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Borough Council Cancels Special Activities Through May 10

The State College Borough Council met Monday evening to discuss an agenda dominated by coronavirus-related items, with Councilman Peter Marshall attending virtually and Councilwoman Janet Engeman absent. Community members were asked to attend the meeting and contribute to its proceedings virtually.

Monday’s meeting began with Mayor Ron Filippelli asking attendees to remember Osaze Osagie, who was fatally shot by a State College Police officer almost one year ago.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine then noted that Council would be asked to cancel special activities through May 10, cancel two of its business meetings in April, and cancel all non-essential committee meetings. This action canceled the Our Lady of Victory Preschool 5k & Fun Walk, the Up & Up music festival, this spring’s Pop Up Ave., and the Out of the Darkness Walk. Council will consider extending this period if the outbreak continues to worsen. Council approved these recommendations unanimously.

Centre Region Emergency Management Coordinator Shawn Kauffman delivered a coronavirus update to Council, focusing on the region’s plans to confront the virus. The Centre Region Council of Governments (COG) and Centre County declared and ratified a disaster emergency in response to the pandemic Sunday.

Kauffman said that his office was currently monitoring the situation but would not immediately respond with staffing increases until its services were confirmed to be experiencing a crisis.

Kauffman added that Mt. Nittany Medical Center’s services remained unchanged as of today, and that if any cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Centre County, it would be announced by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Kauffman said that the Center had an all-hazards capacity plan in place in the case of a spike in the number of patients it would need to treat, though those plans normally address a smaller, more localized response. He also said that the local Infectious Hazards Planning Group, which has existed and met for over a decade, would meet at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

In addition to updating Council on these plans, Kauffman said that the local division of Meals on Wheels continued to operate but was in need of resources, and said that his office had and would continue, partially in collaboration with Penn State, to meet some of those needs. His office may ask Penn State for resources ranging from freezer space to hand sanitizer, he said.

Kauffman also warned Council Members of the threat of “COVID-19 fatigue,”caused by a constant barrage of important information, that would cause people to stop listening to officials.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “This is not going to go away tomorrow…The next two weeks are just the beginning of this.”

Borough Health Officer Brian O’Donnell spoke next, mainly addressing the recent closure of local businesses in light of Governor Tom Wolf’s statewide lockdown announcement Monday afternoon. O’Donnell said he had reached out to local businesses and eateries, encouraging them to ensure that sick employees were sent home and social distance protocol was maintained as much as possible during take-out order interactions.

Council President Evan Myers and several other members voiced their concern for local businesses and workers who were about to face difficult economic situations due to the lockdown, and brought up the possibility of passing a resolution to explain their thoughts. They also discussed the Borough and mayor’s extent of executive power during an emergency.

Myers also noted that Penn State students should still list State College as their place of residence during Census data collection.

Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) President Claire Kelling addressed Council during the public hour, calling for an additional representative to be added to Council who would specifically address the concerns of graduate students. Currently, only one student representative is appointed to council by the University Park Undergraduate Association.

Kelling said that many graduate students who were required to continue their research despite Penn State’s transition to remote learning had returned to State College, and that some were now “struggling to get by.”

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer expressed support for the idea, and Council motioned to consider a resolution to appoint a graduate student representative at its next meeting on April 13.

Charles Tierney also spoke during the public hour, and noted that an organization called the Centre County COVID-19 Community Response. The group was founded to support those in the local community who were most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. Tierney outlined the organizations concerns about emergency assistance and the closure of businesses.

During the penultimate section of the meeting, Council passed an amended resolution to suspend or alter the Highlands Parking Program during specific weekends.

Finally, Fountaine noted that the Borough would seek funding from Bloomberg foundation grants to enhance its response to the pandemic. He also said that the Borough’s Race and Equity Leadership Program would be postponed.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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