Big jump in cases as Pennsylvania adjusts child care policy

By MARC LEVY and MICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania reported another big jump in confirmed coronavirus Thursday cases as Gov. Tom Wolf's administration sought to keep child care services open to families of health care workers and first responders on the front lines of fighting the spread of the coronavirus. The state Department of Health reported that cases topped 180, up 40 percent.

Meanwhile, Wolf's administration said it has created a waiver process for day care centers and group child care homes that serve families of health care workers and first responders. Waiver requests will be processed as quickly as possible, the Department of Human Services said, although child care providers have complained about not hearing anything back from the agency. Wolf ordered child care centers to close on Monday in an effort to help top the spread of the virus, with narrow exceptions for family child care homes and group child care homes operating inside a residence.

A look at the other developments in Pennsylvania:
CASES: Pennsylvania on Wednesday reported its first death from the new coronavirus, and state officials on Thursday announced another big jump, 40 percent, in the number of confirmed cases. Confirmed cases in Pennsylvania topped 180 as of Thursday, rising by 52, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. About two-thirds of confirmed cases have been in southeastern Pennsylvania. The majority of testing is now being done by private labs.

UNEMPLOYMENT FILINGS: Unemployment compensation filings eased off a bit in Pennsylvania. Wednesday's claims hit 54,000, a day after reaching 70,000, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, as businesses close and lay off or furlough workers. Wolf on Monday ordered a shutdown of nonessential businesses, although some business owners are confused as to whether it includes them while others have defied it. The state saw barely 12,000 filings in the entire first week of March, according to federal data.

BEER AND LIQUOR: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has begun boarding up some of its now-closed wine and liquor stores, and advised beer distributors that they are free to remain open. The agency said it is evaluating its roughly 600 store locations on a case-by-case basis as a precaution. It has boarded up under two dozen stores, based on history of prior break-ins, the agency said. Separately, liquor industry trade groups are urging Wolf to reopen state-run liquor stores that have shut down due to the virus, or consider alternatives to closure.

In a letter to Wolf, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and the American Distilled Spirits Association noted that Pennsylvania is the only state to shutter all its liquor stores. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board shuttered stores as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, saying in a statement "it is critical that we all do our part to mitigate the impact of COVID-19," the illness caused by the virus. A spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency is not, for now, reconsidering the decision to close the stores. Distilleries are free to sell their own products for off-premises consumption, the agency has said. Wolf's administration, meanwhile, has promised a crackdown on bars and restaurants that fail to adhere to Wolf's order to stop serving food and drink on-site, but they are also free to sell wine and beer to-go.

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