As daily COVID-19 numbers continue to climb into the thousands in Pennsylvania, Monroe County’s case count and death rate remain low, though the local hospitality industry is certainly taking a hit.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported another 1,120 cases of the novel coronavirus across the commonwealth, along with 24 newly-reported deaths. These figures bring Pennsylvania’s totals to 109,384 cases and 7,146 deaths.
Some of those new cases and deaths could be associated with previously unreported figures or updates from the weekend. The Department of Health noted 839 new cases and four deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday.
Locally, Monroe County last reported three cases of COVID-19 on July 27, and two deaths on July 16. As of Tuesday, Monroe counts a total of 1,519 confirmed cases, 43 probable cases, 122 deaths, and 14,864 negative tests.
According to the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Dashboard, Monroe’s average case counts have stayed relatively low over the course of the past few months overall. The county hit a peak on April 3 with 95 reported cases, though July has only seen high points of 26 cases on the 20th and 13 cases on the 24th.
The bulk of case count spikes continue to hit the southeast and southwest sections of the state: Allegheny County noted an increase of 119 cases, Philadelphia County saw 175, and Delaware County reported 118 cases on Tuesday.
Last week, the governor’s office reported statewide case count increases, noting that there was a seven-day case increase of 5,912 as of July 23, a significant jump over the previous week’s 5,579 cases. Between July 21 and 27, 6,526 cases were reported.
And though Monroe doesn’t fall in with the other counties – including Beaver, Armstrong, Franklin, Mercer and others – that have seen "concerning percent positivity" in case counts, the northeast region has seen a jump in the cases counts that have hit 19 to 24 year-olds. In April, the northeast saw an infection rate for this group hovering around 6%; as of July, that has risen to 17%.
Despite some spikes across the commonwealth as citizens began venturing out into the public over the past few weeks, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine have promoted the overall success of their mitigation efforts and phased reopening strategy.
"As the state has put in place new mitigation efforts to offset recent case increases, we must renew our commitment to protecting against COVID-19 by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and following the requirements set forth in the orders for bars and restaurants, gatherings and telework," Levine said.
Some of the governor’s more recent decisions, including capping restaurant capacity at 25% and restricting on-premises alcohol sales to restaurant customers who order meals, drew the ire of various industry heads and workers during a Tuesday House Majority Policy Committee meeting in Harrisburg.
Owners, operators, chefs and other workers decried what they surmised as unfairly targeted enforcement of their industry and blanket policies that fail to recognize differences in businesses as key problems affecting the world of hospitality in Pennsylvania during the pandemic.
Steve Ertle, owner of The Lounge at Baymont Inn, made several remarks on how Wolf’s mitigation tactics were causing damage to not only his business, but numerous other establishments in the Poconos, which he claimed derives a significant amount of revenue from food and beverage sales.
"(Let me) give you some hardcore numbers here: 27.9 million tourists are coming through the Poconos every year," Ertle said. "We create $3.3 billion in revenue. $3.3 billion in revenue. 24.5% of all jobs in the Poconos are supported by the tourist industry. So imagine that – 24.5% are working in this tourism industry and being affected right now."
Ertle stressed that the current restaurant restrictions are "hurting at a much larger rate than anyone can imagine," noting that other businesses, including suppliers, are also affected by the reduction in restaurant and bar traffic.
However, the Wolf’s administration and the Department of Health continue to stay rigid with their message that the pandemic isn’t over yet, and mitigation efforts are the only way to curtail case counts and deaths. The governor stated on July 15 that "medical experts looking at the trajectory we are on now are projecting that this new surge could soon eclipse the April peak," and that "we need to act again now."
"Pennsylvania has been a model for the country on how to reopen effectively using a careful, measured approach," Levine said. "However, we know the virus has not gone away as we see cases rise, so we must work together to stop another surge."