Last updated: March 27, 2020 - 7:11pm
Luzerne County on Friday was added to the list of Pennsylvania counties under Gov. Tom Wolf’s “stay at home” order after the county recorded its second coronavirus death in three days, and confirmed cases of the illness jumped 53 percent.
The order, which started 8 p.m. Friday and will be in effect until at least April 6, means Luzerne residents — including those in East Berwick, Nescopeck and Shickshinny — can leave home only to perform tasks essential to maintain health and safety.
Those tasks include getting medical supplies, visiting a health-care professional, buying food or disposing trash, according to the order. People are also allowed to get supplies to work from home, go to a “life-sustaining” job or exercise outdoors — walking, hiking and running.
“This is to be seen as a serious matter,” Luzerne County Manager David Pedri said in a virtual news conference, his second in three days. “But this is not time for panic, not a time to be running for the hills.”
He said it was “an effort to keep ahead of the spread of COVID-19 in Luzerne County.”
Pedri stressed that residents won’t need “papers” or a letter to travel to and from life-sustaining jobs or for any other essential purpose.
“There will not be roadblocks or anything like that set up,” he said. But he said “the health and safety of our colleagues and citizens remains our top priority. How we respond is critical to hundreds of thousands of people and companies in our communities.
“We are steadfast in our commitment to being there when you need us most. Be assured Luzerne has devoted and will continue to devote significant resources into planning for the unexpected.”
Luzerne was among nine counties added to the “stay-at-home” list, bringing the total to 19 statewide.
Luzerne’s new death Friday morning was a 75-year-old man who had “pre-existing health issues” but no reported recent travel, Pedri said. He said the man had been in a local hospital, but did not identify which.
Pedri also said he did not know where the man lived; the state Health Department has not released information on the case. “And I’ve asked them for that information time and time again,” he said.
But he said it is “extremely concerning and upsetting to every single individual in Luzerne County,” and with 55 cases of COVID-19 in Luzerne county, “every single Luzerne County resident needs to think that it is in their community and needs to act accordingly.”
Luzerne’s first death, on Tuesday, was a 70-year-old man from Hanover Township near Wilkes-Barre who also had pre-existing health conditions, but had recently traveled outside the country, officials said.
No Pennsylvania county had more than three deaths as of noon Friday. Statewide, there have been 22 deaths in 10 counties.
With more than 23,200 people tested statewide, there have been 2,218 people who tested positive, according to Friday’s numbers. That represented 531 new confirmed coronavirus cases.
Locally, Columbia and Montour counties remained at three and four cases, respectively, with no new confirmed cases. No area county besides Luzerne has reported a death from COVID-19.
But Luzerne County reported 19 new confirmed cases — from 36 on Thursday to 55 on Friday — and the governor added it to the “stay-at-home” list, as Pedri said he anticipated Wednesday. Neighboring Lackawanna County, with 35 cases and two deaths, was also added to the list.
“Luzerne County recognizes that these are especially trying and uncertain times,” Pedri said.
He said he views the “stay at home” order, which he said the county supports, as a traffic light.
“We’ve been in amber for a long time, telling us to slow down,” he said. “We are now at the point where we hit the red light. It means to stop.” He said local law enforcement and state police make sure “all of those orders of the governor are being maintained.”
Pedri said that in “the next couple of days, there may be more cases coming though,” making the “stay at home” order even more important.
“To the municipalities throughout Luzerne County: We stand with you,” he said. “We will assist in any way to get through this crisis.”