COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA

Masked Up in West Philadelphia

A person wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walks along Market Street, Dec. 8, 2020, in West Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By The Keystone Staff

November 18, 2020

The coronavirus spread fast throughout 2020 and the first few weeks of this year. As more people have been vaccinated, the number of cases has been dropping. We’ll keep track of the virus’ spread and impact in this running blog.

May 19, 2021 // 6:52 a.m.

State’s Largest Teachers Union in Favor of In-Person Return

HARRISBURG — The president of Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union expressed support Monday for in-person instruction in the fall, calling it a “top priority” now that many teachers have been vaccinated and older children have become eligible for the COVID-19 shot.

“As more students are vaccinated over the summer, we believe that in-person instruction is achievable in a way that keeps everyone safe,” said Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 178,000 active and retired educators, health care workers and others.

“Educators and support professionals look forward to working with school district leaders, parents, and community members to get students on a pathway to achievement as we emerge from this pandemic,” he said.

Askey’s statement came days after the leaders of the nation’s two major teachers unions, including PSEA’s parent union, the National Education Association, called for a full return to in-person learning.

Most Pennsylvania schools have already resumed at least some in-person instruction, though some are sticking with virtual learning at least through the end of the current academic year. In March, the state prioritized teachers for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a bid to help schools reopen.

In Philadelphia, Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said Monday that teachers there are on board with a full in-person return this fall. Tens of thousands of students in Philadelphia recently became eligible to return to class part-time, though most parents have opted to keep their children learning remotely this year, according to district officials.

“With increasing vaccination rates and availability, along with the expansion of vaccinations to children, we are well on our way to combatting this virus,” Jordan said. “As we look to expand this opening to a full time program in the fall, we will continue to ensure that it is done safely in accordance with evolving science.”

Pennsylvania schools are getting nearly $5 billion from the federal COVID-19 aid package to address learning loss from the pandemic, and to use for professional training, technology, cleaning supplies, summer and after-school programs, and mental health services and other expenses. — Associated Press

May 12, 2021 // 4:40 p.m.

Pennsylvania had 124,000 New Coronavirus Cases in April

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA

Pennsylvania had a significant uptick of coronavirus cases in April, but it has seen a downward trend that began at the end of the month.

April ended up with more than 124,414 cases, an increase of more than 27,000 cases over March’s total.    

However, cases peaked with more than 7,000 on April 12 and began a significant drop off on April 22. Up to April 22, the state averaged 4,435 cases a day. After that, the average dropped to 3,300.

The downward trend has continued in May, with an average of 2,300 cases a day.The state has had a total of 1,179,251 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began in March 2020. — Patrick Abdalla

April. 27, 2021 // 4:30 p.m.

Number of Fully Vaccinated Pennsylvanians Tops 30%

At least 30% of Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The organization also reports that 48.1% are partially vaccinated. Officials from the Department of Health has said that about 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated for us to return to more normal rules. 

The federal government has allocated 297,520 first/single doses and another 276,520 second doses.

While the number of vaccinations has gone up, the number of new cases has been dropping recently.

The number of new cases last week, 21,167, was 4,172 fewer than the previous week’s total, according to the state’s Early Warning System Dashboard.

Monday saw additional 3,143 new cases reported, bringing the state’s total to 1,139,390. 

Since the pandemic began, 26,072 Pennsylvanians have died from coronavirus-related complications. 

That’s more people than who live in either Hazleton or the city of Lebanon. — Patrick Abdalla

April 16, 2021 // 2:40 p.m.

Pennsylvania Officials to Residents: Do Not Throw Away your (Vaccine) Shot

A growing number of unfilled appointments and low uptake among nursing home workers are early signs that vaccine hesitancy is becoming an issue in Pennsylvania, prompting state officials to sound the alarm Friday and urge residents to get their COVID-19 shots as quickly as possible.

After months of demand outstripping supply, vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are more readily available, and the Wolf administration said the challenge now is to assuage the concerns of people who are reluctant to get it.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state health officials on Friday toured a community vaccination clinic in Hershey that had opening. In nearby Lebanon County, a mass vaccination clinic reported hundreds of available slots, something that might have been unthinkable weeks ago when providers were swamped with requests but didn’t have enough doses to give out.

“The appointment availability does give us cause for concern because it’s indicative of hesitancy, which really is the challenge to come,” said Alison Beam, the state’s acting health secretary, who joined Wolf at a news conference.

She said the fact that nearly half of Pennsylvania’s nursing home workers have declined the vaccine is further evidence of “how far we have to go and how much of a challenge overcoming this vaccine hesitancy will be in the near future.”

Only 53% of staff in skilled nursing facilities have opted to get the vaccine, according to Health Department data, even though the shots have been available to them for months.

With supplies increasing, the state expanded eligibility to everyone aged 16 and older this week. To date, Pennsylvania has vaccinated more than 40% of its eligible population, not including Philadelphia, which gets its supply directly from the federal government and runs its own program.

Wolf said he plans to get his first dose on Monday in York.

“The more people who get vaccinated, the safer all of us are going to be and the sooner we can get out of this,” he said. “These vaccines are the way we can fight back and actually move on to the life that we’d like it to be.”

State officials said Friday they’re planning a print and digital media campaign to get that message out.

The reasons why some people remain hesitant tend to be similar across demographic, geographic and political groups, said Health Department spokesperson Maggi Barton, and include “safety, efficacy and benefits for a post-vaccine world.”

While the decision to get vaccinate or not remains a personal one, she said, the state is “arming our communities with vaccine facts because good information leads to good decisions.”

Following guidance from the federal government, Pennsylvania this week paused use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine while health experts investigate a handful of rare blood clots that have been reported.

The J&J vaccine has played a small role in the state’s overall vaccine rollout to date, though the pause forced the cancellation of some vaccine clinics and affected programs targeting prison inmates and corrections officers as well as food and agricultural workers and other groups. —Associated Press

April 8, 2021 // 3:50 p.m.

Despite Recent Surge, Wolf Says Coronavirus Vaccines Are Winning the Race

Pennsylvania is “winning” the race to contain a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations thanks to its accelerating vaccine rollout, the governor said Wednesday, as state officials sought to address what they view as the pandemic’s next big challenge—persuading stragglers to get the shot.

The Wolf administration is pushing people to get inoculated against the coronavirus as soon as possible, saying vaccines will be what end the pandemic, and has so far shown little appetite for new mitigation measures to address the latest surge in infections and hospitalizations.

“It’s a race between the vaccine and the upsurge, this fourth upsurge, and I think the vaccine is winning,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday outside Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport, near Pittsburgh, which will host a community vaccine clinic operated by the Allegheny County Health Department.

Pennsylvania this week eased restrictions on bar seating, restaurant capacity and indoor and outdoor events, even though the state—along with New York, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey—accounted for nearly half of the nation’s reported infections over a recent seven-day reporting period.

But Wolf said an increasing vaccine supply has put Pennsylvania in a much different position than it was in November, when the state and the rest of the country were heading into the pandemic’s darkest period. He predicted that anyone who wants a shot will have been able to receive at least an initial dose by the second week of May.

“The real race, the real end of this is going to be because enough people get vaccinated that we actually can get back to life pretty much as normal, and that’s the strategy we have,” Wolf said.

Facing a deadline set by President Joe Biden, the state recently expanded eligibility to more frontline workers and said that every adult in Pennsylvania will qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 19.

Pennsylvania received 440,000 first doses this week—the most since the vaccine rollout began in December—with pharmacies and the city of Philadelphia receiving hundreds of thousands of additional doses directly from the federal government. More than 44% of the state’s adult population has gotten at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even though demand still outstrips supply, state officials believe that vaccine hesitancy will soon become a bigger challenge. On Wednesday, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam traveled to Allentown to highlight the work of the Muslim Aid Initiative, a volunteer group in the Philadelphia area that’s been encouraging Muslims to get vaccinated, and that of other groups working to address vaccine hesitancy in minority communities.

On the other side of the state, Wolf appeared with the Rev. Earlene Coleman, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. She exhorted young people who might be reluctant to roll up their sleeves.

“Listen, learn, Google, all of that stuff that you do, and find out that this vaccine was not created overnight. There is such a thing as research, and research has been going on,” Coleman said. “So I need you to stand up and get your shots as well, amen?”

The race to vaccinate comes as Pennsylvania grapples with an increase in infections and hospitalizations.

New COVID-19 cases are up 38% in the last two weeks, to an average of about 4,200 per day. But state officials said Wednesday that the rate of increase appears to be slowing. — Associated Press

April 5, 2021 // 3:10 p.m.

Pennsylvania to Get Record Number of Coronavirus Vaccine Doses This Week

Pennsylvania is getting 442,310 first doses of the coronavirus vaccines this week, according to the state Department of Health senior advisor Lindsey Mauldin.

“That is the highest weekly allocation since the vaccine became available in December,”  Mauldin said. “That’s also a far cry from January, when Pennsylvania was receiving about 125,000 doses of vaccine per week.”

This week’s numbers don’t include the doses sent to Philadelphia, which gets its own allocation.

Roughly 2.42 million people in Pennsylvania are fully vaccinated and another 1.8 million have received a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mauldin also reported that 35% of the state’s population has received at least the first dose of a vaccine, which is 3% higher than the national average. 

Despite the growing number of vaccinations, the virus is again surging in the state.

State health officials recorded 5,466 new cases on April 2—the highest in one day since Jan. 29, when the state recorded 5,490 cases.  

The state went from Feb. 10 to March 18 without having 4,000 cases recorded in a single day; it has surpassed that number nine times since March 18. 

In total, 1,049,655 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Pennsylvania since the pandemic began. The state has also recorded 25,237 deaths during that time.

Patrick Abdalla

March 28, 2021 // 3:10 p.m.

25,000 Pennsylvanians Have Died from Coronavirus Complications Since Pandemic Began

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus-related deaths have been falling for months. That didn’t stop the state’s cumulative total from reaching a grim milestone Monday. 

At least 25,015 Pennsylvanians have died from coronavirus-related complications since the pandemic reached the state last March, according to numbers compiled by the state’s department of health.

That’s more people than the population of Hazleton, the state’s 18th largest city. 

The state, which is the fifth most populous in the country, has the fifth most deaths, behind California (58,090), New York (49,537), Texas (48,263), and Florida (33,177), according to data compiled by the New York Times.

However, according to deaths per 100,000 residents, Pennsylvania is 12th.

The deaths have been trending downward since the winter peak of 238 on Dec. 22. 

In December, 6,354 Pennsylvanians died from coronavirus-related complications. That number dropped to 4,672 in January and plummeted to 1,815 in February. With just a few days left in March, this month’s total is 688, which will be the lowest total since 691 died in October.

Pennsylvania’s Other Coronavirus Numbers

Pennsylvania’s case count continues to be much lower than the fall/winter peak that saw at least 10,000 cases in a single day in December. However, the numbers remain much higher than they were at any point before November. 

Last week, the state passed 1 million positive coronavirus cases since the pandemic arrived on March 6, 2020.

After two months of declining cases, the state will likely add more cases in March than it did in February. March, of course, has three more days, which factors into that. However, each of the last two weeks saw increases over the previous week’s number of new cases.

The spread of the virus has fallen dramatically in several counties.

After 8 weeks in which all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties were in the “substantial” spread category, several counties had fallen out of that category. This week 34 counties are in the highest category.

Vaccination Numbers Continue to Improve

Philadelphia gets a separate allotment of vaccines than the rest of the state. When the totals are combined, 3.7 million have gotten at least the first dose of the vaccine. Of those, 1.96 million have been fully vaccinated.

The 66 counties the state oversees have been administering just under 100,000 doses every weekday the past three weeks. 

Both groups struggled early on with their vaccine rollouts.

Philadelphia entrusted its biggest vaccine site to a college student who had no medical background, then had to take it back.

The state was often in the middle of or back of the pack when it came to administering the doses it received from manufacturers. 

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has taken several steps to change this, including adding a bipartisan committee from the legislature to oversee the effort. Two weeks ago, the state administered the second most doses per 100,000 residents in the country. — Patrick Abdalla

March 11, 2021 // 1:20 p.m.

More Pennsylvanians Are Getting Vaccinated And Fewer are Catching the Coronavirus

Pennsylvania continues to vaccinate more people while fewer people are catching the coronavirus, according to data released by the state department of health.

Over the weekend, the number of Pennsylvanians who were fully vaccinated surpassed the number of people who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

As of Wednesday morning, the state has had 955,730 confirmed cases of the coronavirus while at least 1.1 million have been fully vaccinated. At least 24,439 people have died from coronavirus-related issues.

The state is seeing a dramatic increase in the number vaccines distributed. Philadelphia and the rest of the state get separate allotments, and track their numbers differently. Philadelphia has administered more than 400,000 doses and the rest of the state has administered more than 3.1 million doses.

On March 5, the state distributed more than 90,000 doses in a single day for the first time. Meanwhile, Philadelphia distributed more than 10,000 initial doses a day for the first time on March 2, and reached that number every day for four straight days.

Nearly 19% of the state has been vaccinated. State health officials have said they would like to see 70% get vaccinated before the state returns to pre-pandemic norms. — Patrick Abdalla

March 10, 2021 // 2:55 p.m.

Pennsylvania Continues to See Drop in Coronavirus Cases

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Morgaine Ford-Workman)

The drop in Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers continued last week for the seventh consecutive week.

During the week of Feb. 26 to March 4, there were 13,275 cases—19 fewer cases than the week before, when there were 13,294 cases.  

That’s still a significant drop from the 40,000 new cases in a week the state saw during mid-December. 

The state has had 955,730 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least 24,439 people have died from coronavirus-related issues. — Patrick Abdalla

March 8, 2021 // 5:30 p.m.

Berks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties Not Satisfied With Vaccine Allotment

HARRISBURG — Four of Pennsylvania’s seven most-heavily populated counties are airing their unhappiness over the size of their allotment of coronavirus vaccines, saying Monday that a meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf’s top health official did not resolve their concerns.

Leaders of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties—home to more than 2.5 million people—called a Sunday meeting with acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam “disappointing and frustrating.”

They say less-populated counties in Pennsylvania have received disproportionately bigger allotments of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and that their smaller-than-expected allotments have led to long waiting lists, cancellation of second-dose appointments and frustration and anger among residents.

They also said the state has been unable to clearly explain how it determined each county’s vaccine allotments.

Wolf’s administration has not acknowledged a shortfall.

However, the counties said, Beam told them that no county will be allowed to vaccinate people in Phase 1B before each county gets enough doses to fully vaccinate residents in Phase 1A who want the shot.

Still, the counties said they want the state to create a publicly available chart showing the breakdown of vaccines delivered to each county, including the source of those vaccines, and an explanation of how it will prevent counties from moving to Phase 1B before Phase 1A vaccinations are complete. — Associated Press

Feb. 23, 2021 // 5:30 p.m.

Pennsylvania Passes Two Coronavirus Vaccine Milestones and Gets Record Number of Vaccine Doses

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s coronavirus vaccine rollout is getting a much needed shot in the arm. 

The state surpassed two notable milestones this week and is getting a massive increase in vaccine doses from the federal government. 

Healthcare facilities in Pennsylvania have administered more than 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses since the vaccines became available in mid-December, according to state health officials. 

State officials said that all of the staff at the nursing homes in the state who wanted the vaccine have been fully vaccinated, and staff in other long-term care facilities are expected to be fully vaccinated by mid-March.

“This is an important milestone for Pennsylvania,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a news conference on Tuesday.

On top of that, Pennsylvania is scheduled to receive record allotments for first and second doses. The 225,890 first doses it receives this week is an increase of more than 42,000 (23%). The 180,610 second doses is an increase of nearly 40,000 (27%) .

The state’s vaccine rollout has been criticized the past few months. Earlier this month, Wolf instituted a new task force that includes four legislators to help oversee the vaccination effort.

Last week, officials reported that some shots that were supposed to be used as second doses, had been given out to other patients as first doses.

So Tuesday’s milestones were welcome news for the administration.

Wolf admitted that not all of the nursing home workers who were offered the vaccine took it. However, he said they can still get them, if they change their minds.

State health officials reported that 1,474,479 first doses have been administered in 66 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Another 599,644 second doses have been administered. That’s a total of 2,034,123 doses.

When Philadelphia County is added, that number is even higher.

Philadelphia gets its own allotment from vaccine manufacturers and has administered 177,387 first doses and 90,454 second doses.

That brings the numbers up to 1,651,866 first doses and another 690,098 second doses for a total of 2,341,964. — Patrick Abdalla

Feb. 22, 2021 // 4:15 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths Continue to Fall in PA

The numbers tell a dramatic story. 

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers are dropping significantly. The numbers are now similar to what they were in the final weeks of the 2020 spring peak. 

Nowhere is the drop more pronounced than in the number of coronavirus-related deaths.

State health officials reported just 21 deaths Saturday and 27 on Sunday.

It looks like every day in February could have fewer than 100 deaths. So far, the most deaths recorded was 97 on Feb. 2. There is a lag in reporting, so it’s possible that some deaths could be added to the first three days of the month and push one of those days above 100.

That’s a dramatic improvement Every day from Nov. 22 to Jan. 28 saw at least 100 deaths recorded.

From October through December, the death total from coronavirus-related illness increased dramatically, reaching a total of 6,332 coronavirus in December.

State health officials recorded 1,339 new coronavirus cases on Sunday and another 1,869 on Saturday. It’s the first time state health officials have recorded back-to-back days with fewer than 2,000 cases since Oct. 24-25. 

State officials report 1,963 people are hospitalized with coronavirus-related issues. It’s the second day in a row with fewer than 2,000 people in a hospital. Nov. 11 was the last time numbers were that low.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration announced that 27 counties are now out of the substantial spread category.

Cameron, Fulton and Sullivan counties are now in the Low spread category. 

The 24 counties that are in the moderate spread category are: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Fayette, Indiana, Jefferson, Mercer, Montgomery, Potter, Somerset, Susquehanna, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, and Wyoming. — Patrick Abdalla

Feb. 18, 2021 // 5:10 p.m.

Pandemic Puts Pennsylvania’s St. Paddy’s Day Plans on Ice

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Participants in Scranton’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade wave to the crowd. (Shutterstock)

Pennsylvania loves to wrap itself in green for St. Patrick’s Day. Cities and towns across the state have parades and festivals. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the state will miss out on its many St. Patrick’s Day parades for the second year in a row. 

  • Allentown has planned a virtual parade that will include livestreamed pipe bands and Irish dancers.
  • Bethlehem will hold several socially distant events in place of its canceled parade this year.
  • Girardville canceled its parade. President Bill Clinton once joined the small town’s marchers in the annual event.
  • Harrisburg canceled its parade, which is a prominent event in the midstate. 
  • Meadville has had a parade since 1988, but won’t have one this year
  • Philadelphia has quite a party on parade day. It’s been a tradition since before Ben Franklin helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. However, organizers canceled the parade in January.
  • Pittsburgh, which can trace its parade origins back to the 1860s, also pulled the plug on its parade in January.
  • Pittston restarted its parade tradition a few years ago, but has canceled this year’s event.
  • Scranton takes its St. Paddy’s Day seriously. The parade regularly nets a crowd of more than 100,000 in a city of 70,000, and the partying doesn’t stop for hours after the marchers have reached the finish line. This year, the parade has been moved to Sept. 18.
  • Stroudsburg has canceled its parade, and promises to return in 2022.
  • Wilkes-Barre is following in the footsteps of its neighbor, Scranton. The city will host its parade on Sept. 19.
  • York is already planning for its parade in 2022 after a two-year hiatus. — Patrick Abdalla

Feb. 16, 2021 // 4:20 p.m.

New Coronavirus Cases and Deaths Continue to Drop in Pennsylvania

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers are almost a third of what they were two months ago, but they’re still three times what they were six months ago.

The number of new coronavirus cases has dropped for the fourth straight week. From Feb. 5-11, state health officials recorded 19,621 new coronavirus cases. That’s a significant drop from December, when Pennsylvania reported 40,000 new cases every week, including more than 60,000 the first week of that month.

On Feb. 15, state health officials recorded 1,852 new coronavirus cases, the first time they recorded fewer than 2,000 in one day since Nov. 1. That was a span of 104 days that included 10 days of 10,000 or more cases each day.

However, while the numbers are dropping, they’re still significantly higher than they were in the first eight months of the pandemic. 

The state had just one day—April 8—with 2,000 cases heading into Oct. 21. Numbers are still dramatically higher than they were from May through August, when there were just 13 total days of 1,000 new cases each day. Most days in June had fewer than 500 cases each.

Coronavirus-related deaths also continue to fall. After more than 6,000 deaths in December and more than 4,500 deaths in January, 720 deaths have been recorded this month.

While that’s a significant decrease, it’s also more deaths than each month from July through October had and almost double August’s total of 398.

Community spread is also falling. For all of December and the first half of January, every Pennsylvania county had substantial spread. Since then, more counties have fallen out of that category each week.

This week, Cameron remains the only county in low spread. Meanwhile, 16 counties—Armstrong, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Elk, Fayette, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland—have moderate spread.

All but one of those counties—Tioga—is in the western part of the state.

While those numbers are falling, the number of people who are getting vaccinated continues to increase.

At least 1,420,140 people have received their first doses of the vaccine. That’s almost 12% of Pennsylvanians. Of those, almost 500,000 have gotten their second dose of the vaccine. — Patrick Abdalla

Feb. 12, 2021 // 8:52 a.m.

United Way: People Contacting 211 for Help Jumped in 2020 Because of Pandemic

HARRISBURG — The number of people seeking help from their local clearinghouse for human and social services jumped by about 50% last year in Pennsylvania as people struggled to pay rent, stay current on utility bills and afford food as a result of the pandemic, the United Way said Thursday.

More than 430,000 people called and texted the free social and human services hotline 211 or searched on its online database last year, the United Way said. That grew from almost 288,000 in 2019, said Kristen Rotz, who is president of the United Way of Pennsylvania and executive director of PA 211.

Housing and shelter requests continue to rise, reaching a higher number almost every month, according to PA 211 data through January. Last month’s number, 12,669, was the highest figure, more than double the figure last January.

In a normal year, housing, utility and food assistance are the top needs that people report to PA 211, and that was the case in 2020, but on a much higher order of magnitude, Rotz said.

“The increase in numbers reflects increase in needs resulting from the pandemic, and increased efforts to get the word out about 211 so those who never had to ask for help before had an accessible and supportive place to turn,” Rotz said.

The service helped make sure homebound people could get home-delivered groceries and meals, while it helped provide financial assistance to families struggling from a loss of work and worked with county governments to connect people to information about COVID-19, the United Way said.

Of the people calling 211 last year, there were 70,000 first-time callers who never had to ask for help before the pandemic changed their situation, said Emily Aubele, the statewide quality assurance director for PA 211.

Now, more people are requesting new connections to mental health services and other health-related services as they suffer the effects of stress, trauma and social isolation, Aubele said. — Associated Press

Feb. 9, 2021 // 12:52 p.m.

For Third Straight Week, Pennsylvania’s Coronavirus Numbers Drop

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

For the third consecutive week, Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers have continued on a downward trend.

From Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, state health officials recorded 20,204 new coronavirus cases. That’s less than half the number officials recorded the second week of January, when the state had 43,921 new coronavirus cases.

Since then, the new number of cases dropped to 31,130 from Jan. 15-21 and then to 25,985 from Jan. 22-28.

For more than two months, all of the state’s 67 counties saw substantial spread of the coronavirus. Since then, eight counties have dropped from that category. Cameron County has been in the low spread category since Jan. 22. This week, Armstrong, Bedford, Cambria, Elk, Indiana, Westmoreland, and Wyoming are classified as having moderate spread.

Last week, Clarion, Indiana, and Tioga counties were in the moderate spread category, but Clarion and Indiana are back into the substantial spread category.

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus-related deaths are also decreasing. After December had a total of 6,316 deaths, the number dropped to 4,455 in January. Data is still coming in from the end of the month, so that number could increase a bit. 

For 68 days, from Nov. 22 to Jan. 28, the state recorded at least 100 coronavirus-related deaths every day. That stretch is likely to extend a few more days, as officials continue to record data. But the seven-day average has decreased from 223 on Dec. 24 to 112 on Jan. 29. 

During the spring peak, the state record 26 consecutive days with 100 or more coronavirus-related deaths. — Patrick Abdalla

Feb. 8, 2021 // 3:44 p.m.

Philadelphia Teachers Protest Reopening amid COVID-19 Fears

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers members and their supporters demonstrate outside Samuel Gompers Public School in Philadelphia, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. A mediator will decide if Philadelphia school teachers must return to their classrooms despite safety concerns as the district plans to resume in-person instruction later this month. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA — A mediator will decide if Philadelphia teachers must return to their classrooms despite safety concerns as the district plans to resume some in-person instruction later this month.

Teachers and staff protesting outside their buildings Monday said they feared the ventilation systems in the city’s aging schools were not sufficient to address the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The school district had ordered lower-grade teachers to report to their schools Monday, but then backed off the mandate while a mediator reviewed issues raised by the teachers union. The district has about 120,000 students in 215 district-operated schools, and another 80,000 students in charter, cyber and alternative schools.

“We do want to work. We do want to come back, but we want to come back safely. That’s all we’re asking for,” said Elanda Tolliver, a paraprofessional at Samuel Gompers Elementary School who has worked for the district for 34 years.

Superintendent William Hite wants to offer students who have been learning remotely for nearly a year because of the pandemic a chance to return to school Feb. 22 under an optional hybrid instruction model. He said the district has enhanced its cleaning operations and identified ventilation problems, and will not open classrooms until needed improvements are made.

City Council Member Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who attended Gompers and has a child in kindergarten there, joined teachers and union officials protesting outside the school Monday. She is eager for schools to reopen, but said “today is not the day.”

She expressed concerns about the ventilation system and the lack of a comprehensive vaccine plan for school employees.

“We must have a vaccination plan,” Richardson said. “Where’s the vaccination plan for all of our teachers?” — Associated Press

Feb. 4, 2021 // 2:45 p.m.

Pennsylvania Has Administered More Than 1 Million Coronavirus Vaccine Doses

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania has administered more than 1.1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines as of Thursday, state health officials said.

Pennsylvania is one of only nine states to have reached 1 million vaccine doses administered, and the state has administered the fifth highest number of vaccine doses.

However, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in percent of coronavirus vaccine doses administered.

The state reached the million-dose milestone several days ago. Because there is a lag time in reporting the vaccinations, the state probably has had tens of thousands of more vaccinations already. Hospitals have up to 24 hours to notify the state of the doses it administers while pharmacies have a 72-hour window.

Of the 1.1 million vaccine doses counted so far, 880,861 were first doses of the vaccines, while another 229,922 were second doses.

Pennsylvania’s distribution efforts have been criticized recently, even by some in Gov. Tom Wolf’s own party. One scandal involved putting the responsibilities of a Philadelphia distribution site on the shoulders of a 22-year-old graduate student. Despite those struggles, Wolf has said his administration won’t transition to a centralized system for signups.

Distribution did increase dramatically in late January, with more than 50,000 doses being administered daily from Jan. 26-29. This week’s winter storm, which dumped more than a foot of snow on many parts of the state, seems to be hampering distribution. 

State health officials also reported 3,370 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 856,986. Another 146 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported. That brings the state’s total to 22,101 coronavirus-related deaths. — Patrick Abdalla

Feb. 2, 2021 // 3:20 p.m.

Pennsylvania’s New Coronavirus Cases Fell for the Second Straight Week

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Pennsylvania continues to see a drop in coronavirus numbers.

The state had 25,985 new coronavirus cases from Jan. 22-28, according to state health data. That was 5,823 fewer new coronavirus cases than were reported from Jan. 15-21.

It’s the second straight week that the number of new cases in a week dropped.

On Tuesday, the state reported 4,410 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 850,488 cases since March. It also reported 125 new coronavirus-related deaths, which brings the state’s total to 21,812.

The state appears to have turned a corner after the holiday season brought a high of new 12,799 cases on Dec. 10 and a record of 232 deaths on Dec. 22. The last month of 2020 included at least 281,111 new coronavirus cases and 6,301 coronavirus-related deaths.

While state health officials are still accumulating data about new cases and deaths in late January, that month’s totals so far are 196,897 new cases and 4,008 coronavirus deaths. That’s a decrease of roughly 30% and 35% respectively.  

Both numbers are the second highest totals of any month since the pandemic began.

State health officials are also reporting some rural counties in western Pennsylvania are seeing less spread of the coronavirus. After eight weeks in which state officials reported every county having substantial spread, they have classified several counties as having lower levels. 

Last week, Cameron County became the first county to fall out of the category. It remained in low spread this week. Three other counties—Clarion, Indiana, Tioga—have fallen to moderate spread. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 29, 2021 // 3:05 p.m.

Backlogged Tests Sparks Report of High Number of New Coronavirus Cases

The number of new coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania has been declining for weeks, so Friday’s report of 9,643 new cases was startling. 

That’s more than 4,000 new cases above the average of the previous ten days.

However, health officials explained the sharp increase on Friday is mostly from cases that were more than a week old.

“Note that case counts today include backlogged antigen testing data from urgent care centers; 4,052 of today’s newly identified cases had their specimens collected over a week ago,” the Department of Health said in a press release. “We will continue to report on backlogged data from urgent care centers over the next couple days.”

The numbers now bring the state’s total of people who have tested positive for coronavirus to 834,048.

With Friday’s addition of 159 new deaths, 21,462 people have died from coronavirus-related symptoms in the state.

Both deaths and cases have been decreasing steadily.

The 7-day average of new cases dropped from 10,356 on Dec. 13 to 5,853 on Jan. 19. The 7-day average of new deaths fell from a high of 221 on Dec. 24 to 148 on Jan. 16. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 27, 2021 // 2:10 p.m.

Pennsylvania Senate OKs $912M Pandemic Recovery Aid Bill

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation to distribute just over $900 million to aid schools and hospitality-related businesses hit hard by the coronavirus, as well as people struggling to pay rent or utility bills.

The bill still requires approval from the state House of Representatives and Gov. Tom Wolf.

Most of the $912 million being directed by the bill is federal aid approved by Congress in last month’s coronavirus recovery package.

Some of it, $145 million, is reserve cash from a worker’s compensation fund that Wolf last month had asked lawmakers to send to businesses hit hard by the pandemic. The money would be available through counties in grants of up to $50,000 for bars, restaurants and hotels.

The majority of the money, $570 million, would be divided up to counties based on population to help people struggling to pay rent or utilities. Landlords and tenants would be eligible to apply.

The rest of the money, $197 million, would be distributed to educational institutions that did not get a cut of the $2.2 billion in federal coronavirus aid that public schools and charter schools are receiving under last month’s federal coronavirus recovery package.

Most of it would go to private schools. — Associated Press

Jan. 26, 2021 // 1:35 p.m.

The Latest Coronavirus Numbers

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Jan. 25, 2021 // 2:05 p.m.

Pennsylvania No Longer Has Substantial Coronavirus Transmission In Every County

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Courtesy of Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau)

For the first time in six weeks, a Pennsylvania county—Cameron—doesn’t have substantial levels of coronavirus transmission, according to state health data.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the news is a great sign.

“But there is still more work for us to do and we must not become complacent,” Wolf said in a written statement. “I believe we can keep up these best public health practices to continue to bring the transmission of COVID-19 down in our communities, keep each other safe, and move forward with rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Several of the numbers state officials use to track the spread of the coronavirus are trending in the right direction.

The number of new cases from Jan. 15-21 was 31,140—8,948 fewer than the previous week.

On Monday, state officials announced 7,910 new cases over two days. As recently as Jan. 12, the state had been averaging more than 8,000 cases every day for seven days.

Fewer Pennsylvanians are also in hospitals. On Monday, officials reported 3,910 Pennsylvanians were hospitalized. The last time the state had fewer hospitalizations was on Nov. 25.

Deaths from coronavirus-related issues have also been decreasing. More than 6,200 people died from coronavirus-related issues in December. So far this month, 2,910 people have died.

Cameron County, the state’s least populous county with 5,085 people, had 9 confirmed cases from Jan. 15-21 and 16 the week before. No emergency room visits were credited to coronavirus-related symptoms. 

Pennsylvania has administered 565,843 initial doses of the coronavirus vaccines and another 114,376 full doses. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 22, 2021 // 1:36 a.m.

Wolf to Nominate Deputy Chief of Staff to Replace Levine at Secretary of Health

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Flickr/Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to nominate Alison Beam to replace Dr. Rachel Levine as Secretary of the Department of Health and named Dr. Wendy Braund the Interim Acting Physician General.

Levine is leaving her post after being nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Health for the nation.

Beam is Wolf’s Deputy Chief of Staff and has helped coordinate the state’s coronavirus response, working with the departments of Health, Human Services, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Aging, and Insurance. 

Beam was also involved with the rollout of the state’s health insurance marketplace.

She graduated from Drexel School of Law and Pennsylvania State University.

Braund is the COVID-19 Response Director for the Department of Health. Before that, she was Director of the Center for Public Health Practice, Associate Dean for Practice, and a professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. 

She has degrees from Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, and the Pennsylvania State University. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 21, 2021 // 10:01 a.m.

Wolf: Child Care Workers Eligible For $600 Grants

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
People, standing several feet of distance from each other wait in line to receive donated food and educational materials at the John H. Webster Elementary School in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 26, 2020. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration reported more coronavirus-related deaths in Pennsylvania on Wednesday. Residents are ordered to stay home, with few exceptions. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG — Employees of licensed child care facilities in Pennsylvania will be eligible for a one-time, $600 grant to reward them for providing a valuable service through the pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Wednesday.

Wolf’s administration said the money is coming from a federal government program that subsidizes child care costs and leftover money initially targeted for child care providers in coronavirus relief aid legislation approved last spring by Congress.

About $20 million is available, and could provide grants to as many as 33,000 child care workers, the administration said.

Eligible employees must have been employed by a licensed child care provider on Jan. 1, earn a gross salary of no more than $70,000 and work a minimum of 20 hours per week at the child care facility.

It will replace this year’s grants from a program designed to boost the pay of highly qualified early childhood education teachers. That program previously provided payments of about $1,000 to $3,000 to approximately 9,000 child care employees, the administration said.

The grants will be made available through the child care facilities, the administration said. Applications must be submitted to local early learning resource centers and issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pennsylvania last year distributed $220 million in federal coronavirus aid to child care facilities hit hard by the pandemic, and expects to receive a share of an additional $10 billion in emergency pandemic aid approved by Congress last month to support child care. — Associated Press

Jan. 20, 2021 // 4:43 p.m.

Pennsylvania Reports 400 New Coronavirus-Related Deaths; State Closes in on 20,000 Total

Pennsylvania health officials reported 401 new coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 19,868. 

While most of the deaths reported Wednesday, about 78%, occurred over the past 10 days, 113 of them are spread out from late December through Jan. 10.

Despite Wednesday’s high number of new cases, the state’s coronavirus numbers have been on a downward trajectory for most of the month so far.

Mid-December saw a peak of 12,788 new coronavirus cases on Dec 10. The state had at least 10,000 or more new cases nine times in the first 18 days of December. Since then, it has reached 10,000 just once. The seven-day average of new cases fell from a high of 10,600 cases on Dec. 15 to 6,894 on Jan. 15.

On Wednesday, state health officials reported 5,984 new coronavirus cases, bringing Pennsylvania’s total to 783,170 since the start of the pandemic.

The number of hospitalizations has fallen to 4,593, which is down from more than 6,000 just two weeks ago. 

The number of deaths has also been dropping. 

From Dec. 9-31, the state averaged 208 coronavirus-related deaths a day. The state had 200 or more deaths 19 times in the month. So far, January has had just one day above 175. The seven-day average fell from 219 on Dec. 24 to 162 on Jan. 8.  — Patrick Abdalla 

Jan. 19, 2021 // 4:29 p.m.

Pennsylvania Makes More Residents Eligible for the Vaccine, but Needs More Doses from the Federal Government

Pennsylvania has opened up coronavirus vaccinations for people 65 and older and people who are 14 to 65 with chronic illnesses. 

The state has a page on its website that will help Pennsylvanians find out if they’re eligible and where they can get their doses.

“If it is your turn to get vaccinated now, you will go to our interactive map to find a vaccine provider near you, then you will schedule an appointment with a vaccine provider near you,” said Cindy Findley, the Deputy Secretary of Health who heads the state’s vaccine task force.

The change follows the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, which the state has followed throughout the vaccine rollout. 

Findley said this move allows the state to get the most vulnerable people 

Now the state has to grapple with the issue of supply and demand. 

“We’re basically at the mercy of how much vaccine we receive,” Findley said. 

That’s an issue that grew more stark last week when several officials from different states reported that they had been told the national reserve of vaccines had been exhausted. 

“It is extremely troubling and disappointing to learn that Pennsylvanians who want and need the COVID-19 vaccines will have to wait even longer because Operation Warp Speed does not have the vaccine reserves that just this week HHS promised to release to us,” said Department of Health spokesman Barry Ciccocioppo in an email on Friday.

The federal government had planned on using those reserves as the second doses, but President-elect Joe Biden wanted all of the doses released. 

Findley asked Pennsylvanians to be patient while the state awaits the federal government’s allotments.

“It will be challenging because we haven’t received additional vaccine doses,” Findley said.

Residents will also soon have more places to get the vaccine, such as Rite Aid pharmacies.

“That gives us a wider reach across the state,” Findley said. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 14, 2021 // 4:15 p.m.

8% of Those Vaccinated in PA Live Outside the State

A total of 321,404 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Pennsylvania as of Thursday. And a little more than 8% of those have gone into the arms of people who live outside the state.

Approximately 26,982 initial doses were given to people who live outside of the state. Those people typically include healthcare and other essential employees who work in Pennsylvania, officials with the state Department of Health said. 

Other states are doing the same thing, state health officials said. So that means local residents who are essential workers employed in another state are getting that state’s allotted doses.

New Jersey has administered a total of 287,840 vaccine doses. Of those, 14,269 went to out-of-state residents.

Ohio has given out 338,778 doses so far, and 10,664 of those were non-state residents. — Ashley Adams

Jan. 13, 2021 // 3:05 p.m.

Aid Runs Out for Key Pennsylvania Virus Containment Program

HARRISBURG — Wolf administration officials said Wednesday the state does not have the money to maintain a key feature of its response to coronavirus outbreaks in Pennsylvania’s nursing homes, and are working to retain a short-term, scaled-down model now that federal funding ran out.

Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller told reporters that the Wolf administration is running a scaled-down version of a program that distributed $175 million in federal coronavirus aid to 11 regional health systems or health organizations to help contain outbreaks in nursing homes.

Miller said the partnership had helped save lives in the state’s roughly 2,000 long-term care facilities, and that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration will keep asking the federal government for more money to continue the program.

In the meantime, the state is using up to $6 million through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to maintain rapid response services through Feb. 28 and another $28 million over the coming months to support testing, officials said.

One key difference will be the duration and size of a response involving staffing support, said Keara Klinepeter, a Department of Health official.

Fewer support staff would be deployed and they would stay for three to five days, rather than periods of more like two weeks under the federally funded program, Klinepeter said.

More than 740,000 people have tested positive in Pennsylvania and more than 18,400 have died, including almost 10,000 in long-term care facilities, according to state data. — Associated Press

Jan. 13, 2021 // 2:59 p.m.

Pennsylvania Reports 349 New Coronavirus-Related Deaths

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 349 new coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 18,429.

While it is a large number to report in a single day, the weekly 7-day average continues to drop. On Dec. 24, it was 210. By Jan. 1, it had fallen to 175. 

That number is still high compared to the rest of the pandemic. The 7-day average was as low as 19.4 just 13 weeks ago.

Other numbers in the state are dropping. State health officials reported 7,619 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 741,389. 

The daily 7-day average of new cases is down from a high of 12,786 on Dec. 10 to 7,159 Wednesday.The number of Pennsylvanians hospitalized with coronavirus is also dropping. Wednesday morning, 5,204 people were in hospitals, which is down almost 1,000 from December, but still nearly double the spring peak. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 12, 2021 // 2:45 p.m.

More than 18,000 Pennsylvanians Have Died From Coronavirus-Related Issues

With 227 new deaths reported Tuesday, 18,080 Pennsylvanians have died from coronavirus-related issues.

Most of those deaths have occurred in the last three months. November, December, and January account for 50.2% of the state’s deaths since the first coronavirus case in Pennsylvania was recorded on March 18.

December was the worst month since the pandemic began, with 5,911 deaths and a 7-day average peak at 207 on Dec. 24. The average dropped to 162 on Jan. 2, though that number could go up slightly as deaths are still being recorded and reported.

While Pennsylvania is the fifth most populous state, it has the seventh most deaths. Two of its neighbors, New York and New Jersey, are among the states with more deaths. They were the epicenters of the spring outbreak.

State health officials also reported new 7,275 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, for a total of 733,429 cases since the pandemic began. 

The new case numbers have dropped significantly in the last few weeks, but are still much higher than they were in the spring and summer.

The state averaged more than 10,000 cases a day for much of mid-December, but currently has a 7-day average of 8,381.

State health officials also reported that 311,477 doses of the coronavirus vaccines have been administered. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 11, 2021 // 2:40 p.m.

Levine Still Concerned About Coronavirus Numbers as State Sees Small Improvement 

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers continue to improve slightly, but state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine is still concerned about a holiday surge.

Health officials announced 7,506 cases on Sunday and 5,338 new cases Monday.

The state is averaging fewer than 8,000 cases a day so far in January, which is a decrease from its average of 9,555 cases a day from Dec. 1-20.

However, state health officials aren’t  going to stop advocating for personal mitigation efforts, and they’re not about to roll back their mandates.

“We’re still very concerned about potential increases,” Levine said. It’s been only 11 days since  New Year’s Eve, so the numbers could still increase, depending on how many people got together. 

The state’s numbers remain far higher than the summer and early fall. As of Monday, 5,201 people were hospitalized with coronavirus-related symptoms. Of those people, 1,062 were in intensive care units, 640 of whom were on ventilators. 

The state reported 103 new coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday and 83 on Monday , bringing the state’s total to 17,853.

Levine also reported that 285,671 doses of the vaccine had been administered as of Monday morning. The state has received more than 827,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccines. Philadelphia is getting its own allotment of vaccines and so far as distributed at least 39,507 initial doses. 

Levine said there are three reasons for the difference between those numbers: The first is that some of those vaccines arrived late last week. The second is the lag time in reporting, particularly from long-term-care facilities, which can take up to 72 hours. The last is that it does take time to administer the vaccine because hospitals are still filled with patients. 

Another 138,000 vaccine doses are expected to arrive this week, Levine said.

Levine said the state expects to move into Phase 1B of its rollout “soon.”

Some people in Phase 1B have already been vaccinated because they were available when leftover doses weren’t used in some situations.

That is what should be done, Levine said, if there are more vaccines than individuals willing to get them at a facility.

“We don’t want any vaccine wasted,” she said.

State officials also planned to add a map on Monday to the Department of Health website that will let medical professionals who do not work at a hospital or long-term care facility know where they can get their vaccine. 

“We are working to ensure that everyone who wants access to a COVID-19 vaccine will get it,” Levine said. — Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 5, 2021 // 2:25 p.m.

Pennsylvania Reports 8,818 New Coronavirus Cases

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported 8,818 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, with 8,052 of those cases being recorded on Monday, the largest number of new cases so far this year.

On Monday, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine explained that the numbers would be higher Tuesday because of maintenance done on the reporting system over the weekend.

The state’s numbers remain dramatically higher than they were for the first eight months of the pandemic. 

However, they have dropped since the peak in early and mid-December, when the state recorded more than 10,000 cases on nine different days and averaged 9,555 a day from Dec. 1-18.

Over the last two weeks, the state has averaged 7,307 new cases a day.

State health officials have also reported other promising numbers recently: The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus-related issues has dropped from more than 6,000 in mid-December to 5,630 Tuesday.

The state also reported 185 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the state’s total to 16,536. —Patrick Abdalla

Jan. 4, 2021 // 3:25 p.m.

Levine Optimistic Thanks to Additional Vaccines and Decreasing Case Numbers

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers aren’t good, but they’re getting better, and that led the state’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, to strike a positive tone Monday during her first news conference of the new year.

“I am very hopeful for the new year,” Levine said, “as we work to get every Pennsylvanian who wants to get a vaccine immunized.”

Levine also said Tuesday’s numbers could appear to be higher than Monday’s because the Department of Health did some maintenance on its database, which meant the numbers today and yesterday were abnormally low.

Officials reported 8,992 new coronavirus cases between Sunday and Monday. The state has now had 665,097 total cases statewide since the pandemic began. At least 16,361 people in Pennsylvania have died from coronavirus-related issues.

The state has 5,529 patients in hospitals, which is an increase of more than 5,400 since September.

“But the good news is this has started to come down a bit,” Levine said. “Our hospitals and health care centers continue to be significantly challenged, but they are maintaining excellent patient services and care. They need us now—more than ever—to follow the masking, social distancing, and hand-washing protocols that we have been stressing since the beginning of the pandemic.” 

The dropping numbers of new cases, combined with the additional vaccines arriving in the state, helped drive Levine’s optimism.

The state is scheduled to get 166,725 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. Of those, 97,500 are for the second dose, Levine said. Those doses will also include 39,000 for skilled nursing facilities. Levine said the state expects to receive around 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Levine said the number of vaccines delivered can change at any minute depending on the federal government and the manufacturers’ capabilities.

“This does make planning challenging,“ she said. She reiterated her belief that it will be several months until the general public is vaccinated.  

She also pointed out that the vaccination process isn’t just an assembly line at the hospitals. Hospitals can’t take resources away from patients just to get personnel vaccinated.

“Our healthcare heroes who are working to vaccinate critical healthcare personnel are also of course caring for patients who are currently in the hospital,” she said. 

She also addressed the news that some countries are having citizens just get one dose of the vaccine so the countries can vaccinate more people.

Levine said she prefers to follow the science, which points in the direction of two doses. If studies suggest a different approach, she said, they’ll need to follow where the science leads. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 30, 2020 // 1:15 p.m.

State Shuts Down 33 Restaurants that Were Defying Wolf’s Restrictions

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture shut down 33 restaurants last week that were open despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s mitigation efforts.

The department performed 381 inspections from Dec. 21-27, which resulted in the shutdowns, it said in a press release.

“Inspectors closed 33 restaurants by order after confirming that each was open for dine-in service and refused to comply with the order while the inspector was present,” the release said.

Eleven of those restaurants were in Lancaster County, according to the department’s website. Washington County, with three restaurants shut down, was the only other county with more than two closures. 

The governor ordered a three-week halt to indoor dining—among other restrictions—on Dec. 11. That order is scheduled to end Jan. 4.

On Dec. 23, with help from the Attorney General’s office, the department asked the Commonwealth Court to issue an injunction against 22 of the restaurants that continued to defy the governor’s orders. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 29, 2020 // 1:15 p.m.

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Receives Coronavirus Vaccine

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Patricia Cummings, Tuesday Dec. 29, 2020, at United Medical Center in southeast Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff received their first doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine Tuesday morning, according to news reports.

“That was easy…thank you. I barely felt it,” Harris said to nurse Patricia Cummings, who administered the vaccine at United Medical Center, the only public hospital in Washington, D.C.

President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose on Dec. 21.

The vaccine has been rolled out nationally this month. State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday that of the 70,000 Pennsylvanians who received their first doses, none have had negative side effects or allergic reactions.

Levine announced Monday that nursing homes are beginning to receive doses this week.

Front-line workers in the state have talked about their experiences with the vaccine. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 23, 2020 // 4:15 p.m.

Pennyslvania’s Health Department Revises Distribution Plans

Roughly 41,000 of the more than 900,000 healthcare workers in Pennsylvania have already received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Wednesday.

In addition to vaccinating their own front-line staff, Levine said, hospitals are also responsible for administering doses to other healthcare workers in the local community not affiliated with the hospital, such as emergency medical services workers, private providers, home healthcare aids, and others. Levine said hospitals have been instructed to reach out to those agencies and facilities to begin coordinating vaccination efforts.

It is still unclear how long it will take for everyone in Pennsylvania who needs and wants to be vaccinated to get the vaccine. Levine said the timetable is dependent on the number of doses Pennsylvania receives from the federal government.

“We don’t control how many vaccines we get each week,” Levine said. 

The number of vaccine doses the state gets each week will determine how quickly it can move through each phase of distribution.

“It is important for all of us over the holidays—Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s—to avoid large and small gatherings, and stay at home and be with our families remotely. I know that that’s a tremendous sacrifice, but that’s what we need to do to stop the spread and make sure we don’t have another rebound in January.”

The state will receive 30,225 Pfizer doses this week, all of which will go to healthcare facilities. Moderna doses will be sent to more rural hospitals in the state, which do not have the ultra-cold freezer capacity the Pfizer vaccine requires.

Levine said the state continues to work on plans to distribute the vaccine to priority groups. Staff and residents of long-term care facilities will start receiving vaccines next week through a partnership between the federal government, CVS, and Walgreens.

The state is also revising its distribution plan to give priority to people over the age of 75, front-line essential workers, and inmates and staff of correctional institutions, per new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. — Ashley Adams

Dec. 23, 2020 // 12:20 p.m.

Wolf Wants to Give $145M to Businesses But He’ll Need the Legislature’s Help To Make It Happen

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to give $145 million to state businesses that have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

But to do it, he needs help from the Legislature.

Wolf on Wednesday proposed taking the money from the Insurance Department’s Worker’s Compensation Security Fund and transferring it to the state’s General Fund. Wolf will need the Republican-led legislature to agree to the decision.

He urged the GOP to work with him to help the state’s small businesses.

“Business owners and their employees have worked hard to protect their customers and their communities throughout this pandemic,” Wolf said. “I want to thank all of those in these industries that have prioritized health and safety despite the clear hardship of the past several months.”

Wolf said the state Legislature would decide how to spend the money, but he wanted it to go to businesses most in need; he repeatedly referenced restaurants and bars.

“The nature of this insidious disease is not the fault of the business owners and they should not have to weather this storm on their own,” he said. “We can and we must do more to support them.”

Wolf, who instituted new mitigation measures that will last until Jan. 4, said he doesn’t plan on changing those efforts. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 22, 2020 // 5:20 p.m.

PA Hopes a New Online Tool Helps in Contract-Tracing Efforts

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
A person wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walks past holiday decorations at City Hall, Dec. 8, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Pennsylvania has struggled to keep up with contact tracing as the fall’s coronavirus surge has led to as many as 10,000 new cases a day. The state Department of Health is implementing a new online system to help address that problem.

Special Assistant Lindsey Mauldin explained Tuesday that the new system begins with a phone call to people between the ages of 18 and 64 who have tested positive and live in counties with their own health departments. Tracers will get those individuals’ email addresses and send them the “Connect and Protect” form. 

She said the new approach is already having some success. On Monday, she said, the tracers reached out to 284 people, 52% of whom responded to the email.   

Mauldin said the form takes only minutes to fill out. She said the form could save time for both residents and investigators.

For months, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has pleaded with Pennsylvanians who contract the virus to respond to case investigators.

The virus’ exponential spread in Pennsylvania meant the state went from never having more than 3,000 cases on Nov. 4 to having nearly 13,000 on Dec. 10.

The state announced 7,416 new cases Tuesday, the third consecutive day of fewer than 8,000.

Since the virus first appeared in Pennsylvania in March, 571,551 Pennsylvanians have contracted the virus and at least 14,212 have died from coronavirus-related issues. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 21, 2020 // 5:01 p.m.

Pennsylvania’s Coronavirus Numbers Leveling; Levine Still Concerned About Spikes

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus numbers appear to be plateauing, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday morning. That doesn’t mean it’s time to party quite yet, however. 

Levine cautioned against large and small gatherings, and said we don’t know if the plateau is a long-term trend.

“Right now, the challenges still remain,” Levine said. “Next year at this time, things will look so much better, but please stay the course.”

Until then, Pennsylvanians must continue to sacrifice, she said, by not dining inside restaurants, going to gyms, or patronizing other entertainment venues. Levine has repeatedly admitted it’s hard to ask Pennsylvanians not to celebrate the holidays, but that those celebrations could lead to spikes.

“As we approach the holiday season, we cannot let our guard down,” she said.

Levine said 7,745 new coronavirus cases were reported Monday and 7,355 cases were reported Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 563,589.

According to the state’s Open Data website, seven of the first 11 days of the month included 10,000 or more new cases, including a high of 12,777 on Dec. 10. Only two of the most recent nine days have reached that mark. 

While all of the state’s 67 counties continue to have substantial spread, the state’s percent of positive tests has dropped for the first time in weeks, from 16.2 to 15.8.

The increase in the number of new cases over the past seven days also dropped. From Dec. 10-17, the state had an increase of 57,098, which is down from the previous 7-day increase of 61,469. 

Hospitalizations are still double the spring peak. The state Department of Health reported 6,074 people hospitalized with coronavirus-related issues. Of those, 1,230 are in intensive care units. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 21, 2020 // 4:06 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases Among Children Remains Low, but Growing

While health experts have said that the coronavirus primarily affects the elderly, it also has affected children and adolescents.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine reported Monday that 44,290 confirmed cases have been in children between the ages of 5 and 18. That’s roughly 7.8% of cases since the pandemic began. 

Levine said she is “very concerned” about the effects of the virus on that age group.

“Children can get quite sick from coronavirus,” she said.

Of the 44,290 cases among that age group, around 11,942 (roughly 27%) came in the past two weeks. The previous two-week period produced 8,606 cases (roughly 19%) in that age group.

That means 46% of cases in that age group have been counted since Nov. 20.

Levine said the spread in that age group can come from going to school in-person, participating in sports or extracurricular clubs, or attending events like birthday parties. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 21, 2020 // 3:13 p.m.

Levine: Nearly 200,000 Moderna Vaccine Doses Coming to Pennsylvania

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
A vial of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Hartford Hospital, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Nearly 200,000 doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine will arrive in Pennsylvania this week, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday morning.

Last week, 97,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were delivered to the state, 17,700 of which Levine said have already been given to front-line workers. The remaining 79,800 doses, which arrived late last week, are being distributed this week.

Levine also said that an additional 30,225 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are being delivered to the state this week, along with 198,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Next week, federal officials plan to begin distribution of the Pfizer vaccine to patients and personnel in nursing homes, Levine said.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Levine said. “We have now two safe and effective vaccines that are being rolled out as we speak.”

While the vaccine news is good, Levine also reminded people they can’t let up on their personal and communal efforts to avoid spreading the virus, which has infected more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians. 

“Until everyone can get vaccinated, we need people to stand united,” she said. 

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered gyms to close and restaurants to stop serving food indoors, among other restrictions, until Jan. 4.

Levine said those mitigation measures are part of efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Levine also addressed the reports of a mutated strain of the virus in the United Kingdom, saying she is monitoring it. 

It isn’t something “that I think the people of Pennsylvania have to worry about at this time,” she said. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 17, 2020 // 5:15 p.m.

Pennsylvania Reports 9,320 New Coronavirus Cases Friday, 538,655 since Pandemic Began

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported 9,320 new coronavirus cases and 216 new coronavirus-related deaths on Friday. 

Those numbers are significant drops from the middle of the week, but still higher than on Monday. 

The 6,209 people hospitalized for coronavirus-related issues on Friday is the lowest number since Tuesday. Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration started new mitigation efforts last week in hopes of bringing down the number of people who need to be hospitalized. It’s too early to tell if Friday’s numbers are a long-term trend.

On Thursday, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the efforts were still needed to get the state through the Christmas season and keep the numbers from increasing the way they did after Thanksgiving.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 538,655 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive for the virus and 13,608 have died from coronavirus-related issues. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 17, 2020 // 5:15 p.m.

Levine: State is Ready to Remind People to Get Second Dose of Vaccines

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine talked on Thursday about how state officials will help ensure Pennsylvanians get their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

At least the first two coronavirus vaccines will be distributed in two doses.

Levine said three groups—whomever administers the vaccine, the department of health, and the federal government—will work to ensure people get their second dose.

“It’s a critical process,” Levine said. “We have a whole system arranged for people in terms of reminders that they get their second dose.”

People should get a card when they get their first dose with a reminder for when they should return for their second dose.

If people don’t get their second dose, Levine said, the state will attempt to contact them.

The Pfizer vaccine, which is already being distributed, requires a second dose to be administered three weeks after the first. The Moderna vaccine, which was expected to be approved for emergency use authorization Thursday, requires a second dose four weeks after the first.

Many vaccines, such as MMR for measles, mumps, and rubella, require two doses. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained the importance of the second dose on CNN.

“What you have is you get some degree, not optimal, but some degree of immunity a couple of weeks after the first dose,” Fauci said. “That’s not optimal. After the second dose, you get optimal immunity anywhere from seven to 10 days after the second dose.”

CBS reported that if too many people don’t get the second dose, the virus could become resistant to the vaccine.

CBS interviewed David Kennedy, a Penn State professor who studies how viruses can mutate, who explained viral resistance.

“The more individuals who have one dose of these vaccines, the more concerned I would be,” Kennedy said.

Operation Warp Speed is keeping the second doses in storage while the original doses are being handed out.

Levine also said that people who have had the virus should get the vaccine because research has not proven that the immunity lasts more than a couple of months. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 16, 2020 // 3:55 p.m.

Pennsylvania Adds 10,049 New Coronavirus Cases, 278 Deaths

Pennsylvania added another 10,049 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing its total to 519,369.

The state also reported 278 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing that total to 13,168.

While Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state, it has the eighth most coronavirus cases and seventh most deaths, according to data collected by The New York Times.

The number of Pennsylvanians in intensive care unit beds with coronavirus-related issues is 6,295—more than double the spring peak. 

The state Department of Health reports that 16,904 healthcare workers have been infected with coronavirus since the pandemic began.

The state has implemented new mitigation efforts for three weeks in hopes of curbing the spread of the virus.

For much of November, the Centers for Disease Control, Gov. Tom Wolf, and state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine implored Pennsylvanians to not travel for Thanksgiving, and to keep celebrations within one household.

It appears that Pennsylvanians did not follow that guidance. In the weeks following Thanksgiving, however, the state has had seven days with 10,000 or more new cases. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 15, 2020 // 2:35 p.m.

Washington Will Cross the Delaware Virtually This Year

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
John Godzieba, as Gen. George Washington, center, addresses his troops during a re-enactment of Washington’s daring Christmas 1776 crossing of the Delaware River, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, in Washington Crossing, Pa. High winds scuttled the annual re-enactment of George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The coronavirus pandemic has done something King George could not: It’s forced Gen. George Washington to stand down.

The Delaware River Crossing reenactments held each year at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County will be replaced by prerecorded videos this year, park officials announced.

This would have been the 68th annual reenactment. 

“Because the reenactments require months of planning and coordination among hundreds of reenactors, park staff members, and volunteers, a decision had to be made well in advance,” the park’s website says. “We are as disappointed as you are that this much-loved annual event cannot be held in the usual manner this year.”

Fans can watch the video on the park’s Facebook page or YouTube page at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day.

On Christmas, Gen. George Washington led the Continental Army across the Delaware River during a winter storm to spring a surprise assault on the Hessians encamped in Trenton. The victory has been celebrated throughout American history, including in famous paintings.

The annual event draws thousands to the park. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 15, 2020 // 1:35 p.m.

Pennsylvania Is Eighth State to Top 500,000 Coronavirus Cases

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

With 9,956 new coronavirus cases reported Tuesday, 509,320 Pennsylvanians have had the virus.

To put that in perspective, Pennsylvania, the sixth most populous state, has the 8th most cases among the states, according to data from The New York Times.

Pennsylvania, with a population of 12.8 million, has more cases than several countries, including Canada (population 37.6 million) and Bangladesh (population 161 million) according to Johns Hopkins University.

The virus continues to surge across the state. State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said during a news conference on Monday that all 67 counties have substantial spread. Statewide, 16.2%  of tests came back positive from Dec. 4-10.

The fall surge has been brutal for Pennsylvania. More than 370,000 — or more than 70% — of the state’s cases have been reported since Sept. 1.

The state reported 270 new coronavirus-related deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 12,890 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses.

More than 6,000 people are hospitalized in Pennsylvania, which is double the spring’s peak. Of those, 1,249 are in intensive care units. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 11, 2020 // 1:35 p.m.

Pennsylvania Adds 12,745 New Coronavirus Cases Friday

Pennsylvania announced 12,745 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the state’s total to 470,034 since the pandemic began.

The Department of Health also reported 225 new coronavirus-related deaths. At least 12,235 people have died from the virus to date.

The rising number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths lead Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to introduce new mitigation efforts on Thursday, including shutting down indoor dining at restaurants and imposing limits on the number of people who can attend indoor and outdoor gatherings.

December is proving to be another record month in the state. Just 11 days in, the state has already recorded 101,755 new cases, which is more than any month but November. It also already has more deaths, 857, than any month other than November, April and May. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 10, 2020 // 3:16 p.m.

More Than 12,000 Pennsylvanians Have Died From Coronavirus

Coronavirus-related deaths continue to surge in Pennsylvania, as the state announced 248 new deaths Thursday afternoon.

With those numbers, the state has seen an average of 119 people die each day from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3. Those numbers will likely grow as more deaths that occurred over the following days are still being reported. 

At least 12,010 Pennsylvanians have died from COVID-19 or coronavirus-related illness.

State health officials also announced 11,972 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 457,289.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Thursday to encourage Pennsylvanians to stay vigilant and take precautions. 

Yesterday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced he had tested positive for the virus. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 9, 2020 // 11:05 a.m.

Nine Days In, December Becomes Second Worst Month for New Coronavirus Cases in PA This Year

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
(Keystone Graphic/Rebecca Russ)

Pennsylvania saw more new coronavirus cases in the first six days of December than it did in any full month of the pandemic other than November.

December already has 58,230 new coronavirus cases, which is 8,168 more new coronavirus cases than all of October, according to state data. It trails only November, which had 157,550 coronavirus cases.

If the current rate of infection continues, the state will pass November’s total by Dec. 17. But it will probably do so much sooner, since positive cases are still being reported for the first six days of the month.

The number state officials continue to be concerned about is hospitalizations. As of Tuesday evening, 5,561 people—close to double the high point in the spring—were hospitalized with coronavirus-related illness in the state. 

The number of hospitalizations has followed the trajectory of the number of new cases throughout much of the pandemic. The three days with the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began are Dec. 2-4, so if that data follows its regular trends, the number of hospitalizations will continue to go up.These trends are why Gov. Tom Wolf has grown more resolute in tone in recent days. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 8, 2020 // 2:00 p.m.

Pandemic Moves Philadelphia Flower Show Outside

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
A butterfly sits upon an arraignment during a preview of the “Flower Power” themed Philadelphia Flower Show at the at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, March 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flower Show, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event,” will move outside next year for the first time in its nearly 200-year history because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021 event will take place in FDR Park in south Philadelphia instead of downtown’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society announced Monday.

The show attracted 250,000 visitors in 2019.

The show is scheduled for June 5-13, but organizers are worried there is no timetable for the availability of a vaccine to curb the virus, which has seen recent spikes in the city.

“We are working closely with our colleagues at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and a host of planning experts including the Department of Public Health in Philadelphia to develop the Flower Show into a safe, beautiful, and extraordinary outdoor experience for everyone,” the society said. — Associated Press

Dec. 7, 2020 // 2:25 p.m.

Only One Pennsylvania County Doesn’t Have Substantial Spread of Coronavirus

For the second straight week, all but one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties has reached substantial spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration announced Monday. 

Cameron County, in northern Pennsylvania, was the only one left with a low transmission rate.

Pennsylvania’s rate of positive coronavirus tests rose to 14.4%, according to the Department of Health’s Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard. Pennsylvania has a rate of 380 cases out of every 100,000 people.

Several rural counties are being hit hard right now.

Nine counties had positivity rates above 20% from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3. Mifflin led the way with 29.87%. It was followed closely by Potter and Bedford with 28.9% and 28.4%, respectively.

The rest are Montour (25%), Juniata (24%), Somerset (22.4%), Tioga (22.2%), Franklin (21.2%), and Lawrence (20%).

Just four counties—Elk, McKean, Sullivan, and Susquehanna—have positivity rates below 10%. 

Three months ago, none of Pennsylvania’s counties were at 10%.

The Incident Rate is also alarming. Montour County has an incident rate of 1,831 cases for every 100,000 residents. 

No other county has a rate above 900, but 10 are above 500. They are Mifflin (874), Cambria (745.5), Potter (661.8), Blair (594.3), Clearfield (570.6), Franklin (560.6), Forest (535.8), Somerset (532.8), Toiga (522.5), Lycoming (502.4). — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 3, 2020 // 12:28 p.m.

Pennsylvania Shuts Capitol to Public as Coronavirus Cases Spike

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
In this Jan. 15, 2019, file photo an America flag flies at the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG — The Capitol complex in Harrisburg will close to the public until further notice because of a statewide surge in coronavirus infections, officials said Thursday.

The closure order takes effect Monday and will apply to all interior venues in the Capitol. Rallies, tours, choir performances, receptions, and other public gatherings will be canceled, the Department of General Services said.

The governor’s office and General Assembly will continue to operate, with access limited to employees and others with credentials, the agency said.

The Capitol is closing amid sharp increases in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths statewide and across the nation.

Pennsylvania is averaging 6,800 new virus cases per day, up 23% in two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project.

Hospitals are coping with a surge in COVID-19 patients, with more than 80% of the state’s ICU beds now occupied. Deaths in Pennsylvania have more than doubled since Nov. 18 to an average of 94 per day. — Associated Press

Dec. 3, 2020 // 10:59 a.m.

PA COVID Deaths in November Matched the Previous 4 Months Combined

We’re starting to get a better picture of just how deadly November was: The numbers are still coming in, but at least 1,946 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded for the month.

That’s just 26 fewer coronavirus-related deaths than July, August, September, and October combined. It’s still below the April peak of 3,381.

The numbers continue to fluctuate a bit. When the state reports, for example, 30 new coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, that doesn’t mean 30 people died on Thursday. It means state health officials were notified about 30 new coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday. Those deaths might be spread out over several days. It is possible 10 came from Tuesday, 10 came from Monday, 5 came from Wednesday, and the rest are spread out over previous days.

So the newly reported coronavirus-related deaths over the next few days will likely include several deaths from late November. 

The state keeps track of daily coronavirus-related deaths on its OpenDataPA website.

That data has some grim numbers. So far, the data shows 100 people died from COVID-19 or coronavirus-related illness on Nov. 24; that number could increase as state health officials get more information. That’s the first time state health officials reported that many deaths in one day, since May 14, when the state reported 110 deaths. The spring saw 26 consecutive days with 100 or more deaths reported, including a high of 184 on April 25.

The 100 deaths on Nov. 24 weren’t a fluke. More than 90 deaths were recorded each day on Nov. 16, 19, 23, and 25. 

It’s been a week since Thanksgiving. It’s still too early to tell how much family get-togethers, which health officials discouraged, will contribute to a further surge in numbers. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 2, 2020 // 12:11 p.m.

Virus Testing ‘Strike Teams’ to Fan Out Across Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG — Regional “strike teams” will fan out across Pennsylvania over the next 12 weeks in a bid to improve the state’s coronavirus testing efforts, the governor announced Tuesday, as health officials anticipated a post-Thanksgiving surge in new cases.

The Department of Health is expanding an existing contract with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, which will dedicate five virus testing teams to the new effort. Each week, the teams will operate temporary testing sites in counties identified as virus hot spots, eventually making it to every Pennsylvania county that doesn’t have its own health department.

“Our goal is to ensure that everyone who needs a test in Pennsylvania can get one,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at a news conference Tuesday.

Temporary sites are scheduled to open Wednesday in Bedford, Mifflin, Tioga and Northampton counties, with another one opening Friday in Butler County. All five counties have seen rapid transmission of the virus.

Pennsylvania is reporting an average of 6,700 new confirmed infections and 73 deaths per day, both up sharply over the past two weeks, according to AP analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. Statewide hospitalizations have more than tripled since the beginning of November, according to Department of Health data.

Michael Huff, the state’s director of testing and contact tracing, said the new testing sites will help health officials track the virus’ prevalence. He predicted “even greater spikes” in new cases in a week to 10 days, when the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings will begin to be felt.

The testing sites will be open to anyone who wants a test. The testing is free and no appointment is necessary. Each site will be able to test 450 people per day. — Associated Press

Dec. 1, 2020 // 1:01 p.m.

How Wolf Is Using These Grants to Help the Homeless

Several organizations across Pennsylvania will split $3 million in grants from CARES Act funding to serve the homeless communities in their areas this winter.

The grants are going to more than a dozen municipalities and organizations across 20 counties, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday. The funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The commonwealth received nearly $20 million in Emergency Solution Grant CARES Act funding, $3 million of which will go toward emergency winter shelter needs related to the pandemic. Officials will announce plans for the remaining $17 million in the spring.

The money can be used for programs concerning emergency shelters, temporary shelters, and street outreach.

The Erie region is getting more than $200,000 in funding.

Allegheny and Beaver counties, which includes the Pittsburgh area, will get about $1.3 million in grants for several organizations. Five organizations in Philadelphia will split $535,000.

The rest of the money will be split among organizations in Butler, Dauphin, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Schuylkill, Venango, and York counties. — Patrick Abdalla

Dec. 1, 2020 // 10:55 a.m.

Wolf Vetoes COVID-19 Liability Bill, Saying It Could Lead to ‘Careless’ Behavior

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s governor on Monday rejected a bill that would have made it harder to sue schools, health care providers and other businesses for coronavirus-related claims.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said the measure’s liability protections were so broad the legislation would have invited “the potential for carelessness and a disregard for public safety.”

The bill passed both chambers with mostly Republican support and Democratic opposition.

It would have applied to cases of exposure to the coronavirus during a governor-declared disaster emergency.

Supporters argued the pandemic should not impose on businesses and others expensive or even ruinous litigation. The bill had been supported by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

“It’s really a shame after all the governor has done to stand in the way of small business and devastate our economy he is once again blocking our attempt to do what needs to be done to help our businesses at this time,” state House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said.

Wolf’s veto message argued that with the pandemic spreading, it is not a good idea to be providing legal protections “for noncompliance or carelessness.” — Associated Press

Nov. 30, 2020 // 4:17 p.m.

Pennsylvania Won’t Force Schools to Go Virtual Despite Rising COVID Numbers

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Acting state Secretary of Education Noe Ortega speaks during a news conference on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (Screenshot)

HARRISBURG — Despite the rising numbers of coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations, including among children, the Wolf administration still does not plan to order schools to close.

“As we continue to honor local control,” acting state Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said, “we recognize that communities need to know that their schools are committed to the critical mitigation strategies.”

One mitigation strategy the state is implementing is expanding the use and capabilities of its COVID-19 Alert app, including allowing children between the ages of 13 and 17 to use the app.

For those students to use the app, their parents or guardians will have to give them permission.

The updated app, which is free, will include new information such as app compatibility with other states, where testing is available, and more data about the virus.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said there are currently no plans to require coronavirus vaccinations before attending class. She pointed out that the vaccines currently going through the approval process are meant for adults.

“There have not been adequate studies done to date on children,” Levine said. “We’ll wait and see what the science tells us.” — Patrick Abdalla

Nov. 24, 2020 // 5:34 p.m.

Wolf: Pennsylvania Could See More Than 22,000 New Coronavirus Cases a Day by December

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania could see more than 22,000 new coronavirus cases a day in December, Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted today.

Those numbers, which come from prediction models shared with Wolf’s administration, would represent a 300% increase in new coronavirus cases.

During the eight days from Nov. 14 to 21, the state averaged 6,258 cases a day. 

And those numbers are a significant increase from October, when the state had never seen more than 3,000 cases in a day. November has seen the first days with 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, and 7,000 new cases. — Patrick Abdalla

Nov. 19, 2020 // 2:54 p.m.

Levine Says Vaccines Could Be Available Within a Month

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Screenshot)

HARRISBURG — If the development of the coronavirus vaccines continues at its current pace, Pennsylvanians could begin seeing the vaccine within a month, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday.

“We could have vaccines within the next month,” Levine said. 

That is welcome news as the state—and nation—continue to reach record numbers of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

Read the full story here.

Nov. 19, 2020 // 9:28 a.m.

It Won’t Be Groundhog Day Again This Year in Punxsutawney

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
In this Feb. 2, 2020 file photo, Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 134th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney. The coronavirus pandemic means Groundhog Day won’t be the same in the Pennsylvania town long associated with a prognosticating rodent. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger, File)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The coronavirus pandemic means Groundhog Day won’t be the same in a Pennsylvania town long associated with a prognosticating rodent.

Organizers said Punxsutawney Phil will predict whether spring will come early or winter will last longer in 2021 without the usual crowds who gather at Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill just outside the town about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Phil and his inner circle on Feb. 2 will deliver the prediction virtually by means of a live internet steam and website, organizers said. “But it has been determined that there will not be any in person attendance or guests on the grounds as the potential Covid risks to overcome are too great,” they said.

Organizers will continue to monitor the pandemic.

“It is very unlikely, but it if it is determined that we can logistically and safety hold any in person activities related to Groundhog Day, we will make that information available if developed.”

The annual event has its origin in a German legend that says if a furry rodent casts a shadow on Feb. 2, winter continues. If not, spring comes early.

Records dating to 1887 show Phil has predicted longer winters more than 100 times. The 2020 forecast called for an early spring. —Associated Press

Nov. 19, 2020 // 9:18 a.m.

Gov. Wolf to Colleges: Test Students for Coronavirus Before Holiday Break

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
A man and a woman wearing masks walk near the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Pennsylvania is strengthening its mask mandate and will require out-of-state travelers to test negative for the coronavirus before arrival. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf joined six other northeastern state governors in asking residential colleges and universities to test their students for coronavirus before they travel home for the holidays.

They asked any student who tests positive to quarantine on campus before they go home. 

“These efforts will help mitigate the threat of college students returning home for the holidays importing COVID-19 into their communities,” the governors said in a joint statement.

“The combination of rising cases across the country—including in the northeast,” the statement says, “due to increased transmission of COVID in small, residential settings and Thanksgiving travel has created the perfect storm for viral spread. If people proceed with celebrations in small gatherings outside of their immediate families, they risk generating a dramatic spike in cases after Thanksgiving.” 

The governors also recommend the universities finish their fall semesters by expanding virtual learning.

If students do return to campus, they should be tested, the governors said.

“Colleges and universities should prioritize on-campus programs for students who did not travel or who need in-person exams or clinical and laboratory experiences,” the governors said.

The governors making the statement include Wolf, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. — Patrick Abdalla

Nov. 18, 2020 // 5:12 p.m.

Pennsylvania Has 3.8 Million Rapid Coronavirus Tests to Use

COVID Blog: Tracking the Spread and Impact of Coronavirus in PA
Michael Huff, the director of testing and contact tracing for the state government, speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Screenshot)

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is distributing millions of rapid coronavirus tests it received from the federal government to vulnerable communities in counties with substantial spread of the virus.

State officials expect to get—and distribute—3.8 million tests before the end of the year.

Michael Huff, the director of testing and contact tracing for the state government, said the tests are one important way to get the virus under control. Quick test results allow those who test negative to go back to their normal coronavirus routines, while quick positive tests allow the contact tracing process to begin.

The tests are allotted to the state on a per-capita basis weekly by the federal government. The state started getting them in October and will continue to get them through December.

Huff said the state has gotten better at getting results back to patients in a quicker time than it did in the spring. 

He admitted that some delays can occur. They can arise because of issues in the supply chain, like having enough plastic casings or chemical reagents that are used in the testing process.

Other mitigation issues like mask-wearing and social distancing are also crucial.

“If we can keep individuals away from other individuals if they have the disease and have no symptoms, we can control the spread,” he said.

He talked about another tool that could help in the fight against the pandemic: The Food and Drug Administration has approved rapid home tests that will soon become available. The tests will only be available by doctor’s orders and for people who are symptomatic.

“We’re very anxious to have that as another tool in our tool kit,” Huff said.

Huff reinforced the personal responsibility rhetoric regularly repeated by Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

“Public health controls are only as effective as the public is willing to carry them out,” he said. — Patrick Abdalla

Nov. 18, 2020 // 12:32 p.m.

Why Hundreds of Nurses Just Went on Strike at a Bucks County Hospital

LANGHORNE — Hundreds of nurses have gone on strike at a Bucks County hospital, citing low staffing levels amid rising coronavirus cases.

The walkout that began at 7 a.m. Tuesday involves the 700-plus registered nurses at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne and their allies in the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, the union they joined last fall.

The nurses said the main issue is low staffing due to low wages, and they fear the situation will only grow more dire as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise this winter.

“Nurses are literally fleeing to other hospitals 20 minutes away where they can make $6 to $7 more an hour,” nurse Kathy McKamey, who’s worked at St. Mary for 10 years, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Trinity Health, the Catholic health system that owns St. Mary, said in a statement that it will hire “qualified, professional agency nurses” during the strike so that the hospital can remain open.

Officials said the union rejected a compensation offer that it called “very competitive for nurses working in Bucks County” while also taking into account the financial impact of the pandemic. They criticized the nurses for striking “when the country and our local community contend with a COVID-19 surge.” — Associated Press


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