Few details released about York County employee who tested positive for COVID-19
York County officials wouldn't specifically say Wednesday whether an employee in the county prothonotary office has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, even as word of that spread around the judicial center and legal community.
York County Prothonotary Allison Blew did not return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday, and York County President Judge Joseph C. Adams said any confirmation would have to come from either the York County Commissioners or a department head.
The commissioners released a statement Wednesday morning in response to The York Dispatch requesting confirmation:
"In order to protect the privacy of our employees and the public, the County of York will not confirm or deny any reports of positive COVID-19 cases in our facilities. The County has and will continue to follow the guidelines set forth by the PA Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We encourage everyone to social distance whenever possible and to wear a mask. If an individual believes they may have been exposed they should self-quarantine and contact their primary care provider for further direction regarding testing."
Shortly before 4:30 p.m. — after a reporter argued that officials have a duty to be transparent during a public health crisis — they sent out an updated statement:
"In the best interest of our employees and the community we serve, we wish to acknowledge that one of our employees recently tested positive for COVID-19. Appropriate case investigation is in process and necessary safeguards have been implemented," it reads. "As one of the largest employers in York County, we fully expect to have ongoing positive cases in our workforce. ... we cannot always pinpoint where, how or by whom individuals are becoming infected. This is why wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large groups is highly recommended."
'Unanswered questions': Attorney Melissa Melewsky of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association said the county has "an affirmative duty to be forthcoming with this kind of information so the public can take appropriate action."
That would include whether the affected offices or locations will be closed and sanitized before the public can return; whether people who recently visited a county building should be tested or self-quarantine; and what steps the county has taken to safeguard public servants and those who rely on them, she said.
The county's updated statement doesn't specify which office or building the employee works in, doesn't elaborate on what measures are being taken in response and doesn't indicate whether members of the public could have been exposed.
"The county’s update is certainly a step in the right direction, but they should consider releasing more information," Melewsky said. "Unanswered questions don't help anyone in this situation."
On Wednesday morning, York County Court Administrator Paul Crouse sent an email to judicial center department heads and others that makes no mention of a COVID-19 case but reiterates county policy about dealing with such cases.
"As you are aware, many areas in the state are experiencing an increase in positive COVID-19 test results, so it seems prudent to remind everyone of the procedure the court will follow when a court employee tests positive," Crouse wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The York Dispatch.
Emergency extended: On Monday, Judge Adams issued an order extending York County's judicial emergency through Dec. 31.
The order limits in-person access and proceedings and allows "advanced communication technologies" such as Zoom for certain court hearings.
Adams' order also states:
"All persons must wear face masks at all times in all areas of the building directly accessible to members of the public, while elected officials may establish their own protocols regarding the wearing of masks by employees within areas of their respective departments not directly accessible to members of the public."
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.