As updates on the coronavirus pandemic change by the minute, there are more questions than answers regarding the ripple effect it could have on the local community.
Perry S. Fox, Public Health Preparedness coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s bureau of emergency preparedness, met with Cambria County leaders in business and government Friday to guide them on how to react to the ever-changing information about COVID-19 or the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 is a brand new design of the common cold,” Fox said. “We don’t have any immunity to it. And we don’t know what drugs can treat it. But most people will not get sick.”
The meeting in an AmeriServ Financial conference room was attended by about a dozen leaders of local organizations including Johnstown Area Regional Industries, the Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as the county and city governments.
While in the meeting, the attendees learned that Greater Johnstown School District canceled school, and then they learned a moment later that Gov. Tom Wolf was ordering the closure of all K-12 schools in the state for 10 business days starting March 13.
Johnstown Fire Department Chief Robert Statler and Cambria County Department of Emergency Services Deputy Director Art Martynuska led the meeting along with Fox. They would be responsible for rolling out the county’s disaster mitigation plan.
“The county has a plan for what we need to do,” Martynuska said. “We have a surge plan for hospitals if they need to augment their resources.”
But for parents pulled between going to work and staying home with their children, there was no easy answer.
Martynuska said the United Way’s PA 2‑1‑1 call center and the Red Cross might be able to help those parents. He also said people can call the county Department of Emergency Services, and he will work to connect them to community resources that can help.
A question from City Councilwoman Sylvia King was whether the Family Medical Leave Act would entitle employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave to take care of their children.
Fox did not have an answer. However, he said employers are “strongly recommended to continue to pay employees who stay home somehow.”
He also said the Salvation Army or Red Cross can help families.
“We have a lot of lower income people who may not feel well and who don’t have the financial ability to stay home. That’s where those organizations come in,” he said.
Fox said self-isolation as well as closure of businesses is up to individual discretion.
For employers preparing for workers to stay home, Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce Vice President Debra Orner said the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry scheduled a webinar March 19. It is free and open to businesses about employment law.
“The webinar will guide employers on how to respond to questions like, ‘Are people going to have to take vacation time?’ and ‘Are you still going to pay them?’ ” Orner said.
Orner said as people stay home, the chamber’s retail and restaurant members are especially worried about decreased consumption.
“Restaurants and retail members are concerned about people staying home. Clothing businesses are concerned about the supply chain disruption,” she said. “I haven’t heard about closing from anyone. But of course there are child care issues with children now staying at home.”