On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf extended his stay-at-home order, in place for Butler and 25 other counties, until at least April 30, and extended indefinitely his order to close schools and businesses to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
These moves, Wolf said, brings Pennsylvania in line with the federal government's social distancing guidelines, which were updated Sunday to stretch through April.
While Wolf said Pennsylvanians have done a “phenomenal job” of staying home, he said that because the disease continues to spread throughout the commonwealth he will reevaluate his orders when it would be safe to lift the mandates.
“We're actually bending the curve and we're buying time so we can get to the point where our health care system can accommodate the demand for services,” Wolf said in a Monday news conference.
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As of noon Monday, there were 4,087 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth, along with 48 deaths. In Butler County, 49 people have been diagnosed with the illness and two have died of it.
At the state level, the virus continues its exponential growth in patients, setting a record Monday with nearly 700 new cases recorded. Butler County saw two new cases Monday, marking a second day decrease in new cases since the county saw 15 new cases Saturday.
While the statewide growth of the disease remains exponential, Sharon Watkins, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health, said the success of social distancing would be most visible at the county or metropolitan area level.
“Although we're seeing some positive indicators, it's too early to say,” she added.
Wolf also addressed some concerns about how schools are to handle the continued closure. While some school districts — like Seneca Valley and Mars Area districts — continue with virtual education, many in the state, such as South Butler County School District, are not.
“We are working on a plan to make sure that we have a way to provide an education for the kids who are not getting an education for the next two months,” he said. “I think the hope is that we have that in place in the next few days, so that by the time we start next week we will have an alternative to brick-and-mortar schools.”
Although neighboring states including Maryland, New York and Ohio have implemented statewide stay-at-home orders, Pennsylvania has not yet implemented its own. Instead, the governor has moved county-by-county. Thus far, about 40 percent of the state's counties — and roughly 80 percent of its population — are under Wolf's mandate.
“The way we've done it in Pa. is to try to take a measured and balanced approach and say, OK, we are rolling this out in those counties where the county leadership have asked for it and there's a real need, there's an increase in the number of people getting sick, or an increased concern that people will get sick,” Wolf said. “I think the way Pennsylvania is doing it is the appropriate way.”
Wolf did say, though, that he would not rule out the possibility of extending the order through the state if the order begins affecting a vast majority of counties.
“If that continues, then we always have the option of moving to a statewide stay-at-home order,” he said.