Wolf unveils 'coronavirus corps' plan, but offers few details

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday a state initiative that he said would bolster the state's efforts to track the spread of the coronavirus while keeping people employed. 

The initiative, dubbed the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps, would task workers with tracking the spread of the coronavirus over the coming months.

It is premised on some models that predict a surge of coronavirus cases in the fall. As of Thursday at noon, the state had 52,905 confirmed cases and 3,416 deaths linked to the virus.

“​Our highest priority remains protecting public health and safety, but we must also look ahead to see how we can address future needs," Wolf said. "To reopen our economy to its maximum potential, we will need to boost our ability to contain this highly transmissible virus."

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Wolf offered few details about his plan. More would be unveiled in coming weeks, he said.

Wolf declined to comment about how many people would be hired through the initiative, and it is unclear how much it would cost.

In a news release sent out by the governor's office prior to the announcement, though, his office provided its general goals.

Through the program, a partnership will be created with local health agencies, community organizations and nonprofits to expand the state's testing and contact tracing measures.

Jobs will also be created by using "creative ways" to recruit Pennsylvanians with health care experience to help bolster the initiative's work.

Potential recruits include those who have been dislocated and lost their jobs, bringing them into the public sector to help with contact tracing, the release states.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf takes questions during a meeting with The York Dispatch editorial staff at the Dispatch offices Friday, October 19, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

"We’re reaching a point where we can address some of the more economic effects of COVID-19," Wolf said. "We're walking a tightrope between health and the economy."

The state has seen an influx in applications for unemployment benefits since the outbreak began. Applications as of Thursday stood at 1,735,031, a record-shattering number.

Roughly 33 million people have sought unemployment nationwide.

The creation of the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps comes as the state is in the midst of a phased reopening, which is broken into red, yellow and green phases.

Wolf on May 1 announced that 24 counties in the northeastern and north-central regions of the state would enter the yellow phase. 

In determining which regions will reopen, the state takes into account population density, testing data, contact tracing and hospital resources.

To meet the benchmark for reopening, each of the six public health regions delineated by the state also must have fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.

The governor said his administration is already looking at other counties, particularly in the southwestern and south-central regions of the state, to begin reopening next. But he hasn't made it clear when that will be.

In the red phase, regions are only permitted to have life-sustaining businesses open. There are also restrictions on prisons, and schools and most child care facilities remain closed, according to the plan.

Upon moving to the yellow stage, "telework must continue where feasible," and businesses with in-person operations must follow safety guidelines.

Large gatherings would still be prohibited, schools would remain closed and restrictions on prisons and congregate care, such as group homes, would still be in effect.

Bars and restaurants would still be limited to takeout and carryout. 

The green phase marks a notable decrease in restrictions, lifting "aggressive" mitigation efforts. 

 But residents would still be advised to abide by guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

The state would then adjust orders and restrictions as necessary, the plan states.

As of Thursday at noon, York County had 740 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths linked to the virus.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.