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Coronavirus concerns shutter schools across Pennsylvania

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG – Schools in at least eight Pennsylvania counties were closed Friday as the state continued a sweeping social distancing measure aimed at mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Montgomery County was the only one where all schools were closed. Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday had ordered schools and other facilities closed in the county, a Philadelphia suburb of more than 800,000 people that has been hard-hit by the outbreak, as he discouraged large gatherings of people statewide and canceled prison visits.

Numerous schools in Allegheny, Lancaster, York, Berks and Delaware counties were also shuttered, along with Allentown and Philadelphia. In the latter city, 63 schools were closed as a result of Wolf’s order for Montgomery County because more than 2,000 of its 18,000 employees live in that county.

Wolf’s sweeping order came as Pennsylvania’s cases of coronavirus grew, hitting 22 cases reported by the state Department of Health. More than half are in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania’s third most-populated county.

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania speaks at a new conference at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Headquarters where he said he was ordering schools and other facilities to close in a suburban Philadelphia county, Montgomery County, that has been hard-hit by the COVID-19, Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

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A look at the latest developments in Pennsylvania:

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CASES

All of the state’s 22 cases of positive tests are in eastern Pennsylvania. Hardest hit is Montgomery County with 13 cases, while the first cases in Northampton County and Pike counties were reported Thursday.

Dozens of tests are pending. Most confirmed cases involve someone who came into contact with the new coronavirus in another state or country, and most people are at home in isolation, not at the hospital.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The vast majority of people recover.

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Wolf has said his approach to Montgomery County will be continually evaluated. For now, it applies to all kinds of schools, including more than 20 public school districts in Montgomery County that educate more than 100,000 children. It also applies to higher education, day cares, adult care centers and private schools.

His administration said Wolf was acting under disaster emergency law that allows him to control movement and occupancy in a disaster area, but it could not say when a governor had last used that power. It also cited the Department of Health’s legal responsibility to “determine and employ the most efficient and practical means for the prevention and suppression of disease.”

Gas stations, grocery stores, government facilities, utilities and mass transit should continue to operate, he said, while no-visitor policies are to be adopted by prisons and nursing homes.

For its part, Montgomery County officials are prohibiting all mass gatherings of any size that are outside, or in temporary structures, events that typically require a permit.

They also implored the cancellation of any nonessential public and private gathering indoors, and for businesses to allow employees to work from home.

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ROMAN CATHOLIC SERVICES

The archbishop of Philadelphia, Nelson Perez, has announced that, with Pennsylvania’s bishops, he was releasing Catholics from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass. He did say, however, that all regularly scheduled masses would remain open.

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CANCELLATIONS

Public events were canceled in the state Capitol Complex and governor’s residence in Harrisburg and access to the Capitol was limited to employees and others with credentials. The policy, in effect indefinitely, applies to rallies, tours and receptions. The Legislature is scheduled to return to session next week.

The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia said Thursday that it was canceling and rescheduling all events through March 31, while the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts said it would cancel all events at its venues through April 11.

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PRISONS AND VETERANS’ HOMES

The state Department of Corrections has canceled all inmate visits for two weeks, and said it will step up screening of employees and vendors, including taking temperatures and asking a series of questions. Anyone with flu-like symptoms or a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more will not be allowed in a state prison, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement.

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs closed its six veterans’ homes to visitors, but will allow exceptions for when a resident’s heath is deemed “severely critical.”

There are no confirmed cases in the veterans’ homes or prisons.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.