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County leaders: Follow rules in move to yellow

Carbon County officials, agencies and the area hospital are confident that today’s shift from red to yellow will help the county begin to regain some normalcy in the midst of the pandemic.

On Thursday, the county commissioners, as well as representatives from St. Luke’s University Health Network and the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development and Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau held a brief discussion about how life will be changing as Carbon moves into the yellow phase of reopening. The county officially moved into that phase at 12:01 a.m. today.

“We have to get this clear, everybody has to follow the rules,” Commissioner Rocky Ahner said, noting that businesses that he has seen have been preparing wisely. “I think getting out to the public, if you want to come to Carbon County in another three months from now, and you want to visit our beautiful county, you should be safe. Respect the rules. … Please follow the rules so we can make it to the next step.”

St. Luke’s

John Nespoli, president of St. Luke’s Lehighton Campus, said that the hospital system is back at “full service levels” when it comes to patient services, both in the hospitals and at outpatient sites like physician offices and labs.

The hospital system has changed its scheduling procedures to allow for deeper cleanings between patients, less overlaps in waiting areas and has been returning its services, such as surgical procedures, which include patient screening prior to the procedures taking place.

At the height of the pandemic over the last few weeks, St. Luke’s saw 50 percent fewer patients actively seeking out the care they needed for non-COVID related ailments. Now, approximately 90 percent has returned.

“Thankfully, people are getting the care they need again,” Nespoli said, noting that there are no COVID-19 patients being treated in the Carbon campus.

Nespoli also pointed out that there have been no layoffs at the Lehighton campus, but about 200 were affected with reduced hours.

Of those 200, all will be returned to full hours by the end of June.

With regards of Carbon’s shift to yellow, Nespoli said he believes this is “great for the county” but urged residents to remain vigilant and continue to follow guidances for social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask.

“As long as we follow those guidelines, I am really very confident that our economy and the social aspects of our lives will continue to come back,” he said.

Dr. William Markson of St. Luke’s Cardiology Associates, echoed Nespoli’s thoughts, adding he wants residents to practice the safety measures, but is pretty confident that Carbon will stay a safe place.

“We look forward to the green zone at some point,” he said.

The economy

On the economic side of reopening, Marlyn Kissner, executive director of the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corporation, who also sits on the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau board, said that organizations such as CCEDC, PMVB and Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency have been working on finding smart ways for the economy to reopen for weeks because they know “how important it is to get our businesses back.”

“We want to make sure our businesses are confident, the ones that can open, that also their employees are confident, their customers are confident and visitors know that we are ready,” Kissner said.

To help with what officials believe will be a busier weekend with the Memorial Day weekend, the chamber, county, small businesses and PVMB have been working to make sure restroom facilities are available, both inside and outside the Jim Thorpe train station, as well as along the D&L Trail, and take other measures to ensure people’s safety while maintaining the beauty of the county. Restrooms inside the train station will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

She offered the chamber’s services to businesses and anyone who has questions about what is open in the yellow phase.

Kissner also urged supporting local businesses that can finally open and also to keep ordering from restaurants that are offering curbside pickup.

Alice Wanamaker, assistant vice president of the Northern Region for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, remind residents to stay safe and wear your masks so Carbon County can begin making the transition safely from yellow to green in the future.

“I know how serious the economy is for our local businesses and if we don’t get something moving soon, we are going to lose a lot of businesses permanently,” Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein said. “There are some businesses that will not be opening this weekend out of concerns for their own safety and employees safety, but the places like barber shops and hair salons, I think there is a way they can do it safely. I think they are really starting to suffer now. …

“I’m really concerned for emergency responders who are known to come in contact with these COVID patients. I know it sounded encouraging listening to the hospital but there is still that high risks with what is out there.”

A second wave?

Both St. Luke’s officials said that based on the projections which the hospital system uses, it looks like the second wave this fall, if it happens, may be less than this first wave, but both Nespoli and Markson cautiously said no one knows for sure what will happen at this point.

No matter what, Nespoli and Markson said that whatever the outcome is, St. Luke’s is prepared to handle the wave, noting that its hospitals have a stockpile of supplies in place and training has been occurring.

“We’re confident that the second wave, if there is one, will be very manageable,” Nespoli said.