HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Governor Tom Wolf requested a major disaster declaration from the President through FEMA to provide additional support for state, county and municipal governments and certain nonprofits, as well as individuals who are struggling during the COVID-19 outbreak on Sunday.
This news comes as the commonwealth announces that the number of positive cases in Pennsylvania has risen by 643 to at least 3,394 patients across 58 counties. The Department of Health also reported four new deaths, bringing the total to 38.
"The COVID-19 outbreak has taxed our commonwealth and our communities in ways that are almost incomprehensible," said Wolf. "I am calling on the President and the federal government to make available to us the assistance that will make a tangible difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors, and the dedicated public servants who are working in overdrive to support them."
Pennsylvania already received an emergency declaration under the President's nationwide emergency proclamation, which provides reimbursement for eligible expenses for emergency protective measures to state, county and local governments and certain nonprofits for the duration of the emergency incident. The declared nationwide emergency incident began Jan. 20.
The request for a major disaster declaration, if approved, will provide the same emergency protective measures available under the nationwide emergency proclamation; the following individual assistance programs: disaster unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, community disaster loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program; and statewide hazard mitigation.
It is not known how quickly the President will act on Governor Wolf's major disaster request for additional federal assistance.
Governor Wolf signed a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 outbreak, which is a required step to request a federal major disaster declaration, back on March 6.
For a complete breakdown of the age ranges and home counties of each positive COVID-19 patient provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, click here.
STAY-AT-HOME ORDER EXTENDED TO ADDITIONAL COUNTIES
Gov. Tom Wolf has extended his order for residents to stay at home in most circumstances to almost one-third of Pennsylvania's counties amid an increase in coronavirus cases and a dozen more deaths that brought the total to 34 for the outbreak.
The governor on Saturday extended the order to Beaver, Centre and Washington Counties, making a total of 22 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties included. The order already covered three-fourths of the state's 12.8 million residents.
"We're seeing this virus begin to rear its ugly head in every corner of our commonwealth," Wolf said Saturday.
The order restricts movement to certain health or safety-related travel or travel to a job at an employer designated by Wolf's administration as "life-sustaining." The measures are designed to slow the spread of the virus and give the state's hospitals time to increase staffing, equipment and bed space.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
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TEMPORARY LIFTING OF REGULATIONS
The governor's office has announced measures aimed at allowing retired medical personnel and out-of-state practitioners to help care for patients amid the coronavirus outbreak, and temporarily lifting regulations to allow more people to provide care.
"We're now allowing any licensed health care professional to provide services over telemedicine," Wolf said. "This will help us provide existing standards of care to many patients without having them leave the safety of their homes."
The state was also allowing some licensees to complete continuing education online or through distance learning, he said.
The measures include streamlining reactivation of licenses for retired doctors, nurses and others, lifting requirements that registered nurses practice within a specialty, and extending license deadlines, temporary nursing permits and graduate permits.
"This will get doctors and nurses who have decades of experience back to seeing patients," he said. Such personnel don't need to see coronavirus patients to help, since seeing people with everyday concerns would free up others to help with the epidemic, he said.
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EASTON HOSPITAL FUNDING
The owner of an eastern Pennsylvania hospital has announced a deal with the state to keep the facility open and operating for at least the next four weeks amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Steward Health Care, the owner of Easton Hospital, had sought $40 million from the state, citing "dire" financial problems. Steward said it had told state health officials in January that the hospital would either be sold to St. Luke's University Health Network by April 21 or close.
The company said Friday night that the governor's office had "agreed to provide emergency funding to Easton Hospital for at least the next four weeks." The amount provided wasn't specified.
"At the end of this period, we will work together with the governor to secure funding to keep the hospital open on a month-to-month basis as long as the crisis continues or St. Luke's completes the proposed transaction," said Darren Grubb, a spokesman for the Dallas, Texas-based company said Friday night.
The company would return any state funds that exceed the hospital's operating expenses at the end of four weeks, he said.
Gov. Tom Wolf didn't confirm the deal Saturday or any amount but said the state was working with the hospital "to make sure they have what they need to stay open."
Wolf said the bulk of any funding would come from the federal government, but it's unclear how federal money intended to aid the nation's hospitals will be spent.
"In the meantime, there are places like Easton Hospital ... in financial jeopardy," he said. "Right now the state is doing everything it can to make sure that we are increasing our health care capacity, not reducing it."
Steward said the cancellation of elective surgeries and the associated revenue had pushed Easton Hospital's finances to the brink.
EMERGENCY FOOD DISTRIBUTION
State officials say the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved waiver requirements sought for disaster food distribution in Pennsylvania for those affected by efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.
The governor's office says the state agriculture department late Friday received approval to use U.S. Department of Agriculture foods as part of a disaster distribution program run through the state's network of food banks, food pantries, and pop-up distribution sites.
The governor had sought a temporary waiver on the need to verify household eligibility and waivers of other requirements by the federal department.
Officials say that will mean more efficient distribution of a variety of foods including meats, vegetables, fruit, canned goods, cereal, rice, pasta eggs and more to those most affected by the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses in the commonwealth.