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When the state stopped: Radio doc retraces past 2 months of coronavirus news

by PA Post

May 20, 2020

Photo: Empty streets in downtown Hummelstown in Dauphin County on April 1, 2020. (Tim Lambert / WITF)

The past two months have been unprecedented in Pennsylvania.

After the coronavirus arrived in our state…

Schools were closed…

Businesses were shut down…

And people were ordered to stay home.

It all happened rapidly once COVID-19 made its first appearance in eastern Pennsylvania on March 6.

WITF News Director Tim Lambert spent most of the past two weeks producing a one-hour radio documentary looking back on the past two-and-a-half months. The piece aired for the first time on Friday morning, and you can listen to the whole thing here.

What is striking about the documentary is its reminder of how much has happened. Things that I forgot until listening include:

  • On March 12, Gov. Tom Wolf moved to close schools and businesses in Montgomery County, where more than half of the state’s 22 coronavirus cases had been detected. A day later, the governor ordered all schools in the state to close for two weeks.
  • The state recorded its first COVID-19 death on March 19, a Northampton County man who we’d later learn was part of an extended New Jersey family that experienced multiple deaths from the virus.
  • On March 24, a total of 10 counties in the state were under stay-at-home orders. A week later, the entire state was on lockdown.
  • April 3 was the day all Pennsylvanians were urged to begin wearing a face mask anytime they were in public.

Pennsylvania is starting to reopen. More counties will see coronavirus restrictions eased this coming Friday.

The numbers look good, too. Over the past seven days, the number of newly positive coronavirus cases never rose above 1,000. Deaths appear to be declining too, with just 15 new deaths announced on Sunday.

Some of the spikes in the number of deaths over the past few weeks are tied to data reconciliation efforts to bring the state’s count in line with the counties’. The peak in deaths and new cases may have passed two weeks ago or more.

This is good news for everyone. But public health leaders continue to remind Americans that the virus isn’t gone. It could resurge in the fall or winter, or even in a few weeks if social-distancing measures are cast aside too quickly. And public officials are urged to plan now so we’re better prepared for a second wave.


PA Post is a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization that connects Pennsylvanians with accountability and deep-dive reporting. For more stories from PA Post, visit

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