HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) Hazleton city officials are expressing concerns today over people coming into the city from COVID-19 hotspots, namley, New York City.
Those concerns center on transportation vans that shuttle people into New York from Hazleton. City officials are concerned that the vans, many of which are based out of state, are breeding grounds for COVID-19.
“We can’t stop traffic. People are going to come and go as they please. We just want to have the 15 passenger van service I think needs to be stopped we need to limit that,” said Jim Perry, Hazleton City Council President.
And that’s the message four Hazleton Council members want to send to anyone who will listen. Namely, the federal and state governments. They are talking about vans like these.
The owners of two transit companies based in Hazleton that run vans like this met with Mayor Jeff Cusat recently and agreed to shut down their van service to New York for two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These councilmen are pleased with that agreement but they say out-of-state vans are still coming into the city.
“One of our main concerns is passenger vans with 15 people most likely all in there together, no social distancing, one person could pick it up and they they can spread that to 15 people and keep spreading it so we are listening to residents and trying to get this stopped,” said Allison Barletta, Hazleton Council Member.
“We are concerned for the safety of our residents and we all come from big families. When things happen we gather together. This town is a melting pot of all different ethnicities, myself included, but at this point everybody needs to stay where they are,” said Lauren Sacco, a council member.
State Representative Tarah Toohil is reaching out to state and federal agencies to see what, if anything, can be done to possibly restrict or limit van travel into and out of known COVID-19 hot zones like New York City.
“We are going to continue to request that be looked into especially since Maryland closed its border. If this continues to worsen we don’t want to become a hot spot,” she told Eyewitness News.
Toohil says she has heard back from the Public Utility Commission which regulates transportation companies as well as the governor’s office and was told there was nothing that can be done to restrict where vans like this can travel. We also reached out to the PUC and the Governor’s office as have not yet had a response.
We also reached out to the owners of the transit companies that agreed to shut down their vans service until next week for comment on this story. We have not yet had a response.