodes, red eyes and abdominal pain, said the Pennsylvania state health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine.
She said there have been a total of 17 reports of the illness in Pennsylvania, of which nine were confirmed, two were ruled out and another six remain under investigation.
Cases increase by less than 1%
There were 13 additional deaths linked to COVID-19, raising the statewide total to 5,152, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported Tuesday.
State health officials also reported that 451 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus. That marked the second consecutive day cases increased by less than 1 percent.
Since early March, infections have been confirmed in 68,637 people in Pennsylvania. Health officials reported that 61 percent of the people who have tested positive for the virus are considered to be fully recovered, meaning it’s been more than 30 days since the date of their positive test or onset of symptoms.