Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf added seven more counties to his order to stay at home as the new virus expanded its reach and Pennsylvania reported another big jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Wolf told residents of Lebanon, Franklin, Somerset, Lawrence, Cameron, Crawford and Forest counties to stay home at least through April 30, bringing to 33 the number of counties under the governor’s order.
Nearly 11 million Pennsylvania residents, or 85% of the state’s population, have now been instructed to remain in their homes, with exceptions that include working at a business that’s still open, going to the grocery store or pharmacy, visiting a doctor, caring for a relative or heading outside to exercise.
One day after President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in Pennsylvania, the state’s emergency management agency said it would begin contacting potential applicants, which include state, county and municipal governments and eligible nonprofits.
Trump’s order allows for federal assistance to supplement state and local pandemic recovery efforts.
The Department of Health reported more than 750 additional coronavirus cases, bringing the total number to over 4,800. There were 14 new deaths for a statewide toll of 63.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Short-Term Rental Crackdowns
State lawmakers representing the Pocono Mountains are pressing the Wolf administration to crack down on short-term vacation rentals that are trying to entice travelers from virus hotspots New Jersey and New York, and the governor signaled that he plans to take action.
GOP Rep. Rosemary Brown urged Wolf to “exercise the appropriate authority” to address “marketing tactics that encourage people to travel from the ‘epicenter’ of the COVID-19 virus to the commonwealth.”
Her letter, which was signed by five other Poconos-region lawmakers, cited one owner who advertised a “coronavirus free” destination, and another that enticed travelers “looking to escape the epicenter.”
Wolf’s order closing businesses that are not considered “life sustaining” does not affect traveler accommodations. But the governor’s spokeswoman, Lindsay Kensinger, said Tuesday night that “the governor agrees that short-term rental properties should not be in operation and the administration is working on guidance to address this.”
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, the region’s tourism marketing agency, said it is urging property owners to suspend short-term rentals during the pandemic.
The state has received nearly 31,000 waiver requests from businesses appealing Wolf’s shutdown order.
The Department of Community and Economic Development has approved 4,925 requests and denied 7,737, according to the latest agency numbers. Another 6,757 requests were filed by businesses that did not need them to continue to operate, agency spokeswoman Casey Smith said Tuesday.
Wolf has ordered businesses his administration deemed “non-life-sustaining” to close their physical locations indefinitely, but established an appeals process.
Smith said the volume of waiver requests has slowed slightly in recent days.
The pandemic has already dinged the state’s bank account.
Tax collections in March were about $300 million shy of expectations as COVID-19 shut down businesses, put hundreds of thousands out of work and kept consumers home.
The shortfall wipes out a $250 million surplus that had been built up over the first eight months of Pennsylvania state government’s fiscal year.
The economic slowdown is also expected to have a dramatic effect on tax collections in coming months, promising a difficult budget season for Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a left-leaning organization based in Harrisburg, projected that state revenue could drop by a total of $4.5 billion to $9 billion in the current fiscal year and the next one.
Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg contributed to this report.
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