Governor orders Pennsylvania schools closed for 2 weeks

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf is ordering the closure of all schools in Pennsylvania for two weeks, as the state takes sweeping measures aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

The order affecting more than 1.7 million school children, in public and private schools, came as confirmed cases in the state leaped to 33 from 22, including the first patient under 18. He said schools won’t be penalized if they are unable to reach the 180 days of instruction required under state law.

Wolf said in a statement his administration would evaluate the decision at the end of the 10 days and decide whether to extend it.

It comes a day after Wolf ordered all schools, day cares and other facilities closed in hard-hit Montgomery County, a Philadelphia suburb of more than 800,000 people.

Meanwhile, a wave of school closings was already planned across Pennsylvania for next week.

Numerous schools were already closed in at least 10 counties Friday, although Montgomery County was the only one where all schools were closed following Wolf’s Thursday order. He also discouraged large gatherings of people statewide and canceled prison visits.

A look at the latest developments in Pennsylvania:

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CASES

All of the state’s 33 cases of positive tests are in eastern Pennsylvania. Hardest hit is Montgomery County with 17 cases, with more new cases in Philadelphia and Delaware County reported Friday, and a child in Monroe County.

All but one of the confirmed cases have been traced back to contact with the new coronavirus in another state or country. Most people are at home in isolation, officials say; a few are hospitalized.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The vast majority of people recover.

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Wolf has said his approach to Montgomery County will be continually evaluated. For now, it applies to all kinds of schools, including more than 20 public school districts in the county that educate more than 100,000 children. It also applies to higher education, day cares, adult care centers and private schools.

His administration said Wolf was acting under disaster emergency law that allows him to control movement and occupancy in a disaster area, but it could not say when a governor had last used that power. It also cited the Department of Health’s legal responsibility to “determine and employ the most efficient and practical means for the prevention and suppression of disease.”

Gas stations, grocery stores, government facilities, utilities and mass transit should continue to operate, he said, while no-visitor policies are to be adopted by prisons and nursing homes.

For its part, Montgomery County officials are prohibiting all mass gatherings of any size that are outside, or in temporary structures, events that typically require a permit.

They also implored the cancellation of any nonessential public and private gathering indoors, and for businesses to allow employees to work from home.

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CANCELLATIONS

Public programs, events and training in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests were canceled Friday through April, although parks and forests will remain open except for three parks in the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County. The event cancellations include special events such as races and festivals.

Visitors can still camp overnight or stay in cabins and cottages, and fishing is still allowed. In Montgomery County, three state parks will be closed to visitors for at least two weeks: Evansburg, Fort Washington and Norristown Farm Park.

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PRISON VISITS

The state Department of Corrections has canceled all inmate visits for two weeks and said it will step up screening of employees and vendors, including taking temperatures and asking a series of questions. Anyone with flu-like symptoms or a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more will not be allowed in a state prison, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement.

There are no confirmed cases in state prisons.

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Associated Press reporters Maryclaire Dale and Michael Rubinkam contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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