Wolf calls for large public gatherings to be called off

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference announcing another positive case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's hospital system is not challenged at the moment by a recent rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and the Department of Health is not considering any new restrictions at the moment, Gov. Tom Wolf’s top health official said Monday.

Dr. Rachel Levine, Wolf's health secretary, spoke after her department last week discussed imposing restrictions in some southwestern counties, while Allegheny County has taken its own action, including shutting down eating and drinking inside bars and restaurants, to contain the spread.

But, Levine said, the department decided to hold off while it watches the day-to-day case counts.

Still, Levine warned that a cycle previously seen in Pennsylvania and other states is now repeating here: a growing proportion of people infected with the coronavirus are younger, between 19 to 49 years old, a step that preceded the virus getting into congregate care settings, like nursing homes.

To prevent that, Levine urged Pennsylvanians to wear a mask out in public, make choices to be safe and avoid certain activities, or adapt them, to help stop the spread. The Wolf administration has ordered people to wear masks in all businesses and in public places outdoors where social distancing is not possible.

“The hospital systems in Pennsylvania are not challenged,” Levine told a news conference. “We want to keep it that way.”

As part of that, the Department of Health is asking youth athletes to wear masks during competition, unless they are outdoors and can maintain 6 feet of distance between competitors on the field or court, Levine said.

While the state has seen an overall increase in the number of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, the rate of positive tests has gone down in the last few days, Levine said, citing the Department of Health's analysis.

However, the Department of Health said it also counts repeated negative tests on the same person as part of its rate. Counting those tests helps to reduce a positivity rate.

When calculating it based on the department's daily public disclosures of the number of people who are newly confirmed to be positive and the number of people who tested negative, the positivity rate has increased in recent weeks.

As testing becomes more widespread, an increase in the raw number of positive tests is to be expected. But if the virus is being brought under control, then the percentage of positive results relative to the total number of tests should be coming down.

The department on Monday said 328 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total closer to 96,000.

There were seven new deaths, for a statewide death toll of more than 6,900.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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