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State To Open Virus Testing Sites; Amtrak Cuts Some Service

Margaret Sun
90.5 WESA
The Amtrak station in downtown Pittsburgh on Feb. 6, 2017.

Pennsylvania's Department of Health is working on a plan to open public testing sites for the coronavirus, as the state's health systems and hospitals increasingly operate their own sample-taking sites or testing laboratories.

Meanwhile, Amtrak is shutting down lines in Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Turnpike is ending dining service at its service plazas as the number of confirmed cases in Pennsylvania approaches 100.

The Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency are in the process of organizing public testing sites, one in Philadelphia and one in Montgomery County, in hard-hit southeastern Pennsylvania.

The model will follow federal guidance with a drive-in, drive-through concept with tests reserved for people who meet certain criteria, such as having symptoms that indicate they might have COVID-19, officials said.

“The goal of those two sites is really to test folks that fall within a certain symptom range,” Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said during a news conference Tuesday at his agency's headquarters.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is able to test for COVID-19, and Geisinger Health System is testing for its own in-house patients, the department said.

Some hospitals are operating specimen-collecting sites, including the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Main Line Health in the Philadelphia area and Central Outreach Wellness Center in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Ronald Walsh, clinical laboratory director at Health Network Laboratories/Lehigh Valley Health Network, said Tuesday that his lab will go live with testing in the next couple of days.

In addition to the Department of Health, there are four private lab companies that are testing specimens, the department said.

A look at the other developments in Pennsylvania:



Amtrak said it is suspending its Keystone Service starting Wednesday, and all Pennsylvanian trains on Thursday. The Keystone runs between Harrisburg and New York City, and the Pennsylvanian runs between New York City and Pittsburgh.

Amtrak cited a state mandate in Pennsylvania, but did not say specifically which one and the state Department of Transportation could not immediately explain it, either. Amtrak has curtailed service on a number of northeastern lines, but not shut them down.



Cases confirmed in Pennsylvania have exceeded 95 as of Tuesday, 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.

Health officials have said most of the people affected were in isolation at home, with a handful being treated at hospitals.

The virus that has stricken tens of thousands around the globe causes only mild symptoms for the majority of the people who become infected but can be deadly for some, especially older adults and people with certain health conditions, such as respiratory illness.



The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is relaxing some of its unemployment compensation benefits restrictions amid high call volumes to its service centers as businesses shut down to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The department said Tuesday that it has suspended the weeklong wait to start receiving benefits and temporarily waived work search and work registration requirements.

The department is also advising applicants that they may be eligible if their employer temporarily closes or goes out of business, reduces their hours or tells them not to work, self-quarantine or isolate because of the coronavirus.



The Pennsylvania Turnpike has suspended the use of cash and credit cards at interchanges, and now it is ending fast-food service and inside dining service at all 17 service plazas along its 552-mile roadway.

Inside restrooms are closed, although portable toilets and hand-washing stations are available. Gas stations and convenience stores are open.



The Pennsylvania attorney general's office says it's fielded nearly 1,200 complaints about price gouging related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The agency said it has filed 45 complaints and 34 cease-and-desist letters and subpoenas as a result. It says that a letter stopped a store in the Philadelphia suburbs from selling $2 hand sanitizer for $19. The office is taking complaints through the email address, pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov.



The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said Tuesday that Gov. Tom Wolf's effort to close down nonessential businesses to combat the spread of the virus had confused many of its members.

Wolf late Monday fine-tuned his guidance, saying he was strongly urging businesses to close doors temporarily.

The business group said it was inundated with questions and asked for more clarity from the administration.

Smaller businesses and those with low cash reserves could be ruined, and many have closed and laid off workers, the state NFIB said. Wolf said restaurants should limit their sales to takeout, drive-through or delivery, an action he said he has the authority to enforce.

In an open letter to its members released Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association called Wolf's action difficult, but in the interest of public health.



Roman Catholic bishops in throughout Pennsylvania joined their peers across the country in canceling public Masses, days after releasing followers of their duty to attend.