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Commissioners provide encouragement to public

Juniata County officials meet to discuss offering resources to residents struggling with COVID-19

MIFFLINTOWN — The Juniata County Commissioners sought to provide encouragement and resources for locals struggling to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak at their Tuesday meeting.

“Our goal as commissioners,” commissioner Alice Gray said. “…is to provide a safe environment, not for just a few, but everyone in our county,”

“There are so many people having a difficult time during this, primarily folks who had to close their businesses and livelihoods in an effort to stop this virus. We know it’s a painful and difficult situation.”

Gray said the governor’s office is working hard to help small businesses not currently deemed “life sustaining” that want to go through a waiver process to potentially be allowed to reopen. Owners who believe their small business would be eligible are encouraged to apply for a waiver as soon as possible.

Regarding the virus itself, Director of Emergency Services for Juniata County Allen Weaver said, “I am expecting there to be an increase (in COVID-19 cases). We don’t see any realistic idea that we are going down at this point and time. We are preparing the best we can. We have set up processes for the 9-1-1 staff to keep them separate and safe. We are working with emergency services to make sure their needs are met. We are working with the Department of Health and (the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency) to ensure that the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is coming in for the responders. We are closely monitoring, and if there would be an outbreak in one of the nursing homes, under these special circumstances, the state would deal directly with (the home) to make sure they have the PPE they need.”

As of Tuesday, there were three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Juniata County, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Weaver urged residents to listen to Gov. Tom Wolf’s requests to stay home, saying this virus is highly contagious and efforts to flatten the curve must continue. He cautioned that all models show that if a surge hits hard, that local emergency services and hospitals will be overwhelmed. This reflects the opinions of virtually all reliable health officials.

Allison Fisher, director of the Human Services Department, said, “I would tell folks: We only have one line for emergency services, so please be patient as we try to return all of those phone calls. One thing I would like to encourage is: If you haven’t set up your voicemail on the phone number you leave us, please make sure you do.”

But health is not the only area heavily impacted by coronavirus. Many are struggling financially due to the forced closure of those local businesses not deemed “life-sustaining.”

Anyone seeking unemployment benefits can visit www.compass.state.pa.us. Applications are available online. Those lacking internet access can call 2-1-1, a central call service for PA Human Services.

Fisher encouraged the public to talk to their landlords over any eviction or utility shutoff notices they may receive.

“One of the things that I really want to get out there is: As the stimulus checks come out, this is a great opportunity for folks to catch up on some of those things and not to spend that money on frivolous purchases,” Fisher said.

Fisher also said the “Money in Your Pocket” tax program has been canceled but will eventually return. She also asked that people go online to respond to the 2020 Census, as that program will also be affected by the shutdowns. The website is my2020census.gov.

The number for the Human Services department is (717) 447-5121.

Christie Holderman, assistant superintendent for the Juniata County School District, said remote instruction began March 30, which includes both online and print copies of items for students without internet access. According to Holderman, the district is offering both review and enrichment options. Enrichment is the classification for information not yet introduced in the school year and is ungraded, but the option has been made available for students who at least want exposure to the year’s remaining material.

Holderman also said Juniata County School District discontinued its meal options as of this past Friday, due to lack of demand.

“We had a low turnout at both ends of the county,” she said. “We had some counselors reach out to students to make sure they are taken care of, and as far as I know, everyone is good at this point.”

Glenda Fultz, director of the Juniata County Food Pantry, said she is reminding staff who feel ill not to report to work. Fultz said the food pantry has changed pick-up policies so no one has to enter the building. People in need of the program are to call and receive an appointment. On the day of distribution, food it is brought to their car.

“We have seen quite a few new people, and the food bank has been great with the food that they have available,” Fultz said. “Overall, given the situation, I think it’s going pretty well.”

The food panty maintains its open hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but the public can call in daily at (717) 436-9718 to request help.

Christine McKelvey, Director of Domestic Relations, said her office is trying to serve the public as well as possible given the situation.

“We know the public is having problems financially, and obviously if there is a substantial change in income and they have a support case ,we are encouraging them to take the appropriate action and get that scheduled,” McKelvey said.

They are hearing those conferences telephonically and have online services available for filings as well. For additional information, the public should call (717) 436-7750.

“We are still conducting business as we were last week, pursuant to the order that I issued and of the Supreme Court,” President Judge Kenneth Mummah said. “Public offices are staffed with limited employees, and those with questions can call the individual offices from which they need guidance.”

All phone numbers regarding the court system’s temporary changes are available on the County Commissioners website (https://www.juniataco.org/elected-officials/commissioners/).

Brad Kerstetter, director for Planning and Community Development, said “We are reviewing plans as we normally would. I have reached out to several businesses in the community. If there are comments on the plan that would require them to go back out in the field, then we will have to put a delay on that plan, but we are trying to conduct business as usual other than the planning commission not meeting.”

Those with questions can call (717) 436-7729 or refer to the county website for updated information. Copies of plans can be dropped off for review in the labeled box at the Bridge Street entrance to the courthouse in Mifflintown.

Other orders of business included:

¯ Ratifying Resolution No. 2020-3 “Authorizing the Immediate Implementation of Certain Policies and Procedures to comply with Emergency Directives of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.”

¯ Adoption of Resolution No. 2020-4 “Juniata County 2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan.”

¯ Acknowledgement and approval of Juniata County’s final Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) allocation amount of $160,311 for Fiscal Year 2018-2019.

The Juniata County Commissioners meet at 10 a.m. each Tuesday in the Bousum Building in Mifflintown.

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