Michael McLaughlin

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Fire Chief Michael McLaughlin speaks during a 2019 Peters Township Council meeting.

Despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and considering the duration of the pandemic, employees of Peters Township have managed to stay relatively healthy.

“We’ve been really fortunate,” township manager Paul Lauer said, “and I think one of the reasons why we’ve been fortunate is that the workforce here has taken this seriously and has done a good job in terms of protecting themselves and fellow workers. And, hopefully, that will continue.”

On Monday, he joined Peters Township Fire Department Chief Michael McLaughlin, who serves as municipal emergency management coordinator, in presenting a COVID-19 update for township council members.

McLaughlin cited “COVID fatigue” as a contributor to the autumn surge, with some people deciding to lessen the precautions they’ve been taking since late winter.

“It gets to be old news after a while,” he said.

A spike in cases also was anticipated, he said, because of events now taking place inside, rather than outdoors, because of the change in weather.

Overall, Peters Township has been able to meet the challenges of the pandemic.

“Things have been fairly good for us as a community,” McLaughlin said, noting a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment, including N95 respirator masks, is helping to make the situation “extremely comfortable to handle this type of resurgence.”

He said a fire department employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, but the individual was not inside the station during the infectious stage of the viral disease.

The susceptibility for its spread, though, remains a source of trepidation.

“Wiping out our workforce is probably the most inherent risk for us and the community at this time,” McLaughlin said. “Keeping our workforce extremely healthy, and in a positive manner mentally and physically, has been of extreme importance on my priority list.”

The township has been taking precautions. In the spring, employees in the police and public works departments were reporting for duty at a few separate locations.

“If the situation continues as it is right now,” Lauer said about the increase in cases, “I think we’re going to resort back to that and have shifts reporting to different locations so that if, in fact, we have a problem, we don’t lose the entire department.”

Officials in neighboring municipalities have similar concerns about staff shortages, and so Peters is working on reciprocal agreements with North Strabane and Cecil townships about helping to cover for one another during emergency situations.

In another facet of operations related to COVID-19, Peters Township Public Library director Lacey Love has spoken to Lauer about reinstating safety policies from earlier in the pandemic.

“What she is recommending, and I support, is that at least until the beginning of the year, that we once again go back to doing curbside delivery of books and continue the virtual programming that we have been doing,” he said, with the change to take effect Nov. 30.

Further safety measures are being implemented in the Parks and Recreation Department, some contingent on Peters Township School District actions.

“When the school district determines that there is a problem with COVID in a particular age group, we have been suspending our recreation programs that service that age group over the time that the school is not open,” Lauer said. “And it’s my intention to continue to do that when the closures are related to the spread of COVID within that age group.”

Anyone who does participate in programs is required to wear face protection.

“The state of Pennsylvania requires masks inside all facilities, including by athletic participants,” Lauer said, and that also applies to activities that take place on school property: “If you’re in their building, you’re wearing a mask, whether you’re engaged in simply going to class or you’re going to participate in an athletic event.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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