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Pa. has no plans for new statewide restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases, health secretary says

Pennsylvanians are more likely to encounter someone with coronavirus now than at any point during the pandemic, state health officials say. Hospitalizations because of COVID-19 have surged to a new high, and the state’s health care capacity is at risk of being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.

Yet Gov. Tom Wolf has declined to place Pennsylvania under statewide lockdown status as he did in the spring, when the prevalence of coronavirus appears to have been less than it is now.

Wolf met with the governors of New York, New Jersey and other northeastern states this weekend to discuss possibly coordinating restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19,  however “nothing concrete yet” has come from those discussions, said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

Levine said there is no plan for the commonwealth to go back to a “red, yellow, green or any type of schema” to implement additional or new restrictions.

On Monday, Pennsylvania reported an additional 4,476 confirmed cases, and another 5,199 cases were reported Sunday. Hospitalizations are continuing to rise with 2,440 people hospitalized with the coronavirus and 531 patients in intensive-care units as of Monday, Levine said. Over the weekend, 51 additional virus-related deaths were also reported.

Right now, Levine said, it’s a matter of ensuring Pennsylvanians follow the public health recommendations she’s been harping on for months and taking action on the local level.

“We need to enforce and work with limiting the number of people in a business at one time — to  limit the capacity to 50 percent. Restaurants are already at 50 percent. We want people to wear a mask, and to social distance and wash their hands,” she said. “So the best way we can prevent any type of significant mitigation impact that we had in the spring is to all of those things right now.”

However, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered restaurants to end indoor dining by 10 p.m. each night, and local governments have been given the choice to institute 8 p.m. business closings. He also implemented new restrictions Monday, prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

New York has also limited the number of people at indoor private gatherings to 10.

And although Wolf has not enforced any statewide restrictions, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Monday that the city would close indoor restaurant dining, gyms, and museums starting on Friday and lasting through Jan. 1.

The new restrictions include limits on outdoor gatherings and a ban on public and private indoor gatherings, noting that it will be a city violation for residents to hold holiday gatherings with anyone outside their own households.

Fans will no longer be permitted at sporting events and all office workers will work remotely.

Another statewide lockdown — or so-called stay-at-home order — isn’t warranted right now though, Levine said, because of the advances Pennsylvania and the world have made toward understanding and managing coronavirus.

Levine said the current surge in numbers is something health officials have been anticipating for months as the weather changes and we enter the peak season for respiratory viruses.

“We talked about for many months the anticipation of a fall resurgence and that’s what we’re seeing now,” Levine said.

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