State, county officials preparing for coronavirus outbreak

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Vice President Mike Pence, third from left, accompanied by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, left, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and others, speaks during a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A Snapchat message from a fake Central York School District account falsely claimed over the weekend that the district had closed its schools because of the coronavirus.

"This is NOT true," a statement on the district's website said. "Our district uses Facebook and Twitter to share social media messages, and we do not have a Snapchat Account."

Even though the Snapchat closure scare was a false alarm, the district is preparing to respond in case the virus impacts schooling, said district spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig.

Throughout York County, officials are meeting, coordinating and preparing for an outbreak.

"The best way to combat the spread of COVID-19 is through the free exchange of reliable, accurate information," U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, stated in a news release Monday.

Perry held a meeting with Penn State Health and the state Department of Health in Harrisburg on Monday with about 150 local officials from across the state.

In attendance were Mike Fetrow, director of the York County Office of Emergency Management, and Dr. Matthew Howie, director of the York City Bureau of Health and York County's public health strategist.

At the meeting, officials were updated on the state's ability to test for the virus, Howie said.

"It sounds like they're about to turn the corner on it," he said.

Presently, the state Health Department's lab in Chester County is handling all tests in Pennsylvania and then forwarding them to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the results.

Commercial testing companies such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics are working toward being able to process COVID-19 tests, as are University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, state Health Department spokesman Nate Wardle said.

There were 10 presumed cases in the state Monday: seven in Montgomery County, one in Monroe County, one in Wayne County and one in Delaware County, state officials announced.

Three people had been hospitalized, one of them in critical condition.

As of Monday, the state was not recommending cancellation of major events, but that could change at any time, Howie said.

Businesses and local organizations have been adjusting their policies in response to the virus.

The Appell Center for the Performing Arts announced that it would exchange tickets for patrons who are unable to attend performances due to illness.

The arts venue also said it's taking extra precautions with additional hand sanitizer stations and extra cleaning of door knobs, handles and other surfaces.

"Our staff and volunteers have been directed to stay home if they are ill and we ask the same of our guests," the organization stated in an email.

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And a sign posted at a local Starbucks location indicated the company would no longer refill customers' reusable coffee mugs, as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.

Central York School District Superintendent Michael Snell was also at the Harrisburg meeting, and Ryan Billet, assistant to Snell, took part in a school association meeting in Carlisle, Cumberland County, with spokeswoman Romig.

Officials from other York County schools and York County government were at the Carlisle meeting with representatives from four other counties.

Attendees discussed what to expect in the coming weeks and months and how the virus could impact scholastic sports, field trips and school attendance, said York County spokesman Mark Walters.

"I would say the biggest concern is the need for timely and accurate information," Walters said.

Schools and counties are leaning on the state Department of Health for updates about the virus, he said, and will coordinate with one another in their responses to new developments.

For school districts, anticipating how to respond to the coronavirus is a little bit like anticipating whether to close the schools because of inclement weather, Walters said.

In each case, school officials have to make judgment calls based on several factors and in the best interests of students and staff.

Central York School District has a pandemic plan in place and is monitoring staff and student attendance, which is routine practice during flu season, Romig said, and the district is reviewing all upcoming events.

Any changes or cancellations would be announced to faculty, staff and students and their families with the district's emergency notification system.

Penn State York has no plans as of Monday to cancel classes, said spokeswoman Barbara Dennis, and the school is following the directives of Penn State University officials.

There's a Penn State webpage with all up-to-date information about the virus and the school's response, Dennis said, which can be found at

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