Pa. coronavirus update: More people hospitalized now than during spring peak

State officials have made its COVID tracking app available to children as young as 13 in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus.

A medical worker operates a testing tent at a COVID-19 mobile testing site

In this Nov. 11, 2020, file photo, a medical worker operates a testing tent at a COVID-19 mobile testing site in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

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

Pennsylvania is reporting 9,797 new COVID-19 cases and 107 deaths since Sunday. That brings the statewide case total to 361,464, and the death toll to 10,383 people.

More people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Pennsylvania than during the peak of the surge last spring, according to data shared by the state’s Department of Health Monday.

As of Monday, 4,405 people are hospitalized, with 465 on a ventilator, statistics Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine called a “concerning milestone” in the state’s struggle with the pandemic.

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The state’s average test positivity rate is nearly 12%, with five counties reporting positivity rates greater than 20%.

About 60% of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are now considered recovered, meaning it has been 30 days since their positive test or the onset of symptoms. However, Levine noted that the percentage is falling as new cases surge.

COVID tracking app now available for middle, high schoolers

At Monday’s press conference, officials announced the state was making COVID Alert, its COVID tracking app, available to children as young as 13.

Developed with the help of Apple and Google, the app uses Bluetooth technology to let users know if they’ve been exposed to someone who later tests positive for the virus. More than 623,000 people have already downloaded the app.

“By expanding the age range middle and high school students will be able to add their phones to the fight,” Levine said. “And help with contact tracing that occurs in their schools if a positive case is identified.”

Pennsylvania’s contact tracers have struggled to get people who have been exposed to the virus to pick up the phone.

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Officials say school closures up to local authorities

State officials said Monday they were continuing to defer to local authorities on the question of whether schools in areas of high coronavirus transmission should shift to remote learning.

Department of Health guidelines recommend counties with “substantial” transmission shift their schooling entirely online. Currently, every Pennsylvania county besides Cameron is over that threshold.

However, Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega said that the state may step in if public schools in areas with substantial transmission do not enforce a mask requirement.

“If they don’t adhere to it what would happen is they would be required to move to remote learning, and in addition to that, suspend extracurricular activities,” Ortega said.

Recently Montgomery County officials ordered all schools in the county to go entirely online through December 6 to slow the spread of coronavirus, and Philadelphia officials have delayed a plan to bring some students back to the classroom due to rising cases. But some school districts in counties with substantial transmission have continued with in-person learning.

Levine also said that the state has “no plans” to make obtaining a coronavirus vaccine a requirement for students to attend school once those vaccines become widely available.

Levine on Christmas: ‘Stay home’

State health officials are very concerned about the prospect of a surge in coronavirus cases in the next few days, driven by people who traveled or mingled with extended family or friends for the Thanksgiving holiday, Levine said.

She said those who were in gatherings should consider quarantining, and those with symptoms should definitely get a test.

Pennsylvania’s health secretary had a simple message for people considering making plans for Christmas or other winter holidays: “Please stay home.”

“I know that this is a tremendous sacrifice,” she said. “This winter is the key time. We all need to stand united, stay home, and prevent the spread of this virus”

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