Gov. Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for nine additional counties in Pennsylvania as the commonwealth saw its second day in which more than 500 new cases of COVID-19 were identified.
Berks, Butler, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Luzerne, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties were added to the list of counties under a stay-at-home order, bringing the total to 19 counties.
The order takes effect at 8 p.m. Friday and remains in effect until April 6.
The order now covers Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the order was expanded due to trends the state has seen as it tracks the number of new cases and finds evidence of community spread.
It’s still too early to tell, though, if such orders are effective.
“We don’t know yet how effective the stay-at-home orders have been. They haven’t been in place long enough. It’ll take weeks and weeks to see the effect,” Levine said.
The state is looking for the number of new cases to plateau and then start to decrease in a consistent way to show that “we are gaining a handle” on the spread of the virus, Levine said. At that point, there would be a discussion and decisions would be made to “relax slowly” some of the restrictions.
Pennsylvania saw 531 new positive test results as of midnight Friday to bring the statewide total to 2,218 cases in 50 counties. The department also reported six additional deaths to bring the statewide total to 22.
“To date, all of the deaths have been in adults,” Levine said.
Cumberland County adds one case
Cumberland County saw one new positive case to bring its total to 16. The Midstate has about 4% of the total cases in the state with 91 total positives. Lancaster County has 33 cases, York County has 29, Dauphin County has 18, Adams County has 8 and Franklin County has 5. Perry County has yet to see any COVID-19 cases.
The Philly region accounts for 1,320 of the 2,218 total positives in the state (an increase of 269 from Thursday), or about 60% of all cases. Philadelphia County has 530 positives, Montgomery County 374, Delaware County 185, Chester County 107 and Bucks County 124.
Levine said the higher numbers are not the result of testing; rather, the spike in the number of cases is coming from the spread of the virus itself.
While the number of new cases dropped slightly from 560 on Thursday to 531 on Friday, Levine said it is too early to tell if the state is flattening the curve on the outbreak.
“I do not feel that that decline is statistically significant. We would need to see a consistent decline in new cases over time to show that maybe we have been able to mitigate the spread or prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
Since the first cases were identified on March 16, more than 241 Pennsylvanians have required hospitalization, Levine said. That represents about 10% of those who have tested positive, which is a rate consistent with previous rates in Pennsylvania and in other states.
Of those who required hospitalization, 76 were treated in the intensive care unit and 44 required the use of a ventilator.
The department also started breaking down the data on COVID-19 by age on its daily website updates.
Different models collected from a variety of sources predict different peaks for the virus outbreak, but Levine said they do not know when the surge will happen.
“To be honest with you, I would go with what Dr. Fauci said, which is the virus determines the timetable, we don’t determine the timetable. Our job is to be prepared for the expected surge of patients,” she said. Dr. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
To that end, the department has been working with hospitals, health care systems and long term care facilities to increase bed capacity as well as to ensure adequate staffing and supplies.
The Department of Health is tracking the number of hospital beds available in the state and in specific areas. There are 3,400 licensed intensive care beds in the state and 40% of those are available. Increased capacity could come through such means as repurposing beds in other hospital units and even using hotel rooms for subacute care or for people recovering from the illness.
“We’re working on all contingency plans to make sure that hospitals and health systems have the beds that are needed,” Levine said.
Levine said the state has about 3,600 ventilators available. So far, the number of patients requiring ventilators has represented about 2% of those who test positive for the virus, which is what was expected.
“If the numbers skyrocket, however, that will test our ventilator capacity although, again, we have stores to be able to deal with that surge,” Levine said.
The job of every Pennsylvania resident right now is to stay home to slow the spread so that the system can effectively deal with the surge, she said.
“I know it is not easy on families or employers, but it is our most important job now,” Levine said.
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