Contact tracing critical to stopping COVID spread

With increased coronavirus outbreaks, hospitals and health departments say contact tracing — an essential part of controlling the pandemic’s spread — will be more difficult, causing Pennsylvania to now shift the focus of those efforts to those diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last six days.

Local health departments say they have anticipated a surge, and the state health department has issued new guidance for a modified strategy to protect the most vulnerable populations to severe infection consequences in the community.

“As the burden of COVID-19 worsens, health departments will prioritize which cases to investigate and contacts to trace,” said Michael Huff, the state’s director of testing and contact tracing. “Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical and acceptable.”

Folks, he added, are contracting the disease without knowing where they got it. And with only 150 case investigators and 1,672 contact tracers working with the Department of Health, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the workload.

Along with narrowing in on people who have been diagnosed in the past six days, contact tracers are prioritizing people who visit, live in, or work in a care facility or go to a job in a high-density workplace.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania reported an additional 6,669 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 81 new virus-related deaths. Statewide, there have been 321,070  confirmed cases and 9,951 deaths.

Huff said of the almost 35,000 positive cases reported in the past week, 23% of people who tested positive were contacted within 24 hours and 7% were contacted within 48 hours. However, of those, only 25% of people had their cases successfully contact traced, with 96% of contacts refusing to quarantine.

This is extremely concerning, Huff noted, since COVID-19 patients and the individuals they interacted with during the 14-day incubation period could spread the disease without even knowing it.

“Why? Because people don’t want to answer the phone,” Huff said. “People do not realize how important it is to give the information that we need to make certain that we can control the disease.”

The commonwealth is experiencing a substantial level of transmission in nearly all of its counties, indicating alarming community spread, which Huff said is a result of both large and small gatherings.

“It’s indicative that in both of those settings, disease spread can occur very easily,” Huff said. “Certainly in small gatherings where we become a little bit too free with our movements and perhaps don’t social distance as much. We’re less likely to wear masks. Certainly we’ve seen a lot of data that demonstrate cases are identified out of those groups.”

As cases of COVID-19 reach record levels in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine recently announced new mitigation efforts to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

This included new guidelines for schools wishing to continue in-person teaching of students and a stay-at-home advisory issued by the governor.

Pennsylvania targets Thanksgiving Eve in latest COVID-19 orders

With COVID-19 cases on the rise — the state health department reported 44,502 positive cases over the past seven days — Pennsylvania is issuing what it called targeted safety measures to slow the transmission rate.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the state is trying to balance many needs.

“We want to make sure we protect public health, but we also continue to support a very fragile economy,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.

One of the new orders is very targeted. It’s aimed at one night only – Thanksgiving eve. State Health Secretary Rachel Levine said bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 5 p.m. and not resume sales until 8 a.m. the following morning.

The night before Thanksgiving is historically the busiest night of the year for bars, as young people returning to their hometown for the Thanksgiving holiday often meet up with old friends. Such large gatherings could lead to the spread of the virus among people who would then take it home to their families.

In other news, bars and restaurants are being offered extended liability for those who self-certify that they are complying with all state and CDC guidelines and are enforcing mask wearing.

Capacity remains at 50% for those that self-certify and 25% for those who do not.

For other businesses, Levine asked that they allow employees to work remotely from home if at all possible.

Retailers should maintain 75% capacity and enforce mask-wearing.

Gyms and salons should maintain 50% capacity and enforce mask wearing.

“The commonwealth is in a precarious place right now,” said Wolf. “We have more people in the hospital right now than we did in the height of the pandemic in the spring, more than 3,000.”

The state’s new orders may not be the end word on mitigation efforts. Levine also announced that the state was giving municipalities more authority to take target action locally, where they see fit.

That means the local government of areas with higher transition rates may issue additional restrictions in their area, while areas with lower infection rates would not be impacted.

Covid vaccine could be ready for rollout in Pennsylvania next month, health secretary says

As Pennsylvania faces its most dangerous coronavirus surge, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the commonwealth could have the vaccine “within the next month” if federal approval remains on track.

However, Levine has sounded a note of caution over the prospect of a Covid-19 vaccine, stressing that “we do not know how quickly the vaccine supply will meet the demand.”

“It is important to remember again that when the vaccine becomes available, it will not be a cure — certainly not an immediate cure or end — to the coronavirus pandemic,” Levine said.

The Department of Health on Thursday released their interim vaccination plan, which outlines for the first time who will have first access to vaccines, how they will be administered and how the state plans to promote vaccines to its population, including to some people who might be wary.

In the first phase, when vaccine doses are likely to be limited, high-risk workers in health care settings, first responders, other essential workers, people with pre-existing health conditions and adults in long-term care are likely to be prioritized.

As more doses become available, those highly vulnerable to COVID-19 will be vaccinated, and then eventually the general public.

Right now, Levine said, the focus is on the two vaccines — Moderna and Pfizer — though there are others in the pipeline.

Pfizer released interim results that showed its candidate vaccine was more than 90% effective, and Moderna’s vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective against the disease.

The announcement regarding the vaccine’s arrival came the same day the commonwealth reported 7,126 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day increase since the pandemic began in March.

“We anticipate, again, that we’re going to be rolling this out through the winter and then the spring and into the summer,” Levine said. “It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania. I anticipate that we’re going to be wearing masks in 2021, well into — maybe until the end of — 2021,” she said.

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.

COVID-19 cases continue to escalate in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is urging residents to keep up the mitigation efforts as the fall wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pick up speed and break record case counts in the commonwealth.

The DOH confirmed that the Keystone State’s two-day total for COVID-19 reached a count of 6,311 additional positive cases, with 3,402 reported Monday, in addition to 2,909 cases reported on Sunday. Nine deaths linked to the coronavirus were also reported over those two days.

Increased case counts struck the commonwealth heavily over the past week, reaching a high-water mark with a report of 4,035 cases on Saturday, and officials are speculating that rates will continue to rise as the fall segues into winter.

“We don’t know exactly how long (until) the fall resurgence becomes the winter resurgence, and how long that’s going to last. I’m afraid I do not think that we have peaked,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday, adding that the case increases seen in Pennsylvania reflect those observed across the country.

As of Monday, Pennsylvania has reported a statewide total count of 234,296 cases of COVID-19, with 9,024 deaths attributed to the virus.

“We are now seeing the highest case counts of the COVID-19 pandemic across Pennsylvania that we have seen since the beginning,” Levine said. “This is a sobering look at our current reality, as COVID-19 continues to impact our state and our country. What we are seeing in Pennsylvania is a direct reflection of what is occurring across the country, in almost every state.”

According to the DOH’s weekly Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard update, as of Nov. 5, Pennsylvania has seen a seven-day case increase of 15,989 cases. The previous seven-day increase was 13,486 cases, indicating 2,503 more new cases across the state over the past week as compared to the previous week.

The secretary of health also noted the increase of percent positivity in testing, which jumped from 6% last week to nearly 7% as of this week, according to the COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard.

“That is one indicator how we know that the increase is not just due to increased testing, it’s due to an increased number of cases of COVID-19 in our counties and in our commonwealth,” Levine said.

Furthermore, another 12 counties reported a percent positivity rate in excess of 5% on Monday, elevating the statewide total to 52 counties with a concerning rate.

Community spread of COVID-19 is being observed across Pennsylvania, Levine added, with 47 counties on a watch list for increased cases, and 54 counties reporting increased case counts over the past week.

While increases have been noted at particular locations – correctional institutions, schools, colleges, nursing homes and so on – community spread that cannot be “pinpointed to one activity or one location” appears to be the norm.

“It is just prevalent in the community, and it is spreading in the community, and that is why the mitigation efforts that I am discussing, such as the masks, such as the hand washing and the social distancing, is so important everywhere in Pennsylvania to stop the spread,” Levine said.

The secretary of health reported 73% of the total COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth are considered recovered, “meaning that it has been more than 30 days past the patient’s positive test, or onset of symptoms,” though she noted “that number will naturally decrease with the high number of cases.”

Conversely, reports of COVID-19 “long haulers,” or those that deal with symptoms and effects of the virus even months after onset, continue to be reported.

Levine also pointed out that 1,735 individuals have been hospitalized in Pennsylvania due to COVID-19, a number the secretary said has been climbing, and had increased by over 500 patients as compared to last week’s figures.


The secretary of health indicated that with the pandemic’s fall resurgence underway, it is integral that Pennsylvanians work together to prevent further spread of the virus.

“This is a call to action for everyone in Pennsylvania,” Levine said. “COVID-19 is right here, and we are at a critical point. We all need to take steps to prevent the spread of this virus, and if we don’t, we put ourselves, our families and our communities, and our health systems, at risk.”

Levine encouraged Pennsylvanians to adhere to the recommendations of public health professionals – including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams – including mask wearing, social distancing, and using the COVID Alert PA app. She also called upon Pennsylvanians to respond to information requests from contact tracers and investigators, as fewer and fewer individuals have been engaging in the information-gathering practice “that might just save a life.”

“We can through this, but it requires each of us working together, united, regardless of other differences,” Levine said.

Unfortunately, that does mean medical officials are suggesting that families avoid large or small gatherings, and opt instead to celebrate the upcoming holidays remotely.

“It’s a really challenging message, now that we’re entering November,” Levine said. “We’re getting closer to Thanksgiving, and then the holidays, with Christmas and Hannukah and Kwanzaa, but we are asking people to not get together, actually, with their loved ones and their friends. And I know that is really challenging, and it is a sacrifice, but it is not only large gatherings that contribute to the spread, it is actually relatively small gatherings.”

As far as areas where residents appear to be bucking mitigation efforts – sometimes as a form of political protest – Levine stressed that the DOH is working alongside officials and members of the community to work on those factors.

“This is not a partisan issue, this is not a political issue,” Levine said. “This is a public health issue. Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it’s a public health measure to protect yourself, to protect your family, your community, and eventually, the whole state.”


The secretary of health also reiterated some elements of the commonwealth’s vaccine distribution and administration strategy, which was introduced last week, in light of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s Monday announcement that their formula has shown itself to be 90% effective in preventing the virus.

“We don’t know exactly when we’re going to see it, but it was a very positive announcement from Pfizer that their vaccine has been shown to be very effective – they said up to 90% effective,” Levine said. “They have finished their efficacy studies; they still haven’t finished all of their safety studies. They’re anticipating that maybe by the end of November, beginning of December.”

Once those studies are completed and the data is submitted to the federal government and the FDA for review and approved, the torch will be passed on to the DOH for the next steps of the process. However, as previously noted, some of the potential vaccines, including the Pfizer formula, will require special consideration for storage and distribution.

“We stand ready to distribute and administer the vaccine,” Levine said. “Now, the Pfizer vaccine is the one that is ultra-cold – that’s the one that (must be stored at) minus 70 to 80 degrees centigrade. It has to be kept on dry ice or in ultra-cold refrigeration units, so that poses challenges, but we’ve already reached out to hospitals and health systems to be able to accomplish that.”

Last week, Levine released information on the three-phased strategy that will be implemented once a vaccine is ready for release. The first phase to receive vaccinations will primarily consist of health care personnel, followed by vulnerable populations and the general public.

Levine noted that the DOH has its eye on half a dozen potential vaccines, including five which are in phase three trials. Pfizer and Moderna appear to be leading the pack, with Pfizer on track to seek an EUA by the end of the month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, noted that Pfizer’s results were “just extraordinary,” exceeding even the wildest expectations.

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” Fauci said in an Associated Press interview.

But while the commonwealth, the United States and the rest of the world await the arrival of an effective vaccine to fight COVID-19, medical experts continue to encourage mitigation efforts and information sharing in the quest to defeat the pandemic.

“We are all together united – answering the call when we wear a mask, when we wash our hands, when we social distance, when we avoid large and small gatherings, and we download the COVID-19 app,” Levine said. “We must all stand united in our fight, our collective fight, against COVID-19.”

Pennsylvania state health officials outline their COVID-19 vaccine plan

As pharmaceutical companies race to create, test and stockpile doses of vaccines to protect against the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania is contemplating a similarly daunting challenge: distributing those doses as quickly and effectively as possible.

Every indication so far is that a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be ready until sometime next year. But those in charge at the Pennsylvania Department of Health say they have a plan and are preparing now for the arrival.

The spread of COVID-19 continues in Pennsylvania. On Thursday, there were 2,900 additional positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 220,566. This is the highest daily increase of cases, according to the Department of Health.

“We do not have a definite date for when we will see a vaccine in Pennsylvania or in other states, but we’re actively preparing to be able to receive, store, distribute and administer that vaccine whenever it shows up,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said.

Officials at the state Department of Health on Thursday said they plan to distribute vaccines in several phases, outlining for the first time who will have first access to vaccines, how they will be administered and how the state plans to promote vaccines — once they are deemed safe and effective — to its population, including to some people who might be wary.

Who will get the COVID-19 vaccines first in Pennsylvania?

The state plans to distribute the vaccine in phases, relying on frameworks developed by the CDC.

In the first phase, when vaccine doses are likely to be limited, high-risk workers in health care settings, first responders, other essential workers, people with pre-existing health conditions and adults in long-term care are likely to be prioritized.

Levine said more work remains to further prioritize distribution within those groups.

How effective will the vaccines be in preventing the spread of COVID-19?

“It’s important to remember that when the vaccines are available,” Levine said, “they’re not going to be a magical cure for the coronavirus and will not immediately end the pandemic.”

Levine said she anticipate that the COVID-19 vaccine will be somewhat similar to the flu vaccine.

“Similar in that it will help prevent the virus — that many, maybe most people who get the vaccine, will not contract COVID-19,” she said. “But that some people will. And if someone does get it, hopefully the symptoms will not be as severe and won’t last as long.”

Experts expect vaccine supply to be limited. Federal officials have begun to stockpile doses of several vaccines, in hopes they prove to be safe and effective. Researchers expect it will take more than one to vaccinate the U.S. population.

Levine said 5 out of the 6 vaccines currently under development would require two doses.

Several potential vaccines are in phase 3 clinical trials and manufacturers could seek authorization for emergency use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the next few months.

What about anti-vaxxers?

But after a vaccine is approved with demonstrated safety, one of the most significant challenges the state faces is convincing people it’s in their interest, and their community’s interest, to get vaccinated.

Levine said the health department is already planning its strategy to promote vaccination and messaging.

“We need to message the importance of getting this vaccine, or one of the vaccines when it becomes available,” Levine said. “We are going to need to work past that vaccine hesitancy, and that is our plan.”

Many questions — such as details on storage, transportation and logistics — will remain unanswered until a vaccine is authorized for emergency use.

Levine said the federal government has indicated the vaccine itself will be provided to every American at no cost, but health-care providers could charge insurers fees to administer the vaccine or for an office visit.

PA COVID numbers highest since pandemic onset

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health confirmed an additional 2,795 cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, noting that daily increases are now the highest they have ever been since the start of the pandemic.

The Nov. 4 report elevated the commonwealth’s total coronavirus count to 217,666 cases. An additional 35 deaths were also reported, bringing the statewide total to 8,890 fatalities linked to the virus.

On Tuesday, the DOH reported Pennsylvania’s largest daily count yet with 2,875 positive cases, raising concerns among Governor Tom Wolf’s administration, the DOH and health professionals.

“#COVID19 case counts have reached an all-time high in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a Wednesday tweet. “Please protect yourself and your loved ones from this virus. The best thing we can do right now is keep our distance, wear masks in public, avoid crowds, and practice good health habits.”

According to the DOH, 217,017 tests were performed in the Keystone State from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3, with 16,425 positive cases.

As of 10 p.m. on Nov. 2, 49,087 test results were reported to the department, “a record high number of (polymerase chain reaction) test results” which show if an individual has an active infection.

Positive viral antigen tests, another diagnostic test, have reached a total of 4,130 individuals that are considered probable cases, along with 646 individuals who have a positive serology test and either COVID-19 symptoms or high-risk exposure.

On Tuesday, Wolf Administration began distribution of the fourth allotment of antigen test kits provided by the federal government to Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified institutions in Elk, Lawrence, Mifflin and Philadelphia counties.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine noted that the kits are “timely, quick and easy-to-use tools for communities to receive rapid COVID-19 testing.”

“These test kits, provided by the federal government and being distributed to areas in need by the Wolf Administration, will further help communities struggling with the spread of COVID-19,” Levine said. “Antigen tests look for pieces of proteins that make up the SARS-CoV-2 virus and are less sensitive than PCR tests for detecting COVID-19 infections.”

The bulk of COVID-19 diagnoses currently encompass citizens aged 25 an older. Nearly 36% of those that have tested positive to date fall into the 25 to 49-year-old range, while 21% are aged 50 to 64, and nearly 21% are aged 65 and older.

However, the DOH also reported that there have been “significant increases in the COVID-19 cases” among younger age ranges, especially among 19 to 24-year-olds. As of the end of October, this age bracket has increased across the state, ranging from 12% of total counts in the southwest and south-central regions to 28% of cases in the north-central region.

On Wednesday, the DOH announced that Levine would hold a virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss the latest news on the COVID-19 vaccine, and Pennsylvania’s plan to distribute it once it is available.

Wolf, Levine and the DOH have continued to promote mitigation efforts – including hand washing, mask-wearing, social distancing and more – to help curb the spread of coronavirus in the commonwealth as case counts increase, especially in light of the upcoming holiday season.

“We are asking people to stay within their households and to contact their friends and their families in a more virtual way,” Levine said on Oct. 29. “And that’s a tremendous sacrifice that we’re asking people to make, but it is absolutely necessary at this challenging time.”

‘Each case is a person,’ Levine says as Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 numbers hit record high


People see them everywhere. Polls for the upcoming election, unemployment rates and fantasy sports scores.

And every day except Sunday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health delivers the latest COVID-19 numbers.

On Wednesday, the state surpassed 200,000 cases.

On Thursday, 61 cases were added to York County’s monthly total of 1,604. That put the county past September’s high-water mark of 1,573 with two days remaining in October.

Lancaster tops all southcentral counties with 9,647 cases as of Thursday. Here is where other counties stand from the region: Adams, 1,144; Cumberland, 2,500; Dauphin 4,852; Franklin, 2,219, Lebanon, 3,057 and York, 6,545.

In taking a look behind the numbers, Pennsylvania is on the increase in nearly every category, from confirmed cases to its positivity rate in the last seven days over the previous seven days. The state had a jump in cases from 8,849 to 10,127. The positivity rate changed from 4.2 percent to 5.0 percent.

The positivity rate is the number of people who tested positive during the most recent seven-day period divided by the number of people who were tested. The closer the percentage is to zero, the better the condition is being handled.

Around the region, Adams nearly doubled its cases and positivity rate; Cumberland, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York saw increases in both and Dauphin dropped 22 cases and its rate remained the same. Lebanon has the highest positivity rate in the region at 8.7 percent.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine believes York County’s steady increase — this is the fourth straight record-setting month — is the result of community spread. She said there were no large outbreaks in the county this month, unlike previous months when extensive testing at long-term care facilities and the York County Prison led to increased positive tests.

“We are seeing community spread from large gatherings and small gatherings,” Levine said Thursday. “I understand it’s a lot to ask people not to gather outside of their households, but that’s exactly what we are asking them to do. We are seeing the impact of small gatherings around the nation.”

And that takes us to the holidays, when Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf are asking for more sacrifice after people have already missed Easter, Mother’s and Father’s days and the summer holidays with their extended families and friends.

“It’s a tremendous sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice we have to make,” Levine said. “I understand that people are becoming immune to the numbers, but each one of those cases is a person. Each one of those numbers is a human being, someone who might be in ICU.”

Levine said that needs to be driven home.

“I strongly feel there is a collective responsibility to stand united to beat this very contagious virus,” she said.

Even though the state saw increases this month surpassing April’s record high of 40,920 cases, Levine said the state’s healthcare system is better prepared to treat people. She said officials know more about the virus and have more protection equipment for healthcare workers.

But that doesn’t mean people should ignore the increased positive cases. Because those cases have led to increased hospitalizations. Pennsylvania’s hospitals are seeing three times as many COVID patients as they did in August. Hospitalizations have increased by more than 500 patients in just the last few weeks.

With no intention of tightening mitigation efforts, or returning to the color phases used at the beginning of the pandemic, Levine said it’s up to Pennsylvanians to do the right thing.

“We need you to answer the call,” she said. “If you tested positive and a contact tracer reaches out to you, answer the call. It’s anonymous, and you could save someone’s life.”

She said it’s even more important as the weather turns colder and people return inside that they wear face masks, wash their hands and use hand sanitizer.

“Our success will lie in personal responsibility,” Levine said. “Everyone taking responsibility for themselves and their families. We need to look inward to our families and communities, and that’s where our success will lie.”

Levine: Pennsylvania facing fall resurgence of COVID 19

The increase in Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases over the past week are the first signs the virus is surging into the fall, according to state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

The state Department of Health confirmed 1,276 positive cases of the virus in one day– the ninth day in a row that numbers rose above 1,000 cases. The number of positive cases stayed under 1,000, with some exceptions, since May, with the highest average of positive cases per day happening in mid-April.

“We have seen more than 1,000 cases a day for the past nine days, which shows that we are at the start of a fall resurgence of COVID-19,” said Levine. “While we are working to expand testing, prepare for a vaccine and prevent outbreaks, Pennsylvanians have an important role to play. We must be united by wearing a mask, washing our hands, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, downloading the COVID Alert PA mobile app and getting a flu vaccine.”

Counties that have been particularly affected by the rise in cases will be the first to receive the state’s allotment of 250,000 COVID-19 antigen test kits. The kits were provided to Pennsylvania by the federal government and were distributed to Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified institutions across Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Health.

The test cards allow for quick and easy testing in communities by looking for proteins that make up the virus and will first be distributed to Bradford, Centre, Lebanon, Montour, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Snyder counties, said Levine.

“With the increase in testing and cases, the department is continuing efforts to conduct case investigations and contact tracing,” she said. “However, for these efforts to be successful, it is important for Pennsylvanians to participate in the process. If you are contacted by a case investigator or contact tracer, it is essential that you answer the phone and participate in the interview.”

Dr. Rachel Levine signs PPE requirement order for long-term care facilities

A new state order for Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities mandates all organizations to provide pre-approved personal protective equipment to all staff working directly with COVID-19 positive residents by Aug. 27.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine issued the order Monday.

While many long-term care facilities have worked diligently against the spread of the virus, she said the order is a response to safety concerns from nurses and staff of facilities across the country.

“The order requires that the necessary steps are in place to deliver a safer environment to continue providing high-quality care during these challenging times,” Levine said in a press release.

As part of the order, facilities must provide respirators, such as N95 masks, to any staff working directly with COVID-19 positive patients. The respirators need to be approved by either the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health or the Food and Drug Administration.

These facilities may find that they won’t be able to comply with the order in just a week’s time thanks to continued shortages in the supply chain that have created gaps in PPE procurement for most health care providers. The shortages have left some independent physicians with only a week’s worth of equipment.

Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, said the nonprofit trade association supports efforts to protect residents in long-term care facilities, but that state funding doesn’t cover the costs for PPE or Pennsylvania’s testing requirements for facilities.

“We have additional concern that personal care homes and assisted living residences, in particular, will have difficulty complying given they are only just beginning to receive CARES Act funding, and it will likely not be enough to cover universal testing,” he said.

Long-term care providers began receiving CARES Act funding through Act 24 of 2020, signed by Gov. Wolf in June. The Act included $457 million in relief funds for providers of long-term living programs.

Marles added that the Mechanicsburg-based nonprofit will be looking to work forward with the administration and lawmakers to address critical funding needs among its members.

State to partner with Eurofins lab to speed COVID testing at nursing homes

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced Thursday that Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories partnered with the state departments of Health and Community Economic and Development to provide COVID-19 testing in nursing homes.

In Early June, Levine issued a universal testing order for COVID-19 at all skilled nursing homes in the state. The order mandated that all staff and residents of skilled nursing homes needed to be tested for the virus by July 24. To help nursing facilities reach the deadline, the departments will work with Eurofins to offer testing at no cost to the facilities.

“COVID-19 is a particularly challenging situation for congregate settings, particularly our nursing home facilities,” said Levine. “This partnership strengthens and increases access to ensure universal testing is completed in nursing homes, as required in the order issued last month. It will provide us the opportunity to better address outbreaks, and work to prevent future outbreaks, in nursing home facilities.”

Eurofins is based in Upper Leacock Township, Lancaster County. The laboratory is a member of Luxembourg-based Eurofins Scientific, an international group of laboratories that provide testing services to the pharmaceutical, food, environment, agri-science and consumer products industries.

“We rely on our partners in the business community to bolster resources, and it’s the help of partners like Eurofins that will make our testing and tracing infrastructure strong and more effective,” said DCED Secretary Dennis Davin.

Pennsylvania issues new orders for cleaning life-sustaining businesses

Dr. Rachel Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf. PHOTO SUBMITTED –

Pennsylvania businesses with in-person operations permitted under the governor’s life-sustaining business orders, now have a new set of guidelines for maintaining and cleaning their buildings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed the Building Safety Measures order on Sunday outlining appropriate disease control measures.

In addition to maintaining pre-existing cleaning protocols, the order outlines these new protocols:

  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas routinely in accordance with CDC guidelines, in spaces that are accessible to customers, tenants or other individuals.
  • Maintain pre-existing cleaning protocols established in the facility for all other areas of the building.
  • Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of employees to perform the above protocols effectively and in a manner that ensures the safety of occupants and employees.
  • Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of security employees to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing of at least 6 feet, provided the security employees are otherwise responsible for such enforcement.

The measures outlined in the order are for owners of buildings of at least 50,000 square feet used for commercial, industrial or other enterprises, including but not limited to warehousing, manufacturing, commercial offices, airports, grocery stores, universities, colleges, government, hotels, and residential buildings with at least 50 units.

“Based upon the manner of COVID-19’s spread in the commonwealth and in the world, and its danger to Pennsylvanians, I have determined that the appropriate disease control measure is the direction of building safety measures as outlined in this order to prevent and control the spread of disease,” Dr. Levine state in the order.

The order went into effect at 12:01 a.m., April 6.