Sheriff’s deputies will be asking people arriving at the Washington County courthouse why they’re there, and from today through April 3, only someone with business deemed essential by the state Supreme Court will be admitted.
Don’t come to the Washington County Courthouse to apply for a marriage license, because, Register of Wills James Roman pointed out, it’s not listed by the state Supreme Court among essential matters.
“We are scaling back in an effort to keep social distance,” said Washington County Court Administrator Patrick Grimm. “It’s just about as closed as you can make it, constitutionally.”
Late Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued an order for courts in the state be closed, with some exceptions, to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court order states that the courts should be closed until April 3, other than essential proceedings.
Any evictions due to a failure to make rent or loan payments will be delayed until that date.
Essential functions include emergency bail review, bench warrant hearings, juvenile delinquency detention, juvenile emergency shelter and detention hearings, temporary protection from abuse hearings, emergency petitions for child custody, emergency petitions for guardianship and civil mental health reviews.
Magisterial district courts will be able to continue preliminary arraignments for setting bail, criminal case filings, preliminary hearings only for incarcerated people, issuance of search warrants and emergency protection from abuse petitions.
In Greene County, District Court Administrator Sheila Rode said prior to the court order, the only scheduled jury trial for this week was postponed on Monday.
“With the proximity of jurors, we determined it was the best thing to continue the jury trial,” Rode said.
In both counties, courthouse offices will be staffed.
Residents are encouraged to email or call in advance. Filing offices will continue to accept mail delivered by the postal service.
“Depending what an individual is trying to do, he or she may not be permitted inside the facility,” Grimm said. In Washington, a bin or box for dropped-off documents will be provided.
Rode added that arrangements can be made for anyone who has a need to physically come to a specific office.
The next jury selection in Greene County is scheduled for April 8, though Rode says that is subject to change.
How to staff an office will be up to elected officeholders.
Roman, for example, said one staffer will be assigned per day, and he plans to be in and out of the register of wills office, where he is also the clerk of orphan’s court.
Brides-to-be and their bridegrooms who have already applied for marriage licenses will be mailed the document.
“If they expire, we’re willing to renew them without charging them,” Roman said of the licenses. As he previously announced, inheritance tax payments can be mailed to the office at 1 S. Main St., Washington, Pa., 15301.
Emergency guardianships handled by his office are among the essential services enumerated by the state Supreme Court.
Washington County residents who were summoned for jury duty the week of April 13 should not appear. Court officials have not decided if they will substitute another week for jury service or if the jurors should consider their service complete.
“We will communicate that information to those jurors,” Grimm said.
In Washington, the law library will close.
“We’ve closed before for maybe a day,” Grimm said. “I’m not aware of a situation like this in Washington before.
“We’re all in some uncharted water there in terms of scheduling this magnitude.”
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-essential businesses to close in the state Thursday night to slow the spread of coronavirus as the number of cases climbed, including new positive tests results in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Click the link above for a complete list of businesses impacted by the order.
Wolf also said enforcement actions would begin to ensure their physical locations were shuttered while the number of cases jumped in the state from 133 Wednesday to 185 Thursday as more people were being tested for the virus.
“To protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, we need to take more aggressive mitigation actions,” Wolf said.
“This virus is an invisible danger that could be present everywhere,” he stated in a news release. “We need to act with the strength we use against any other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.”
Washington County saw another positive coronavirus case Thursday, taking its total to three, the state Health Department said. Neighboring Westmoreland County saw its first two cases of the virus Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Allegheny County Health Department said it recorded an additional six cases of the virus, putting its total Thursday at 18.
“We expect that these numbers will continue to grow as more testing sites come online,” the Allegheny department stated in a news release.
“Community spread is happening,” said Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who issued her own order Thursday.
Earlier, Levine said it was essential for businesses to follow the state’s earlier strategy that involved them being strongly encouraged to close to prevent the human toll from becoming “much, much worse.”
“Stay home. Business participation will literally save lives,” Levine said at a 2 p.m. livestream briefing on the virus.
The list of businesses and activities that must close is lengthy and they include coal mines, highway and bridge construction projects, auto dealers and all schools and child day-care centers.
Enforcement actions were to begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
Businesses that are allowed to continue to operate include oil and gas extraction, food manufacturing, grocery stores, religious organizations, newspapers, radio and television stations, cable subscription services and health-care-related facilities.
Food establishments can still offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage services, including alcohol.
“Our notable increase in cases over the last few days and our first death in Pennsylvania indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Levine said.
There were 1,658 people who tested negative for the virus as of Thursday, Levine said.
Levine said the hospital occupancy rates are now significant because of the virus, that it will put a strain on health-care systems as COVID-19 surges over the next few weeks.
“We have a real chance of slowing the spread of this virus if we stay home,” she said.
Debra Bogen, director of the health department in Allegheny, said it could take Pennsylvania weeks or months for this virus to pass.
“This is an evolving situation and I wish I had a better answer,” Bogen said Thursday during an online media briefing. “We’re in the very early stages of a marathon,” she said.
The department said 80 to 85% of the people who get the virus have mild-to-moderate symptoms and are encouraged to stay home and take care of themselves.
Those with underlying health problems or more severe symptoms should call their physician or 911, Bogen said.
Washington Health System have established COVID-19 outpatient testing sites in Washington and Greene counties – one in front of Building No. 3 of Wellness Way in South Strabane Township, and the other at the medical arts building next to WHS-Greene hospital in Waynesburg.
Any patients wanting to use either of the two drive-up testing sites must have a prescription from a licensed medical provider to get the test, according to Stephanie Wagoner, marketing and community relations manager for WHS.
They will also need their doctor to provide the testing location with “all the demographics regarding their case” before the patient arrives, Wagoner said in an email. Without a script or information, patients will be turned away, she said.
“We cannot have a line of cars with people thinking this is an open testing for all,” Wagoner said in an email.
WHS has tested “numerous patients, both inpatient and outpatient,” according to Wagoner. “All results that we have received back so far have been negative,” she said.
Wagoner declined to provide the number of tests performed thus far by WHS because it “is not the only location that is testing patients within the county,” she wrote in an email.
Both WHS drive-up testing locations are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We are asking patients to stay in their car, and the WHS lab personnel will come out to your car to administer the test,” according to Wagoner’s email.
There have not been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Greene County, but its leaders expect that to change with the new testing location.
“The number of testing and test kits has increased. So I would anticipate it’s just a matter of time before we have positives here,” Commissioner Mike Belding said at Thursday’s board of commissioners meeting.
Another company offering tests is the North Shore-based Central Outreach Wellness Center. It had been testing at all three of its locations – the North Shore, Aliquippa and in Washington, at 95 Leonard Ave., Suite 203.
The founder, Dr. Stacey Lane, said that on Monday and Tuesday, they were able to screen more than 550 people and administer 154 tests throughout all three locations, including Washington. Lane said they don’t yet have numbers for Wednesday, but expects to receive 275 tests on Friday to continue testing.
However, they’ve since stopped testing at the Washington location, Lane said.
“We’re not going to be testing there, but we’re at both other locations right now,” she said. “We’ll probably try to move all testing to one centralized location.”
The first confirmed death from the coronavirus in Pennsylvania had ties to Washington County.
According to a story in the Allentown Morning Call newspaper, a Northampton County man, Carmine Fusco, 55, died Wednesday afternoon at St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill, five days after his sister, Rita Fusco-Jackson, also in her 50s, died from the virus in New Jersey and shortly before his mother, Grace Fusco of Freehold, succumbed to the same illness. Grace Fusco’s death was reported by The New York Times and other outlets Wednesday night.
Four other family members are also ill, with some in critical condition. Late Thursday, it was learned another family member died.
“To everybody, this is a virus. To us, it’s a person,” Andriana Fusco, sister to Carmine and Rita and Grace’s daughter, told The Morning Call before learning of her mother’s death. “It’s our family.”
Fusco was a minority owner of Wingate Farms, a standardbred training facility in Bushkill Township, according to Dan Markowitz, an owner of the facility. Fusco had about 20 horses there, he said, training them for races at tracks such as Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes Barre and Yonkers Raceway in New York.
“He was a hard worker, a true horseman,” said Dan Markowitz, owner of Wingate Farms. “He was very involved with his family. He was like the head of his family as the oldest brother. And they were all involved in horse racing in some way.”
On several occasions over Fusco’s long career in harness racing, he brought horses to The Meadows Racetrack to compete in stake races. In the process, he made friends with many of the trainers and drivers at the track.
“I knew him, and he knew me. We spoke when we saw each other, but to say we had a relationship, we didn’t,” said Mike Wilder, who is part of Altmeyer-Wilder Racing and a winning driver of more than 8,000 races in his career. “The times I saw him was when I would go to Chester, Pocono, Meadowlands. I saw him at The Meadows for stake races, and when he came here, he came to win. He would do anything for you. He was a successful trainer. It’s a shame. I feel for their family. It’s such a tough time for them.”
Shortly after Fusco’s death, Gov. Tom Wolf appeared in a livestream video from his home to address the state.
“I come to you with a heavy heart,” he said. “Earlier today, the Department of Health confirmed that a person in Northampton County passed away from COVID-19. This is the first death from the novel coronavirus in Pennsylvania.”
The Morning Call reported that the Health Department said the patient had been hospitalized. And St. Luke’s said a patient who tested positive was first admitted to its Anderson campus last week. At the time, the Health Department said that person contracted the virus through out-of-state travel.
In a story published online by New Jersey.com, John Brennan of Little Ferry, N.J., was identified as the first person in that state to die from the coronavirus. The 69-year-old Bergen County man was a horse trainer and was a frequent visitor to the Yonkers Raceway paddock.
Brennan, who trained horses for at least four decades, worked as a horsemen’s representative at Yonkers Raceway, according to the U.S. Trotting Association. The Rockaway Beach, New York-native was a part-owner and trainer of the 2003 Yonkers Trot winner and Hambletonian runner-up Sugar Trader.
The coronavirus outbreak led officials on Monday to declare a state of emergency in New Jersey, where at least 15 people have been confirmed to be infected with the highly contagious respiratory illness. Twenty others were pending tests at a state lab as of Tuesday. Bergen County, where Brennan lived, reported seven of the confirmed cases and also declared a state of emergency Tuesday.
The Morning Call story said the family did not know how Carmine Fusco got the virus but discounted rumors making the rounds.
“There was no party, there was no people in from Italy,” Andriana Fusco told The Morning Call. “Me, myself, I have not seen my brother since February, and the last time he was even in New Jersey was March 3. I don’t want any false things being said about my brother.”