EAGLEVILLE — As Montgomery County continues to see an increase in positive coronavirus cases, evidence of community spread, officials said they support the governor’s stay-at-home order issued on Monday for county residents.
“I support this order and encouraged the governor to issue this order. I believe that staying home, except for essential work or essential trips, is the most important thing that we can do as a county to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 — the elderly, those with serious underlying medical conditions and those that are immunocompromised,” county Commissioner Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said during a news briefing.
Arkoosh said staying at home can protect first responders, hospitals, healthcare workers and other critical workforce from being overwhelmed by COVID-19.
“Staying at home is, how together, we will beat COViD-19,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the news conference by fellow commissioners Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. and Joseph C. Gale, and Dr. Alvin Wang, regional EMS medical director, and Dr. Brenda Weis, administrator of the Office of Public Health.
The stay-at-home order, which begins at 8 p.m. Monday and will last for two weeks, emphasizes the social distancing measures that officials believe can stop the spread of COVID-19. Governor Tom Wolf also included Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties in the stay-at-home order.
“These counties is where the problem is concentrated right now and if we do a good job with the stay-at-home order and people respond positively, the virus will not spread and that’s what we’re hoping for,” Wolf said earlier on Monday. “So, the guidance is that if you need to leave your home for a reason that is essential for your life, like buying food or pharmaceuticals, then by all means leave your home. But if you don’t have to leave your home, just keep in mind that by staying at home you might be saving a life and that’s an important consideration. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Arkoosh explained residents can leave their homes to engage in activities or perform tasks essential to their “health and safety” or that of a family member, such as seeking emergency services, obtaining medical supplies or medications or visiting a healthcare professional.
“You can leave your home for necessary supplies or services, to obtain necessary supplies such as groceries and food, household consumer products and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operation of a residence,” Arkoosh said.
“You can leave your home for certain types of work, to perform work providing essential products and services at life-sustaining businesses or operations in keeping with the governor’s order,” Arkoosh added. “You can leave your home to care for a family member, a friend, a pet in another household, or to transport family members, friends or pets.”
Arkoosh said one of the most challenging things about the disease is that people can be carrying it but be without symptoms.
“So they could think that they’re okay and be out in the community but actually be spreading it. So, that is also part of why we are asking people to stay home and taking this more serious step to try to encourage people to stay home, because people could have it and not know it,” Arkoosh said.
Life-sustaining businesses include stores that sell groceries and medicines, organizations that provide charitable and social services such as food pantries, religious entities, media, gas stations, financial and insurance institutions, hardware and supply stores, mail and package delivery services, and restaurants for take-out services.
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele advised all residents and businesses to abide by the stay-at-home order restrictions.
“It’s to protect everybody, young and old, by limiting the spread and flattening the curve,” Steele said.
“While we expect that the vast majority of Montgomery County residents and businesses will comply… there may be some businesses that are deemed not life-sustaining businesses under the order that might consider staying open. My advice to you is, don’t do it,” Steele warned. “Comply with our legal order to close.”
Steele said local law enforcement is ready to enforce the order.
“Don’t make them do it,” said Steele, adding violators could face summary fines of $300 or other penalties including misdemeanor charges of obstruction of the administration of justice or law or other government function, which could lead to jail time. “Our law enforcement community is up to speed on this and they’re ready to act, but we don’t want to have to act.
“We all realize that closure of business is difficult. But look, this is about health, safety and the welfare of all of us,” Steele added. “Police officers in every municipality in Montgomery County are working hard, alongside EMS workers and other first responders, to keep us safe. Let’s not make them have to come out and deal with business owners in the communities. That’s the last thing they want to do or need to do. That’s not where they should be spending their time. So let’s get voluntary compliance on this order to stop the spread of coronavirus.”
On Sunday, officials announced the first death of a coronavirus patient in the county, a 72-year-old Abington man. Arkoosh said the man had been hospitalized for several days before his death.
County officials reported 26 new positive cases of coronavirus on Monday, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 136. The county continues to outpace other counties in the state in the number of cases.
Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were a total of 644 confirmed cases as of noon on Monday. Officials said statistics showed a trend that every two days the number of positive cases has doubled in the state.
Neighboring Delaware County reported 54 cases and Chester County reported 40 positive cases while Bucks County reported 43 cases, by noon on Monday, according to state officials. Berks County reported 14 cases, Lehigh County reported 25 cases and Philadelphia had 128 by noon.
The new cases in Montgomery County include 13 men and 13 women whose ages range between 18 and 81. Four of the individuals are hospitalized, Arkoosh said.
The new reported positive cases of COVID-19 included individuals from 12 municipalities, including four municipalities that saw their first cases of the disease – Upper Gwynedd, Narberth, Towamencin and Lower Frederick.
“We fully anticipated seeing an increase in the number of individuals that tested positive for the coronavirus just simply given that we are testing a lot more people,” Arkoosh said.
Saturday marked two weeks since officials reported the first cases of coronavirus in the county.
Officials said the county’s community-based COVID-19 testing site, which began operating last Friday at Temple University’s Ambler Campus in Upper Dublin, initially for first responders and healthcare workers and later for members of the general public who meet specific criteria, tested about 1,100 people by the end of the day on Monday.
“I’m very pleased with how this has been going,” Arkoosh said.
The site will provide testing by appointment only. There will not be any treatment conducted at the site, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily as testing supplies allow.
Only individuals meeting one or more of six criteria will be eligible for testing. The criteria are: 1. Fever at or above 100.4 degrees and respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath; 2. Temperature at or above 99.6 degrees and that person is 65 years of age or older; 3. If you are a first responder, a member of law enforcement, fire, EMS or a dispatcher and you have concern for exposure to a patient with suspected COVID-19 or have respiratory symptoms; 4. You’re a healthcare worker providing direct patient care and testing is not available through your employer; 5. People who have known or suspected direct contact to a person with COVID-19; or A person whose doctor has recommended that they be tested but has not yet been able to get a test.
“If you fall into any of those categories, we would welcome you at our testing site,” Arkoosh said.
Due to the limited number of tests available, tests will be reserved for the high-risk individuals who meet any of the five criteria, officials said.
The link to register is available at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19 as well as at the county’s official social media accounts, officials said.
Individuals who do not have access to the Internet or do not have an email address can call 610-631-3000 to register for a testing appointment.