Montco coronavirus cases disclosed as large Philly region events are cancelled and transparency concerns emerge

University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Union are among organizations canceling large-scale events in hopes of thwarting COVID-19’s spread. (Joe Mahoney/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP Photo)

University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Union are among organizations canceling large-scale events in hopes of thwarting COVID-19’s spread. (Joe Mahoney/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP Photo)

Two additional positive cases of coronavirus, involving patients from Montgomery County, were announced Saturday evening in a statement from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office. The new cases bring Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 count to four.

Both individuals have mild symptoms and are in self-isolation at their residences. They were “exposed to an area of the United States where COVID-19 is present,” according to the statement.

“Even with these new cases, I want to reassure Pennsylvanians that the commonwealth is prepared and responding appropriately and swiftly so that information and resources are available,” Wolf said.

The governor said that he has been working with state lawmakers from both parties, and that they have agreed to start working toward a package for resources “to ensure we are aggressively mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”

Those resources include supporting county and municipal health departments, securing necessary equipment and personnel, circulating public health messages, and supporting care for seniors, who are most at risk of serious health issues if infected with coronavirus.

With the coronavirus outbreak reaching the Philadelphia region, local universities, athletic leagues, and other institutions are taking extra precautions by canceling large-scale events.

The University of Pennsylvania has canceled its April “Quaker Days” events, which bring together thousands of students who were recently admitted from all over the world, Penn’s admissions office announced Saturday.

The Philadelphia Union has canceled its “Meet the Team” event scheduled for March 11 at Dave & Buster’s on Christopher Columbus Boulevard, on the advice of Major League Soccer officials.

The Philadelphia Phillies announced a temporary adjustment to their autograph policy in a statement released Saturday morning. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, the team will be distributing pre-signed baseballs and photo cards to fans seeking autographs, as per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

And starting Tuesday, Amtrak’s Acela nonstop service from New York to Washington, D.C., is suspended due to “reduced demand for our service.”

The other two positive COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania are in nearby Delaware County and in Wayne County in the northeastern part of the state. There are four cases in New Jersey, including one in Camden County. No confirmed cases from the state of Delaware have been reported.

Saturday afternoon, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and other state health officials offered an update after the announcement Friday night of the fourth presumptive coronavirus case there. A man in his 50s is hospitalized with COVID-19 at Englewood Hospital in Bergen County. Two other positive cases are also in Bergen County, with one in Camden County.

“We know these reports of positive tests can be worrisome to residents, but we do ask everyone to remain calm,” Oliver said. “Overall, the risk of the average New Jerseyan contracting coronavirus remains low.”

State health officials released the towns where the diagnosed individuals reside. The Camden County man lives in Cherry Hill, while two of the Bergen County patients live in Englewood and one lives in Fort Lee.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the outbreak in New Jersey is a “rapidly evolving situation.”

As of Saturday afternoon, the state had completed 29 tests, with only four of those coming back as presumptive positive. After being tested in a state lab, the results are sent to the CDC for confirmation.

Persichilli said four tests are in progress, with one in Union County, one in Mercer County, and two in Bergen County. Fifteen additional people are under investigation, meaning those individuals are exhibiting symptoms, have been in contact with a person with COVID-19, or show signs of pneumonia with unknown cause.

They’ll begin testing those individuals Saturday or Sunday, Persichilli said. Those under investigation include three people from Essex County, seven people from Bergen County, two from Morris County, one from Passaic County, and one from Camden County.

The state Health Department is working with officials in Passaic County in reference to a New York rabbi who held services last Monday in the county and was reported to test positive for COVID-19. Those results were confirmed Saturday morning. Anyone who has been in close contact with the rabbi should self-quarantine for 14 days from last contact, Persichilli said.

All four patients with positive cases in New Jersey are currently in stable condition, the health commissioner said. For the most part, the ways in which those individuals were exposed to the virus is still unknown and under investigation.

An exposure link has been identified for the Bergen County male resident in his 50s —  it is associated with a rabbi at Temple Young Israel synagogue in New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York, who tested positive for coronavirus. The Bergen County man was present at a service there on Feb. 23.

Westchester County has seen the highest number of positive cases of COVID-19 in New York state, with 35 cases as of Friday night. N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday as the number of cases soared Friday to 76 statewide.

Another Bergen County resident, who is stable at home under self-quarantine, was in close contact with a work colleague in New York City who tested positive for COVID-19. That colleague is a New York resident.

In Delaware County, meanwhile, officials held a Saturday afternoon briefing after Friday morning’s news of the first reported case in the Philadelphia region.

Delaware County officials signed an emergency declaration that will provide increased support and funding to local agencies and municipalities. They also held a call with county school superintendents, relaying guidance from the state health department and the CDC that districts do not need to close at this time. That decision ultimately can be decided by the individual districts.

Many schools in Delaware County are performing extra cleaning this weekend, to ensure they are as “germ-free as possible.” (In the Central Bucks School District in Bucks County, five schools closed this week due to community members’ exposure to a person with COVID-19.)

Fair Acres Geriatric Center, a nursing home in Media, has ended visitation amid concerns of coronavirus exposure to its elderly community, who are at higher risk of serious health issues if diagnosed with the virus. All new admissions, essential vendors for deliveries, and employees who have been traveling recently, will be screened for the virus.

Residents of the center are also required to stay on campus for now.

Delaware County officials said several inaccurate reports online about the exact town where the  woman diagnosed with COVID-19 lives stem from a Johns Hopkins University map showing coronavirus reports worldwide. When you zoom in on Delaware County, it shows South Media as the exact location.

Monica Taylor, vice chair of the County Council, said the location is aggregated to the center of the county but is “not an indication of where this female lives.”

Delaware County does not have its own public health department, and thus the state Department of Health is in control of the investigation, along with the CDC.

Many local residents have raised concerns about the lack of information about the hometown of the COVID-19 patient.

State Sens. Tim Kearney and Tom Killion, both of whom represent parts of Delaware County, sent a letter to Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine urging the state Health Department for more transparency, and to release the home municipality of the Delco woman who tested positive for coronavirus.

“There are many families looking at national headlines today announcing the first presumptive case in Delaware County who are trying to understand the appropriate course of action,” the letter reads. “Because Delaware County lacks its own health department, this information serves the interest of public safety and transparency without substantially infringing on this individual’s right to privacy.”

Taylor said that Delaware County Council wants more access to information, but that not having a county health department while also wanting to protect the patient’s privacy makes that difficult.

County Council member Elaine Schaefer said releasing the woman’s whereabouts does not have much of a public health benefit.

“Every single person should treat this as if that person is in their own municipality,” Schaefer said. “That is the way we should all be treating our public hygiene and sanitation at this point. We should all be taking extra precautions.”

Similarly, state health officials in New Jersey also faced scrutiny for not immediately releasing the hometowns of the four individuals with coronavirus. New York state health officials have been releasing that information to the public.

“From our perspective, we look at everything through the lens of whether it has purposeful reason to advance our public health mission, and that’s a discussion that we have … and if it does, we would release as much information as we possibly can,”  Persichilli said. “We are always balancing the rights of individuals versus the need to protect as many people as possible.”

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