Registered nurse Tara Skutack is one of the first Geisinger
front-line staff members to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Karen Nowicki, LPN, at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical
Center gave Skutack the first dose of the two-dose
vaccine. (Courtesy of Geisinger) Vaccine at Geisinger
Registered nurse Tara Skutack is one of the first Geisinger front-line staff members to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Karen Nowicki, LPN, at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center gave Skutack the first dose of the two-dose vaccine. (Courtesy of Geisinger)

The Secretary of Health also urged Pennsylvanians not to travel for Christmas.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that 1,205 front-line workers had been vaccinated by Thursday morning, and none of them reported any negative side effects.

Pennsylvania was expected to receive 97,500 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine this week, and Philadelphia will get another 13,650.

“This is great news, but the process has just started,” Levine said.

Levine explained that 16 hospitals so far have received the vaccine and the rest should get theirs today or tomorrow. 

More doses are expected to come next week. 

While she said this week’s snowstorm didn’t cause any delays, she said state officials and healthcare workers can only go as fast as the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed allows them. 

She asked Pennsylvanians to keep from thinking we’re out of harm’s way and remain patient.

“We are at the start of the road out of the pandemic,” she said. “The path is long and it will take time.”

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She said the current mitigation measures in effect until Jan. 4 are still necessary in helping stop the spread of the virus. Those efforts include shutting down indoor dining at restaurants, closing entertainment venues and gyms, and limiting the number of people who can attend indoor and outdoor gatherings.

She said the state is still seeing the effects of many people getting together for Thanksgiving.

In the 20 days of data since the holiday, the state has seen eight days with 10,000 or more new cases. Prior to the holiday, it had never recorded more than 8,363 cases in one day. 

The state announced 9,966 new coronavirus cases Thursday, as well as 224 new coronavirus-related deaths. Since the pandemic began, 529,335 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus and 13,392 have died from coronavirus-related illnesses.

According to the state’s data, more people (160,969) have tested positive for the virus this month than in any other month. More Pennsylvanians have tested positive this month than in the first seven months of the pandemic combined. 

The fall and winter surge is flooding hospitals.

“Our hospitals and our health systems in Pennsylvania are significantly challenged,” Levine said.

As of Thursday morning, 6,346 Pennsylvanians were hospitalized with coronavirus-related issues, Levine said. That number is more than double the spring peak. Of those in hospitals, 1,238 are in intensive care units and 745 are on ventilators.

She urged Pennsylvanians to be more vigilant as Christmas approaches.

“We all want this to be over,” Levine said. “We all want to celebrate the holidays together. But this year, we simply can’t.”

RELATED: Health Experts: Make Safe Choices During the Holidays

She asked the public to commit to wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and answering the phone when contact tracers call.

“I think it’s critical that people stay home,” Levine said.

She was asked about restaurants that are defying the administration’s orders and opening up their dining rooms. 

She said those owners are putting themselves, their employees, and their customers at risk.

Levine balanced her tone between sounding the alarm about behavior today and hope for tomorrow because of vaccine news. 

She said she expects the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control to move forward on approval of the Moderna vaccine. She reiterated her belief that the Moderna vaccine will help because it doesn’t have to be stored at as low a temperature as the Pfizer vaccine. 

She also said she was hopeful that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will progress through the process as well.

As the other vaccines are approved, more people will be vaccinated. But it’s not going to be a quick process to vaccinate all the Pennsylvanians who need to be vaccinated.

“This is really an enormous undertaking,” Levine said. “This is going to take time.”