As of April 2, The Pennsylvania Department of Health today confirmed that there were 1,211 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 7,016 in 62 counties. The department also reported 16 new deaths among positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 90.
With 90 deaths out of 7,016 cases, this brings the death rate from coronavirus in Pennsylvania to roughly 1.2 %, which is in line with the global death rate of 1.4%, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
The seasonal flu comparatively, has a death rate of around 0.1%, according to the New York Times, making the coronavirus 10 times as deadly as the seasonal flu.
County-specific information and a statewide map are available here.
Dr. Rachel Levine is the Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania and on the front line of the commonwealth’s medical & public health response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In an interview with Lehigh Valley Business and the Central Penn Business Journal, she warned that the number of coronavirus cases is doubling every two days, underscoring the importance of self-isolation and social distancing.
Here is part of that conversation.
LVB: There seems to be some confusion among the public regarding the meanings of a shelter in place order and a stay at home order. Is there a difference between the two?
Levine: Shelter in place and stay at home are the same thing. They mean that we want people to stay at home unless participating in life sustaining essential activities. You can go outside, you can go to the park, but maintain social distancing. No pick-up basketball games at the park. Maintain a safe distance at all times.
LVB: Right now, only certain counties are under a shelter in place order. Shouldn’t Gov. Wolf require this for the entire state of Pennsylvania?
Levine: Right now, that stay at home order is in place for the counties that are most at risk, and have the highest number of cases. This may be expanded to other counties in the state but I cannot say at this time.
LVB: We keep seeing the “flatten the curve graphic,” which promotes staying at home as a way to reduce the spread. Is the curve moving towards flattening now with so many of us sheltering in place? Is shelter in place working?
Flattening the curve first includes mitigation, which is the prevention of the spread. We do this through closure of the schools and of businesses. What we are seeing is an exponential rise of cases about every two days, a doubling, which is in line with what we are seeing nationally and globally. 200 new cases, then 400 two days later, to now 800…then it will be 1600…
The idea is to buy time until a vaccine or treatment is developed. We want to prevent it from exploding before a treatment is available. We don’t want to see it explode like it has done in Italy. It’s too early to see if the social distancing is flattening the curve.
LVB: With the state asking everyone to stay indoors unless medically necessary or for groceries, etc…what is the best way for citizens to give blood at a time when it is likely very much needed?
Giving blood is considered a life sustaining activity. It is absolutely important and encouraged to go out and give blood. There are protocols in place to maintain social distancing during the process of donating.
LVB: I’m hearing concerns from workers at resorts in the Poconos that are staying open. Workers are fearful that out of state visitors to the resorts mixed with so many employees forced to keep working, will spread the virus. Is there anything that can be done to help?
I would refer this question to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. There is a number that people can call with concerns about a business being open. The line is 1-877-724-3258. Option 1.
LVB: What is the state doing to ensure that those on the front lines, nurses, doctors, and social workers, are getting the personal protective equipment they need? We are hearing a lot about a shortage of face masks.
Right now, our main concerns are ensuring that health care organizations have enough staffing in place, enough space to care for patients, and enough supplies to treat those who are in need. Presently, our stores of supplies are adequate, and health care organizations are able to order more from our national supply.
LVB: What is most frustrating about your job right now?
I would not call it frustrating, I would say challenging. I have said all along that what kept me up at night was the possibility of a global pandemic reaching Pennsylvania and now it is here. It is definitely challenging. This is an enormous public health threat and our responsibility is to keep the public as safe as possible.
LVB: Does COVID-19 look like it will be a seasonal virus like the flu?
We have no idea. There is some slight evidence that it is not as transmissible in warmer weather, which might mean that the number of cases would naturally lower in the summer months, but look at Florida, they have a lot of cases and it’s very warm there. There is a lot that is unknown right now.
LVB: Will more aggressive measures be taken to slow the spread? What about stopping interstate travel?
There is no consideration to close state borders right now. I’m not hearing that from the state or federal level. Not at this time. As far as the expansion of the stay at home order, and schools closing, that is day by day.
LVB: Is there a message that you want Pennsylvanians to hear right now?
I am a positive and optimistic person. Pennsylvanians are strong. The federal government is taking this seriously. We will get through this.
The most important thing to remember is stay calm. Stay home. Stay Safe.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has temporarily suspended a number of provisions in the state’s medical marijuana program to allow patients to have more access to medications.
Until further notice, the department:
Allowed dispensaries to supply patients with 90 days worth of medicine up from 30days.
Waived in-person consultations and allowed remote consultations between practitioners and medical marijuana cardholders for certification renewals.
Eliminated background checks for caregiver application renewals.
Removed a cap the number of caregivers who could buy products for a patient.
“In the midst of COVID-19, we need to ensure medical marijuana patients have access to medication,” said state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. “Medical marijuana grower/processors and dispensaries are considered life-sustaining businesses under the Governor’s order for nonlife-sustaining businesses to close. We want to be sure cardholders in the medical marijuana program can receive medication for one of 23 serious medical conditions during this difficult time.”
As a part of the temporary suspension, the department also said it would allow dispensary employees to provide medical marijuana to permitted medical marijuana cardholders from their vehicles.
Organic Remedies, a medical marijuana dispensary with locations in Chambersburg, Enola and York, is taking advantage of the suspension and offering curbside delivery at all of its dispensaries.
Eric Hauser, president of Organic Remedies, said in a press release that the state’s decision will greatly reduce exposure to potential disease spread.
“Our curbside delivery service will allow us to provide the crucial medications our patients need, while also increasing the level of social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for both our patients and employees,” he said.
Harvest Health & Recreation Inc. opened its Harrisburg dispensary on Tuesday. It’s the Phoenix-based cannabis company’s fifth in Pennsylvania.
The new dispensary was first announced in July, with the company stating it expected the business’ doors to open by the end of the year.
The Harvest Dispensary is the first medical marijuana dispensary in Harrisburg and is located at the Camp Curtin Fire Station on 2504 N. 6th St.
Harvest operates about 130 retail locations with more than 1,700 employees across 18 states. In Pennsylvania, the company operates dispensaries in Cambria and Lackawanna counties and two in Reading.
“The medical marijuana market in Pennsylvania has incredible potential, and we’re pleased to be growing our presence in the Commonwealth,” said Steve White, CEO of Harvest. “We’re looking forward to providing qualifying patients and caregivers with access to high-quality, innovative products and experiences, while working to educate and partner with the communities we serve.”
The former fire station that houses the new dispensary needed a number of repairs before Harvest could move in, including preserving the station’s bell tower.
Harvest has five affiliates in Pennsylvania that each have their own medical marijuana dispensary permits through the state Department of Health. While the company currently has only five operating dispensaries in Pennsylvania, its permits allow it to open ten more in the coming years.
When it first opened in February 2018, Organic Remedies Dispensary considered it a good day when 50 patients walked through its door in Hampden Township, Cumberland County. Today, pharmacists at the medical marijuana dispensary see 150 patients on a slow day.
Those patients are among the more than 100,000 state residents certified to take medical marijuana in Pennsylvania since February of last year, according to the Wolf administration.
Operators of dispensaries have praised the state’s medical marijuana program, saying that Pennsylvania’s 21 qualifying medical conditions are broad enough to allow more individuals to have a chance to try the substance.
The administration reported that the state’s 46 operating dispensaries have sold more than 2.2 million products since they opened.
And Organic Remedies is not the only dispensary seeing business grow.
“We have seen a dramatic uptick in the number of transactions that we do every day,” said Ryan Smith, chief operating officer of Cure Holdings, a Denver, Colorado organization with three dispensaries in Pennsylvania including one in Lancaster.
Cure Holdings operates dispensaries in five states. Smith said he’s been impressed with the growing market in Pennsylvania and the speed at which the state approved its program in 2016 and green-lighted the first six dispensaries by 2018.
“The Department of Health has done a great job in rolling out the program and its regulations,” he said. “In the first year of the program, to serve over 100,000 patients is best in class.”
The growth in patient numbers has been particularly surprising because many doctors initially refused to refer patients for medical marijuana, according to Eric Hauser, a pharmacist at Organic Remedies. In Pennsylvania there are currently 1,099 physicians that can approve patients for medical marijuana certification.
“A lot of doctors didn’t want to talk to us; they weren’t early adopters,” Hauser said. “Some of those same doctors are now actively referring patients to us because they’ve seen patients dramatically improve their quality of life.”
Pennsylvania’s population was estimated at 12.8 million in 2018, meaning that nearly 1 percent of the state’s population is certified to buy medical marijuana.
Smith said that Cure views a mature marijuana market anywhere between 1.8 percent to 2 percent of a state’s population. The company predicts that Pennsylvania could reach 2 percent within the next year or two.
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