Luzerne County Courthouse
                                 File photo

Luzerne County Courthouse

File photo

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In a proposed pitch released Thursday, Luzerne County argues it is ready to move to the less restrictive coronavirus yellow phase due to its strong medical facility and testing capacity, declining cases and cooperation from residents and businesses.

“We are confident that Luzerne County is made up and led by a community of problem-solvers who can come together to address the challenges facing us with the cooperation, guidance and assistance of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” it said.

County council is set to vote on the proposal at 5 p.m. Friday — a step required for it to be forwarded to Gov. Tom Wolf for his consideration.

According to the document:

The county’s healthcare providers are confident they are equipped to respond.

“The county’s robust medical community has pivoted to address the virus and is prepared and able to handle any potential future surges,” it said.

Three major health care networks — Geisinger, Lehigh Valley Health Care and Commonwealth Health — operate four hospitals within the county, which also has many independent medical providers. These hospitals are resuming elective surgery, are not at capacity and have available intensive care beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment.

Luzerne County Medical Society President Dr. Julio Ramos indicated his organization met and supports a plan to move the county to the yellow phase “as long as the county’s population continues to adhere to strict Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines such as social distancing and hand washing,” it said.

The county’s health crisis team has been meeting virtually each week since the end of March, it said, praising the medical community for its “outstanding work” planning and implementing procedures to combat the virus.

Ten testing sites are available in the county, including the mass testing location at the Mohegan Sun Arena parking lot scheduled to close later this month.

Even when the arena site shuts down, the nine others are prepared to meet the demand if a surge occurs, the proposal said.

Positive COVID-19 cases in the county are “quickly and consistently trending downward.”

To meet one of the state’s yellow-phase population metrics, the county must have less than 158 new confirmed cases over a two-week period.

Between May 6 and May 19, the county had 274 new cases over this two-week period, which is “admittedly higher” than the state target but “significantly down” from the number a month ago. This decline shows the county has “heeded the call and adhered to the quarantine.”

“The county sees no reason why this downward trend would not continue in the upcoming few days and therefore, based on the above, Luzerne County is on track to warrant a reopening,” it said.

It noted many local cases are in nursing homes. The county is committed to assisting these facilities and has provided them with personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, it said.

Businesses and citizen response

As part of the push to reopen, county businesses would sign and post in their windows a pledge agreeing to comply with necessary safety precautions, it said.

The county’s four chambers of commerce have helped create a website,, for businesses to review government guidelines and locate vendors to obtain protective equipment.

A decrease in cases that were “some of the highest in the state” largely stems from the cooperation and sacrifice of citizens, it said.

“They have been made aware of the concerns, have listened, and are ready to continue to do what it takes to defeat this virus even in the next phase,” the proposal says.

On the enforcement side, each municipality has “empowered” police and code enforcement to take steps necessary to maintain safety and security, it said.

In Hazleton, a curfew contributed to the city’s drop in cases, it said. A county assistant district attorney is on duty at all times to help answer legal questions about the criminal aspect of any alleged offence.

“All business owners will be aware that the governor has the tools, other than criminal citations, to enforce the emergency order,” it said.

County Councilwoman LeeAnn McDermott, who drafted the plan with input from others, said Friday she is hopeful her colleagues will approve the request.

“I especially hope that the governor will let Luzerne County advance to yellow so we can restart our economy,” McDermott said.

In the yellow phase, some, but not all, businesses may reopen with safety protocols for social distancing and cleaning. Restaurants and bars are still limited to carry-out and delivery, and indoor fitness centers, spas, hair salons, casinos and theaters must remain closed. Large gatherings of more than 25 would be prohibited, and remote working must continue where feasible.

In total, 49 counties will be in the yellow category on Friday. Luzerne County is among 18 still in the red zone.

Information on attending the virtual meeting is posted on council’s online meeting link at

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.