By Sandy Rhodes
Editor, FLAG area
On March 16, many businesses throughout the West County area vowed to remain open with business as usual. But by the afternoon, that all changed with announcements by Gov. Tom Wolf and Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper showing residents and business owners that the next few weeks will be anything but business as usual.
“It’s our job to inform the public as much as we can to help them to remain calm and maintain a sense of normalcy in a troubled time,” Williams said. “We’re not taking this lightly, but we’re not over panicking,” said Bob Williams, publisher of The Corry Journal. “We are going to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but one thing is certain, we’re going to print a newspaper every day.”
In an attempt to stop coronavirus from spreading, Wolf extended the shutdown of the entire state, while Dalhkemper declared a state of emergency for Erie County.
Wolf’s shutdown includes nonessential government offices and nonessential business activity, which began March 17 and is expected to last at least two weeks, he said. He said this was not mandatory, but recommended.
“This isn’t a decision that I take lightly at all,” Wolf said during a news conference. “It’s one that I’m making because medical experts believe it’s the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”
State-owned liquor stores were directed to shut down after being open Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, and restaurants were to end dine-in service. Restaurants can operate with takeout meals and delivery.
Wolf said he would not force businesses to close, but he urged people to understand that all Pennsylvanians are in the fight together and said they owe it to one another not to spread the disease.
“People will be making their decisions what they do with their lives all across the commonwealth for the next days and weeks and months,” Wolf said. “What we ought to do is think not what should we do in terms what the law is, but what should we do in terms of what we owe to our fellow citizens.”
The list of nonessential businesses includes community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, barre and spin facilities; hair salons, barbers, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; bars; sporting event venues and golf courses; retail facilities, including shopping malls, except for pharmacies or other health care facilities within retail operations.
Licensed child care centers must shut down as well as adult day care centers and senior community centers.
Essential services include food processing; agriculture; industrial manufacturing; feed mills; construction; trash collection; grocery stores; convenience stores; retailers of household goods; home repair, hardware and auto repair stores; pharmacy and other medical facilities; biomedical and health care facilities; post offices and shipping outlets; insurers; banks; gas stations; laundromats; veterinary clinics and pet stores; warehousing, storage, and distribution facilities; public transportation; and hotel and commercial lodging.
Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed all centers that issue driver’s licenses and photo licenses for at least two weeks.
PennDOT extended expiration dates for driver’s licenses, ID cards, vehicle registrations and safety and emissions checks. If they expire before March 31, the new deadline to renew will be April 30.
All district and county maintenance offices were closed and many construction projects were suspended.
Some crews were kept on to do emergency maintenance.
Rest areas and welcome centers closed Tuesday.
Later on March 16, Dahlkemper declared a disaster emergency for Erie County. As of Wednesday, there were no cases of coronavirus reported in the county, but that does not mean the virus is not in Erie County.
“As of (Monday), as of this moment right now, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Erie County,” Dahlkemper said. “However, collectively, we believe that the COVID-19 virus is here, but has yet to be identified. In an effort to keep our residents safe, I am officially declaring a disaster emergency in Erie County.”
Erie County Department of Health Director Melissa Lyon echoed Dahlkemper’s statement.
“It’s in my mind that indicates that there is likely COVID-19 here in Erie County, we’ve just not been able to identify where that is,” Lyon said. “And it has to do with the process that we’re using for testing at this time.”
Lyon said some people who do not have symptoms or have traveled may still test positive even though they are not being tested.
“I’m hopeful that in the next couple of weeks there will be more testing available at health systems and laboratories so testing can be expanded,” Lyon said.