(*Updated, 7:53 a.m.: Pennsylvania saw its fourth COVID-19 death in East Stroudsburg, Pa., the Morning Call of Allentown reported Monday morning)
The COVID-19 outbreak is “the most significant public health crisis in our lifetime,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Sunday, as he called on the state’s nearly 13 million residents to step up and do their part to help contain the outbreak.
“We all have to change the way we live our lives,” Wolf said, calling for unity. “This cannot be the government versus the individual or the government versus the business community.”
As of Sunday afternoon, state health officials confirmed 479 cases of COVID-19 in 33 counties, including three COVID-related deaths, one in Allegheny, one in Northampton.
On Sunday evening, officials in Montgomery County announced a the county’s first fatality. On Monday, the Morning Call of Allentown, citing the Monroe County Coroner, reported that a “56-year-old East Stroudsburg man died Sunday at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Pocono in East Stroudsburg due to complications from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.”
— Stephen Caruso (@StephenJ_Caruso) March 22, 2020
On Thursday, Wolf announced that non-life-sustaining businesses would need to comply with a mandatory shutdown to slow the spread of the virus, set to begin on Monday morning.
Wolf reiterated Sunday that the closures would be enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police and thanked businesses across the state that have already complied with Thursday’s order.
However, Wolf said his administration is open to businesses who may be switching gears to find innovative ways to combat the shortage of supplies, such as hand sanitizer and masks.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney implemented a stay at home order, set to take effect on Monday morning.
Wolf offered his support to those efforts, adding that a statewide shelter-in-place order is “under consideration.”
“We need to buy time,” Wolf said. “If we have to do more, we will.”
Wolf clarified the need for time as the healthcare system struggles to keep up with COVID-19 cases.
“We need time for our hospitals to prepare for the surge,” Wolf said “We need time to develop a vaccine.”
With Pennsylvania schools set to reopen March 30, Wolf said he will be looking into whether it is safe for kids to return to school as the number of reported cases continues to rise, citing the need to “flatten the curve” before normal activities resumed.
With the state’s primary election a little more than a month away, Wolf said that counties have asked the Legislature to postpone the April 28 primary, but added that an agreement has not been reached between the General Assembly and his office to make that happen.
A state House panel could act as soon as Monday on a bill pushing the primary to June 2, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
On legislative matters, Wolf said he hadn’t read a letter from House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, asking for the state Department of Transportation to be able to continue construction projects during the closure of much of the state.
Wolf said that PennDOT is continuing to work on existing projects statewide on structurally deficient bridges and critical highway repairs. But the agency is prohibited from beginning new projects at this time.