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Intelligencer: Montgomery County declares emergency as 2 new coronavirus cases announced

Four Montgomery County residents are now presumed positive for the coronavirus, state and county officials said. In Bucks County, the Central Bucks School District said it will reopen schools Monday after a coronavirus-related scare.

Montgomery County Commissioners on Sunday issued an emergency disaster declaration, as the number of county residents presumed positive for the coronavirus rose to four.

Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said the declaration was being done “in an abundance of caution” to give the county greater access to supplies and emergency resources so officials can prepare for what is assumed will be more cases of COVID-19.

“We want to make sure we’re fully prepared,” Arkoosh said. “We fully expect we will see additional cases here in Montgomery County.”

Hours after the press conference, the state health department announced two new adult cases in the county. A Lower Merion couple have mild symptoms and are currently in isolation at home, the county said.

They were both exposed to the virus while traveling out of the country to an area where COVID-19 is present, officials said.

No cases have been announced in Bucks County, and Central Bucks officials said Sunday that schools would reopen Monday, after a coronavirus-related scare forced the closure of five schools and the deep cleaning of all 23 schools in the district over the weekend.

In Montgomery County, the two earlier adult patients also have mild symptoms and were isolated in their homes. The first two patients were exposed to the virus after traveling to other states where the virus is present. One is from Lower Gwynedd, and the other Worcester Township, county officials said.

Arkoosh said earlier Sunday the first two patients were cooperating with county and state health officials who are tracing any contacts the two had with the public, including places they visited. Officials confirmed Sunday night the same protocols are being taken with the newest patients.

The county will not be identifying individuals who test presumed positive, but will notify municipal officials where residents test positive.

The county has not said how long the infected residents have been ill or when symptoms first appeared, other than the first two cases fell within the incubation period, which is two to 14 days.

“At this point, (residents) are still at very low risk of contracting coronavirus here in Montgomery County because we have not seen any community transmission,” she said.

The U.S. death toll from the virus has climbed to at least 19, with all but three victims in Washington state. The number of infections swelled to more than 400, scattered across the U.S.

About 80% of people who contract the virus experience mild symptoms. The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at highest risk for complications. On Sunday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams noted that the average age of death for people from the coronavirus is 80, while for those needing medical attention, it is 60.

Health officials urge residents to remain calm but continue to frequently wash their hands and avoid touching their face. Elderly residents and others considered at high risk of developing complications from the respiratory virus are also encouraged to avoid crowds if possible.

On Sunday commissioner Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence urged employers that do not offer paid time off to do their part to prevent the spread of the virus.

“For the public good, if our employers could work with employees and temporarily offer paid sick leave, that would be a tremendous help,” he said.

So far, six presumed positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Pennsylvania, according to state officials. The other cases are in Delaware and Wayne counties.

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that include the common cold and can cause respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. Transmission occurs via respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing or touching a surface that has come in contact with the droplets.

In Central Bucks, five schools closed Friday after county and state health officials informed the district that a group of residents may have been exposed to the virus during an informal gathering attended by an out-of-state resident who had the illness, but did not know it.

On Sunday, after no evidence of the virus was discovered in those who were exposed, the district announced it would re-open schools on a regular schedule. All schools and buses were cleaned over the weekend with anti-microbial products, and the district would continue to employ deep-cleaning practices, district officials said.

“We are aware of the heightened anxiety and concern that is present in and around our community,” Superintendent John Kopicki said. “We understand and respect the concerns of our families and will continue to base our decisions on facts, while working in consultation with local and state experts.”

Kopicki said the district “received advice and information” from Bucks County Emergency Management, the Pennsylvania Health Department, Doylestown Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These experts have all advised us that our best defense is to control personal transmission through good hygiene, proper handwashing, and staying home when sick,” he said.

Coronavirus fears also led to the cancellation of a planned trip to France next month for the Pennsbury High School marching band due to a rise in cases there. Previously, the band had planned to go to China, then chose Paris because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Montgomery County previously canceled its Manu-Fest and More expo, set for March 10, out of caution.

Both the Methacton and Wissahickon school districts said the residents who were presumed positive had no interaction with district schools, which will open as scheduled Monday.

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