Wolf reiterates call for masking amid fears of resurgence

Gov. Tom Wolf rubs hand sanitizer on his hands Monday as he begins speaking during a press conference outside UPMC Pinnacle Community Osteopathic Hospital in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf reiterated his call Monday for Pennsylvanians to wear face masks in public to try to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Wolf stressed the importance of masks as the state has begun to see an uptick in positive tests.

The number of new cases hit 600 on Friday and 621 on Saturday, the largest daily increases in two weeks, according to Department of Health data. However, the number of new cases dropped to 505 on Sunday and 492 on Monday.

Allegheny County officials over the weekend announced that bars there will be closed to try to control an increase in cases that health officials have blamed on people congregating in drinking establishments and vacation travelers, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.

“Over the past few days, we have seen several other states experience alarming new case increases and a few have had to implement new restrictions on places where people gather,” Gov. Wolf said. “Right now, in Pennsylvania, we are monitoring a few hot spots and we are asking Pennsylvanians to use extreme caution when out in public.”

Wolf said that he has no plans to enact a statewide order to close bars and Levine said there are no immediate plans to move any counties from the state’s green phase back into yellow

Wolf said health officials hope to control the spread of coronavirus through efforts targeting the areas and causes of the outbreaks, like the move in Allegheny County.

“Right now we can do these things with surgical precision,” Wolf said. “We don’t heed to do broad draconian things” across the entire state.

Wolf added that he doesn’t see a reason to notify travelers to self-quarantine — a step neighboring states, including New York and New Jersey — have taken.

Wolf said that if someone is returning to Pennsylvania from Florida, “it’s probably a good idea” that they self-quarantine, but he said enforcing that as a requirement would be difficult.

Everyone, including workers and customers, must wear a mask unless they have a medical reason not to or are under the age of 2, Wolf said.

The governor appeared at UPMC Pinnacle Osteopathic Hospital in Harrisburg on Monday.

Officials at the facility backed the governor’s call for people to wear masks in public.

“We all have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable, ill and compromised loved ones, even as we all eagerly return to a more normal life. The evidence supporting the effectiveness of masks grows every day. Studies point to their ability to slow the spread of the disease and actually reduce the number of deaths caused by COVID-19,” said Dr. John Goldman, an infectious disease specialist and vice president, UPMC Pinnacle.

Pressed by reporters to specify how the state expects to enforce the mask mandate, Wolf said that he expects that businesses will enforce the requirement without law enforcement intervening.

He compared it to the state’s indoor smoking ban and said that people don’t smoke inside businesses now without involving the police.

“We’re not looking to put people in jail” for flouting the mask requirement, he said, adding that trying to limit the spread of the virus shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

Levine said that state officials hope that the public just begins to overwhelmingly accept that wearing a mask is the appropriate thing to do.

“We don’t want physical confrontations,” over people refusing to wear masks in stores, Levine said.

Asked to explain how much risk is created by people who flout the mask requirement in public, Levine said: “There’s no way for me to quantitate that. But why are we taking that chance?”

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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