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Officials respond to issues related to COVID-19

Area residents questioned state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, business leaders and a health care official on COVID-19 and related issues during a telephone town hall meeting Monday.

Dr. Rutul Dalal, chairman of infection prevention and control, UPMC Susquehanna, said local health care providers are ready to respond to the needs of coronavirus patients.

UPMC Susquehanna, he noted, is working with state and federal partners and community leaders to keep pace with the pandemic.

“The community response continues to be strong and heartwarming,” he said. “We are grateful for the outpouring of support.”

Dalal advised everyone to continue to follow social distancing guidelines and to wash hands to help protect themselves from the coronavirus.

He acknowledged the shortage of sanitizing agents and protective supplies for employees in workplaces.

“There is a global shortage of these things,” he said. “Often, they do go to frontline health care staff.”

Many of the questions involved those concerned with business and unemployment matters.

Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President Jason Fink noted that the business community has been impacted as never before.

He said some businesses initially considered non-essential have remained opened or reopened after applying for waivers.

One caller asked how some businesses can continue operating that may seem non-essential.

“This is a question that we hear,” Yaw said. “There may be some inconsistencies.”

Fink noted that the state guidelines for determining if a business is essential or non-essential were drawn up quite quickly.

“It happened fast, which was understandable,” he said.

Yaw added it remains an issue for state lawmakers to continue to assess. In the meantime, there is the concern of getting people back to work as well.

Another caller wanted to know why car dealerships are not considered essential given the number of people such as health care workers who need reliable transportation to get to and from work.

“There are a lot of people working for the automobile dealers,” Yaw said. “People need cars. They break down. We get it.”

Still other callers complained that it is extremely difficult — perhaps impossible — to apply for state unemployment benefits.

Yaw said it’s a concern he’s hearing from many people.

Eric Kratz, executive director, state Senate Labor and Industry Committee, acknowledged the problem.

“The bottom line is, there is a backlog,” he said. “We understand people are frustrated over delays. I advise people to try and file online.”

Telephone contact, he said, will result in long wait times.

Kratz said self-employed people impacted by COVID-19 can’t file for unemployment but are able to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

There is not yet a start date for processing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications, he noted.

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