PSATS Daily COVID-19 News

Pa. COVID-19 Measurement Numbers Down:  

Despite initial fears of a statewide post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases, daily new cases have been gradually decreasing. The statewide COVID-19 case total now stands at 799,957, and while 44,546 new cases were reported this week, this is less than the prior week and continues the downward trend.  

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania continued to decrease for the fifth week in a row, from 4,582 to 3,910. 790 of these patients are in an ICU, down from 950 the prior week. The number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator statewide decreased for the third week in a row, from 583 to 492.  

Sadly, the total deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania have reached 20,526, including 1,569 deaths reported this week, slightly more than in each of the two weeks prior. Nationally, deaths from COVID-19 have reached 412,592, with 21,657 deaths occurring in the last week.  

Pennsylvania’s statewide percent-positivity rate dropped for the second week in a row, from 12.7% to 10.5%. 12 counties dropped under 10% for the first time in several weeks, while two other counties dropped to under 20%. 

  • Counties with percent-positivity rates of more than 5% but less than 10%: Allegheny, Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Delaware, Elk, Indiana, Mercer, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Somerset, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, and Wyoming. 
  • Counties with percent-positivity rates of more than 20%: Forest and Montour.  

Click herefor more county-specific information.    

Wolf Nominates Health Secretary, Physician General 

Gov. Tom Wolf has nominated his Alison Beam to serve as secretary of the state Department of Health and named Dr. Wendy Braund as interim acting physician general. Beam currently serves as deputy chief of staff to Wolf, coordinating resources across several departments and helping to coordinate the administration’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Braund currently serves as the COVID-19 response director for the department. Click here to learn more.  


Previous PSATS Daily COVID-19 News




COVID-19 Fact Sheets


PSATS has updated fact sheets to help townships navigate the latest mitigation orders, including what to do if an employee becomes sick or is exposed to COVID-19 and how to evaluate options for safe public meetings. The fact sheets are a PSATS member service that also link townships directly to the supporting state and federal orders and guidance.

COVID-19 Guidance for Townships



Department of Health Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Plan 

The state Department of Health updated its vaccination plan to expand the first and current phase, 1A, to include people who are 65 and older and those 16-64 with certain underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease. Phase 1A originally only included health care workers and nursing home residents. The update aligns Pennsylvania’s plan with revisions made to the federal plan last week. 

To help Pennsylvanians determine when they are eligible for the vaccine, find a vaccine provider, and schedule an appointment for their first and second doses of the vaccine, the department has launched an online vaccine quiz and provider map. To learn more, click here.   

First responders, including law enforcement and firefighters, will be eligible to receive the vaccine in the second phase, 1B. All other township employees and elected township supervisors are eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 1C. The general public will be eligible in the fourth and final phase, Phase 2. To view the current plan, click here. To read FAQs on the plan, click here.  

Holiday Mitigation Orders End, November Orders in Effect  

The limited time holiday mitigation measures ended on January 4 at 8 a.m. Pennsylvania automatically reverted to the mitigation measures that were in place prior to the time-limited order. Please see fact sheets above for what these orders mean for your township, how to handle meetings, and how to keep your employees’ safe. 

The mitigation efforts that remain in effect include: 

  • Travel quarantine: Pennsylvanians who travel out of state are required to get a negative test or quarantine for 10 days (see article below for more) 
  • Universal masking: Facemasks must be worn when not at home (see article below for more) 
  • Business order: Order for businesses maintaining in-person operations, including telework unless impossible and online sales and curbside pickup for all shopping. The order contains cleaning protocols and employee and customer safety provisions that all businesses, as well as local governments, are to follow. Employers should make the best decisions to protect the health and safety of their employees.     

The following rules are now in effect: 

  • Business capacity limits are at 75% of maximum occupancy 
  • Events and large gathering limits: 

Maximum occupancy calculator for indoor events: 
Maximum Occupancy  
0-2,000 people  
2,001-10,000 people 
Over 10,000 people
Allowable Indoor Rate
10% of maximum occupancy
5% of maximum occupancy
No events over 500 people

Maximum occupancy calculator for outdoor events: 
Maximum Occupancy  
0-2,000 people  
2,001-10,000 people  
Over 10,000 people
Allowable Indoor Rate
15% of maximum occupancy
10% of maximum occupancy
5% of maximum occupancy up to 2,500 people

  • If you consider your public meeting a temporary gathering, you should cap your physical attendance at 10 people.  
  • If you consider your public meeting a business function, your attendance should not exceed 50% of facility (meeting room) capacity.  
  • In either event, townships exceeding the cap should conduct meetings by teleconference or videoconference or offer hybrid meetings that will combine in-person and livestreaming, teleconference, or videoconference options. (if your township does not offer remote public access to meetings, it must, to the extent practicable, permit comments to be submitted by mail or email) If the public will not be able to view or listen to the meeting in person or remotely, the township should record (audio or video) the meeting and make the recording available after the meeting, or, at a minimum, provide copies of the draft minutes within 48 hours of the meeting, in order to provide transparency about the board’s discussions and actions at the meeting. 

The following businesses and activities may now restart, while following state rules: 

  • K-12 and youth sports  
  • Indoor operations at gyms and fitness facilities at 50% capacity 
  • In-person dining is at 25% capacity or 50% if self-certified 
  • In-person, indoor entertainment businesses may reopen with restrictions 

The orders do not exempt local governments from compliance. The frequently asked questions state that the existing telework and business mitigation order apply to government buildings. Employers should make the best decisions to protect the health and safety of their employees.     

Finally, in the orders, local governments are given the option/discretion to enact more stringent regulations for their communities if warranted.  

What You Should Know about the Commonwealth Travel Quarantine Order  

Townships should consider requiring employees to comply with the commonwealth’s new travel quarantine order. The order requires any Pennsylvanian who travels to another state and anyone who visits from another state to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering Pennsylvania or during the 10-day travel quarantine period. There are exceptions for commuting to work, returning to Pennsylvania after less than 24 hours, medical needs, military personnel, individuals complying with a court order, and travelers passing through Pennsylvania.  

If a traveler does not have their test results at the time they enter the Commonwealth, they must remain at their destination with no in-person contact with anyone outside their traveling party until they receive their test results. If the results are negative, they may leave travel quarantine. If someone cannot get a test or chooses not to, they must quarantine for 10 days. Click here for more about the travel order.   

Townships could require employees to provide proof of a negative test to shorten the length of potential leave. Additional township required tests would be at the township’s expense. If the test is negative, employees could be required to return to work.   

Please note that Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), which required townships to provide additional paid leave of up to 10 days for any employee at their regular hours and rates, is no longer in effect and ended on December 31, 2020. Townships should determine how they will handle travel quarantine situations, as well as employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are told to quarantine by a healthcare provider or the state Department of Health. To help you with this challenge, labor law attorneys from the firm of Eckert Seamans held a PSATS Town Hall in November to discuss how to manage employees during the pandemic, including the new travel quarantine. To listen to the free recording, click here.  

Revised State Mask Order Applies to Townships   

Townships should be aware that Pennsylvania’s revised mask order, which took effect November 17, applies to areas both inside and outside of local government facilities. The order is a requirement, not a recommendation, and is an enforceable disease control measure authorized by the Disease Prevention and Control Law.  

The mask order requires masks indoors or in enclosed spaces where other people who are not in the individual’s household are in the same space, irrespective of physical distance. In addition:  

  • Masks are required outdoors with non-household members if unable to maintain sustained physical distance of at least six feet;  
  • Masks are required to participate in an indoor/outdoor event, gathering or group setting if someone is present who is not a member of your household; and  
  • Businesses must require all to wear a mask or face shield and take reasonable steps to enforce these provisions.   
  • There is an exception for “working alone,” which includes someone inside an office or inside a cubicle “with walls high enough to block the breathing zone of all people walking by, and the worker’s activity will not require anyone to come inside of the worker’s workspace.”   

Keep in mind that a number of the exemptions from the earlier mask order remain in place, including, individuals with medical conditions, where wearing a mask would create an unsafe working condition, an individual working alone, individuals communicating with the hearing impaired or another disability, and children under two years.     Face covering is broadly defined in the order and includes any covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps or loops over the ears or wrapped around the lower face.  Face shields continue to be acceptable as an alternative to a face covering. Click hereto read the mask order. To read the Department of Health’s Frequently Asked Questions on the order, click here.  

Can Advertised Virtual Meetings Still Violate the Sunshine Act?

The Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas recently issued a decision in McGrath v. Board of School Directors of City of Scranton, which involved a school board’s violation of the Sunshine Act and Act 15 of 2020.  
At the meeting in question, the school board furloughed 218 employees and terminated their health insurance coverage. The only public notice for the meeting stated that the meeting would be conducted virtually through Zoom and the public could view the meeting on the district’s YouTube channel. Prior to the start of the meeting, the district learned that the YouTube livestream was inoperable but proceeded with the meeting anyway. During the meeting, the district began to livestream the meeting on its Facebook page but did not communicate that to the public. It also posted copies of the meeting after the fact. 
 
The judge held that the furloughed employee satisfied her burden of proving that the school board and school district violated Sections 702, 704, and 710.1 of the Sunshine Act and Sections 5741(c) and (f) of Act 15 of 2020 and was entitled to an order temporarily enjoining the school board’s actions to furlough and terminate health insurance. The court held that the “public had a right to observe the Board’s virtual meeting on September 14, 2020, and to be furnished with advance public notice of the technology to be used to witness that meeting” and that “no member of the public was able to observe the meeting in real time by way of the technology identified for public viewing in the only public notice.” 
 
While the decision applies only to the parties involved, it serves as a reminder that township officials must allow the public to view or hear public meetings, including virtual meetings. While townships have the ability to conduct meetings virtually and limit the number of physical attendees at public meetings to comply with the commonwealth’s gathering limits, the public must be notified of how to access the meeting and be able to do so. 

PUC Modifies Emergency Order Suspending Terminations

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has adopted enhanced consumer protections to safeguard families and small businesses struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Townships that provide qualified services may continue to replicate the PUC practices including collections and grace periods. This includes continued termination protection for certain low-income residential customers, outreach to customers at risk of termination, waiver of connect/reconnect fees, and no late-payment charges. Terminations and collections for customers able to pay end November 9 for all electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications, and steam utilities subject to the commission’s jurisdiction. For more information, including additional reporting requirements for public utilities, click here.  

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. 

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

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.

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. 

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

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.

 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.  

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.

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 tracing process and contact tracing frequently asked questions.


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