Coronavirus update: Mandatory testing unlikely in Philly’s future

A health care worker stands by at a COVID-19 temporary testing site at Abington Hospital in Abington, Pa., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A health care worker stands by at a COVID-19 temporary testing site at Abington Hospital in Abington, Pa., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Updated at 4:55 p.m.

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To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 53,804 COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 130,593 cases in New Jersey and 5,371 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 16,410 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 3,128, New Jersey’s is at 8,244, and Delaware’s is at 187. Philadelphia’s death toll is 743.

Note: Pa. no longer includes probable COVID-19 deaths in its official count, only deaths that have been confirmed through testing.

Mandatory testing? Health Commissioner Farley says it’s a no-go

Congressman Dwight Evans called for mandatory COVID-19 testing on WHYY’s Radio Times Monday. But Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley disagrees; although the city expanded its testing criteria yesterday, he’s still not recommending testing of asymptomatic individuals.

“First, we don’t have enough swabs to be able to test everyone in the city,” Farley said Tuesday. “Second of all, that information isn’t necessarily useful, and it can actually backfire.” Someone exposed to COVID-19 might test negative while incubating the virus, he said, and become infectious only after a few days. Testing might not account for that kind of viral spread. “Certainly for people who are sick, we want to be able to identify that, so we can notify contacts and cut off chains of transmission,” he added. “But testing asymptomatic people, I’m not sure if we’ll ever be there.”

On Monday, the city had an error in total case count: the reported number was 41, but in fact it was 35. Also on Monday, there were no new deaths reported; on Tuesday, there were 17.

Commissioner Farley said the difference in numbers could be attributed in part to the fact that there was less testing done over the weekend. “You’re going to see days where the numbers are quite high and days where the numbers are quite low,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of deaths over the past 24 hours.”

Pennsylvania’s death toll hits grim milestone 

Pennsylvania’s death toll during the coronavirus pandemic has now surpassed 3,000 residents. 

The grim milestone includes an increase of 554 deaths over the last two weeks, said Health Secretary Rachel Levine during a virtual news conference on Thursday. 

“The significant increase noted today is over two weeks and is a reconciliation of our data among a number of sources, including working with the Philadelphia Health Department,” said Levine.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state’s official death toll has routinely lagged behind reality. The discrepancy is partly due to delays in reconciling state data with deaths recorded by the Philadelphia Health Department, as well as a controversial decision by state health officials to exclude some probable COVID0-19 deaths from their count.

A total of 53,804 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

WorkReady summer job program goes virtual

Businesses may be shut down, but summer job programs for Philly youth are still running. Philadelphia’s Office of Children and Families, the Philadelphia Youth Network, Philadelphia Works, and WorkReady partner organizations have announced that their summer jobs initiative will continue virtually in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Participants will learn skills including digital career exposure, financial literacy, and brand identity, which the program says will “prepare [them] for success in the workplaces of the future.”

WorkReady’s site offers help to potential employers looking to hire young people virtually, a donation link for the city’s summer jobs fund, and applications for the summer program itself. Eligible applicants must live in Philadelphia and be between the ages of 12 and 24 as of July 6, 2020.

Sen. Casey proposes GI Bill-type relief for frontline health care workers

Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) has proposed a new program for COVID-19 health workers, modeled after the GI Bill. The bill, called the Pandemic Responders Service Award Act, proposes an award of nearly $10,000 for frontline health care workers. Those workers could use the funds to pay off existing student loans, pursue further education, or save for the future. The benefits program would apply primarily to those who are employed full/part-time as health care workers, as well as volunteer EMS workers, with award levels adjusted based on the amount of time they served during the pandemic. Any qualifying worker hospitalized with COVID-19 would receive the full benefit.

“We can’t be pennypinchers,” Casey said on a press call Tuesday. He hopes to introduce the bill next week, pending formal drafting by the Senate Legislative Counsel office.

Pa. Chamber of Commerce launches “Bringing PA Back”

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry launched a website called Bringing PA Back today, as part of their initiative to help state businesses reopen facilities and resume operations as the COVID-19 spread slows. The site includes industry-specific guidance, links to a new employment portal, and a map of the commonwealth that indicates phases of the reopening process by county.

24 counties will move to the yellow phase, meaning that select non-life-sustaining businesses will be allowed to reopen, on May 8.

Governor Tom Wolf has said there is no fixed schedule for reopening businesses in any part of the state, and that imposing an arbitrary schedule without consulting case numbers and public health guidelines would be unwise. “What we’re trying to do is keep people safe again, we’re following the schedule set for us by the virus,” he said Tuesday. “The virus hasn’t told us what its intentions are when it comes to these regions.”

“We as a state can lay down all the rules we want … but ultimately we’re all trapped by the dictates of the virus,” he added. “The rules of the virus transcend state boundaries.”

If Pennsylvanians practice careful social distancing, he said, they’ll stay safe. “If they don’t, the virus will get ‘em.”

Montgomery County “turns a corner”

Montgomery County reported 44 new cases in the county, for a total of 4,611 cases, and 39 new deaths, for a total of 353 confirmed positive COVID-19 deaths. Officials say they hope the worst is over.

“From these metrics, we’re making decent progress,” said Dr. Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, displaying a graphic charting both community cases and long-term care facility cases of COVID-19. “Our case numbers are clearly trending downward … we are moving in the right direction. We have, I believe, turned the corner.

“If this holds, then we’re on our way down,” Arkoosh continued. “But it’s fragile, and it’s very, very easy to send these numbers going the other way.” She said that despite the decrease in cases, Montgomery County was not yet ready to reopen, and asked residents to maintain social distancing even as the weather begins to warm.

“Everyone has to assume that they might be the one spreading the disease, and behave accordingly. That’s how we get this over with … if we want our kids to go back to school this fall, if we want our businesses to be open this summer, everybody has to be part of the solution.”

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