Drastic measures are being taken to curtail the spread of the new coronavirus in Montgomery County after it became the epicenter for COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania.
All schools, universities, gyms, entertainment venues and community centers in the populous county just outside Philadelphia must close for two weeks starting Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered.
Wolf also asked all non-essential retail stores to close, and some were quick to do so, including the stores at Willow Grove and Plymouth Meeting malls.
Elmwood Park Zoo also said Thursday it would honor the order and close.
Wolf ordered critical infrastructure to stay open, including all health care facilities. He specifically mentioned that urgent care locations and pharmacies were among the places that would stay open.
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Mass transit will also stay open, though Amtrak service from the Ardmore train station will stop for two weeks, and Amtrak will reduce its schedule in the county starting tomorrow.
The critical infrastructure that must stay open also includes gas stations and grocery stores.
"These actions may seem severe," Wolf said, "but they are far less draconian than what we may have to do in the future if we don't act now."
Montgomery County officials went farther at a press conference later Thursday, saying they would not allow county permits for any mass gatherings outside or in temporary structures, such as outdoor parties.
They urged residents to cancel non-essential public and private gatherings, both indoor and outdoor, though they did not order that to happen.
Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, asked businesses to offer paid sick time during the outbreak of the new coronavirus, and asked them to let workers work at home.
"My advice to our business community is to work from home now or risk not being operational later, due to employees becoming exposed or ill," Arkoosh said.
The schools that must close include all education facilities, including colleges and universities. All state-licensed day cares also must close for two weeks.
No conferences or rallies can be held in the county. And, any state employee traveling in and out of Montgomery County is being directed to work from home.
Jury trials -- criminal and civil -- and jury duty in the county are canceled through March 27, according to a memo from the county court system, though essential government services will continue.
PennDOT said it would close all the driver license centers and photo license centers in Montgomery County. And it will suspend issuing REAL ID cards in many eastern Pennsylvania counties, including Montgomery, Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Berks, Bucks, Lancaster and Lehigh counties.
And the three state parks in the county have closed as well.
Also Thursday, Arkoosh detailed the four newest cases of the new coronavirus in Montgomery County: a 35-year-old man who lives in Skippack, a 58-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman who live together in Lower Merion and a 58 year old woman who lives in Conshohocken.
None is hospitalized.
Wolf urged good hygiene throughout the state as Pennsylvania tries to stop the spread of the virus.
As of Friday morning, 17 of the 28 positive COVID-19 cases were in Montgomery County, including a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia doctor and a Lower Providence police officer.