Pa. coronavirus update: 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in the last week

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf addresses the media while wearing a face mask

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf addresses the media in Harrisburg. (Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the current surge?

Pennsylvania reported 6,330 new cases of COVID-19 as of 12:00 a.m. on Monday, along with 8,630 new cases on Sunday, for a two-day total of 14,960. The statewide case total since the start of the pandemic is now 426,444.

As of Monday, there were 5,421 people hospitalized due to the coronavirus, with 1,115 in intensive care and 614 requiring a ventilator. The commonwealth also reported 42 new deaths today, along with 69 on Sunday, for a total of 11,373 lives lost to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations have continued to rise dramatically since state officials issued new coronavirus advisories two weeks ago. A thousand people have died in Pennsylvania in the last week alone, according to Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

“Pennsylvania’s situation has become even more dire” than when those new mitigation efforts, which included a nonbinding stay-at-home advisory, were issued, said Governor Tom Wolf.

“Already we’re hearing stories about hospitals forced to divert patients to other treatment facilities because of full emergency rooms,” he continued. “If COVID cases continue to grow … [it] could overwhelm our hospitals, and our health care workers.”

Some increases are due to gatherings and travel over the Thanksgiving holiday.

While stressing that current behaviors could have devastating outcomes, Wolf stopped short of introducing any new mandates intended to stem the tide of cases. He said state officials were “expecting an upsurge, but we have been surprised at the rate of increase in the last few days.”

Wolf said officials are still considering their options for new mitigation efforts, and would not say if regulations they are weighing would be implemented regionally or statewide.

“We’re still looking at the things we can do,” said the governor.

Health care workers near breaking point

The current situation is both better, and dramatically worse than it was in the spring. Case counts and hospitalizations are higher than ever, but equipment which was in short supply earlier in the year is readily available, at least for now, said Levine. The state has around 4,000 ventilators on hand and another thousand in storage, said Levine, and is “quite comfortable” in terms of stores of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, such as masks.

On the frontlines however, health care workers such as registered nurse Maureen Casey, of Hershey Medical Center, said they are near a breaking point.

“Nurses go home, cry in the shower, cry in their car alone, because of the desperation and exhaustion they feel,” she said. “Like waves on the shore, it just keeps coming.”

To help health care workers like her, Casey requested that people wear masks. “It’s a simple thing, but it gets the job done,” she said.

Casey’s hospital is at capacity due to the coronavirus, and is bracing for more hospitalizations from the annual flu season, she said.

So far, only 12 people across the commonwealth have had to be hospitalized for influenza, said Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection, Ray Barishansky.

He urged Pennsylvanians to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible, because “We cannot afford to have a flu epidemic in Pennsylvania in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Barishansky.

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