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State College Extends COVID-19 Mask Ordinance Through End Of January

With a sustained surge in COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations locally, State College’s COVID-19 masking ordinance will remain in place through the end of January.

State College Borough Council voted unanimously on Monday night to extend until January 31 the ordinance requiring masks be worn in businesses and other places open to the public.

The approval came after the borough’s Board of Health recommended at its Nov. 29 meeting that council extend the ordinance, citing Centre County’s steadily increasing testing positivity rate, the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the virus, and an ongoing rise in hospitalizations at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

Centre County’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate stood at 15.2% for the week of November 26 to December 2, up from 11.2% the prior seven days and 10% two weeks earlier, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

A steady rise in COVID-19 cases is “directly influencing,” a strain on the local health system, Mount Nittany Health Executive Vice President Tom Charles said during an update to council at the start of Monday’s meeting.

Mount Nittany Medical Center had 64 COVID-19 inpatients on Monday and since mid-September has had an average of 34 COVID patients each day, the longest sustained period of a high COVID census throughout the entire 21 months of the pandemic.

More people seeking treatment, high numbers of COVID-19 inpatients, and difficulties discharging patients to long-term care facilities that are dealing with their own capacity constraints have all contributed to the situation.

For about 12 hours last Thursday into Friday, Mount Nittany took the extraordinary step of diverting ambulances from the emergency department because of high patient numbers and hospital officials said community members should “expect to see extraordinary measures continue to take place.

Elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay are being postponed; people seeking care at the emergency department are seeing significantly longer wait times; and visitations remain restricted.

“Obviously we are not out from underneath this by any stretch of the imagination,” Charles said. “… We are dealing with levels of COVID activity that are as high as they’ve ever been and we’re 21 months into this.”

State College’s ordinance requires anyone over the age of 2 inside any building open to the public to wear masks, with some exceptions. Businesses and organizations are required to post notice of the mask requirement at all public entrances.

Individuals and businesses found to have violated the ordinance can be found guilty of a civil infraction and fined $300, but Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said in November that has not been enforced.

State College police have not issued any citations since the ordinance was enacted and have instead focused on education, a department spokesperson said.

Borough Councilwoman Katherine Yeaple said the ordinance is “imperfect” but is “the right thing to do.”

The borough doesn’t ask for business employees to confront patrons who refuse to wear a mask, but Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said the ordinance provides a measure of support for those establishments that do wish to enforce masking.

“It is in the larger sense unenforceable. On the other hand, supporting local businesses who would like the protection for themselves and their employees and their customers, [they] do appreciate the fact that they have the support of this ordinance,” Lafer said. “Should they need it if someone gets upset about it, they do have the right to call our police department or our ordinance [enforcement] people to ask for support.

“We’re not going to go door to door and knock on businesses and stand outside and count. But we do have the option as businessmen and women, as citizens of the community, to ask for help should we need it. Hopefully, we don’t need to use it. It is an option if we have to.”

State College’s continuation of the ordinance into the new year comes on the heels of Penn State’s announcement last week that its indoor masking mandate for all campus buildings would continue into the spring semester.

The ordinance is in effect is while Centre County is at the Centers for Disease Control highest level of community transmission for COVID-19.

Since August 27, Centre County and most of Pennsylvania have been at the highest level of transmission on the CDC scale, defined as 100 or more new cases per 100,000 people and/or a testing positivity rate greater than 10% in the previous seven days.

The CDC recommends masks be worn in public settings in areas that are at the high level or substantial level, the second-highest on the scale.

State College’s Board of Health will meet again in January to provide recommendations on the status of the ordinance.

“At the January meeting, the Board of Health will then reassess the masking ordinance, taking into consideration the CDC guidelines, DOH guidelines, the current transmission numbers in the county, and any new information on the new Omicron variant and will advise Council on actions to take for the prevention of COVID-19 spread in our community,” Fountaine said.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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