No. 1 story COVID

In a unanimous vote among the Morning Times’ staff, the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that it brought with it was selected as the number one story of 2020.

There were obviously too many stories focused on the coronavirus to put in the Morning Times’ Top 10 Stories of 2020 section, so we decided to put together a timeline of events.

Thursday, March 12

Counties bracing for COVID-19

County officials on both sides of the state border are preparing themselves as well as cautioning residents as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world.

“The landscape is changing on a day-to-day basis,” Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller said Thursday. “In fact, we just got an email that our county commissioners association’s spring meeting has been canceled, which is the week after next.”

Public Safety Director Robert Barnes said county emergency officials are working hard to ensure that accurate, quality information is delivered to residents.

“We’re trying to standardize our message and our message sources for good, quality, accurate information,” he said. “We’re using school systems, industry, social media — to standardize the message for everyone.”

In Tioga County, public health officials updated residents on Thursday as the outbreak continues to unfold.

Officials assured residents that there are still no confirmed cases within the county, and staff is continuously monitoring surveillance of the cases throughout New York State.

Officials are on several weekly calls with the state Department of Health, and preparedness plans are up to date, with county nurses “on the forefront of disease investigation.”

Friday, March 13

Gov. Wolf announces closures of schools for two weeks

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Friday that all Pennsylvania schools would be closing for 10 business days beginning on Monday. This is the latest action taken by the Wolf administration to combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The administration has been working with school districts as well as state and local officials to gather input on this decision. The Wolf administration will continue to monitor COVID-19 in the commonwealth, and at the end of 10 days will reevaluate and decide whether continued closure is needed,” a press release said.

The news hit the Valley area at around 3 p.m. on Friday. Both Athens Superintendent Craig Stage and Sayre Superintendent Dr. Jill Daloisio immediately began preparing their staff for the closure.

“We found out when he announced it to the public. We immediately had faculty meetings. We put out the governor’s press release on our website and Facebook pages for people to view,” Stage said.

“My first reaction was to notify the staff, so I sent an email out to the teachers and staff so they would be aware of the announcement if they hadn’t heard it yet. I connected with the director of technology to get a message out to all of our families here in Sayre so that they would be aware of the governor’s announcement as well,” Daloisio added.

Monday, March 16

Wolf urges “non-essential” business

to close for two weeks

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a plan to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state, which included shutting down all non-essential businesses in the state.

Wolf is urging restaurant and bar owners to shut down their dine-in operations, while allowing the businesses to continue to do take-out and delivery.

“Earlier today, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut imposed similar restrictions, and I thank the residents of these states for joining Pennsylvania in working together to halt the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf said. “I know the next few weeks will be challenging. There is no reason to be fearful, or to panic, but we need to take this disease seriously. Please, stay home. Make as few in-person contacts as you can.”

Thursday, March 19

Wolf orders all “non-life sustaining” businesses to close

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations as of 8 p.m. on Thursday to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Enforcement actions against businesses that do not close physical locations will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

In extenuating circumstances, special exemptions will be granted to businesses that are supplying or servicing health care providers.

“To protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, we need to take more aggressive mitigation actions,” said Gov. Wolf. “This virus is an invisible danger that could be present everywhere. We need to act with the strength we use against any other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.”

Monday, March 23

Pa. schools to stay closed through April 6

Students in Athens and Sayre will be staying home for longer than originally planned as the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced Monday that schools in the state would remained closed through at least April 6 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The closure order could be extended beyond April 6 if necessary to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19,” a press release said. “When it’s determined that students can return to school, administrators, teachers and other staff will be given two days to prepare classrooms, set up cafeterias, schedule transportation and arrange other business operations. Students would return on the third day.”

Thursday, April 2

Wolf institutes stay-at-home order

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced Wednesday that all 67 Pennsylvania counties will be under stay-at-home orders effective tonight at 8 p.m.

“This is the most prudent option to stop the spread of COVID-19 across our commonwealth, where cases continue to grow daily,” Wolf said. “We appreciate the shared sacrifice of all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians — we are in this together and this statewide stay-at-home order is being made after many discussions with multiple state agencies, Dr. Levine, and state, county and local officials as we continue to monitor the most effective ways to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Previously, there were 33 counties on statewide stay-at-home orders. The first orders were issued on March 23 for seven counties.

The statewide stay-at-home order takes effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 1 and will continue until April 30. All Pennsylvania schools will remain closed until further notice and non-life-sustaining business closures remain in effect. All essential state services will continue.

Friday, April 10

Wolf closes schools for year, PIAA cancels spring season

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday that all Pennsylvania schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Continuing his efforts to protect the health and safety of students and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Tom Wolf today announced that all schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year,” a press release said.

As Gov. Tom Wolf moved to close Pennsylvania schools to in-person learning through the end of the school year on Thursday, the PIAA followed suit and canceled its remaining winter championships and spring season.

With the announcement, Pennsylvania became the 17th state to cancel its spring sports season.

The NYSPHSAA canceled its remaining winter championships on March 23, and has yet to make a decision regarding spring sports.

“Today’s decision by the PIAA Board of Directors was difficult for everyone. Their thoughts remain on the thousands of student-athletes, coaches, officials and family members affected by this decision,” PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi said in a statement.

Tioga County reports multiple

positive COVID cases at Elderwood

The Tioga County Public Health Department reported Friday that there are now “multiple positive cases of COVID-19” at Elderwood at Waverly.

The first case of coronavirus at the skilled nursing facility was reported on March 28 when Elderwood said a staff member had tested positive.

On Friday, Tioga County said both members of the staff and residents have now tested positive.

The residents are currently in isolation at the facility.

“Due to healthcare privacy laws, Elderwood is unable to comment on the identity of the residents or staff members or their present health conditions,” a press release from Tioga County Public Health said.

Wednesday, April 15

Tioga County reports first COVID death

The first death related to COVID-19 in Tioga County was reported on Wednesday, and the Morning Times has confirmed it was a resident at Elderwood at Waverly.

Chuck Hayes, who is the vice president of marketing and communications for Elderwood, told the Morning Times that “there was one death” at the skilled nursing facility in Waverly.

The company had no further comment at this time, according to Hayes, who referred any questions to the Tioga County Public Health Department.

Bradford County reports

first death related to coronavirus

Bradford County has its first confirmed death related to COVID-19, according to a press release from the Bradford County Commissioners.

The commissioners made the announcement on their Facebook page on Wednesday.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of the deceased,” the commissioners said in the post.

Friday, April 24

Elderwood sees spike in COVID cases

The latest report from Tioga County shows 89 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — including 52 cases involving residents at Elderwood at Waverly.

The county said 21 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed at Elderwood on Friday.

“Twenty-one new cases were identified at Elderwood today and, to date, there have been 52 confirmed cases in residents at the facility. The facility is also conducting testing for all staff. As of today, 14 staff members have tested positive for the virus, however, only five of those staff are Tioga County residents,” Tioga County Legislature Chairwoman Martha Saurbrey said in a statement.

Friday, May 1

Bradford County among 24 counties

starting to reopen May 8

Bradford County will be among 24 counties that are allowed to partially reopen for business starting on Friday, May 8, according to an announcement from Gov. Tom Wolf.

“Over the past two months, Pennsylvanians in every corner of our commonwealth have acted collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said. “We have seen our new case numbers stabilize statewide and while we still have areas where outbreaks are occurring, we also have many areas that have few or no new cases.”

The 24 counties will be moving from “red” to “yellow” in the governor’s reopening plan.

Joining Bradford County are Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren.

Cuomo closes NY schools for year,

high school sports canceled

The NYSPHSAA decided to cancel its spring sports season entirely on Friday, in conjunction with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to close schools to in-person learning for the remainder of the year.

It was announced last week that the NYSPHSAA would cancel any postseason play, but there was hope that a local section schedule could still be played.

“Many throughout our state were hopeful students would have the chance to participate in high school athletics this spring and return to some sense of normalcy,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas said. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on many aspects of our lives and high school athletics is one of them. At this time, we must focus our attention on the health and safety of all New Yorkers.”

Monday, July 11

Tioga County up to 20 COVID deaths

The COVID-19 death toll in Tioga County increased to 20 on Monday, according to a press release.

“We regretfully announce that Elderwood Nursing Home has suffered the loss of two more of their residents today,” Chairwoman Martha Sauerbrey said in a statement.

Sauerbrey confirmed that 19 of the deaths are tied to Elderwood skilled nursing facility in Waverly, and two-thirds of total cases are related to county nursing homes.

Wednesday, July 1

Wolf: PA residents must wear masks when in public

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced a new order signed by Levine Wednesday that will require Pennsylvania residents to wear masks at all times outside their homes.

With the order, signed under Dr. Levine’s authority under the Disease Prevention and Control Act, masks must be worn whenever anyone leaves home. The order takes effect immediately, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“This mask-wearing order is essential to stopping the recent increase in COVID-19 cases we have seen in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said. “Those hot spots can be traced to situations where Pennsylvanians were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing — two practices that must be adhered to if we want to maintain the freedoms we have in place under our reopening.”

Thursday, July 23

Elderwood clear of COVID

Elderwood at Waverly announced its 49th recovery from COVID-19 on Thursday, meaning the facility is now clear of the virus for the first time since the early stages of the pandemic.

It had been a challenging few months, especially with Elderwood’s highly susceptible population, but “our staff has worked diligently over the many weeks,” said Chuck Hayes, Elderwood’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Aug. 4-8

Athens, Sayre OK return-to-school plans;

Cuomo gives schools green light

The Sayre School Board voted unanimously to approve the district’s Instruction and Health and Safety plan to continue with the process of returning to school.

“We have been receiving guidance and recommendations,” Superintendent Dr. Jill Daloisio said. “It is a fluid plan.”

The Athens School Board voted to approve the district’s return to school plans at its meeting on Tuesday evening.

“This plan is a living document, and will change,” Superintendent Craig Stage said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave school districts the green light on Friday to open for in-person learning for the upcoming academic year, citing the state’s positive test rate of one percent.

New York is one of 15 states that have had a positive test rate of below five percent for two consecutive weeks, which allows for a safe reopening, according to the World Health Organization.

“Every region is well below our COVID infection limit, therefore all school districts are authorized to open,” Cuomo said in a statement on Twitter. “If the infection rate spikes, the guidance will change accordingly.”

Tuesday, Sept. 8

Wolf relaxes restaurant restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Tuesday that restaurants in Pennsylvania will be able to expand their seating capacity to 50 percent beginning on September 21.

Every county in Pennsylvania had previously reached the “Green Phase” of Wolf’s reopening plan, which allowed for a 50 percent capacity.

Wolf re-implemented statewide restrictions in July — including limiting restaurant and bar capacity to 25 percent — after a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in multiple counties.

Wednesday, Dec.9

Chemung County up to 50 COVID deaths

Chemung County passed a grim milestone on Tuesday as there have now been 50 deaths in the county attributed to the COVID-19 virus.

The county reported three new deaths connected to the virus on Tuesday.

Chemung County also added 66 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 3,531 since March.

Thursday, Dec. 10

Wolf announces new restrictions due to COVID spike

With COVID-19 cases and deaths on the rise in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levin announced Thursday that new mitigation efforts will begin Saturday and run through Jan. 4.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine today implored Pennsylvanians to take the next three weeks and stand united against the virus by adhering to existing mitigation orders and stricter efforts announced today,” a press release from the governor’s office said.

“Today, I am announcing additional, temporary COVID-19 protective mitigation measures in the commonwealth,” Wolf said on Thursday. “With these measures in place, we hope to accomplish three goals: First, stop the devastating spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. Second, keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed. And third, help Pennsylvanians get through the holiday season — and closer to a widely available vaccine — as safely as possible. This is a bridge to a better future in Pennsylvania.”

The new, limited-time mitigation orders take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, December 12, and remain in effect until 8 a.m. on January 4, 2021.

Friday, Dec. 18

Bradford County reports 50th virus death

Bradford County reported its 50th death connected to the COVID-19 virus on Friday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The county has added 113 confirmed cases of the virus since Tuesday, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 2,279 since March. The Department of Health also reported 375 cases that are considered probable.

Wednesday, Dec. 30

Wolf to lift restaurant, school sports restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that the restrictions he put in place on Dec. 12 will be lifted on Monday, Jan. 4.

Those restrictions included in-person dining and alcohol sales; indoor and outdoor gatherings and events; and high school and youth sports.

Pat McDonald can be reached at (570) 888-9643 ext. 228 or editor@morning-times.com. Follow Managing Editor Pat McDonald on Twitter @PatMcDonaldMT.

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