COVID cases increasing in PA as feds warn of danger of new surge

A member of the Philadelphia Fire Department administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Philadelphia on Monday.

More than half of Pennsylvania’s counties — 35 of 67 — now have “substantial community spread of COVID-19 up from 25 a week ago -- one of several indications of the increase in new positive cases.

The state saw an increase of 10,101 cases reported Saturday through Monday. The Department of Health noted Monday that hospitalizations have begun to increase, as well.

The surge comes as federal officials have begun to warn that too many people are ceasing to take precautions to spread COVID-19 causing increases in cases across the country.

Monday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that she’s haunted by “an impending sense of doom” over the resurgence. “Right now, it’s scary,” she added.

Nationally, the number of new COVID cases is up 10 percent compared to the prior week, to about 60,000 new cases a day. Walnesky said that if the U.S. doesn't get the situation under control it could follow European countries into another spike in cases.

Later Monday, President Joe Biden issued a separate warning to states to reinstate mask mandates.

"People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing," Biden said.

“We know that cases sometimes can be a week or two behind the behaviors that lead to those cases, the mixing that leads to those cases,” Walensky said. “We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again,” she said.

Data on consumer movements collected from cell phones shows that the number of Pennsylvania residents who visited full-service restaurants hit its four-month high on March 20, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

That same research shows that more people have begun taking 3-6 hour trips and trips more than 6 hours away from home.

Rachel Moore, a spokeswoman for the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, said the hospital industry “is closely monitoring data trends related to COVID-19 cases.”

Moore said that the roll-out of vaccine provides a reason for optimism, that doesn’t mean people should stop following mitigation guidelines.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this month announced plans to loosen restrictions on restaurants and other large gatherings, but the state has kept its mask-wearing requirement in place.

“The warmer weather brings with it opportunities to be outdoors, but we must still unite against COVID-19 by wearing a mask" and social-distancing, Wolf said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

Pennsylvania reported more than 3,000 more new cases of COVID last week than it did the week before — 17,811 compared to 14,632 — according to Department of Health data.

The average daily number of people hospitalized with COVID increased from 1,479 to 1,633. By Monday, there were 1,856 hospitalized, according to the Department of Health -- well below the peak of about 6,000 hospitalized with COVID in December.

Pennsylvania this Sunday is set to relax restrictions on indoor dining and increase the permitted number of people allowed to attend indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced earlier this month that restaurants that have self-certified they are following safety guidelines will be able to serve at 75 percent of their normal capacity beginning on April 4, Easter Sunday.

Gyms and entertainment venues will also be allowed to increase the number of customers they serve to 75 percent of their normal capacity and the cap on indoor crowd sizes is being increased to 25 percent of the normal capacity of the venue. Outside gatherings will be allowed to increase to 50 percent the venue’s normal capacity, Wolf announced on March 15.

Monday, Beam visited a nursing home in Lancaster County to promote new guidance allowing visitors for nursing home residents.

"These measures will provide much-needed relief and hope for Pennsylvanians living in nursing homes, as well as their loved ones," Beam said.

Under the new guidance, nursing home visits are allowed regardless of whether the resident has been vaccinated if the community around the nursing home has limited COVID spread. Residents can't have visitors if they have COVID or if they are under quarantine, according to the Department of Health. Unvaccinated nursing home residents aren’t allowed visitors if the county where the nursing home is located has a percent positivity rate of greater than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of the nursing home’s residents are vaccinated, according to the Department of Health.

There are 16 counties — Susquehanna, Elk, Pike, Carbon, Monroe, Berks, Clinton, Wyoming, Schuylkill, Northampton, Lebanon, Perry, York, Bradford, Adams and Lehigh — in which more than 10 percent of COVID tests came back positive last week, according to state data. Susquehanna County had the highest test positivity rate at 17 percent last week. The statewide average was 7.6 percent.

If a nursing home has a new COVID case, it must stop visits "until at least one round of facility-wide testing is completed," according to the Department of Health guidance.

An analysis by the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia noted that as Walensky’s warning suggested, Pennsylvania’s increase in cases isn’t isolated.

“Since early March, hospitalizations have doubled in Michigan,” the CHOP analysis found, noting that “the largest growth in hospitalization has been among adults between 50-64 years of age.”

Closer to home, case numbers in Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast are expected to continue to increase.

“Case incidence and reproduction numbers in counties along the I-95 corridor between Washington and New York continue to increase, and our forecasts suggest these increases will continue over the next four weeks,” according to the CHOP analysis.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

 

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CNHI PA State Reporter

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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