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Lancaster County businesses, schools, churches are preparing for COVID-19: Here's what you need to know
Intelligencer Journal - 3/14/2020
With coronavirus cases spreading across the United States and the number of patients in Pennsylvania growing, the LNP | LancasterOnline staff reached out this week, starting Tuesday, to officials at a range of organizations to see what their plans are, so far, for the potential of a COVID-19 outbreak in Lancaster County.
We talked to representatives from hospitals, schools, the county, entertainment venues (including Hershey Entertainment and the Fulton), the Lancaster Commerce, Lancaster Central Market, Water Street Mission, Veterans Affairs, the Office on Aging, nursing homes, day cares, transportation centers, the Lancaster County Prison, places of worship and more.
The following are their responses. This story will be updated with new information as we receive it.
Lancaster County is prepared to issue a disaster declaration for COVID-19 "if we have to," Commissioner Josh Parsons said Thursday at a press conference But, he said, "We certainly hope we don’t have to do things as serious as that." The county, which does not have a designated health department, has also launched a web page, https://www.co.lancaster.pa.us/1296/Coronavirus-Disease-COVID-19, for information on the virus.
The Recorder of Deeds office is encouraging all those with paperwork to submit to sign up with an e-recording vendor so that documents can still be uploaded incase of a COVID-19 outbreak in the county. Sheriff Chris Leppler said if deputies are asked to transport a prisoner and discover that the prisoner is infected with COVID-19, they are to call a supervisor for further direction.
City of Lancaster
Jess King, chief of staff to Lancaster City Mayor Danene Sorace, said the city is focused on the continuity of essential services and following all CDC guidance. Sorace was expected to address COVID-19 at Tuesday’s city council meeting. King said city officials are “doing the due diligence around starting a City-based Health department.”
At least two Lancaster County school districts, Manheim Township and School District of Lancaster, say school closures are a possibility if COVID-19 arrives in Lancaster County. In the meantime, though, schools say they’re monitoring the situation and following state and federal guidelines meant to prevent an outbreak. Those guidelines include rigorous cleaning and sanitizing procedures in school buildings and sharing with families the importance of good hygiene and proper hand-washing techniques.
The following higher education institutions have announced temporary remote instruction as a precaution against COVID-19: Elizabethtown College, Franklin & Marshall College, Millersville University and Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. Lancaster Bible College has extended spring break by one week through March 22.
Lancaster County Woodcarvers has canceled its show on March 21-22. “Millersville University has suspended all activities, and that includes our show,” they said in an email.
The Early Music at St. James concert series canceled its March 29 show because "one of the performers has a compromised immune system," founder and director Kathleen Spencer said in an email.
The Garden Spot Village Half Marathon, 10K and kids' run, all scheduled for March 28, have been changed to virtual races, Scott Miller, the race director, said in a release.
The Lancaster Symphony Orchestra has canceled its concerts scheduled for March 13-14. Willow Valley Communities, where the concert was to be held in the cultural center, canceled the event to protect its residents, who are 55 years and older, Guy McIntosh, the orchestra's general manager, said. The orchestra will be taping its performance and releasing the video for free on social media. Tickets for the concert can be refunded, exchanged or redeemed for credit.
The annual Lancaster Family YMCAGood Friday Breakfast, scheduled for April 10, has been canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Lancaster Conservancy has rescheduled the Wednesday, March 18 lecture with Doug Tallamy at Willow Valley Communities. The new date will be Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at 7 p.m., thee group announced on Facebook. Refund requests should be made via Eventbrite by March 31.
Though Gordonville Fire & EMS will hold its annual mud sale on Saturday, March 14, officials in Paradise Township are in favor of the event being cancelled.
"We understand that this is a day circled on many calendars," the township said in a news release. "Further more, as leaders of our community, we believe it is essential to protect our residents, which includes avoiding mass attended events such as a mud sale during a time when the coronavirus is quickly spreading."
Lancaster Early Education Center
The Lancaster Early Education Center, a day care provider at 150 S. Queen St., says it would close if the outbreak warranted such a response. In the meantime, the center is following national quality rating guidelines for sanitation and disinfection procedures.
“Additionally, we adhere to stringent temporary exclusion policies to ensure staff are not working and children are not in care while ill,” Madeline Reynolds, the director, said. “We closely monitor symptoms and report them to families, connecting them with medical homes or clinics if needed.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lebanon and its clinic in Willow Street are performing health screenings outside their facilities before letting visitors in.
At the Lebanon VA Medical Center, all of its traffic is being sent through the South Lincoln Avenue entrance, where Veterans Affairs police and employees are asking all wishing to enter the facility questions about whether they have a fever and flu-like symptoms, if they’ve traveled to an area with widespread cases of COVID-19, and if they’ve been in close contact with someone confirmed to have the virus.
There have been no cases of COVID-19 and the Lebanon VA facility. All VA hospitals are following this protocol out of an abundance of caution, as five cases of coronavirus cases have been reported at VA hospitals across the country.
Prison/Youth Intervention Center
Lancaster County Prison Warden Cheryl Steberger said in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, staff at the prison have added signs reminding people to wash their hands, and she plans to direct the cleaning crew to pay special attention to doorknobs and other items that are frequently touched.
The Youth Intervention Center has been working with our medical provider updating their pandemic policy and procedure, Drew Fredericks, the facility’s director, said in an emailed statement. “Rest assured that the health and wellbeing of both our residents and staff have always been, and continues to be, at the forefront of our mission.” The facility provides detention, shelter care services and alternative treatment programs for males and females from the ages of 10 to 18.
Lancaster County Sheriff Chris Leppler said if deputies are asked to transport a prisoner and discover the prisoner is infected with COVID-19, they are to call a supervisor for further direction.
Dave Kilmer, executive director of the Red Rose Transit Authority, said services would likely operate normally unless a person testing positive for coronavirus was known to ride the bus. “If that was the case, we would have employees tested to make sure there were no new infections,” he said. “That’s the problem with our industry. We’re totally exposed.”
Lancaster Airport would operate on a similarly heightened alert, authority director David Eberly said. “We recognize that airports are vulnerable,” he said. “If we get an outbreak in Lancaster, we’ll be more diligent,” which would include cleaning public areas and surfaces more frequently. But for now, Eberly said, “we’ve been told to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Amtrak announced an increased frequency in cleaning service in trains and stations. The company also announced additional sanitizers and disinfectant wipes for customers on site.
Places of worship
The Rev. Jason Perkowski, pastor at Faith and Oregon Community United Methodist churches in Manheim Township, has been in touch with other pastors from the denomination’s Eastern Conference to determine best practices. Perkowski has encouraged older members with health issues to remain at home as long as the coronavirus remains an issue but said he has no plans to cancel church services unless a church member has had direct contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
Dustin Leed, spokesman for the Worship Center, 2384 New Holland Pike, said a task force composed of church leaders is meeting Wednesday morning to discuss how to deal with the illness. He said the church is in communication with medical professionals and is following the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this month, the Diocese of Harrisburg requested that all Catholic parishes and institutions temporarily suspend use of the chalice in Holy Communion and omit the exchange of peace. Holy water has also been removed to help avoid the spread of disease. The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has said it is monitoring the situation, and that parishioners can abstain from communion or receive “in one kind,” or host only, and encouraged those who are sick to stay home.
At Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, temple administrator John Perry said earlier this month that the synagogue is following the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control, and the staff is sanitizing all tables and door handles.
Nursing homes/senior centers
Dr. Leon Kraybill of Lancaster Area Senior Services noted Thursday that for people age 80 and older, it appears the virus mortality rate "gets up closer to 15%." "To have our residents in long-term care get infected, you have to get it into the facility, likely brought by visitors who come to the facility or staff," he said. "That’s where we have focused our energy." As a result, he said, nursing homes are moving toward limiting visitors to "only very severe end of life" situations. Restrictions have already made some family members angry, he said, but "the health and safety of our long-term care residents is our highest priority."
“We always follow the guidance given to us by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and some of that guidance has changed as recently as today, so we expect at this point, it could change daily,” Tina L. Lutter, corporate director of public relations at Masonic Villages, said Tuesday. “One case does not constitute a community-wide spread, so that in and of itself would not cause us to change our current plans, unless our guidance from the PA DOH would change. Our infection control and clinical specialists are planning how our activities would change based on any potential and/or continuous spread of the virus, including if it would impact our campus, but again -- those plans could be modified should we get any change in direction from the PA DOH. The key is continuous communication of any modified plans to keep residents, staff, volunteers, visitors and vendors informed and prepared."
“WellSpan Health is continuously preparing for COVID-19,” Cindy Stauffer, senior media relations and communications specialist at WellSpan Health, said. “Our teams are meeting daily to update our plans and preparations and we continue to monitor the situation and follow the guidance of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our screening processes in place will determine our course of action, which may include patients to be self-isolated at home.”
“We will continue coordinating our efforts and resources with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other health-care providers locally and throughout the Penn Medicine system,” John Lines, director of public relations and corporate communications for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said. “Communications will continue to be regularly issued to all health-system staff to prepare our physician offices, urgent care sites, emergency department and inpatient settings for additional coronavirus patients. Our efforts would also include ensuring adequate supplies of respiratory protection, gowns, gloves and other equipment to protect our clinical staff for patient care.”
Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious diseases at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said Thursday that meetings are happening "almost continuously" at this point to make sure "that we have not only adequate staffing and staffing contingency planning, but also adequate supplies" as "everything is in short supply."
Kontra also said the issue of the reopening the former St. Joseph Hospital "is being explored" but a final decision has not been made. UPMC Pinnacle closed the Lancaster city hospital last February, and it has been vacant since, with the system a few months ago starting the process of seeking rezoning so it would be more attractive to developers.
“To date, there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in the communities UPMC serves,” Kelly T. Mccall, public relations director for UPMC Pinnacle, said. “If there ever is a local case, official confirmation will come from the Centers for Disease Control, the state Department of Health, or county health department. UPMC would work in coordination with these public health officials and communicate with employees, providers and the community.”
Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank
The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank sent an email to donors Friday, March 13 seeking assistance. The alert said the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, like blood centers across the country, has had significant drops in donations due to blood drive cancellations related to COVID-19. Blood drive locations and times can be found at http://www.717giveblood.org/events/
Lancaster County Convention Center
The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority doesn’t have any plans to cancel any of its events, but its executive director Kevin Molloy said that could change based on direction from state or federal health officials. In the meantime, extra cleaning and sanitation measures are being implemented for upcoming events.
Zenkaikon, the March 20-22 celebration of anime, comics and science, has been canceled.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said that Zenkaikon is expected to have 6,000 attendees per day. That is incorrect — the convention is expected to have approximately 5,500 attendees over the course of the three-day event.
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Water Street Mission has made no decision yet on whether it would close or limit admission to its South Prince Street shelter in the event of an outbreak.
“We have had early conversations about what that would look like if we need to,” Greg Kessler, Water Street’s vice president of health services, said.
Kessler said Water Street confers with a Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health point person. Water Street does have the ability to quarantine some residents.
For now, Water Street is educating staff about signs of infection and placing reminders around the facility about washing hands properly and cleaning surfaces. Water Street also has a supply of masks and sterile gloves.
“We follow all CDC recommendations in terms of sleeping arrangements that we can,” Kessler said.
Office of Aging
Lancaster County Office of Aging has yet to announce plans for its eight senior centers. Lynn Smith, the office’s deputy director, referred LNP | LancasterOnline to a statement by Lawrence George, chief county clerk. George said county departments “have identified responses proportional to the scope” and are coordinating with community partners in health care and education. A news conference on county preparedness was scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday.
Lancaster Central Market
Lancaster Central Market is already encouraging standholders to clean the outside of their stands as often as possible while also having custodians wipe down door handles and common areas more frequently. Mary Goss, the manager of market operations, said the market’s board continues to develop its formal emergency response to a local outbreak but says closing the market is not among the options now being considered.
Chamber of Commerce
The Lancaster Chamber, on its website, has been gathering best practices any company can use to respond to a potential local outbreak, including how to manage employees working remotely. In addition, Tom Baldrige, Lancaster Chamber president and CEO, said the chamber is considering how to manage its own events, determining which ones could be held online, if needed. Baldrige said attendees at various chamber mixers are being invited to break a longstanding networking tradition: “We’re inviting them to not shake hands.”
On Thursday, Baldrige urged Lancaster County residents to think of ways to support the community even if they're curtailing their travels or spending.
For instance, if you've decided not to go out to eat, how about getting take out? Rather than curtailing an employee's work hours because the virus has slowed business, how about dusting off a long-awaited project for that person, Baldrige suggested.
"In other words, please be safe but please don’t shut down. You and our entire community will be the better for it," he wrote in a statement.
Chad Umble. Tim Mekeel
LSC Communications (formerly R.R. Donnelley) is telling employees to take laptops home so they can work remotely if necessary. The company was unable to say whether the coronavirus has led anyone to do so.
At Armstrong World Industries, many of its employees already can work from home and do so “on a regular basis.” But the company has not told anyone to work remotely due to coronavirus concerns.
Likewise, coronavirus concerns have not led Fulton Financial and its Fulton Bank to direct any employees who are able to work remotely to do so for that reason.
Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health said it has “various roles throughout our health system” that can be performed remotely, but it too has no employees working remotely because of coronavirus concerns.
The Lancaster Chamber is preparing for the possibility of having staff work remotely due to coronavirus concerns, but has not directed anyone to do it either.
The owners of the Shady Maple businesses said Friday. March 13, they have stepped up their contagion-prevention measures in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an email to customers, the Weaver family said the Shady Maple Farm Market, Smorgasbord and Gift Shop “are continuing our high level of cleanliness...”
The businesses also “are closely following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.”
These steps include telling employees to avoid touching their mouth, nose and face, and to stay home if sick.
Shady Maple also has increased the frequency and focus of the cleanings of its businesses, giving special attention to sanitizing bath rooms, door handles, hand railings and other frequently touched surfaces.
“In the Smorgasbord, we are sanitizing those guest touch points every 30 minutes and have procedures in place for employees to wash hands every 20 minutes or between tasks,” the email said.
Hand sanitizer dispensers for employees and customers have been placed throughout its facilities as well.
“We will continue to monitor the CDC’s recommendations and consult with appropriate professionals to ensure the health and safety of our customers, coworkers and community is protected,” it added.
As of March 10, no events at any property owned by Hershey Entertainment & Resorts will be cancelled or postponed, according to Vice President of Communications and Corporate Relations Garrett Gallia, reached via e-mail. "We are carefully monitoring the COVID-19 situation with regular updates and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as welpal as additional government agencies and health care providers. We are also working closely with our partners throughout the amusement park and lodging industries."
The American Quilter's Society released a statement saying that Lancaster Quilt Week would proceed as planned at the Lancaster County Convention Center from Wednesday, March 25 through Saturday, March 28. "The safety of our guests and staff at the show remains our highest priority and we are working with our partners at the show sites to ensure a safe environment for our community to convene."
Sight & Sound Theatres released a statement saying that performances of the new show "Queen Esther" will be cancelled between Saturday, March 14, and Monday, March 23. The sister theater in Branson, Missouri, will remain open for the time being.
According to Eric Pugh, director of marketing at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, the theater is currently in the midst of forming a plan and will be following recommendations from the CDC. “We’ll be adopting similar methods to Broadway and theaters around the country,” he says. That includes additional cleaning of frequently touched things and the placement of hand sanitizers stations, which Pugh says are on order. “At this time, all performances will go on as scheduled.”
Amy Banks, arts communication manager for Millersville University says the Ware Center have no immediate plans or policies in place. “All of our directives at (the Ware Center) come from the university, which is monitoring the situations and setting policy,” she says. “As of today, (we) are following through with our regularly scheduled events.”
Lancaster Marionette Theatre is postponing the opening of "Peter Cottontail" until Saturday, March 28. It will run through April 11, with an added show on April 10.
American Music Theatre announced late Thursday afternoon that the March 12 Martina McBride performance is postponed. A message from the venue's management said all tickets will be honored at the future date.
The Wednesday evening, March 25, screening of the documentary "Risking Light" has been canceled over concerns over the spread of COVID-19. The film is part of the "On Screen/In Person" documentary series at Millersville University's Ware Center in downtown Lancaster.
Barry Kornhauser, who oversees the film series, hopes to reschedule the film — and the live appearance by its director — next season.
Mary Ellen Wright
United Way of Lancaster
United Way of Lancaster County announced Friday, March 13, it’s closing its 18 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) offices for at least two weeks.
The closings, which begin Friday, were prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
VITA said it will contact each taxpayer who had an appointment booked during the next two weeks and inform them that their appointment is canceled.
No new appointments are being booked at this time.
VITA is encouraging clients who’ve had their appointments canceled to use IRS Free File at www.irs.gov/freefile or myfreetaxes.com.
VITA offers free federal, state and local tax-return preparation services for households earning less than $62,000 in gross income a year. In 2019, the United Way’s VITA initiative here served a record 11,000-plus households.
The Department of Health
“From a Department of Health perspective, we are working throughout the state,” said Nate Wardle, press secretary. “If a case tested presumptive positive in Lancaster County, we would immediately begin contact tracing using our community health nurses and our state public health professionals. We would also work with our healthcare partners, if there are any exposures, to ensure that those who were exposed were wearing proper PPE. Information shared with the public would be that information which is necessary to inform the public, while also protecting the right to privacy of the individual.”
How to Prepare
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a guide with sections for before, during and after an outbreak, and will be updated. Here is what the CDC suggests in a “before an outbreak” checklist:
Talk with the people who need to be included in your plan.
Plan ways to care for those who might be at greater risk for serious complications.
Get to know your neighbors.
Identify aid organizations in your community.
Create an emergency contact list.
Practice everyday preventive actions now.
Choose a room in your home that can be used to separate sick household members from those who are healthy.
Learn about the emergency operations plan at your child’s school or childcare facility.
Learn about your employer’s emergency operations plan.
For more on COVID-19:
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