TUESDAY A.M. Update: Governor Eases Some Restrictions

March 2nd, 2021 Comments off

Governor Tom Wolf yesterday issued orders easing limits for attendance at indoor and outdoor public gatherings and eliminated restrictions on out-of-state travel that had been in place through most of the fall and winter. Under the new orders, which take effect immediately:

  • Indoor events and gatherings are limited to 15% of maximum occupancy regardless of venue size, subject to the distancing requirements that would require individual groups in attendance to be separated by at least six feet from other groups in attendance. Face masks would also still be required. (Until now, indoor events had been limited to 10 percent of maximum occupancy for a facility, with an absolute cap of 500. This could apply to events such as concerts, sporting events and public meetings, though residents should check with the organizers of any specific event to see how they are choosing to operate with regard to public attendance.)
  • Outdoor events and gatherings are limited to 20% of maximum occupancy also regardless of venue size, subject to the same distancing and masking requirements. This would appear to open the door to limited public attendance at outdoor sporting events, concerts, festivals and the like. These venues had previously been limited to 15 percent of maximum occupancy, with an absolute cap of 2,500.

The state is also lifting orders requiring proof of COVID-19 tests and/or quarantines for Pennsylvanians returning from out-of-state travel. “I think what we’re basically acknowledging is that there does need to be movement in the way of incrementally relaxing mitigation measures so that as a society we can safely progress into something that feels more like normalcy,” said Acting Health Secretary Allison Beam. “With that being said, all of this is being done with abundant caution and tremendous real-time evaluation of what the level of risk posed by COVID to our Commonwealth continues to be.”

Beam said these and all of the remaining mitigation orders applying to bars and restaurants, movie theaters, fitness centers and other personal services business will continue to be reviewed through the spring, based on case counts, variant presence, hospitalizations and vaccination rates.

Gov. Wolf cautioned that with the looser rules comes continued responsibilities: “The reason we are seeing cases drop can be attributed, in part, to people following the mitigation efforts we have in place. Mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene are making a difference and need to continue even as we see more and more people fully vaccinated. We need to balance protecting public health with leading the state to a robust economic recovery. We are lifting mitigation efforts only when we believe it is safe to do so.”
(Source: PennLive.com)

SUNDAY P.M. Update: Slowly, Vaccine Arrives In Potter County

February 28th, 2021 Comments off

There were eight more COVID-19 coronavirus cases reported among Potter County residents between Friday and Sunday. Since the pandemic began, there have been 937 cases and 21 COVID-related deaths in the county. More important than historical data is the Pa. Dept. of Health (DOH) tracking of “active” cases, which at last report stood at approximately 46 in Potter County, with the highest concentrations in the Shinglehouse and Coudersport areas. DOH considers a case to be active, and the victim contagious, if a positive test result occurred over the past 14 days. U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that the actual number of COVID-19 infections in a locale is likely four or more times higher than the detected cases. Most recently, CDC officials are cautioning that new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus have been detected in a growing number of states. New variants will likely prolong the pandemic, extending health and safety restrictions and reinforcing the need for preventive measures for several months.

DOH also reported that there were 181 more COVID-19 coronavirus cases confirmed across counties bordering Potter between Friday and Sunday: McKean, nine cases; Tioga, five; Clinton, 33; Lycoming, 92; Allegany (N.Y.), eight; and Cattaraugus (N.Y.), 24 cases. Here are the figures since the coronavirus was first diagnosed: Tioga, 2,439 cases, 94 deaths; McKean, 3,041 cases, 61 deaths; Cameron, 260 cases, seven deaths; Clinton, 2,798 cases, 55 deaths; Lycoming, 9,299 cases, 246 deaths; Elk, 2,329 cases, 35 deaths; Allegany, 2,900 cases, 81 deaths; Cattaraugus, 4,411 cases, 76 deaths. Statewide, there have been 931,642 cases and 24,021 COVID-related deaths.

Vaccine supplies have been arriving slowly, resulting in frustration for some local residents who are unable to schedule appointments, despite being informed that they are eligible. Entering Sunday, some 503 Potter County residents have received the full two-shot dosage and 549 have been given the initial dose. Most of those who have been vaccinated are front-line health care providers, residents of skilled care homes, emergency responders, residents 65 and older, and others with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. Qualifying criteria for receiving the vaccine can be found here. Rite Aid Pharmacies continue to book appointments as supplies become available. To access the online reservation form, click here. Long delays have been common for those using the online registration. UPMC Cole has announced that residents age 70 and older in designated high-incidence areas are being contacted by phone to schedule appointments. Pa. Dept. of Health also offers an online Vaccine Provider Map, accessible here, to assist eligible residents with scheduling their shots directly with a provider. A set of frequently asked questions and answers to them can be found here.

Three testing sites for the COVID-19 coronavirus remain available in Coudersport. In addition to the testing site at UPMC Cole for physician-referred patients, tests are also being administered at Buchanan Brothers Pharmacy (visit the website here or call 1-800-635-8611 to complete an eligibility assessment) and Rite Aid Pharmacy (visit the website here or call 814-274-0439).FR

County Leaders Meet With UPMC Over COVID-19 Vaccine

February 24th, 2021 Comments off

Commissioners from Potter, Clinton, Tioga and Lycoming counties participated in a video conference with officials from UPMC Susquehanna Region this week to discuss COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine distribution policies and related topics. The meeting coincided with UPMC introducing two services for residents to use in scheduling appointments for the vaccine and posting questions. One is a toll-free telephone number, 1-844-876-2822. The other is a new online resource, vaccine.upmc.com. Steve Johnson (left), UPMC Susquehanna Region president, praised the work of the hospital staffs in rolling out a limited supply of vaccines to groups with the highest risk of being infected. Entering the week, some 164,000 doses have been administered in the region, which includes UPMC Cole in Coudersport and UPMC Soldiers & Sailors in Wellsboro. This does not include vaccines administered by non-affiliated pharmacies.

Initially, the vaccine was given to front-line health care workers with UPMC, followed by health care providers with other non-affiliated agencies and emergency responders. Determining that age was the greatest determining risk factor for the coronavirus, UPMC then began to target those age 85 or older by proactively calling them to arrange for vaccinations. Most recently, the hospital has moved to its next step by reaching out to residents age 70 and older to schedule appointments. Eventually, UPMC plans to establish satellite locations to administer shots and mass vaccination sites on weekends. However, those steps remain on hold pending the receipt of sufficient doses, which is expected in the coming months.

Also on the call, Dr.  Rutul Dalal, director of infectious disease services, discussed the tracking of COVID-19 and the emergence of new variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and Japan that are being studied by public health officials.  Depending on research findings, the new strains could reinforce the urgency of receiving both the initial dose and a booster shot of the currently available vaccines.

Panel Continues Work To Boost Tourism, Recreation

February 24th, 2021 Comments off

Potter County Tourist & Recreation Work Group met this week to continue its part in supporting the Revitalize Potter County mission. Members Curt Weinhold, Chris Nicholas, Ben Stone, Colleen Hanson, Steve Green, Josh Roth, John Snyder, Lori Szymanik and Candace Hillyard were joined by county representatives Will Hunt, Ellen Russell, Paul Heimel, Barry Hayman.

Recap of issues from January 2021 meeting

–Chris Nicholas related that particulars of new ATV initiatives are still a work in progress.

–Josh Roth said the Pa. Lumber Museum hopes to reopen on a limited basis in the spring, but plans are tentative. Events are cancelled through April at this point.

–Ben Stone reported that the state hopes to issue its Solicitation for Proposals for the development of Denton Hill State Park by the end of March and is looking forward to working on the design process with the chosen vendor/partner/operator.

–Paul Heimel suggested that the Work Group continue to explore creation of an organization, similar to the “Potter County Recreation & Events” concept under discussion during creation of Visit Potter-Tioga in 2016-17. Josh Roth said that following the launch of VPT, Potter County Visitors Assn. focused on continuation of the Marathon and Austin Dam Show.

Visit Potter-Tioga Overview/Update

VPT Executive Director Colleen Hanson detailed the findings of regional tourism research 2016 to the current year. She said business representatives and tourists both cite the need for additional activities and attractions to complement major draws, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, Cherry Springs State Park/International Dark Sky Preserve and the region’s outdoor assets. Attractions, lodging and dining options are the most sought-after information. She pointed out that VPT is eager to promote events and activities, but the organization often is not provided with the necessary information. VPT can also assist with trip planning. Since the creation of Visit Potter-Tioga, visitations have risen by 76 percent in Potter County and 52 percent in Tioga County, so there is considerable interest in the region. Colleen suggested that businesses and organizations work on strategies to draw tourists for stays of three of more days for maximum economic impact.

God’s Country Market Village & Farmers Market

Will Hunt and Ellen Russell updated the work group on plans for the village on county-owned property in downtown Coudersport. A public input period opened on Feb. 22 and a logo design contest is also underway. Several options are being investigated for funding. Similar market villages could be established in other communities. Public comment is being solicited online here.

Sub-Committee Options

After an informal roundtable discussion, the work group agreed to start with two sub-committees (others will be investigated):

ATV Riding Opportunities. Chris Nicholas, Ben Stone, Colleen Hanson and Will Hunt have an interest in serving. Opportunities for legal ATV riding are currently limited and interest in the sport is rapidly rising. A pilot area for expanded ATV riding opportunities through links between existing trails and access to tourist-based businesses is in the works. The group listed above will continue the conversation via Zoom at 1:30 pm on March 8.

Arts/Culture. Josh Roth, Lori Szymanik, Steve Green, Paul Heimel and Candace Hillyard have an interest in serving, as do one or two individuals who have previously been involved in the former Potter County Council on the Arts.

‘Market Village’ Input Welcome; Logo Contest Coming

February 20th, 2021 Comments off

Progress continues on a proposal to establish an open-air retail center on a vacant lot in downtown Coudersport. It’s a project of the Revitalize Potter County Steering Committee. County officials emphasize that the plan is merely a proposal, subject to public input and a number of elements – including funding – falling into place. The committee has been working on the “market village/farmers market” concept on a county-owned lot at the corner of East Second and North East streets. A $4,500 grant from the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team paid for the services of a landscape architect/engineer, who has been conducting a feasibility study and developing a conceptual design.

Steering committee co-chairs Will Hunt and Ellen Russell describe the proposed development as a semi-permanent “village” with multiple short-term rental spaces. Retail space would complement the Potter County Farmers Market, with short-term occupants marketing agricultural goods, prepared food, locally crafted items or other products. It would be modeled in part on the successful Tionesta Market Village in Forest County.

The committee envisions the lot becoming a gathering place where live music and other entertainment or educational programs could be presented. Similar open-air markets could be developed in Galeton, Ulysses, Roulette and other Potter County towns. Community organizations, such as chambers of commerce, would be contacted to partner with the committee. Those holding festivals and other public attractions could offer previews, such as live music “teasers,” chainsaw carving demonstrations and other promotional activities, at the market. Visitors would be directed to businesses, attractions and events in the region.

Rentals would be available at low fees. The market village could serve as an incubator for new businesses. It would provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs and small business owners to “pilot” their business idea, without running the large risk associated with a storefront. Once the business proves to be successful, the hope is it would move into an empty storefront to help revitalize the business district. Meanwhile, the steering committee is investigating grant opportunities.

Public comment on the plan is now being accepted. A logo contest is also kicking off next week. For details, visit the Revitalize Potter County website here. Those interested in becoming involved in the God’s Country Village and Farmers Market can contact Ellen Russell at 814-274-8290, ext. 209; erussell@pottercountypa.net; or Will Hunt, 814-274-8290, ext. 229; whunt@pottercountypa.net.

County Tax Assessment Rolls Reflect New Construction

February 13th, 2021 Comments off

Potter County Tax Assessment Office has added more than $2.9 million to the county’s tax base over the past 14 months, due in large part to field work taking place across the county to locate new construction and property improvements. Chief Assessor Jacob Ostrom reports an increase in new home construction and additions since late 2019. The county’s real estate tax base increase represents approximately $11.5 million in added market value. Real estate taxes levied by school districts, boroughs, townships and the county government are applied to a property’s assessed value. As a result of the tax base additions, the county government will receive an estimated $54,000 more in real estate taxes this year. School districts and municipalities will also see higher tax revenue.

Ostrom’s job grew harder several years ago when the state legislature eliminated the position of township and borough tax assessor. In prior years, these elected officials were responsible for finding and reporting new construction and improvements. Today, the Assessment Office relies primarily on building permit records and visual inspections to update tax records.