Berks County commissioners meeting

Berks County commissioners meeting

READING, Pa. – The Berks County Commissioners on Thursday heard what had been scheduled as the final COVID-19 data report from Brian Gottschall, director of the Berks County department of emergency services.

At every commissioner’s meeting for the past year, the data report from Gottschall has been given at the top of the agenda.

Two weeks ago, Gottschall announced that July 29 would be the last report.

But Thursday, Gottschall said he now wasn’t so sure of that because of the rise in cases due to the Delta variant of COVID-19.

“Early in the summer, we (county officials) had all spoken that we would terminate the (COVID-19) report with the closing of the clinic,” Gottschall said. Gottschall was referring to the County’s Berks Cares Vaccine Center in Muhlenberg Township, which will close on July 31.

“We were all excited about the downward trend,” he said. “But given the most recent trends, the board will evaluate (the need for the data report) moving forward. We may bring this back to keep it in the public eye. That’s a decision yet to be made.”

The next county commissioner’s meeting will be held on August 12, as the meeting for the first Thursday in August has been canceled.

Although county officials have been surprised by the prevalence of the Delta variant, Gottschall said Berks County hospitals are reporting only a small bump in cases and that deaths remain flat, with approximately one death from COVID-19 per week.

Concerned about high transmission rates of the Delta variant in many parts of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control has issued new masking recommendations for areas of the country that have substantial or high transmission rates.

Berks County remains in a moderate transmission category.

Gottschall reported that 62.6 percent of the state’s population over the age of 18 has now been fully vaccinated and 57.5% (or 183,509 individuals) in Berks County have been fully vaccinated.

The goal has been to reach 70% full vaccinations.

But that could change.

“People should not be surprised if there is a change (increase) in the goal,” Gottschall said.

At this point, Gottschall reported 5,262 new residents are needed to start the vaccination process since 68.4% of the county population over the age of 18 have received at least one vaccination.

Although it will close at the end of this month, Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt announced the county’s vaccine center will still be accepting walk-ins for vaccinations on Friday and Saturday.

Barnhardt said Co-County Wellness –the agency which handled the scheduling of appointments for the center- will still accept calls at its office to make appointments for vaccines in alternate locations.

Because the lease for the building in Muhlenberg Township is in effect through the end of August, Barnhardt said the site will be used for COVID-19 testing through the end of next month.

In other business, the commissioners heard a question from John Archer, Spring, regarding the county’s recent allocation of up to $6 million from American Rescue Plan funds to the Reading Fightin Phils and the Berks County Convention Center Authority.

“Were the authorizations contingent on how the funds are to be spent by these facilities,” Archer asked. “Are these grants limited to physical upgrades or could they be used for any general fund expenditures such management bonuses?”

Pamela Shupp Menet, deputy chief administrative officer, said the allocations were made according to the guidelines of the American Rescue Plan.

“These industries have not been well addressed by resources that have been available at either the state of federal level,” Shupp Menet said. “We took a look at the operating revenues of both of the entities to document the eligibility of their negative economic impacts (from the pandemic).

Based on the negative economic impact for both entities, Shupp Menet said the funds do not refer to any specific project and that the money could be used as seen fit.

“We will ensure that we are properly documenting all of the information we receive because we fully expect that we will be monitored and audited for all of the dollars we expend under the American Rescue Plan.”

The city of Reading has also allocated $6 million to both entities, but remained non-specific as to whether the funds would come from the American Rescue Plan.