West York shutters gov't office, York City declares emergency over coronavirus

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich is surrounded by officials at a press conference announcing a declaration of disaster emergency due to the COVID-19 virus Thursday, March 12, 2020. He also announced that York's Saint Patrick's Day parade was cancelled due to the Coronavirus threat. Bill Kalina photo

West York borough announced Thursday it would shutter its municipal center from the public, the same day York City's mayor signed an emergency declaration in response to the spread of the coronavirus. 

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich declared a seven-day state of emergency, although he called it "primarily educational," as it has little teeth and does not force businesses, schools and the like to shut down. York City Hall will remain open. 

"I'm personally not a person that acts out of fear of things," Helfrich said during a news conference Thursday. "In this case, the evidence is quite clear this disease is coming and we need to slow it down."

The declaration can help the city's Health Bureau more efficiently mobilize resources, better educate the public about proper health precautions and potentially put the city in a better position to receive state aid, he added. 

The mayor will put forth a proposal to the City Council on Tuesday to extend the declaration.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich demonstrates a method  to cover a cough during a press conference announcing a declaration of disaster emergency due to the COVID-19 virus Thursday, March 12, 2020. He also announced that York's Saint Patrick's Day parade was cancelled due to the Coronavirus threat. Bill Kalina photo

Also Thursday, West York officials declared a 30-day state of emergency and closed its borough hall, located at 1381 W. Poplar St., to the public, said Shawn Mauck, the borough's manager. 

Governments throughout the country have begin closing their doors to the public as the coronavirus continues to spread. 

The U.S. Capitol closed to the public Thursday and will remain that way until April, according to The Associated Press. And in Harrisburg, state lawmakers expect to return to the Capitol next week, but discussions regarding the session schedule are ongoing, according to PA Post.

"I want people to feel confident we are looking out for them," Mauck said Thursday. "We want to make sure people understand to remain calm. Nothing has affected us in terms of illness; this is all common sense strategy."

While the borough office will remain closed, residents can continue to pay their bills or submit inquiries by email, phone, mail or secured drop box outside the facility.

Though this closure will also affect other borough events, including food distributions, Mauck said he isn't sure if the upcoming borough council meeting on Monday will be canceled.

He said council members are considering livestreaming the meeting and will encourage residents to participate by either phoning in or submitting questions in advance.

"We don't want to prohibit the government from functioning, but looking at alternative ways of getting the job done," Mauck said. 

West York Borough Office, 1381 W Poplar Street.

Borough officials will continue monitoring the coronavirus situation and, depending on the situation, the emergency declaration could be extended, Mauck said.

"We're going to take this pretty much one month at a time," Mauck said.

There were 22 known cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania as of Thursday evening, according to the state Health Department. No cases have been reported in York County.

While York City and West York are taking strict measures in the wake of the coronavirus, other municipalities are continuing to remind residents of the resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health. 

West Manchester Township manager Kelly Kelch said an emergency meeting with department heads is being scheduled for Friday to discuss the possible cancellation of all upcoming recreation events, including various bingo and sports programs.

Kelch said information on how residents can prevent the spread of the virus will be posted to the township's website this week. 

"We'll continue to monitor it," he said. "If there's an increased presence in Central PA, We'll evaluate it."

In Springettsbury and York townships, officials are taking a similar approach. 

Ben Marchant, Springettsbury's township manager, said informational links from the CDC about the virus are available on the township website, and officials will be monitoring the situation and responding accordingly.

Likewise, Gary Milbrand, York Township's manager, said officials will be following protocol from the CDC and the state Department of Health. 

York County spokesman Mark Walters said Thursday that county offices are not closing at this point. Precautions are being taken, including employees preparing to work remotely and advising department directors to consider limiting nonessential travel, he said.

Also Thursday, York College officials announced that school was closing its campus to students starting Saturday and moving classes online. The closure is slated to last through March 30. 

For most people living in an area without an active outbreak, the risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 is low, according to the World Health Organization. And most people who get the virus will experience mild symptoms, such as a fever and cough, and will fully recover in about two weeks, WHO has said.

But in the elderly and in people with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, COVID-19 can lead to serious illness with a longer recovery time of three to six weeks.