Coronavirus (COVID-19)


PSATS Daily COVID-19 News

Monday, October 26, 2020

 

PA, US COVID-19 Cases Increase with More Testing

The statewide COVID case total now stands at 192,622, while the total deaths attributed to COVID-19 have reached 8,654. As of Saturday, Pennsylvania had reported 19 straight days of more than 1,000 daily cases, and the most recent three days saw totals of greater than 2,000 daily cases. The state Department of Health is reporting that daily increases are now comparable with April 2020, although testing was not widely available then as it is now. In addition, the Department of Health is reporting that statewide, 1,017 ICU beds, or 24.6%, and 4,423 medical/surgical beds, or 22.1%, remain open. While hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have increased substantially, rates remain about one-third of those hospitalized statewide in the spring. 

Pennsylvania’s statewide percent-positivity has increased from 4.3% to 5%, which means the entire state now qualifies for the “watch” list. Counties having percent-positivity rates of 5% or more for the past week include Armstrong, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Clinton (new), Cumberland (new), Dauphin, Elk, Franklin (new), Huntingdon, Indiana, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Lebanon, Luzerne, Mercer (new), Montour, Northumberland (new), Perry, Philadelphia (new), Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Tioga, Venango (new), Washington (new), Westmoreland, and York (new). Carbon and Centre counties saw their percent-positivity rates drop under 5% last week and were removed from the state’s “watch” list. Click herefor more.


Previous PSATS Daily COVID-19 News


COVID-19 Guidance for Townships

Governor Amends Crowd Size Orders

The Governor and Secretary of Health has announced on Tuesday, October 6,  an amendment to the existing COVID-19 orders to allow for adjusted capacity to gathering limits. These changes will go into effect on Friday, October 9th, and will take into account a venue’s occupancy limit when determining overall allowable capacity for both indoor and outdoor events and gatherings.

Pennsylvanians must continue to social distance and wear masks. Regardless of the size of an event or gathering, those things are still imperative to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

An event or gathering is defined as a temporary grouping of individuals for defined purposes that takes place over a limited timeframe, such as hours or days, including fairs, festivals, concerts, or shows and groupings that occur within larger, more permanent businesses, such as shows or performances within amusement parks, individual showings of movies, business meetings or conferences, or each party or reception within a multi-room venue. Groups of people who share space within a building in the ordinary course of operations, such as in an office building, classroom, production floor, or similar regularly occurring operation of a business or organization, are not events or gatherings. Venues must require attendees to comply with 6-foot social distancing requirements, to wear masks or face coverings, and to implement best practices such as timed entry, multiple entries and exit points, multiple restrooms, and hygiene stations. The adjusted capacity limits are listed in the table below. 

 

Maximum Occupancy Calculator for indoor events:

Maximum Occupancy

Allowable Indoor Rate

0-2,000 people

20% of Maximum Occupancy

2,001 - 10,000 people

15% of Maximum Occupancy

Over 10,000 people

10% of Maximum Occupancy up to 3,750 people

 

Maximum Occupancy Calculator for outdoor events:

 

Maximum Occupancy

Allowable Outdoor Rate

0-2,000 people

25% of Maximum Occupancy

2,001 - 10,000 people

20% of Maximum Occupancy

Over 10,000 people

15% of Maximum Occupancy up to 7,500 people

 

 

Clarification on Payroll Tax Deferral  

The Q&As below provide the latest clarification on the presidential memorandum authorizing the deferment of payments of the employee portion of Social Security taxes.

  

Q: Must townships participate in the deferral? 

A: It is our understanding that the deferral is optional for employers. The press release from the IRS states that the guidance is implementing the presidential memorandum “allowing employers to defer withholding and payment of the employee’s portion of the Social Security tax if the employee’s wages are below a certain amount.” The guidance does not require the deferral. 

 

Q: If the township decides to implement the deferral, may we provide our employees with the option to participate? 

A: Yes, employees must be given the option to participate if employer decides to offer. 

 

Q: If our township decides to implement the deferral, does this mean that we won’t need to pay these taxes to the IRS? 

A: No. It is only a delay, and the taxes must be withheld beginning in January 2021 and be submitted to the IRS no later than April 30, 2021.

 

Q: Does the deferral apply to the employee portion of Social Security tax withholding for all employees? 

A: No. It only applies to those employees who make less than $4,000 for any biweekly pay period between September 1 and December 31, 2020. It is determined whether deferment applies based on each payroll period. 

 

Q: Who is responsible for making sure that the taxes are submitted by April 30? 

A: The employer. The employer may arrange for repayment with the employee, particularly if an employee would leave employment with the township before the deferred tax is repaid. If the employer fails to repay the taxes, it will face penalties for any unpaid deferred taxes as of May 1, 2021. 

 

Q: Does this mean that more taxes will need to be withheld from employee wages in 2021? 

A: Yes, if your township implements the deferral, affected employees will need additional withholding in 2021, which could be at 12.4 percent for Social Security if the employee makes the same amount in 2021 as in 2020. 

 

Q: What if an employee works full-time this year and only part-time next year or takes medical leave? 

A: The township must withhold and pay over the deferred taxes or reimburse the township for this cost. If not, the township will be responsible for paying these taxes out of township funds. 

 

To read the presidential memorandum, click here. To read the guidance, click here. To read the IRS press release, click here 

 

Restaurants May Increase Indoor Occupancy

After months of operating at 25 percent indoor capacity, restaurants that self-certify that they are complying with state orders to mitigate COVID-19 may increase indoor occupancy to 50 percent beginning on September 21. Self-certified restaurants will be listed in a searchable online commonwealth database. Restaurants will have until October 5 to self-certify.   

However, all sales of alcohol at restaurants must stop at 10 p.m. beginning on September 21. Click here to learn more. For frequently asked questions on the self-certification process, click here.  

In related news, Philadelphia finally lifted its ban on indoor dining yesterday and will now allow limited indoor dining, with capacity restricted to 25 percent.  


PSATS Guidance on State Quarantine 

The Commonwealth is urging all Pennsylvania residents who travel to states with high numbers of COVID-19 cases to quarantine for 14 days upon their return. While not mandatory, townships should consider implementing this recommendation for employees. Any policy needs to provide a clear expectation on how long the quarantine will be, how leave will be handled (paid or unpaid), and if employees will be permitted to work from home. Employees are not eligible for Families First Coronavirus Response Act leave during a voluntary quarantine. Townships could accept negative COVID-19 test results as an alternative to quarantine. Click here for the most current list of states in the quarantine advisory. .

 

PennDOT Approval Needed for Street Dining, Special Events on Federal Aid Highways

The state Department of Transportation is reminding municipalities that many proposed local events use highways and highway rights of way for temporary non-highway uses, such as street dining. Under PennDOT’s guidance to its engineering districts, the districts process requests for state-designated highway use as special event permits (for road closures)

PennDOT must approve proposed uses of federal-aid highway rights of way, even those on federal-aid local streets that are not state highways. Under federal law, PennDOT is required to collect the fair market value for non-highway uses of all federal-aid highways. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) delegated to PennDOT the approval of non-highway use and occupancy for non-interstate roads, including locally owned streets. The FHWA will grant waivers for the fair market value requirement, but all waiver requests to the FHWA must come through PennDOT. 

PennDOT will apply its existing guidance to all requests for non-highway use of state-designated and federal-aid highways. Not all events, however, will require PennDOT special event permits. PennDOT will be issuing updated policy on FHWA approval for non-state highways soon. Contact your local Engineering District for guidance. Click here for PennDOT’s current Guidance for Temporary Non-Highway Use of Right-of-Way.

 

State Mask Order Applies to Townships 

Townships should be aware that Pennsylvania’s universal mask order, which took effect July 1, applies to township facilities. Face coverings are required if indoors in a public area, if outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet from other individuals, and when working and interacting with the public or in any common areas or space visited by the public. There are exceptions for medical conditions and where it would create an unsafe working condition. For details, click here.

 

Importance of Contact Tracing, Possible Scams

The state Departments of Health and Aging warned Pennsylvanians about contact tracing scams and emphasized the need to stay alert as COVID-19 remains a threat in our communities.

“Contact-tracing is vital in the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and we want Pennsylvanians to be confident that if they receive a call from a contact-tracer that the call is legitimate,” Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “If someone is unsure and would like to verify if the caller does in fact work in contact tracing, they can call the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) to verify.” 

Within 24 hours of receiving a report of a positive test, trained public health staff interview the newly confirmed COVID-19 case to obtain a list of close contacts. Then contact tracers, both trained staff, and volunteers, reach out to those close contacts to educate, inform, and offer support. Methods used, after the initial phone call, may include phone calls, texts, emails, and mailings. Contact tracers will not say who exposed the individual in order to keep their information confidential. 

Scammers are pretending to be contact tracers and trying to get personal information out of victims through phone calls or electronic messages. 

A contact tracer may ask: 

  • For verification of your date of birth, address, and any other phone numbers you may have; and 
  • If you have already tested positive for COVID-19 they may also ask for the date and location of where you were tested. 

A contact tracer will never ask for: 

  • Your social security number, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to your potential exposure to someone with COVID-19; 
  • Personal information through SMS/text message or send you to any website link asking for personal information; 
  • Photographs or videos of any kind; 
  • Passwords; or 
  • Money or payment. 

A contact tracer will never share your information with any local, state or federal law enforcement agency. 

Please visit the Department of Health website for more information on the contact tracingprocess and contact tracing frequently asked questions.

 


 COVID-19 Fact Sheets

PSATS has developed new fact sheets to help townships answer questionslearn best practices, and navigate Pennsylvania’s phased reopening. The fact sheets are a new PSATS member service that also link townships directly to the supporting state and federal guidance.

 
 
 
 
 

Public Works and the COVID -19 Challenge by LTAP

 

 

 


 

Resources

 

June 4, 2020 Town Hall