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Local leaders call for cooperation amid COVID surge

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Dr. David Lopatofsky of UPMC gives an update on COVID-19 as Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito, looks on during a County Commissioners' press conference on COVID at the Commissioners Boardroom Thursday.

Lycoming County leaders and local health officials urged the public to follow guidelines and work together to remain safe from COVID-19 at a time when numbers of coronavirus cases are surging locally as well as nationwide.

County Department of Public Safety Director Jeff Hutchins noted that numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the county have nearly doubled in the past month alone.

Latest figures, he said, show the county with 2,510 cases, including 68 people hospitalized for COVID-19, with 16 patients in intensive care and nine on ventilators.

“It affects all of us in many ways,” Sheriff Mark Lusk said. “We as a county can’t afford to lose our staff for weeks at a time to COVID.”

Lusk and other county officials noted efforts to reduce the spread.

While county operations will remain open, many departments including those in the courthouse are to be accessed by appointment only.

“We as a government have responsibility to be able to perform,” Lusk said.

Hutchins urged people to contact courthouse personnel and department services via phone calls, electronic communications or mailings.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito noted that there are now four times as many COVID-19 cases locally than in the spring.

“I believe the best offense is a strong offense,” he said.

He called for introducing testing of people who are asymptomatic of coronavirus.

Many people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms but end up spreading the virus.

“I really believe our community will be safer if it engages in asymptomatic testing,” he said.

Dr. David Lopatofsky, chief medical officer, UPMC Susquehanna, said local health system facilities are equipped for now to handle the upsurge in COVID-19 cases.

The public, however, cannot afford to let down its guard in fighting the pandemic.

The best way to stay safe from coronavirus is to engage in approaches that prevent its spread: wearing masks, avoiding gatherings outside one’s own household and practicing social distancing, he noted.

Asked to assess the local COVID-19 situation, Lopatofsky said, “I don’t think we are at a critical stage. We are at a serious stage.”

County officials noted that guidelines have long been in place to help make courthouse operations and staff safe from coronavirus including mask wearing, social distancing and sanitization of buildings.

Since the spring, a total of 12 county employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Among them was Commissioner Tony Mussare who noted his wife and son also had contracted coronavirus.

“This is a serious virus and need to take it seriously,” he said.

Commissioner Scott Metzger said it’s vital that the public not become complacent about COVID-19.

“We do not have control over this virus but we do have control over how we can try to fight it,” he said.

He said it would be wrong to again close businesses and schools and face the devastation of unemployment, substance abuse, suicide and poverty which resulted.

“They say it will take a decade to recover from those measures,” he said. “Closing a second time will cause depression and take more than a generation to recover.”

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