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County services still available; officials urge caution

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Matt McDermott, Lycoming County director of administration, speaks during a press conference on Wednesday morning, addressing the county's COVID-19 mitigation actions.

Lycoming County officials assured the public Wednesday that government operations are not shutting down, even if things aren’t exactly business as usual.

COVID-19 has prompted extreme caution, if not outright restrictions, and citizens are being asked to cooperate to help mitigate the potential of the spread of coronavirus.

“At this time, county buildings will remain open,” Lycoming County Commissioner Scott Metzger said during the morning press conference at Executive Plaza.

The county, he said, will continue to provide essential services, but the public is being urged to limit any contact at county buildings.

“If it’s not an emergency, please stay home,” he said. “Obtaining a dog license, a marriage license, a passport at this time in not necessary. Many items may be paid online or mailed to the staff.”

Commissioner Tony Mussare said county officials are following procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and federal and state governments.

“We’re going to try to follow every one of those recommendations and we urge you to do the same,” he said.

District Attorney Ryan Gardner said the coronavirus does not mean law enforcement officials will let down their guard.

“Despite the fluidity of this situation, I cannot impress enough upon everyone that the safety and welfare of the community is not and will not be compromised,” he said. “Law enforcement will continue to have a strong presence, as it always has. If crimes are committed, those crimes will be prosecuted. No one is getting a free pass despite any adjustment that is being made to minimize person-to-person contact.”

Sheriff Mark Lusk added that his office will continue to do its job.

However, some daily activities have been re-evaluated, including the movement of inmates back and forth across the state.

“We recognize the need to stop that because we don’t know what they may be bringing with them,” he said. “So we have worked very diligently with the court system as well as with the prison to minimize that. This isn’t about panic. It’s about making good, sound judgment and using good, sound judgment.”

Some administrative work through his office will be temporarily suspended, including processing of civil or criminal services with exception of emergency filings. The office has suspended issuance of licenses for firearms as well.

Prison Warden Brad Shoemaker noted some of the changes made with regard to jail operations, including cancellation of inmate visits.

Inmates will continue to have access to services to contact family members through secure messaging and phone calls.

“We have allowed attorney client contacts so that all inmates still have access to their attorneys and will be able to discuss their ongoing criminal procedures,” he said.

Matthew McDermott, county chief clerk and director of Administration, said the county is working to allow some of employees to work from home. Others who may be exposed to coronavirus or with symptoms of the illness should say home from work.

McDermott noted that recycling staff are removing drop-off boxes across the county.

County officials were asked if senior citizens, many of them on fixed incomes and most at-risk for coronavirus, will be temporarily forgiven payment of property taxes.

“That has not been discussed at this time, but it’s a great question and we’ll explore that,” Metzger said.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito said the coronavirus is challenging everyone to place the needs of the community ahead of their own.

“For the greater community, it’s going to make a huge difference,” he said. “You may be healthy. But someone you come in contact with is at risk, whether it’s a grandparent or whether it’s someone who has a compromised immune system. So, the unselfish act at this point is to put aside for the next 16 days our individual needs.”

Department of Public Safety Director Jeff Hutchins noted as of Wednesday morning there were 96 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state, but none in Lycoming County.

Metzger closed the press conference with a plea for everyone to remain strong and not be frightened and to also watch out for their neighbors, especially the elderly.

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