Corona Update

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that Pennsylvania doesn't have "a lot of good leads" on how to increase contact tracing, even as he outlines plans to begin reopening some counties. Other states are banding together to create a new public health workforce.

Golfers, boaters, anglers and campers got some good news Monday when Gov. Tom Wolf announced some restrictions on outdoor activities will be loosened beginning Friday.

Wolf said golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds will be allowed to reopen on Friday, as long as they follow state-issued guidelines to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Campgrounds in state parks will remain closed until at least May 14.

Also, Geisinger announced Monday it was looking for individuals who have recovered from the novel coronavirus to donate plasma that could contain antibodies to help patients battling the virus. Bucknell University also announced it was canceling its announced 3.5 percent tuition hike scheduled for the 2020-21 academic year.

Pennsylvania health officials confirmed 885 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the smallest day-over-day increase this month.

There was just one new case locally — in Montour County — as the state total reached 42,050 cases. The one case in Montour pushes the Valley's total to 202: 48 in Montour, 90 in Northumberland, 33 in Snyder and 31 in Union counties.

Opening up

Wolf said in a statement that the reopenings to outdoor activities amount to "measured limited steps" that will help the economy and be good for mental health.

Robert Kleckner, president of the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association, said his organization pushed hard over the past six weeks to have golf considered a permissible activity.

"It's pretty emotional," Kleckner said after learning of the decision. "You know, we lost hundreds of thousands of operational dollars — every course did. Not profit dollars. What a relief to myself and my family."

Kleckner said about a quarter of states still have restrictions on golf to help mitigate the pandemic spread. Pennsylvania has more than 500 golf courses.

Graduations

Wolf dashed any remaining hope that a high school senior might be able to participate in a traditional graduation ceremony. It's not happening, he said Monday.

The virus "has made it impossible for traditional graduation ceremonies to take place," he said in a video message. "A lot of you are probably feeling angry about this, and you have a right to feel that way because you have been dealt a bad hand."

Wolf's reopening plan bans large gatherings even in regions of the state where pandemic restrictions are being eased starting May 8.

"We have all had to make sacrifices to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during this pandemic and this has been a big one," said Wolf, offering congratulations to the class of 2020.

Cases in Pennsylvania

All four Valley counties are within the state’s threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 residents, one of the metrics needed to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the latest data released Monday, Montour, Snyder and Union counties are well under the two-week threshold while Northumberland County’s total number of cases is also below the mark.

Montour County has had just four new cases over the past 14 days, which gives the county 21.9 new cases per 100,000 residents based on state data and 2019 Census numbers. In Northumberland County, there have been 42 cases over the past two weeks or 46.2 per 100,000 residents. Snyder County’s nine new cases give the county 22.3 per 100,000 residents. Union County has the lowest ratio, with its eight new cases measuring 17.8 cases per 100,000 residents.

The Department of Health also announced another 47 deaths across the state on Monday, increasing the total to 1,597 since the state began tracking data in early March.

All 67 counties in Pennsylvania have cases of COVID-19 and all patients are either in isolation at home or being treated at the hospital.

There are now two positive cases tied to a Northumberland County nursing or personal home. The state database shows one facility now has had a resident and an employee test positive. The state has not announced which nursing homes have had positive cases.

Providing antibodies

Geisinger asks anyone who’s fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood plasma to be used in treatments of hospitalized patients with severe cases of the respiratory disease.

Convalescent plasma from a recovered patient contains antibodies that could provide a powerful boost to the antibodies of others fighting the viral infection.

The donation process takes about 45 minutes. To be eligible, donors must have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and either have been symptom-free for 28 days or have been symptom-free for 14 days and had a negative follow-up test for the disease.

Geisinger joins Miller-Keystone Blood Center in seeking potential donors.

Tuition freeze

Bucknell University will cancel its scheduled tuition increase for the 2020-21 academic year, university president John Bravman said in an email to faculty and staff.

In a letter posted to the school's website, Bravman said Bucknell is "canceling the 3.5% tuition increase announced in February. This applies to all new and continuing students. We hope that this will help you complete your degree while you continue to enjoy all of the benefits of a Bucknell education. Please note that this rollback applies to tuition; room and board will remain at their announced levels."

Bucknell is finishing the spring semester with remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The university has rescheduled its May graduation until July.

Elective procedures

The Department of Health said hospitals and outpatient centers may resume elective surgeries if they can show they won't jeopardize patient safety or their ability to respond to a sudden spike in COVID-19 patients.

The Wolf administration had ordered hospitals to postpone elective procedures last month in an effort to preserve hospital capacity and medical supplies. The health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said Monday the department has issued guidance allowing the procedures to resume, as long as a hospital can show it has enough personal protective equipment and meet other conditions.

An analysis commissioned by The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania said the cancellation of elective surgeries and deferral of medical treatments — from which hospitals derive a large portion of their income — resulted in a nearly $1 billion revenue hit in March alone. Geisinger CEO and president Dr. Jaewon Ryu estimated Friday that Geisinger is losing $100 million a month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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