Coronavirus update: Pa. distributes antiviral drug remdesivir to 51 hospitals

Molecular technologists work next to QuantStudio 12K Flex Real Time PCR machines that test for COVID-19 at MHS Labs, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Monroeville, Pa. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Molecular technologists work next to QuantStudio 12K Flex Real Time PCR machines that test for COVID-19 at MHS Labs, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Monroeville, Pa. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Updated at 8:05 p.m.

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Pennsylvania had 851 new positive COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a 1.4% increase in total cases over the previous day. Over the past seven days, the commonwealth has recorded an increase of 7,506 cases, or nearly 14%.

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The state has recorded 61,310 positive cases so far out of more than 30,5139 tested.

Statewide, Pennsylvania had 76 new deaths as of Tuesday, for a total of 3,843. The Department of Health says this is the result of “continued work to reconcile data from various sources,” and that the deaths have occurred “over the past several weeks.”

Philadelphia reported 224 new positives Monday. The city has recorded 18,537 cases so far, and 908 deaths.

Pa. distributes antiviral drug remdesivir to 51 hospitals

The federal government sent its first shipment of 1,200 doses of investigational antiviral drug remdesivir to the Pennsylvania Health Department on Tuesday. That shipment was sent to Pennsylvania hospitals to help treat patients with COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization on May 1 for remdesivir to be used in severely ill COVID-19 patients. 

The drug is given to patients once per day for up to 10 days through an IV. Remdesivir may be able to help decrease the amount of coronavirus in one’s body, and may be able to help people recover faster, according to the FDA. 

“It is important to note that there is limited information on the safety and effectiveness of using remdesivir to treat people in the hospital with COVID-19,” said Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine. “However, it was shown in a clinical trial to shorten the recovery time in some people, which is why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of the medication for treatment.”

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Statewide, 51 hospitals will receive the shipment over the course of the next few days. The hospitals were chosen based on the number of COVID-19 patients at the hospitals over a recent seven-day period, the severity of illnesses and whether those patients were using a ventilator.

State officials plan to continue working with the federal government to procure more doses of remdesivir.

Drugmaker Gilead has said it would donate 1.5 million doses of remdesivir worldwide — which can treat roughly 140,000 patients. The United States currently has had about 1.4 million coronavirus cases so far.

Philly continues to make progress, but still too early to reopen

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city continues to see progress in fighting the pandemic, in particular with a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in people who live in nursing homes, where most of the deaths have happened. He said today the city will post a graph showing the number of cases in nursing homes by day. There have been no new cases in the city’s jail since yesterday, where seven incarcerated people have active infections.

He added the number of COVID-19 patients in Philadelphia hospitals has been going down for seven consecutive days, and that the city is now recommending anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 like a new fever or cough get tested at more than 40 sites around the city, though they should book an appointment in advance.

“There’s a clear sign that we’re making progress against this epidemic, but it is still too early for us to able to say we can reopen,” Farley said. “We simply have too many cases, but we can prepare for whenever that day is when we can reopen.”

Farley said a lot of men living together in a shelter in Kensington tested positive for COVID-19, and a lot of them had no symptoms. They’re now living at a Holiday Inn so as not to expose those who tested negative. Farley said city officials were surprised at how many tested positive, so they are thinking about what the city can do at other shelters where people are living together.

There were 107 people quarantined in hotels yesterday.

He also said the city will be working with the bike-sharing program Indego to deliver free Pack n’Play cribs to new parents in a contact-free way, because the number one preventable cause of infant deaths is sleep-related, so the city does not want any infants sleeping on a sofa, adult bed, or anything other than a safe crib. Parents who want one can call 267-432-5844.

Philadelphia will have an all-virtual Wawa Welcome America concert this July 4, with a week’s worth of events and performances. The virtual event is still being planned, but Welcome America president and CEO Michael DelBene said it will cost substantially less. People will watch the events either through their computers or TVs.

There will be one concert broadcast live from Philadelphia, but people will be asked to watch it at home and not go to the indoor venue, that has yet to be announced. There will be more details in a press conference on June 10.

Pa. to expand testing at nursing homes, other facilities

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that the state has a plan to do more COVID-19 testing at long-term care facilities, like nursing homes.

He said the state laboratory in Exton will help with the tests, though some facilities might have to rely on private companies. He said the plan is to do “surveillance testing” once a week for all employees and residents in the state’s long-term care facilities and nursing homes, calling it “a concern all around the world.”

Swabs for the mass testing program will come from the federal government.

“This effort will give us a clearer picture of the extent of outbreaks in nursing homes and a head start in stopping them, ” Levine said.

Starting Saturday, long-term care facilities will be required to report coronavirus data to the state. The long-sought information will be released publicly during news conferences and online, Levine said.

To date, most of the patients who have been hospitalized or died in Pennsylvania have been 65 or older. In nursing and personal care homes, there are 12,130 residents with COVID-19 and 1,724 employees with it, spread out over 540 facilities in 44 counties.

Last month, Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, recommended long-term care facilities test all residents and staff members. Yesterday, the White House recommended the same thing, calling for everyone at such facilities to be tested in the next two weeks.

When asked about counties pushing to ease social distancing measures with or without the governor’s approval, Wolf said everyone should focus on the common enemy, the new coronavirus.

“We’re in a better place than we would have been had we done nothing,” Wolf said. “The effort to open as quickly as possible is absolutely understandable, we’re all frustrated by where we are … We need to take the same measured reasoned approach to reopen as we did to closing and hope that we can have the same good results.”

Wolf pointed to South Korea as an example. Health experts credited the country’s fast response in controlling the outbreak, but there had been a spike in new infections over the weekend.

Montco ‘very, very close’ to re-opening

Since yesterday, Montgomery County had 164 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 5,274. Of the new cases, 128 were from long-term care facilities. There were also 12 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 429.

However, there is good news. The number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 in the county is down to the low 300s, according to Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Arkoosh thanked Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine for recommending universal testing for everyone at long-term care facilities, something that Arkoosh has talked about since early April. Arkoosh said she hopes this announcement means the long-term care facilities in the county that need more resources to help with testing can now get it.

The county has also started interviewing applicants for a contact-tracing team, which will work with community organizations and the state department of health.

Arkoosh reminded residents that testing sites at Delaware Valley Community Health ‐ Norristown Regional Health Center and Montgomery County Community College are both open, as well as a Rite Aid at 1856 N. Broad St. in Lansdale, which offers free testing for anyone above age 18.

She also pointed out that the average number of cases in the county continues to go down, which shows that social distancing is working.

“Kudos to all of you,” she said. “Together we are beating this thing, that is clearly evident now. Every day we get closer to a place where we can think about relaxing restrictions, but if we don’t stay together we will fail.”

She said businesses should make plans for how to modify their practices for reopening, but warned the county is not there yet. She added that the virus will not be gone, and it will inevitably come back, and it would be worse if the county reopens too soon and has to go backwards.

“We’re getting very, very close but people have to stay the course, this is not the week to let up.”

Commissioner Ken Lawrence announced that round two of grants for small businesses in the county will be open for applications tomorrow for businesses that did not get grants the first time around, with $5 million from the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Development Fund and the federal CARES act.

WHYY’s Aaron Moselle and Emily Scott contributed reporting.

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