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City may see minor changes to State of Emergency

LOCK HAVEN — Although Clinton County is among 24 counties slated to move to the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan on May 8, the city of Lock Haven may not see many major changes in how its currently operating.

Mayor Joel Long said the decision to amend sections of the State of Emergency he enacted in late March will ultimately be up to council during their regular meeting on Monday night.

Long said he’s discussed the matter with City Manager Gregory Wilson and a few members of council and believes the city may meet somewhere in the middle of the “red” and “yellow” phases of Wolf’s plan.

“We were originally looking at having (city buildings) opened by May 18. I think we’re looking to push that back a bit and leaving some restrictions in place,” he said, noting June 2 as a possible new date.

Those continued restrictions may pertain to the number of people allowed to gather at one place.

“At the yellow phase it’s no gatherings larger than 25. I think we may prefer to leave it at 10 for now,” he said.

He further explained why this may be considered on Monday night.

“The reason we — Greg and I — see it that way… if you look at the cases for Clinton County, a large majority of them are 17745 which is the city and surrounding areas,” he said. “We have the densest population.”

Wolf addressed the issues that can arise in denser populations and how much easier COVID-19 can spread in those areas during a Friday press conference, something Long referenced.

“How dense the population is certainly makes a difference and in Clinton County, Lock Haven has the densest population,” he said.

Wilson provided the data he considered when debating proposing council make limited changes to the State of Emergency.

“The December 2019 census estimate put the residents of the city’s zip code at 18,753 people and Mill Hall’s zip code at 7,082.While the state recommends an infection rate of 50 per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days as a safe rate for easing restrictions. The county does nearly meet the metric set by the state of 50 per 100,000 and is currently at 56 per 100,000 over the past 14 days,” he continued.

Within Lock Haven’s zip code, the current 14-day rate is 74 per 100,000 which is significantly higher than the countywide data, Wilson said.

He noted too that only 0.69 percent — 130 of 18,753 — residents in the city have been tested for COVID-19.

“Today, the city’s zip code accounts for 44 percent of all county infections. If you combine the Lock Haven and Mill Hall zip codes, you’re looking at 66 percent of the county’s total confirmed infections in the last 14 days and a 14-day infection rate of 81 per 100,000. Still, between the two communities combined, only 0.67 percent or residents have been tested and of those that have, 12 percent have come back positive,” Wilson said.

“We want to make sure we’re out of this so we don’t have to go backwards,” Long said.

Long made it clear that the State of Emergency wouldn’t impede businesses that would be able to open under Wolf’s reopening plan.

“We’re not saying the businesses that the governor said are allowed to open can’t. We’re strongly recommending they follow the guidelines closely because none of us want to go backwards,” he said.

“Our number one priority is people’s health and welfare but we do understand the economic impact this is having which is why we aren’t saying businesses can’t open,” he continued.

He said many area business owners are responsible and will put the proper protections in place to ensure the community’s safety.

“We know we’ve got good people in this town and they’ll do the right thing and abide by the requirements to keep open and keep safety in mind. I’m downtown all the time and I know we’ve got great owners and I know that they’ll do the best they can to keep this thing under control so that maybe we can have a summer,” he said.

Long noted again that any possible changes he discussed are ultimately up to council to approve.

“All of this is contingent on council agreeing and voting on it this way,” he said. “What is being put forward is an amendment of the State of Emergency.”

Consideration of amending the State of Emergency is listed on council’s Monday night agenda.

“I am recommending to city council that we, as a community, stay cautious and try to avoid additional reasons for people to venture into the city where infection rates are higher than they are in other portions of the county, especially western Clinton County including Renovo, North Bend, Westport and Pottersdale where there are no confirmed cases from testing,” Wilson said.

“That’s why it’s important that people throughout Clinton County understand it is still very, very important to take every available safety measure when coming to the City, and why I have proposed to City Council that they take a measured and date-driven way to determine when it is safer to open city facilities to the public,” he continued.

Council will meet via livestream on the city’s YouTube channel “City of Lock Haven PA” at 7 p.m. on Monday night.

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