The Wolf administration says it’s rolling out a new $60 million loan program to help the scores of small businesses that have been hard hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program or CWCA, would award loans of up to $100,000 to for-profit businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday during an online news conference.
Wolf’s announcement came as state health officials reported more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The illness is now present in 44 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Wolf acknowledged the struggles and sacrifices of businesses across Pennsylvania saying, “It’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not going to pretend that it’s enough to cover the devastation COVID-19 is bringing to the commonwealth.”
Wolf ordered non-life sustaining businesses to close or risk enforcement action. On Monday morning, the Pennsylvania State Police began issuing warnings to businesses that have not complied with the order. Thousands of businesses have applied for waivers.
The “best way” to minimize the impact to the economy is to stay at home and practice social distancing, Wolf said.
Wolf thanked Pennsylvanians for taking social distancing efforts seriously, citing a study that gave Pennsylvania an “A” on its social distancing scoreboard.
“I want to thank all of you for the sacrifices you’re making,” Wolf said. “Staying at home is vital to saving lives in the commonwealth.”
Wolf also took the time to clarify his county-by-county stay-at-home order, saying that state officials are trying to take a “measured approach” based on where outbreaks of COVID-19 are the heaviest.
On Wednesday, the administration announced that it had ordered residents in two more Pennsylvania counties, Lehigh and Northampton counties, to stay home. Ten Pennsylvania counties are now under that order.
The stay-at-home orders, Wolf said, will give hospitals time to acquire necessary equipment and for the sick to recover.
“I want to do no less and no more than what the crisis requires,” Wolf said.
State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who also participated in the briefing, updated on the state’s latest efforts to make sure healthcare providers are adequately provisioned to fight the pandemic.
Levine said that 40 percent of beds and approximately 3,000 ventilators (75 percent of the state’s supply) are still available. But she noted that the number of beds and ventilators continually changes as the number of confirmed COVID cases continues to grow.
Ten percent of COVID-19 cases will require hospitalization, Levine said. The number of cases is doubling every two to three days, she said.
Levine could not provide a time frame for when the outbreak would peak, but said, “It’s going to get very high, very fast.”
State health officials are looking to industries outside of the “healthcare setting,” Levine said, for in-demand supplies such as N-95 masks, needed to protect health care workers who may come into contact with infected patients.
With both chambers of the General Assembly in virtual session Wednesday, Wolf said he would sign legislation moving the state’s primary from April 28 to June 2.
Wolf hesitated to say that he would sign legislation changing school code and waiving mandatory instruction days due to continued changes to the bill. “I will wait til that gets to my desk,” Wolf said.