May. 16, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
Moving PA Toward Reopening

Continuing our commitment to address both current COVID-19 challenges and plans for moving the Commonwealth forward, the House was back in session in Harrisburg last week debating several bills to address our response to the pandemic.

Recognizing that testing is key for communities to be able to move forward after COVID-19, the House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2455 to require the governor to review statewide COVID-19 testing capacity, and issue a plan to test Pennsylvania’s first responders, health care workers and other vulnerable populations as well as to use tests to ease current mitigation requirements that have been imposed by the government. Additionally, the governor must provide regular reports on testing efforts, including the number of tests needed, costs associated and exactly what testing resources are available. The bill also would empower county and local health departments to implement testing.

The House also recognized the significant impact the virus and subsequent mitigation efforts are having on citizens’ mental health by adopting two bills to better ensure access to care. House Bill 1439 would require a certification of compliance by an insurer with federal and state law ensuring mental health coverage is equal to medical or surgical benefits, while House Bill 1696 would require insurers to file an annual report with the Insurance Department detailing mental health parity compliance.

In response to the challenges elected officials, news reporters and members of the general public have had in getting answers from the governor and his administration about their COVID-19 response, we passed House Bill 2463 to require state agencies to answer questions and respond to right-to-know requests during emergency declarations.

Finally, the House approved legislation that would prevent economic impact checks being distributed by the federal government from being subject to state or local income taxes.

Additionally, we continued our efforts aimed at safely reopening businesses this week. While the governor has wanted to only open life-sustaining businesses, the criteria for identifying such businesses has not been explained and it also doesn’t take into account the many, many industries that could easily adapt to state and federal guidelines to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Bills to open hair salons and barbershops, animal groomers, real estate (PA is reportedly the only state in the nation restricting the industry), messenger services, nonprofit zoos and more are in various stages of the legislative process. Giving business owners the option of reopening when they can do so safely will help reopen our economy and get people back to work, easing the extreme backlog of approximately 1.7 million unemployment claims.
What is the Plan for Education?

Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera recently stated he was uncertain if the state’s schools would reopen this fall. While parents at home with their kids are doing their best to support their child’s studies, kids are still missing out on a variety of educational and social opportunities. Despite the best efforts of teachers, many school districts were ill-prepared to switch fully to online learning.

Secretary Rivera and the Wolf administration need to provide more information. Parents deserve answers, and they deserve a plan to ensure the very best education for their children. Parents will also need to plan ahead, should schools not open in the Fall.
Governor Moved Portion of State to ‘Yellow’ May 8

Gov. Tom Wolf has announced 37 counties in the northcentral, northwestern and southwestern parts of the state would be able to start loosening some restrictions and reopening their local economies effective May 8 and May 15. I am frustrated to report Dauphin County is not being given the chance to reopen safely yet. I am talking to the county commissioners and other legislators about our options.

As outlined by the governor, the phased reopening plan is structured like a stop light. For the last several weeks, the entire Commonwealth has been in the “red phase” with stay-at-home orders and all but life-sustaining businesses closed. Last week, the governor announced the two dozen counties that would be first to move into the “yellow phase.” He indicated the counties were deemed ready to move because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread.

Ultimately, the goal for each region is to reach the “green phase,” which eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to allow the economy to strategically reopen while continuing to prioritize public health. At each stage, data will be analyzed to detect any new spike in cases. Residents are encouraged to continue practicing social distancing, frequent cleaning and hand washing, and wearing masks. Details of the governor’s plan are available here.  

Guidance for businesses now permitted to operate under the yellow phase status is available here for review. 
What’s New?

Expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards and learner's permits are being extended again due to the statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Any of these items that are scheduled to expire between March 16 and May 31, 2020, are now extended through June 30, 2020. You may, however, renew your driver license or identification online anytime at Driver License Centers, Photo License Centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center remain closed until further notice. For more information about PennDOT actions related to COVID-19, click here. 

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has outlined its plans for a phased reopening of some state park and forest facilities. Public golf courses at Caledonia and Evansburg state parks and Michaux State Forest, which are operated by private concessions, reopened Friday, May 1. At least one restroom in day-use areas and in marinas at state parks and forests statewide are open to the public as of May 8 with additional cleaning protocols in place. All nine marinas in state parks are open to the public as of May 8, or their typical designated opening date. This is in addition to shoreline mooring sites at all state parks. State park and forest facilities in counties entering the “yellow phase” of mitigation will be open to the public on May 15. This includes offices, campgrounds and the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle. Cabins in these areas will not open until June 12, to allow returning staff the ability to thoroughly clean them and prepare them for use. Campgrounds and cabins in all other state parks will remain closed. For more details on the phased opening plan, click here.  

A program to provide free N95 respirator decontamination to health care facilities, first responders and other eligible organizations that may be experiencing a shortage of the respirators is now available. The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System (CCDS) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the decontamination and reuse of N95 respirators as needed during a time of crisis. The system uses a vaporous hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate the units. A single Battelle CCDS site can decontaminate tens of thousands of N95s in a single day. The decontamination process permits the reuse of N95s, and each N95 can be decontaminated up to 20 times before it requires disposal. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is funding the operation of multiple Battelle CCDS sites across the country, including one in Delaware County. For more information about eligibility and how to participate, please click here. 
Information about Nursing Homes

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has provided guidance about nursing homes. The families of nursing care facility residents and staff are concerned about the health and safety of their family members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nursing care facilities are experiencing many challenges as they continue to provide services while protecting the health of both their residents and employees. The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued these Frequently Asked Questions to address concerns that families have raised. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. It is important to keep informed; check the Department of Health’s website often.

Q: What precautions are nursing care facilities taking to protect residents against COVID-19?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends nursing care facilities implement aggressive action to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19. Nursing care facilities in Pennsylvania are restricting visitors, implementing sick leave policies for ill staff, restricting movement of residents and group activities, and actively checking every person entering a facility for fever and symptoms of illness. All staff and others (e.g., contractors) entering nursing care facilities are required to wear masks, which helps prevent the spread of illness should one of them carry the virus and not have symptoms yet.

Q: What should nursing care facilities do about outside visitation? Who can visit and when?
A: The Department of Health (Department) has followed CDC guidance on visitation policies since the beginning of our response to COVID-19 and will continue to do so until we can be sure visitation will not put residents and staff at risk. We understand that limiting visitation is hard for residents and families; however, contact with visitors is the primary way that residents could become exposed to and contract COVID-19. In order to protect residents and staff, we need to continue limiting visitation, despite how challenging that is. The following limits are in place until the region or county in which the facility is located is designated as in the Green phase, or fully reopened, per the Governor’s guidance on reopening the Commonwealth:
  •   Family and friends of residents living outside the facility are not able to visit residents, including visits from residents from personal care homes, assisted living residences, or continuing care communities to nursing care facilities;
  •   All non-essential workers and volunteers (i.e., barbers, beauticians) are not allowed to enter the facility;
  •   The following persons are allowed access to residents and should be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE):
  o   Health care workers who provide services such as hospice and home health care;
  o   Physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other clinicians may treat residents under their care;
  o   The Department of Aging, the Area Agency on Aging and the Department of Human Services may have access when there has been a report of serious bodily injury, sexual abuse, or serious physical injury; and
  •   Visitation is permitted for compassionate care situations (such as end of life care, clergy, bereavement counselors, etc.) and should be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

Visitors must be screened prior to entering the facility, using the same protocols as staff screening, for a fever or any other symptoms of COVID-19. Visitors that show any symptoms of illness are not permitted in the facility. Compassionate care visitors are required to follow mitigation protocols, such as practicing proper handwashing, and wearing a face mask or face covering at all times. Visitors’ access must be restricted to only the room or location in which the resident receiving services is located.

Q: What is the appropriate screening protocol for residents?
A: Facilities should be actively monitoring residents at least every 12 hours. If any two of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are detected in any resident, staff in the facility should:
  •   Initiate precautions per CDC guidelines;
  •   Check room air pulse oximetry;
  •   Increase frequency of vital sign screening, including pulse oximetry, to every 8 hours;
  •   Screen for influenza; and
  •   If negative, screen for COVID-19.

If any one of the signs and symptoms is detected in any resident:
  •   Initiate precautions per CDC guidelines;
  •   Check a room air pulse oximetry; and
  •   Increase frequency of vital sign screening, including pulse oximetry to every 8 hours

Q: What is the screening protocol for staff who are suspected of having COVID-19?
A: Staff must be screened upon entering the building using a checklist such as the one developed by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living). The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance to nursing facilities to actively take employees’ temperature and document absence of shortness of breath, new or change in cough, and sore throat prior to starting a shift. Sick employees should stay home. If an employee becomes ill during their shift, they must leave the building immediately while wearing a facemask and self-isolate at home.

Q: What can nursing care facilities offer to keep families involved?
A: There are several options nursing care facilities can offer to residents and their families:
  •   Offering alternative means of communication for people who would otherwise visit, such as virtual communications (phone calls, video or other means of communication);
  •   Creating or increasing communications to provide general updates for families to stay in touch with what’s happening at the facility;
  •   Assigning staff as primary contact to families for inbound calls and conducting regular outbound calls to keep families informed; and
  •   Offering a phone line with a voice recording updated at set times (e.g., daily) with a general update about what’s happening at the facility.

Q: Why are residents being confined to their rooms?
A: According to CDC guidance, residents should stay in their rooms to avoid spreading the virus.
Until the county in which the facility is located is designated as in the Green phase per the Governor’s guidance, residents should stay in their rooms (to the extent possible), except for medically necessary purposes. If residents must leave their rooms, they should wear a face mask or face covering, practice hand hygiene, limit their movement in the facility, and engage in social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from others). Remember, this is for the health and safety of the residents.

Q: What activities are permitted?
A: Residents are able to continue activities in their rooms that they normally would. When the county is designated as in the Green phase, per the Governor’s guidance, group activities and communal dining will resume.

Q: When there is a COVID-19 confirmed case in the facility, should others with symptoms be tested?
A: Once COVID-19 is confirmed in a facility, it is likely that other residents have been exposed. The Department recommends testing all nursing care facility residents who have symptoms of COVID-19.

Q: Are facilities required to notify staff and family of who has tested positive?
A: Nursing care facilities are required by regulation to notify a resident or resident’s responsible party if there is a change in the resident’s condition.

Q: What is PPE and who needs it?
A: PPE is personal protective equipment such as N95 and surgical masks, gloves and gowns worn to protect against infection from COVID-19. Everyone who enters the nursing care facility should wear a face mask or face covering. More recommendations about PPE are available from the CDC website.
Cloth face masks are a useful tool to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 from people who may carry the virus, even if they do not know it. Cloth face masks are not considered PPE and do not protect the wearer. Health care workers and staff in nursing care facilities should be wearing PPE as part of the Department’s Health Alert 492, Universal Masking of Health Care Workers and Staff in Congregate Care Settings.

Q: Are facilities permitted to admit and discharge residents during the pandemic? 
A: Nursing care facilities should continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital and who are stable. This includes stable patients who have had COVID-19.
Nursing care facilities should discharge residents who no longer need that level of care, ensuring a safe and orderly discharge.

Q: Is an Ombudsman still available to residents in the facilities?
A: Residents can still access the Ombudsman as needed, through non-contact communication (including phone calls or video communication arranged by the facility). Facilities may permit the Ombudsman to enter the facility on a case-by-case basis and in compassionate care situations. Per the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, the ombudsman network is prepared to assist consumers with concerns in facilities throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, advocating for the rights of residents in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, personal care homes, and assisted living facilities. Contact the Ombudsman state office at (717) 783-8975 or email

Q: Is the Department conducting complaint surveys during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The Department is continuing to conduct onsite surveys to investigate complaints and incidents that may place the health and safety of r residents at risk for serious injury, serious harm or death. Additional information about surveys during the pandemic can be found on the Department’s website. 
Tax Filing Update

The Department of Revenue is encouraging Pennsylvanians to take advantage of user-friendly electronic filing options for their Pennsylvania personal income tax returns (PA-40s). Even though the deadline for filing 2019 tax returns has been extended to July 15, 2020,m due to the COVID-19 pandemic, filing now electronically is a good option, including for Pennsylvanians who are expecting a tax refund.

The department recently announced the extension of the filing deadline to July 15, 2020, for taxpayers to file their 2019 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns and payments. The extension gave taxpayers an additional 90 days to file from the original deadline of April 15 as the commonwealth takes steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Despite its offices being closed, the department is processing the majority of the personal income tax returns that it receives electronically. The processing of paper returns and paper check payments submitted during the office closure will be delayed.

Electronic Filing Options:
  •   Padirectfile – Use this free, secure, state-only electronic income tax filing system that is available through the Department of Revenue’s website. For more information or to begin filing, visit Padirectfile.
  •   Electronic Filing Free – Free electronic filing options are available to file state and federal returns using software from a reputable vendor (income limits may apply). More vendor information is available on the department’s website.
  •   Electronic Filing for a Fee – Paid tax preparers and commercial tax preparation software providers that offer e-filing for a fee are processing returns during the pandemic. E-filing offers advantages not available to taxpayers filing by paper, including error-reducing automatic calculators, instant confirmation of successful filing, faster refund processing and direct deposit options.

All taxpayers who received more than $33 in total gross taxable income in calendar year 2019 must file a Pennsylvania personal income tax return by midnight, Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Taxpayer Service and Assistance

The Department of Revenue is reminding taxpayers that is also has:
  •   Extended the deadline to file informational returns related to PA S corporations, partnerships, and estates and trusts to July 15, 2020.
  •   Extended the due date for corporations with tax returns due in May to August 14, 2020.
  •   Removed the requirement for some businesses to make prepayments of Sales and Use Tax for April, May and June of 2020. Many larger businesses are required to make prepayments under normal circumstances.
  •   Announced a plan to offer taxpayers increased flexibility, additional time to meet their tax obligations, and a reprieve from several tax enforcement actions.

With the department’s call centers closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, taxpayers seeking assistance are encouraged to use the department’s Online Customer Service Center, available at You can use this resource to electronically submit a question to a department representative. The department representative will be able to respond through a secure, electronic process that is similar to receiving an email. Additionally, the Online Customer Service Center includes thousands of answers to common tax-related questions.
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