COVID-19 UPDATE: Resources, information, and helpful tips to protect you and your family!

Senator Muth Hosts Telephone Town Hall on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Department of Health Resources

LIVE daily briefings from the PA Department of Health:
pacast.com/live/doh or www.governor.pa.gov/live/ or watch on Facebook

Symptoms & Testing

Stop the Spread

Social Media Resources

FAQs

Fact Sheets & Resources

Global Map

Dept. of Health News

En Español

Message from Senator Katie Muth

I know the current situation can be emotionally draining and overwhelming at times. While we cannot control many aspects of this ordeal, my staff and I will continue to serve a prominent role in providing you all with information and assistance. My team and I can help alleviate some of the confusion, fear, and frustration people are dealing with, many of which, have questions about their economic security and health.

In order to comply with vital social distancing procedures and to help mitigate the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), my Harrisburg and District offices are open for calls and email only. We have suspended walk-in constituent services until at least March 27. We may not have all of the answers in the moment, but I’m confident that my team will work hard to help as many people as we can, in a thoughtful, compassionate, and timely manner.

In this e-blast are links to helpful bits of information, updates, and resources as it pertains to COVID-19. We will continue to share new information through E-blasts and Twitter and Facebook as we receive it to ensure you, your family, schools, and small businesses navigate through this pandemic. If you need assistance, please call my office at 610-792-2137 or send an email to senatormuth@pasenate.com.

Latest News

What You Need to Know About COVID-19

The Coronavirus was first discovered during an outbreak in Wuhan, China. The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person-to-person. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms often do not appear in a person until 2 to 14 days after exposure.

Prepare Yourself and Your Family

The best way to avoid contracting COVID-19 is by practicing vital social distancing procedures. It is recommended to work remotely and severely limit contact with others.

If you think you have come into contact with someone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or are exhibiting them yourself, please follow the instructions on the graphic below:

PA’s Response to COVID-19

During a press conference on March 16, Governor Tom Wolf announced his recommendation to close all non-essential businesses statewide by midnight for two weeks as a matter of public health to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus.

The following types of businesses should temporarily cease regular operations:

  • Community and recreation centers
  • Gyms, including yoga/spin/barre facilities
  • Hair salons, nail salons, and spas
  • Casinos, concert venues, and theaters
  • Bars
  • Sporting events facilities and golf courses
  • Non-essential retail facilities, including shopping malls (except for pharmacy or other health care facilities located therein)
  • Restaurants should close for dine-in services, but may stay open for carry-out and delivery only.
  • Liquor stores. Individuals may still buy wine and beer at grocery stores with PLCB licenses.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced that all branches will be closed for two weeks effective March 16. Due to the shutdown, driver licenses, identification cards, vehicle registrations and safety and emission inspections scheduled to expire on or before March 31, 2020 will now have an extended expiration date  of April 30, 2020. For more information refer to PennDoT’s website.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) announced that cash and credit cards payments are no longer accepted on the PA Turnpike as of March 16 at 8PM to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Customers should not stop at tollbooths. For non-E-ZPass customers, a picture of their license plate will be taken and they will be billed by mail within 30 days until further notice. Invoices can be paid online, by phone, or by mail. For more information on how it works, visit: www.nocashzone.com.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced the closure of all facilities statewide located in Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks and 20 forest districts. These closures took place on March 17 and will last for 14 days. The public will still be able to access opens spaces like trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking.

Closed facilities include:

  • Park and forest offices and visitor centers
  • Restrooms
  • Campgrounds, cabins and all forms of overnight accommodations
  • Public programs, events, and trainings are canceled

To get the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s daily report.

Unemployment Compensation

If your job has been affected by COVID-19, you may be eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. You can apply online to get started.

Please note that the waiting week has been suspended. Eligible claimants may receive benefits for the first week that they are unemployed. Previously, claimants were not eligible for benefits during their first week of unemployment.

Work search and work registration requirements have been temporarily waived for all claimants. Claimants are not required to prove they have applied or searched for a new job to maintain UC benefits. Claimants are also not required to register with PA Career Link.

Taxes

Good news! The IRS has agreed to extend the tax filing deadline for 90 days. The new deadline to submit taxes has been pushed back July 15. The PA Department of Revenue is happy to assist you with any questions you have via their online portal.

Click the graphic below to be taken to their online portal and FAQ page:

Transportation Updates

All Driver License Centers and Photo License Centers in Pennsylvania will be closed for two weeks effective Monday, March 16. All driver licenses, photo ID cards, disability parking placards, vehicle registrations, and vehicle inspections scheduled to expire between March 16 and March 31, 2020 will be extended until April 30, 2020. 

SEPTA Regional Rail will operate on an enhanced Saturday schedule beginning Tuesday, March 17. Check schedules here: http://septa.org/service/rail/midday-schedule.html 

SEPTA has announced a refund program for weekly and monthly passholders. Partially-used monthly passes for March 2020 and weekly passes for March 9 & March 16 will be eligible for pro-rated refunds. More info here: http://septa.org/pass-refund-info.html

Federal REAL ID Enforcement Deadline Postponed to October 2021

The Department of Homeland Security has postponed the enforcement date for REAL ID from October 1, 2020, to October 1, 2021, in response to COVID-19 and the national emergency declaration.

PennDOT closed all driver and photo license centers on March 16 and paused REAL ID issuance in the state out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of public health. Centers will reopen no sooner than April 3. PennDOT also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, requesting that the agency consider extending the October 1, 2020 REAL ID enforcement deadline.

REAL ID is a federal law that affects how states issue driver’s licenses and ID cards if they are going to be acceptable for federal purposes. A federally-acceptable form of identification (whether it’s a Pennsylvania REAL ID driver’s license or ID card, a valid U.S. Passport/Passport Card, a military ID, etc.) must now be used on and after October 1, 2021, as identification to board a commercial flight or visit a secure federal building that requires a federally acceptable form of identification ID for access.

REAL ID is optional in Pennsylvania. There is no requirement that any resident obtain a REAL ID; PennDOT will continue to offer standard-issue driver’s licenses and photo IDs once issuance has resumed.

More information about document requirements, including a printable document checklist, can be found on the Document Check page of the PennDOT Driver and Vehicle Services website.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Protect Your Business

Small businesses are the backbone of our Commonwealth and this nation!

Childcare facilities were asked by the Governor to close statewide on March 16. For childcare centers that are serving essential personnel like healthcare and first responders that must go to work during the COVID-19 outbreak, the PA Department of Humans Services (DHS) has established a waiver process. Childcare facilities interested in applying for a waiver should email: RA-PWDRACERT@pa.gov

Essential Agriculture Businesses The PA Department of Agriculture has developed the following guidelines and recommendations for essential agricultural businesses to help ensure a safe and accessible food supply during the COVID-19 mitigation efforts:

Small Business Loan: The Federal Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) are working to provide Disaster Assistance Loans for Small Businesses Impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The DCED is offering working capital loans that could be of assistance to businesses and non-profits impacted by COVID-19. Resources and information will be posted to the DCED website as they become available.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, in addition to local funding partners, may also be a source of assistance for affected businesses with funding opportunities up to $2 million. Learn more on how to apply here.

For questions, please call SBA Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov (link sends e-mail).

Do you have a business in Chester County? The Chester County Economic Development Council wants to hear from YOU! The Chester County Economic Development Council, the Chester County government, and the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry are conducting a survey to assess the impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on local business to determine how they can best assist. Furthermore, if you have any questions and do not know who to reach out to regarding your business send an email to: business@chesco.org

Protect Yourself

Medical Costs

As of March 9, the Governor announced that all major health insurers in Pennsylvania have agreed to cover “medically appropriate” COVID-19 testing and treatment.

The 10 major insurers are:

For anyone with questions about their insurance policy, please contact your insurer or the Pennsylvania State Insurance Department with questions. They can also be reached at (877) 881-6388.

Remote Medical Attention and Care

Health officials are urging people who have symptoms to stay home and contact their doctor remotely rather than opting for an in-person visit. Nearly all major health systems offer some form of virtual visits and assistance. Some insurers do, too. People interested in a specific virtual visit should check to see what illnesses it can be used for. Be sure to reach out to your insurance provider to verify this service is covered with your plan.

Here’s an brief overview of virtual visit services offered to local residents:

Capital BlueCross – is offering free medical Virtual Care visits for members who currently have the Virtual Care benefit.  The waiving of fees will be effective March 13 through April 15, 2020.

Highmark – is providing many of their members with a virtual clinic visit service. Any fees related to COVID-19 will be waived.

UPMC Pinnacle – is welcoming Online Video Visits for those experience flu like symptoms or just in need of a follow-up appointment.  Video visits are available through the MyPinnacleHealth portal for $49.

WellSpan Health – WellSpan Online Urgent Care offers a video visits with Teladoc physicians for patients 3 months and older for their standard fee of $49.

CALLING ALL PSYCHOLOGIST! Things may be picking up for you at this time, so we want to make sure you are covered too. Here are some COVID-19 resources on how to best protect yourself and serve your patients from the Pennsylvania Psychologist Association.

Utilities Update

SEPTA announced that starting Tuesday, March 17, their weekday Regional Rail service will operate on a Severe Weather Service Plan until further notice. When the Severe Weather Service Plan is in effect, Regional Rail operates on an enhanced Saturday schedule service level (including added service for Cynwyd line & Wilmington/Newark service.) The Airport Regional Rail Line will operate on a normal Saturday schedule with service every 30 minutes.

PECO is servicing any previous disconnections and waiving new late payment charges through at least May 1, 2020. In addition, PECO will continue to remind customers of existing bill assistance resources and energy assistance programs to support them through temporary or extended financial hardship. Learn more about assistance resources from PECO 

Met-Ed has temporarily discontinued all power shutoffs for customers who are past due on their electric bills as of March 13.

Comcast agreed to increase access to and speeds of internet essentials’ low-income internet service to support Americans through the coronavirus pandemic. To receive the increased Internet speeds, existing customers will not need to do anything. The new speeds will be rolled out nationally over the next few days. For all new customers, a free self-install kit that includes a cable modem with a Wi-Fi router. There will be no term contract or credit check and no shipping fee. Call 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish OR below to learn more or on their website.

Aqua PA announced that as of March 13th, Aqua initiated a customer termination moratorium and will discontinue non-emergency service shut-offs. Aqua customers can stay up to date on any water service emergencies impacting their area by signing up to receive our Water Smart Alerts by phone, email and/or text. Customers should visit AquaAmerica.com and click the Water Smart Alerts tab.

Pennsylvania American Water agreed to a moratorium and discontinuing service shut offs at this time. They  will continue to evaluate this moratorium as more information becomes available. Additionally, Pennsylvania American Water will begin the restoration of service to previously shut-off customers. More information is available here.

*Be sure to check with your utilities provider to see how they can best accommodate your needs!

School Districts

Governor Tom Wolf announced that all K-12 Pennsylvania schools will be closed for 10 business days effective Monday, March 16. At the end of 10 days he will reevaluate and decide whether continued closure is needed. 

**No school district will be penalized if it fails to meet the 180 day or school hours requirements.**

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced that it received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to low income students in a non-congregate setting, such as a drive-through or grab and go, during this closure.

For more guidance and a complete list of resources provided for school communities, be sure to read the information provided on the by the PA Department of Education.

Help Our Community

Perkiomen Valley Schools: PV Power Packs program is up and running and will supplement breakfast and lunch for those in Perkiomen Valley School District. These meals will be available daily between 9am-12pm. Thank you to all of the volunteers, administrators, and staff who are making sure that no child goes hungry during this time of need!

Food Pantries throughout Montgomery County are willing and ready to serve those who are in need of assistance. Linked here is a map of food pantries and other county emergency food sites for individuals and families in Montgomery County.

Helping Harvest in Berks County is working hard to feed the community, while making sure those assisting are safe and well equipped to protect themselves. With such high demand, Helping Harvest is in need of donations and volunteers to have the ability to continue to serve as many people as they can.

Service providers throughout Montgomery County are looking for volunteers for some of their outreach programs, including meal delivery. If you’re interested in current opportunities, please contact RSVP by either calling 610-834-1040 ext. 123, sending an email to: volunteer123@rsvpmc.org, or applying online.

Owen J. Roberts School District is requesting non-perishable items to support the nutritional needs of their free and reduced families during these difficult times. They are providing a donation site at Positively Pasta, located at 351 W Schuylkill Road in Pottstown, right next to the Coventry Mall. Please consider donating non-perishable goods between the hours of:

9:00 am – 2:00 pm.

 

They are also in need of volunteers to support their donation site. Please call Karen Foster, owner of Positively Pasta, at (610) 333-2455 to schedule a time if you are able to volunteer.

Click here for a full list of preferred items.

How to Stay Informed

Below is an extensive list of information, statistics, and resources to ensure you stay up-to-date with any changes happening due to COVID-19.

Pennsylvania Department of Health

A complete list of information and resources available to you by county:

 

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

  • Learn what’s happening Worldwide with the WHO’s Daily report. The most recent report is located at the top of the page. It includes confirmed case and death tallies.
  • Additional COVID-19 information is provided on their website.
  • Stay informed on Twitter.
  • Follow their Facebook page.

 

Federal Stimulus Package – ‘Putting Workers First‘

A bipartisan, robust third COVID-19 bill that will immediately bolster our health care response and our economy.

Unemployment Insurance: ($260 billion)

A massive investment in the UI program as well as critical reforms to make the program more effective for workers. In the wake of the economic recession caused by the coronavirus the UI program is an essential a long-term lifeline for millions of workers during this crisis.

  • Full Paycheck Replacement: $600 increase for every American, which equates to 100 percent of wages for the average American without a paycheck struggling through the Crisis
  • Waiving Waiting Weeks: Gets money in people’s pockets sooner by providing federal incentives for states to eliminate waiting weeks.
  • Extension of Benefits: An additional 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment insurance benefits are immediately be made available.
  • Expanding Access: Allow part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access UI benefits.

Marshall Plan For Our Health System ($150 billion)

An unprecedented and historic investment for our health care system in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The new $150 billion fund is widely available to all types of hospitals and providers most affected by COVID-19, and it will be available to fund whatever is needed to defeat this virus.

This includes:

  • Equipment and Infrastructure: Personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, new construction to house patients, emergency operation centers and more.
  • Enhanced Health Investments: Additional funding is also dedicated to delivering Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers to ensure that they receive the funding they need during this crisis, and new investments in our country’s Strategic National Stockpile, surge capacity and medical research into COVID-19.

Robust Worker and Transparency Protections on Government Loans

  • No stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the Treasury plus 1 year.
  • Restrictions on any increases to executive compensation.
  • Protect collective bargaining agreements.
  • Real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions under the Act, including terms of loans, investments or other assistance to corporations.
  • Prohibition on businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments getting loans or investments from Treasury programs.
  • Creation of Treasury Department Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery to provide oversight of Treasury loans and investments and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to protect taxpayer dollars. • Creation of a Congressional Oversight Commission to enhance legislative oversight of pandemic response.

 

Small Business Rescue Plan ($377 billion)

  • $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and non-profits to maintain existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities.
  • $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs. • $17 billion for SBA to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.


Protected Over 2 Million Aviation Industry Jobs

  • Democrats secured direct payroll payments to keep millions of airline workers on the job and receiving paychecks.
  • Airline companies will be prohibited from stock buybacks and dividends for the entire life of the grant plus one year.
  • Collective Bargaining Agreements negotiated by workers will be protected.


Increased Direct Payments to Working Americans

  • Democrats fought to double cash payments to the working class Americans from $600 to $1,200
  • An additional $500 cash payment is available per child.
  • The full payment is available for individuals making up to $75,000 (individual) and $150,000 (married).
  • The value begins decreasing and then phases out completely for those making over the full payment income cap.

State and Local Coronavirus Expenditures Fund ($150 billion)

To assist States, Tribes, and local governments that must pay for new expenses related to COVID-19 response.

  • $150 billion, with a small-state minimum of $1.25 billion
  • Tribal set-aside of $8 billion

Emergency Appropriations ($330 billion, including $100 billion for hospitals and providers mentioned above)

  • $16 billion to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile supplies of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and other medical supplies, which are distributed to State and local health agencies, hospitals and other healthcare entities facing shortages during emergencies.
  • $1 billion for the Defense Production Act to bolster domestic supply chains, enabling industry to quickly ramp up production of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies, and billions dollars more for federal, state, and local health agencies to purchase such equipment.
  • $4.3 billion to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus, including for the purchase of personal protective equipment; laboratory testing to detect positive cases; infection control and mitigation at the local level to prevent the spread of the virus; and other public health preparedness and response activities.
  • $45 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, more than doubling the available funding, to provide for the immediate needs of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, as well as private non-profits performing critical and essential services, to protect citizens and help them recover from the overwhelming effects of COVID-19. Reimbursable activities may include medical response, personal protective equipment, National Guard deployment, coordination of logistics, safety measures, and community services nationwide.
  • $30.75 billion for grants to provide emergency support to local school systems and higher education institutions to continue to provide educational services to their students and support the on-going functionality of school districts and institutions.
  • $25 billion in aid to our nation’s transit systems to help protect public health and safety while ensuring access to jobs, medical treatment, food, and other essential services.
  • $10 billion in grants to help our nation’s airports as the aviation sector grapples with the most steep and potentially sustained decline in air travel in history.
  • $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant to provide child care assistance to health care sector employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers deemed essential during the response to the coronavirus.
  • More than $7 billion for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs. This funding will help low-income and working class Americans avoid evictions and minimize any impacts caused by loss of employment, and child care, or other unforeseen circumstances related to COVID-19, and support additional assistance to prevent eviction and for people experiencing homelessness
  • More than $6.5 billion in Federal funding for CDBG, the Economic Development Administration, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help mitigate the local economic crisis and rebuild impacted industries such as tourism or manufacturing supply chains.
  • $400 million in election assistance for the states to help prepare for the 2020 election cycle, including to increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and more pollworkers. • $2 billion in funding to strengthen response capacity and support tribal governments: o $1.03 billion to the Indian Health Service to support tribal health care system response efforts; o $100 million more for the USDA Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations; o $453 million to assist tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs; o $69 million to help tribal schools, colleges and universities through for the Bureau of Indian Education; and o $300 million more to the HUD Indian Tribal Block Grant program. • $1 billion to recapitalize Amtrak after steep ridership declines related to the outbreak. This will keep thousands of Amtrak employees employed, and ensure America’s intercity passenger rail stays on track, continuing service in the Northeast and nationwide.

Student Loan Relief

  • To alleviate the pressure of student loan costs during this crisis, Senate Democrats fought for the inclusion of tax relief encouraging employers to implement student loan repayment programs. This provision will exclude up to $5,250 in qualifying student loan repayments paid by the employer on behalf of the employee from income for income tax purposes.

Some helpful links to understand the Federal Stimulus Package:

Status of your stimulus check

Most Americans can expect to start seeing their stimulus checks from the coronavirus relief bill in about three weeks, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Singles who have adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 would get $1,200 and married couples who file taxes jointly and earn less than $150,000 would get $2,400. Singles who earn less than $99,000 and married couples who earn less than $198,000 would get a partial benefit.

The checks will be sent based your 2019 or 2018 adjusted gross income on your tax return. If you haven’t filed a tax return, you should file a tax return quickly if you can. The IRS will also access information from Social Security to send the payments.

But what if the IRS can’t track you down to send you a stimulus check?

All is not lost. Just delayed.

If you don’t receive your check, you’ll see the benefit as a tax refund when you file your return in 2020.

That’s because the funds from the stimulus check are actually an advance on a credit you will be able to take on your 2020 tax return.

So while the funds are meant to give relief now, if you don’t get it, you can still take the credit on your 2020 return and you’d get the stimulus amount in the form of a tax refund, said Garrett Watson, senior policy analyst for The Tax Foundation..

Still not sure if you qualify? Use the stimulus check calculator to see what benefit you can expect.

(Source:  https://www.nj.com/coronavirus/2020/03/heres-what-you-need-to-know-if-your-stimulus-check-doesnt-arrive.html)

 Some helpful links to understand the Federal Stimulus Package:

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act)

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided for the expansion of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is a federal program administered by the US Department of Labor.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) published its first round of implementation guidance pursuant to the FFCRA yesterday.

The following was provided to us as guidance by the USDOL and has been posted on our website.  The  information can be found at: https://www.uc.pa.gov/COVID-19/Pages/FFCRA.aspx

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide their employees with expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.  The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.  Please read the below fact sheets to determine if you are eligible.