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UPMC, elected officials remark on Lycoming County going green Friday

Offering words of caution as Lycoming County begins reopening businesses, Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director of infectious diseases at UPMC in the Susquehanna region, stressed that the coronavirus is not gone.

“We don’t want anybody to rush in and try to do something foolish so that you know whatever hard work has been done for the last few month would go down the drain,” Dalal said.

“If some people will just probably take care of certain basic things, again keeping in mind that this virus is going to be here for awhile. We have to learn to live with it and we have to learn to live with it safely,” he stressed.

Dulal along with state Reps. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, and Garth Everett, R-Pennsdale, and state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, were speaking at a “Back to Business” virtual forum sponsored by UPMC and the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. The forum was moderated by Jason Fink, president and CEO of the chamber.

Dulal urged businesses to take responsibility for seeing that certain restrictions to be in place during the green phase be followed. He said there will be restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments and that wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and following a hand hygiene protocol is being strongly encouraged.

“So, if you do these couple of things, you will be able to be safe as well as keep our communities safe,” Dulal said.

He added that it is important to make sure that the air inside an establishment can be changed every few minutes and that customers should be urged to spend as little time as possible in retail stores to minimize possible exposure to the virus.

Yaw compared the eagerness that county residents feel about moving to the next phase to a “dog looking out a window.”

“The fact that we’re going green does not mean that we still don’t have significant restrictions…that’s a fact of life,” he said.

Noting that some businesses will be allowed to operate at a 50 percent occupancy rate while others will be able to move to 75 percent, Yaw expressed frustration at the restrictions.

“That all sounds great, but, you know one of the facts of life we’ve dealt with in Harrisburg is that 50 percent occupancy for some of the businesses is not going to cut it,” he said

“If you have a business plan and you’re a restaurant and you said ‘I’m going to have 40 tables and I’m going to turn them over three times a night.’ All of a sudden someone comes along and says ‘you can’t have 40 tables, you can only have 20 tables.’ That’s a problem,” he added.

“As soon as the green criteria was announced, I was hearing from restaurateurs that this isn’t going to work,” Everett agreed.

“You know if you picture some small seating restaurants, then they go to 50 percent, there’s very limited ability for them,” he added.

All of the legislators expressed frustration with the governor’s criteria for establishing the various phases during the pandemic.

“The green (phase) is not good enough, and it’s just not in restaurants, and it’s not necessary,” Everett said.

Yaw questioned whether people would comply with all the guidelines for reopening.

“Are people going to not exactly comply with all these guidelines? Yes, I mean I think that’s human nature. That’s going to happen,” Yaw said.

“What we can hope for is that the majority of people do accept the responsibility for it and will comply, or at least be close to compliance,” he added.

Wheeland urged business owners to keep an eye on specific government websites, such as the liquor control board or the board of health in order to know what the restrictions are for re-opening.

“It appears to me that the sand is always shifting, so to get up-to-date information, you might want to put that in your favorites and just keep an eye on new policies and procedures,” Wheeland said.

He said that the role of government right now is to gather data and share it with the public.

“We are Americans. We’re pretty darn resourceful and, given the proper information, we’ll make the right decisions to not only keep our employees safe, but also our customers,” Wheeland said.

He cautioned business owners that in reopening, there is a problem of perception versus reality. Citing a recent poll he said that it found that about one third of the population still wants to stay home.

“So, as you open your businesses, you have to be perceived as being clean and being sterile, so to speak,” he said, adding that one way would be to provide hand sanitizer for customers.

“You have to give the perception that you are following government guidelines and that will make your customers more willing to come out and shop at your establishment or dine out,” Wheeland said.

Yaw said that he agreed with Dulal that it was important to gradually re-open the economy.

“Go do it gradually and I think that I’m a big believer that we’re all adults,” he said. “That’s one of my complaints that I’ve had with the administration is that they don’t treat us like adults.”

“Tell us what the rules are and we will comply with them. We’ll do the best job that we can. None of us wants to get sick. We don’t want to make other people sick. We want to protect everybody, but we’ve got to open up the businesses,” Yaw stressed.

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