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County Commissioner Ray D'Agostino, speaks during the Lancaster County weekly COVID-19 press conference at the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center on Friday, May 29, 2020.

Government officials and a medical doctor Thursday highlighted a declining unemployment rate, successful distribution of Lancaster County’s share of federal funding to help aid economic recovery and virus mitigation, and low hospitalization numbers — although the rate of positive coronavirus tests has recently increased slightly.

Republican County Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino were joined during a 45-minute press conference by Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker, as well as Dr. Michael Ripchinski from Lancaster General Hospital and the county’s health adviser, Ed Hurston.

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman and Lancaster city mayor Danene Sorace were not in attendance, though they were invited, Parsons said.

Smucker provided an update on congressional efforts to pass a fourth coronavirus relief package. Smucker said he hopes a vote will come as soon as next week, and when asked what he is prioritizing in the fourth bill, he mentioned ensuring that individuals who are unable to go to work continue to be protected over the long arc of the virus’s economic impact.

Smucker also said he supports reopening schools in the fall, while acknowledging the safety concerns and logistical challenges.

“We should be moving to open. I think we can do that safety, and students need to be there,” Smucker said.

Questioning restrictions

The officials also addressed Gov. Tom Wolf’s July 16 decision to slash the allowable occupancy at restaurants from 50% to 25% statewide to limit the spread of the disease.

“Why are we doing this, and why are we doing it in counties that are doing very well?” Parsons asked about Wolf’s restrictions on restaurants. “This is not acting with a scalpel, this is acting with a machete and doing it with the whole state. We need to be better than this.”

D’Agostino also talked about economic challenges and recovery efforts. The county, along with the Economic Development Corporation and Lancaster Chamber, have been able to provide support via grants to nearly 500 county small businesses using more than $11 million in funds from the April federal coronavirus relief act. The county commissioners will vote on another round of grants, worth $15 million, in August.

“That’s unprecedented,” he said of the $26 million in grants. “This is working to get our economy back on track, and get public businesses and families to thrive once again.

He said while still “not great,” the county’s unemployment rate has been declining. The number of county residents filing initial claims for unemployment benefits continues to dwindle, falling last week by 15.1% to 583, the fewest since the pandemic began in mid-March, according to Lancaster County Workforce Development Board figures released Thursday.

Testing, treatment

Lancaster General Health’s Ripchinski provided an update on COVID-19 testing numbers and infection rates. According to the state’s Department of Health, 51,000 tests have been performed in Lancaster County, and 5,400 people have tested positive.

The percent of tests coming back positive has increased slightly in the last week, Ripchinski said. The positive test rate was 6,4% in the last week, up from 5.4% two weeks ago.

“However it’s very reassuring to have fewer COVID-19 daily cases overall than we had several months ago,” he said.

As of Wednesday, there were 26 COVID-19 patients in the county’s three hospitals, Ripchinski said, and only one was on a ventilator.

Hurston, the county’s emergency medical advisor, gave an update on some of the actions the county has undertaken to mitigate the virus. He said that since May when the county approved testing for all staff and residents in nursing homes, the county has performed 10,566 tests.

Hurston also mentioned spending approved by the commissioners early this week which will, in part, help schools prepare to reopen by assisting them with procuring PPE.

The Lancaster County commissioners hosted a press briefing this morning to talk about the medical and economic impact of COVID-19 in the county.

Those in attendance were commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D'Agostino, as well as Dr. Michael Ripchinski from Lancaster General Health, Ed Hurston, the county's emergency medical advisor, and Congressman Lloyd Smucker.

Commissioner Craig Lehman and Lancaster city mayor Danene Sorace were not in attendance, though they were invited, Parsons says.

The conference started at 11 a.m. and was livestreamed on LNP | LancasterOnline's Facebook page and in this article.

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