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CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Gov. Wolf seeks to limit large groups, HACC extends spring break, St. Pat's parade canceled

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In case you missed it Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf is strongly encouraging the suspension of large gatherings, events, conferences of 250 individuals or more because of the coronavirus.

He also is discouraging individuals from traveling to recreational activities such as gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls, he said Thursday.

The administration encouraged religious leaders to exercise discretion in order to mitigate the spread of illness.

“I strongly encourage the statewide suspension of large gatherings, events, conferences of 250 individuals or more and discourage people from traveling to recreational activities such as gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls,” Wolf said. “And while people are free to travel, I ask that everyone refrain from non-essential travel. We all need to do our part to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The time to do this is now. We cannot wait.”

Added Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine: “This situation is quickly evolving, even for us here at the Department of Health. It can be overwhelming and scary to hear that you should stay home. Aside from practicing good health habits, we want you to practice good self-care to ensure your body is getting the proper nutrients from fruits, vegetables and getting enough sleep.”

The Department of Health continues to stress key points for Pennsylvanians:

• Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

• Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.

• Clean surfaces frequently.

• If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better.

As of 8 a.m. Friday, there are 20 presumptive positive cases and 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. Counties impacted to date include:

• Bucks (2)
• Delaware (1)
• Monroe (2)
• Montgomery (13)
• Northampton (1)
• Philadelphia (1)
• Pike (1)
• Wayne (1)

Because of the number of cases in Montgomery County, all schools there are closed starting today, as are child care centers licensed by the commonwealth. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations will remain open, but the governor recommended that non-essential retail facilities close.

Other recent developments:

• On Thursday, Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Diocese of Harrisburg dispensed the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Despite the suspension of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, all regularly scheduled masses will remain open to the public for those who wish to attend.

In addition to the dispensation, the diocese has also requested that all parishes suspend the sign of peace and suspend the use of holy water fonts.

• The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said Thursday it is restricting visitors to its six veterans homes for the foreseeable future. The only exceptions will be in compassionate cases, when a resident’s heath becomes severely critical. In those cases, visitors will be subjected to a brief health assessment and will only have access to their specific resident’s room.

“Our residents are predominantly older and many have multiple complex health conditions, so we are taking this extra precaution to minimize their risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the DMVA. “We realize family and friends want to spend time with their loved ones, but we hope they understand that this temporary inconvenience is prudent and necessary to minimize the risk of exposure. We apologize in advance and thank everyone for their cooperation.”

The DMVA provides residency to more than 1,300 eligible veterans and their spouses throughout the commonwealth. The six veterans homes are: the Delaware Valley Veterans’ Home in Philadelphia; the Gino J. Merli Veterans’ Center in Scranton; the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home in Hollidaysburg; the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home in Erie; the Southeastern Veterans’ Center in Spring City; and the Southwestern Veterans’ Center in Pittsburgh.

• All public events in the Capitol Complex and the Governor’s Residence are being canceled effective today until further notice due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The cancelation of events applies to all interior and exterior venues in the Capitol Complex and will affect public gatherings such as rallies, school or group tours, choir performances and receptions, according to a release put out by the Department of General Services.

• As a precautionary measure in response to the spread of the new coronavirus, HACC extended its spring break for students until March 22.

• The Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District canceled the 2020 Harrisburg St. Patrick’s Parade due to health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus.

The parade, which was slotted for March 21, will not be rescheduled. All entry fees, sponsorships and donations will be applied to the 2021 parade unless a refund is requested in writing by mail at Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District, 22 N. Second St., Harrisburg, PA 17101, or email at sydney@harrisburgdid.com.