In This Update:
24 Counties Enter Yellow Phase; 13 More Move to Yellow on May 15
By May 15, a total of 37 Pennsylvania counties will be in the yellow phase of reopening, meaning more businesses can safely open with proper safety measures in place. Twenty-four counties are already in the yellow phase, while 13 more will join them on Friday.
Greene and Washington are among the counties that will move to the yellow phase. I am thankful to see some limited progress for these counties, but I am disappointed and frustrated that Beaver County remains the only county in the entire western half of the state to remain under restriction in the red phase. My statement about this announcement is available here.
According to guidance from the Wolf Administration, all businesses that have been conducting operations through telework should continue to do so in the yellow phase. Businesses that serve the public should seek to conduct business by appointment only whenever possible, observe social distancing guidelines, limit large gatherings, and require all customers and employees to wear masks.
Businesses that have questions about reopening should refer to the Department of Health’s Frequently Asked Questions webpage or call the department at 1-877-724-3258.
Much more work needs to be done by the Wolf Administration to repair the damage caused by the governor’s shutdown orders. Many more businesses could open and operate safely if given the opportunity to do so with guidance from national health experts.
Members of two Senate committees held a joint hearing last week to take a critical look at the governor’s plans to reopen Pennsylvania. Video and written testimony from the hearing are available, and some of the highlights of the hearing are summarized in the video below.
Senate Passes Bill to Preserve Access to Ventilator Services
As the state struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19, preserving access to ventilator and tracheostomy care has never been more important. I am pleased to report that the Senate approved a bill I sponsored that would ensure more patients who require this highly specialized care can continue to receive treatment in nursing homes and other personal care settings.
Medicaid currently does not reimburse providers for all of the additional expenses that ventilator and tracheostomy patients incur, including specialized equipment, supplies and staff costs. I authored a bill with Senator Dan Laughlin to ensure dedicated additional Medicaid funding is available to these facilities to preserve access for roughly 700 patients throughout the state.
More details about our bill including my comments on the floor of the Senate are available here.
REMINDER: Additional Hearings Scheduled on Governor’s Response to COVID-19
Last week, several Senate committees held hearings on a wide range of topics pertaining to the Wolf Administration’s response to COVID-19. The hearings included a closer look at the governor’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania, a thorough examination of numerous problems with the Unemployment Compensation program, a review of the response of the state’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits Stores during the pandemic, and an evaluation of the state’s failure to protect nursing home residents and staff.
These hearings will continue this week with the following meetings:
The Senate Education Committee will review the state’s efforts to provide continuity of education for students during the pandemic on Monday beginning at 11 a.m.
The Senate Transportation Committee will discuss COVID-19 impacts on Pennsylvania’s transportation system on Tuesday beginning at 11 a.m.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will explore the governor’s plan to release certain inmates from State Correctional Institutions on Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m.
The Senate will be in session each day following the hearings. Testimony and video from all of these hearings will be available here.
Business Waiver List Released, but Wolf Administration Ignores Subpoena for More Info
Because Governor Wolf has repeatedly denied requests to release information about the secretive, arbitrary and inconsistent process of granting waivers to businesses that wished to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee issued a subpoena for this information on April 30.
Unfortunately, the Wolf Administration ignored this request, as well as its duty to the people of Pennsylvania to be open and transparent about the process that dictated which businesses could stay open and which businesses were forced to close.
The Department of Community and Economic Development released a list of 6,066 exemptions that were approved, but the list raised even more questions about the criteria used to determine which businesses were allowed to continue operating.
Senate leaders are weighing the next steps to ensure the public can get a better understanding of the Wolf Administration’s process of picking winners and losers during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Appeals Window Extended for Unemployment Claimants Who Were Denied Benefits
Unemployment Compensation (UC) applicants who were denied benefits will have more time to appeal the decision if they believe the denial was incorrect. Under normal circumstances, appeals must be filed within 15 calendar days of the mailing date of the determination of eligibility. However, due to delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic, appeals can be filed indefinitely for determinations issued during the pandemic.
More information on filing appeals of a denial of UC benefits is available from the Department of Labor and Industry.
The Senate Labor and Industry Committee and the Senate Communications and Technology Committee held a joint hearing last week to dig deeper into the flaws in the UC system that have left approximately 30 percent of all applicants without a single payment during the entire public health emergency, which began in mid-March. Video and written testimony from the hearing are available online, and a short video with highlights from the hearing is available below.
New Guidance Issued for Non-Urgent Dental Care
Dental care providers can now resume non-urgent procedures under new guidance from the Department of Health. Providers must comply with CDC guidance, including the use of Personal Protective Equipment, in order to provide care safely.
Dental providers are also advised to screen all patients for symptoms of COVID-19 before they arrive at the practice, and tele-dentistry should continue whenever possible.
Updated Guidelines Available for Veterinary Practices
Veterinary services have continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with precautions in place to avoid spreading the virus. The Department of State recently shared new guidance for veterinary practices to continue to operate safely.
The new protocols are based on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s COVID-19 guidelines, which are available below: