The number of COVID-19 cases in Wyoming County has spiked in the past week.
The county has seen an increase of 68 cases in one week between March 14 and 21, with 12 new cases reported Saturday and 14 on Sunday. The Department of Health also raised the community transmission level to substantial on Monday, after being in the moderate level of transmission since Feb. 15.
Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency Director Gene Dziak said that this is a reminder that the pandemic is still here and residents should not be letting their guard down.
“We read about people getting vaccines every day, but we still have to practice what we’ve been doing for the past year,” Dziak said. “Until we reach that herd immunity phase, which we are not close to yet, we have to keep following CDC guidelines and precautions.”
Dziak said that EMA has not been able to pinpoint where the recent spike in cases has come from or a reason for it, but he said that the recent stretch of nice weather and people gathering more maybe could have an impact.
“Sometimes pinpointing is hard,” Dziak said. “That’s the problem with this virus is that you can’t predict it. It’s been with us for a year now and there’s still so much stuff that we don’t know.”
The county was moved into the substantial spread because the positivity rate in the county rose to 14.6 percent for the week of March 12-18, and the incidence rate per 100,000 residents stands at 167.9.
Percent positivity and incidence rate are two of the metrics that the DOH uses for vaccine distribution. Dziak said that he hopes the recent raise will equal more vaccine doses for the county.
“We’re still working very hard every day, the vaccines are going to come,” Dziak said. “Hopefully, because of the recent rise, there will be more doses in the state’s next shipment.”
He also said that this recent surge is nothing that the county can’t handle.
“If we continue to follow safety precautions, we can stop this so that it doesn’t get like the late fall or early winter,” Dziak said. “The vaccines will be acquired soon, but right now we just need to be patient.”
Triton Hose Company has responded to six brush fires in the past two weeks.
Fire Chief Eric Kukuchka said the conditions are very dry and what may seem like a good idea can get out of hand on short notice.
“Yes it’s starting to get nice out, thankfully,” Kukuchka said, but those planning on a control burn need to remember there are some rules of the road.
If you are planning on getting rid of anything that requires fire, “You need to use extreme caution.”
First of all make sure you have water available to handle any eventuality, and keep an eye on wind conditions.
And, second be sure to call the Wyoming County Comm Center to let them know a control burn is being planned.
So things don’t get out of hand, the National Fire Protection Association reminds that Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is a national campaign coming up that encourages people and organizations everywhere to come together on a single day to take action to raise awareness and reduce wildfire risks.
It is held in the United States and Canada on the first Saturday in May. Given that in-person gatherings are limited, or on-hold in many places, this year’s Prep Day is focused on what residents can do on and around their home to help protect against the threat of wildfires.
The Wyoming County Planning Commission met last Wednesday (March 18) and gave unanimous approval to a plan to provide an outdoor pavilion on the Tunkhannock Library grounds.
The plan had been submitted in February, and county planner Lynelle Farber said she had reviewed it and didn’t have any issues. She said it was merely an outdoor conservation education space.
Ed Coleman put the matter on the table and Jim Davis seconded it, and it passed unanimously.
The planners also accepted a submission for a Wisnosky Storage Facility Land Development in Tunkhannock Township near the intersection of Mountain View Terrace and Route 29. It was unanimously accepted for review by the planning office by a voice vote.
There were no minor subdivisions identified since last month, but Farber said she expected that based on calls she expected to be swamped in the near future as the weather turns.
She briefly discussed the ‘Wyoming County Greenways, Trails & Open Space Plan’, which has been in the works for over a year now, and for which a public hearing by Zoom was held on March 11.
In that meeting. consultant Patti McNeil spoke about the municipal parks component of the open space plan. Farber expressed disappointment that the hearing was not better attended with only six members of the steering committee signing in. She expected that a next meeting would be done outdoors to attract more people and would probably be a Zoom meeting where people could also sign on from afar and probably serve a hybrid meeting in early to mid-April.
Planning Commission member Roger Hadsall inquired about Roadside Rest, asking if it would be considered a municipal park. Planning Commission Chair Randy Ehrenzeller, a former Eaton supervisor, said he believed the township would d take care of Roadside Rest maintenance.
The Elk Lake School Board honored the longest serving school board member in the state of Pennsylvania.
At a meeting on Thursday night, the board honored Arden Tewksbury who is currently in his 60th year serving as an Elk Lake school board member. He was presented with a plaque in honor of his years of service.
“You’ve been an inspiration to many and touched a lot of people’s lives over these many years,” Board President Donica McGee said. “We thank you for your years of service and hope for many more.”
Many special guests were in the audience to celebrate Tewksbury’s accomplishments, including Rep. Tina Pickett, R-Towanda, and Nathan Maynes, President of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, who was present virtually.
“We are delighted to recognize him as the longest serving school board member in Pennsylvania history,” Maynes said. “We are presenting him with a distinguished service pin. He is only the fifth school board member in the state to receive that honor.”
Tewksbury was thankful for all of the honors, but said the reason he keeps serving on the board is to make the lives of Elk Lake students better, not for individual awards.
“One of the first things that I always tell people is that I’m proud to be a part of Elk Lake,” Tewksbury said. “We’ve had so many great accomplishments over the years in academics and athletics, too many that I can name. I really care about the children and love doing this. Thank you for all of the kind words and recognition.”
In the regular meeting, Superintendent Ken Cuomo announced that six students-three in the high school and three in the elementary school- and two staff members, one from each of the schools tested positive for COVID-19. Because of that the entire district would be going fully remote on Friday, March 19.
Cuomo said that he has been in contact with the Department of Health and there is strong belief that the staff members were false positives because both had been fully vaccinated. He hopes students will return to in-person classes on Monday, March 22.
“We have the weekend to see if any other positive tests come up,” Cuomo said. “This is the first time that we’ve had to pivot to fully remote all year, we think that we’ve been one of the leaders in the area when it comes to in-person schooling.”
EL students returned to full five day instruction on March 8. Cuomo said that from one he’s seen, students and staff have been great when it comes to following all of the guidelines.
“Masks are required at all times, students are keeping their distance,” Cuomo said. “I think that everyone is doing a great job following the protocols and keeping everyone safe.”
Cuomo announced that he is joining the other Susquehanna County school districts in calling for cyber charter school reform.
“Charter schools are not governed by boards with members elected by the community, and elected public school district school boards have no oversight authority on how charter schools use public funding,” Cuomo said. “Meaning charters do not have to answer to the community and, in essence, become publicly-funded but privately-operated schools, leading to conflicts of interest.”
He also brought up that cyber charter schools have taken away from public school funding, and that the tuition formula is fundamentally flawed. The call for reform, signed by all six Susquehanna County school districts will be sent to the state legislature.
The board also approved a roof replacement project for the elementary school. Hunt Engineering will replace the roof at a cost of $440,080. Construction on the new roof will take place during the summer.
The Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center received a $21,893 equipment grant for its automotive program that will be used to help with vehicle maintenance for the students.
In other business, the board approved the hires of: Amy Kerr, full-time secretary and Kyle Osborne, full-time maintenance; and the resignations of: Travis Caines, junior high baseball coach; Stacy Tyler, attendance secretary; and Brandy Thiel, maintenance.
The Elk Lake and SCCTC boards will hold their next meetings on Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m.
The Wyoming County Elections office is encouraging any resident who signed up for a mail-in ballot application and has not received it yet, to contact the office as soon as possible.
Wyoming County Director of Elections Flo Kellett said that the applications were mailed out on Feb. 1, and she has been receiving calls about residents in some parts of the county who have not received theirs yet.
“We have received some calls from residents in the Meshoppen and Laceyville areas that their application did not get to them yet,” Kellett said. “We encourage anyone who didn’t receive theirs yet to call our office, and we will take care of it for you.”
The courthouse is currently open by appointment only, but residents can call ahead to go to the courthouse to pick up their mail-in ballot application. The elections office can be reached at 570-996-2226.
“I encourage everyone to get their applications in as soon as possible,” Kellett said. “The postal service is doing the best that they could, but you don’t want to take any chances.”
As of this week, the county has received 746 applications for mail-in ballots for the 2021 primary. Last year, the county received 3,327 applications for the primary election. Kellett said she thinks that the pandemic and presidential election played a big part in that number, and that she is not sure what the final numbers will look like as this is only the second year of Act 77, which allows for residents to request a mail-in ballot without providing a reason for the application.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see how many people go with the mail-in route,” Kellett said. “This is still a little new to us in the county, but we’ll get through it.”
Applications for mail-in ballots must be received by the Wyoming County Elections Office by Tuesday, May 11, at 5 p.m. Primary Election day is Tuesday, May 18.
Registered voters can also request mail-in and absentee ballots at www.votespa.com. Voters can also change their political party or make any needed changes to their voter registration at this website.