Officials Say PA Hasn’t Even Reached the Peak of Fall COVID Cases Yet

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine talks about the rising number of cases in Pennsylvania.

By Patrick Abdalla

November 9, 2020

Health Secretary says news of vaccine is good, but Pennsylvanians still have work to do.

While you were watching vote numbers last week, you might have missed some other important numbers: the state’s steadily climbing coronavirus numbers.

From Election Day to Thursday, at least 2,795 new Pennsylvanians had the virus. the state added 3,385 new cases on Friday, only to add 4,035 new cases on Saturday. Sunday saw another 2,909 new cases. On Monday, the state health department announced 3,402 new cases.

And while these numbers are high—even higher than they were during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring—state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said she didn’t think they were as high as they could get.

“I’m afraid I do not think we have peaked,“ she said.

The numbers from the last few days mean at least 234,296 Pennsylvanians have been infected with the virus this year. Of those people, 73% have recovered.

So far, 9,024 people in Pennsylvania have died from the virus—including 134 in the last five days.

As of Monday, 1,735 people in Pennsylvania are hospitalized with the virus, an increase of 500 in the last week.

RELATED: No, We Are Definitely Not ‘Rounding the Corner’ on the Coronavirus Pandemic

The virus is no longer just spreading in cities.

Fifty-two of the state’s 67 counties have a positivity rate above 5%. That’s 12 more counties than last week. Overall, the state has a 6% positivity rate, which is one point higher than last week.

The increase means Pennsylvania isn’t just seeing more cases because of more testing being done. The state has reached community spread, Levine said.

Levine could not say whether the election would further increase the number of new coronavirus cases in the state. Millions of people voted inside schools and other polling places. The virus has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days, so election-related cases won’t be evident until later this week or early next week.

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

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Restrictions and Shutdowns

While the state’s numbers are higher than they were in the spring, there is no plan for a general school shutdown, she said. That doesn’t mean the state won’t change some of its guidelines, however.

New Jersey, for example, wasis expected to announce new restrictions for indoor dining at bars and restaurants Monday. The Garden State will also begin restricting out-of-state travel for indoor scholastic athletic events.

Answer the Call

Pennsylvanians need to literally answer the call, Levine said. Not enough Pennsylvanians who catch the virus are doing so when contact tracers reach out. 

For example, only 21% answered the question about whether or not they had been to a business or small gathering. 

That data is important for the state to help understand how to curb the spread of  the virus.

“More and more people are not providing the information that we need,” Levine said. “I cannot stress enough how absolutely critical it is.”

Levine’s press conference touched on several other notable areas.

RELATED: PA Launches New Coronavirus Exposure Notification App

Stay at Home for the Holidays

Levine had a somber tone when the topic of the holidays came up. 

“We are asking people to not get together,” she said, saying people should “stay within your households.”

She admitted that isn’t easy news to hear.

“I know that’s really difficult,” she said.

However, the state’s data shows that small gatherings have been contributing to the spread of the virus.

New Vaccine Offers Hope

Early Monday morning, Pfizer announced it was testing a vaccine that was 90% effective against preventing COVID-19.

 “We don’t know exactly when we are going to see it, but it was very positive,” Levine said.

Levine explained that the company still has to complete its safety tests. After that, Pfizer will submit its data to the Food and Drug Administration for review.

“Our job comes when they say that’s done,” Levine said.

When that time comes, Levine said, “We stand ready to distribute and administer the vaccine.”She said there could be challenges because Pfizer’s version of the vaccine requires it to be kept extra cold, about -70 degrees celsius. 

“That poses challenges, but we’ve already reached out to hospitals,” she said. Hospitals will get the vaccine first, to distribute it to front-line workers.

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