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Clinton County preparing for ‘worst case scenario’

LOCK HAVEN — Although Clinton County has only four confirmed cases of coronavirus to date, preparations and plans are underway for the “worst case scenario,” should the virus quickly spread throughout the community.

When the county commissioners proclaimed a Disaster Declaration on March 17, it gave the Clinton County Emergency Management Agency the green light to begin looking at what needed to be done to prepare for the emergency here.

The first step was formation of the group of county leaders called the Community Emergency Coalition, which has been meeting regularly and making progress on what needs to be done and how they can help each other.

“The most important thing is that we are being proactive in the face of this pandemic. We are being forward thinking, identifying our needs and putting plans in place for a worst-case scenario,” said County Commissioner Angela Harding, who was instrumental in getting the coalition formed.

“We would much rather be over-prepared than under-prepared,” Harding continued, noting that all of their plans must be forwarded to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for approval before they are put in place.

She said the group has identified a need for space to house an overflow of corpses; a place for people who have tested positive and are self-isolating, for first responders, medical staff and personnel; and a building that can be used as an emergency medical facility.

And Lock Haven University has stepped up in a big way, offering buildings on campus to provide all of those needs.

“This is a time when the entire community needs to come together. LHU is proud to be contributing to this ongoing effort,” said LHU President Robert Pignatello.

PEMA has already approved the cadaver lab in Lock Haven University’s Willis Health Professions Center, where the university’s physician assistant program is located. “There is a climate-controlled morgue storage area in that building that could be used for overflow,” Clinton County Coroner Zach Hanna said.

Meanwhile, the coalition is still awaiting permission from PEMA to use two dormitories on the LHU campus if necessary, Harding said.

One dorm would house people who have tested positive and are self-isolating, she said.

“We’re asking PEMA to allow us to use that building dorm to house those who have been exposed, tested positive and need to be isolated from their families. There would also be areas in the dorm for first responders, medical staff and personnel… people on the front lines,” Harding said.

A second dorm would be transformed into an emergency medical facility, Harding said.

“This would be in an absolute worst case scenario if the hospital and affiliates couldn’t handle the large number of patients… an alternate care facility,” Harding said.

“We’ve identified our needs, and how those needs might be met and then asked for approval of our plan from PEMA,” Harding said of the work of the coalition.

Original members of the coalition include the City of Lock Haven, Lock Haven University, UPMC Lock Haven, Clinton County Economic Partnership, Department of Emergency Services, Keystone Central School District, 76th District State Representative, Bucktail Medical Center. Several others have joined the team since it was formed.

Harding said the group continues to meet to share knowledge, information, resources and have a network in place to do everything possible to help protect the citizens of Clinton County during this crisis.

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