Pottstown Mercury: Montco seeks donations of masks for healthcare workers during COVID-19 outbreak

EAGLEVILLE — Amid growing reports about national shortages of protective gear for those on the frontline battling the coronavirus pandemic, Montgomery County officials put out a call for local businesses to donate masks for hospitals and first responders.

“So, for instance, maybe you are a landscaping business or a business that uses certain cleaning products that requires a mask…If you are at the moment not working and you have masks that you would be willing to donate to the county we can use masks of any type,” county Commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh said during a news briefing on Friday.

“These masks will be used for first responders. They will be donated to hospitals as needed. We would be grateful for anyone who is willing to donate any unused supplies of masks that they can spare,” Arkoosh added.

Businesses that wish to donate masks should call the county’s COVID-19 information number at 610-631-3000.

“We have regular contact with hospitals and we are keeping abreast of their needs. As each day passes, some of our hospitals are getting lower and lower on supplies. There are new supplies coming in. Everyone is supposed to get some in the next few days, we believe. But given that this is likely to go on for some period of time, we’re looking for spare masks,” Arkoosh said.

Arkoosh said some businesses that already have shut down temporarily during the public health crisis have donated masks.

“So, if we can get more from businesses that are closed, that would just ease the burden for everyone. Remember, it’s not just Montgomery County, it’s the whole United States that needs masks. So anyone that can help chip in, that would be great,” Arkoosh said.

Officials said the county’s community-based COVID-19 testing site began operating on Friday in Upper Dublin at Temple University’s Ambler Campus.

“Throughout the day (Friday) dozens of individuals pre-identified by the Montgomery County Office of Public Health, including first responders and healthcare workers, were successfully tested at the site,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the news conference by fellow commissioners Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. and Joseph C. Gale.

Thirty-nine people had been tested as of 5 p.m. Friday, county officials said during a press photo session at the site.

The site will be open at 10 a.m. today, Saturday March 21, to begin testing members of the general public who meet specific criteria. The site will provide testing by appointment only. There will not be any treatment conducted at the site, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily as testing supplies allow.

Only individuals meeting one or more of four criteria will be eligible for testing. The criteria are: 1. Fever at or above 100.4 degrees and respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath; 2. Temperature at or above 99.6 degrees and that person is 65 years of age or older; 3. If you are a first responder, a member of law enforcement, fire, EMS or a dispatcher and you have concern for exposure to a patient with suspected COVID-19 or have respiratory symptoms; or 4. You’re a healthcare worker providing direct patient care and testing is not available through your employer.

Due to the limited number of tests available, tests will be reserved for the high-risk individuals who meet any of the four criteria, officials said.

“Generally, healthy individuals who have minor symptoms and no underlying medical conditions should remain at home and self-isolate. You do not need to be tested at this time," said Arkoosh, advising those individuals to call their healthcare providers. “Criteria for testing may be enhanced or relaxed based on future availability of tests.”

Online registration for testing appointments began at 5 p.m. on Friday. The link to register is available at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19 as well as at the county’s official social media accounts, officials said.

Individuals who do not have access to the Internet or do not have an email address can call 610-631-3000 beginning Saturday at 8 a.m. to register for a testing appointment.

“If you’re not able to get through by phone, if there’s a busy signal, please call back in 15 to 20 minutes,” Arkoosh recommended. “Please do not call 911 for testing appointments.”

County officials reported 13 new positive cases of coronavirus on Friday, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 68. The county continues to outpace other counties in the state in the number of cases.

Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were a total of 268 confirmed cases as of noon on Friday.

Neighboring Delaware County reported 23 cases and Chester County reported 17 positive cases while Bucks County reported 16 cases, according to state officials. Berks County reported five cases and Lehigh County reported two cases and Philadelphia had 42, according to the state Department of Health.

The new cases in Montgomery County include a 4-year-old New Hanover girl who is hospitalized. It marks the third pediatric case of coronavirus in the county.

A 66-year-old Whitpain man who tested positive also is hospitalized.

Other positive cases reported on Friday include a 42-year-old Lower Merion woman, a 57-year-old Lower Moreland man, a 47-year-old Abington man, a 57-year-old Lower Merion woman, a 20-year-old Springfield woman, a 31-year-old Upper Merion man, a 22-year-old Lower Merion man, a 92-year-old woman and 95-year-old man from Cheltenham, a 22-year-old Abington man and a 72-year-old Abington man, according to officials. Most do not have symptoms that require hospitalization and are currently at home being monitored.

Saturday marks two weeks since the county reported the first cases of coronavirus in the county.

“It has been quite a busy two weeks,” said Arkoosh, who thanked county officials who have been working “round-the-clock” during the two-week period to keep residents safe and informed. “I want to thank the people of Montgomery County, who have been amazing. There are so many neighbors helping neighbors. It’s really been extraordinary. I had no doubt how strong this community is and that people would step up.”

While there are now 68 positive cases of COVID-19, Arkoosh said that as of March 19 there were 407 county residents who tested negative for the virus.

Arkoosh continued to reinforce the “social distancing and mitigation measures” recommended by health officials to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Lawrence said the county’s homeless shelters remain open, “but we’re trying to decrease that population due to social distancing.”

Your Way Home Montgomery County, a transformational partnership between government, philanthropic, nonprofit, and community partners that helps working and low-income individuals and families end or prevent their homelessness, is seeking $50,000 in donations to assist those in need.

“That would last for two weeks to get people out of the shelters and into emergency housing and into hotels,” Lawrence explained.

Those who wish to donate to the cause can visit www.yourwayhome.org/donate

Gale said county officials are working with municipalities to extend deadlines for property tax payments.

“Given the current situation we’re in, it’s the county’s desire to take action and to assist our residents who may be impacted financially by the situation and to reduce the need for residents to visit their local tax collector offices. To that end, we are asking our municipal partners to consider an extension of the discount period for property taxes,” Gale said.

County officials are recommending an extension of at least four weeks “with our preferred option being that all municipalities jointly extend through May 31, 2020.”

“While we acknowledge this may put additional strain on budgets that are no doubt feeling the stress of the current emergency, we feel that this extension is in the best interest of all our residents,” said Gale. “We will keep the residents updated as we have more specific details.”

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