West Chester, Pa. declares state of emergency after spike in COVID-19 cases

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- The Borough of West Chester, Pa. has declared a state of emergency due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

It goes into effect at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 2.

"The purpose is to improve our government's ability to manage novel coronavirus transmission in our community," Mayor Dianne Herrin said in a statement.

She said the rate of infection is "particularly high" in people ages 18 to 22, and the cases are concentrated in the "rental community."

Among those tested, 18 to 22 years olds were the majority of positive cases in the community, according to numbers from the borough.

The borough is home to West Chester University, though the college is not mentioned by name in the declaration.

A statement from the University reads, in part, "West Chester University considers itself a partner in the West Chester community and takes seriously its responsibility to put actions in place that strongly encourage students to practice social distancing and wear masks to aide in mitigation of COVID-19." (full statement below)

In a news release, the borough outlined the following measures:

1. Limitation of social gatherings at private residences.

* All outdoor and indoor social gatherings at private residences must be limited to 10 or fewer people.When the number of members living in a household exceeds 10, no additional persons shall gather at the property, either indoors or outdoors.

All known violations will be cited by the West Chester Police Department at $300 per person, for each participant in such gatherings including the household member(s) hosting the gathering.

"Household" is defined as the same dwelling unit.

2. Face covering requirement.

All persons in the Borough of West Chester shall be required to wear a face covering when within 6 feet of another person and when the person(s) is/are:

* Inside any building open to the public, such as but not limited to grocery stores, pharmacies, business locations, retail stores, service establishments, and medical and dental treatment facilities.

* Inside all municipal and other governmental buildings.

* On a transport or transit vehicle, including ride share and public transportation.

* Waiting to enter any building open to the public, any municipal and other governmental building, or waiting to board any transport or transit vehicle, unless a distance of at least 6 feet is maintained from any person who is not that person's family or household member.

* Coming into contact with any person who is not that person's family or household member, whether indoors or outdoors, including, but not limited to, contact during gatherings, curbside pickup, drive-through and food truck purchases, deliveries, and service calls.

* Working in all jobs that entail coming into contact with any member of the public including, but not limited to, all work involving the preparation or packaging of food and/or beverages unless separated by a physical barrier between the employee and the public.

Parents or guardians are responsible for ensuring that minor children wear face coverings, unless such children are exempt as set forth herein.

Face covering exceptions include persons:

* With a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing of a face covering, provided the person provides documentation from a licensed medical professional of such medical, mental health, or disability preventing the wearing of a face covering. In the event that the person provides said documentation immediately, or within 5 days, the citation shall be not be issued.

* Whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.

* Who are hearing impaired, or who are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

* For whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

* Who are obtaining a service or treatment involving the nose or face or a medical procedure for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.

* Seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, provided the establishment complies with the most current requirements established by the PA Department of Health and the Governor of Pennsylvania.

All known violations will be cited by the West Chester Police Department at $300 per person, for each person violating these face covering requirements.

"Face covering" means a clean cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, without holes or vents, that covers both the mouth and nose, including surgical masks, respirators, face shields, handmade or homemade masks, and bandanas, neck gaiters, scarves or wraps made of tightly woven fabric such as denim or cotton.

"Coming into contact" means within 6 feet or closer.


STATEMENT FROM WEST CHESTER UNIVERSITY:

West Chester University considers itself a partner in the West Chester community and takes seriously its responsibility to put actions in place that strongly encourage students to practice social distancing and wear masks to aide in mitigation of COVID-19. The University's COVID Campus Cooperation Plan details protocols, policies, and procedures that it enforces and expects all students to follow.

By enrolling in classes, all on-campus and off-campus students agree to abide by all federal, state, county, local, and University guidelines, as well as those issued throughout the academic year and communicated to students via the Student Community Agreements and Student Code of Conduct.

When the first emergency order restricting gatherings in Chester County expired in March, the University continued to enforce police citations for disorderly conduct and our Office of Student Conduct followed-up immediately when details were shared about mask wearing or social distancing. Now that another emergency declaration has just been imposed in our area, the University will support and strictly enforce it. The University has already posted the declaration on all of its social media platforms.

West Chester University continues to monitor the effects of COVID-19 for all students and employees. We have and will continue to communicate regularly with the Chester County Health Department, and advocate for our students to practice social distancing and the wearing of masks to aid in mitigation of COVID-19.


(Correction: An earlier version of this story said that 18 to 22 year olds had a positivity rate of 68.4% in September. That age group actually made up 68.4% of all positive cases).
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