Pa. coronavirus update: No new mitigation efforts planned — for the moment

A staff member of AMI Healthcare administered a COVID-19 test at the pop-up site at the Nittany Mall in State College on Friday, Sept. 25. (Min Xian/WPSU)

A staff member of AMI Healthcare administered a COVID-19 test at the pop-up site at the Nittany Mall in State College on Friday, Sept. 25. (Min Xian/WPSU)

Updated 5:31 p.m.

Despite rising case counts and hospitalizations, Pennsylvania health officials said Thursday that the state has no plans to announce any new COVID-19 guidelines aimed at mitigating the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

“We will continue to discuss that,” state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during a virtual press conference. “We want to be very strategic in terms of what we do.”

The news came as the statewide total of positive cases of COVID-10 approached 250,000. On Thursday, Pennsylvania reported more than 5,400 new coronavirus cases.

Levine said the state’s positivity rate — the percentage of people who test positive for the virus — is now close to 7%. It was closer to 6% last week. Both figures are above the 5% threshold considered a benchmark of wider community spread.

Statewide, more than 2,000 residents are currently hospitalized. “This number has also been steadily climbing,” said Levine.

Pressed about mitigation efforts, the state’s top health official repeated that her office is “analyzing things very closely, and added that this surge in cases is not the same as the one the state witnessed in the spring.

For example, she said, overall medical care is improved now that health care professionals are more well-versed in treating the virus. There are also new therapeutics, including remdesivir, that were not available before, as well as far more personal protective equipment.

Levine said the state will look at daily caseloads, positivity rates, hospitalizations, and other metrics before announcing any new pandemic restrictions, including those on visitations at nursing homes.

In the meantime, she and other health officials are again urging residents to wear face masks, wash their hands, social distance, and avoid small and large gatherings.

“We can control the spread of COVID 19, but it requires each one of us to do our part,” said Levine.

Philly to provide another round of rental assistance

Philadelphia is distributing another $30 million in federal funding to renters and small businesses struggling to pay rent due during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A majority of the money will provide rental assistance to tenants in the form of one-time payments. Under the program, renters can receive up to six months of assistance with a cap of $9,000.

The city estimates the new funding will help an additional 4,000 households in need.

“This additional $30 million is essential to help small businesses and renters struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” City Council President Darrell Clarke said in a release. “We need to do everything in our collective power to help keep businesses open, employees working, and renters and residents safe in their apartments and homes. This added funding is welcome news”.

To date, the city has provided $38.7 million in small-business assistance and $39.4 million in rent relief.

The latest funding comes courtesy of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES. Mayor Jim Kenney, in a release, said it will be deployed “as quickly as possible to prevent evictions and business closures, and to protect jobs.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect everyday life, we recognize that some of our most vulnerable communities need more help to pay rent in order to stay in their homes and our small businesses need continued support to survive,” said Kenney.

Thursday’s announcement came as the number of positive cases of COVID-19 continued to rise in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.

The statewide total for positive cases is now approaching 250,000.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced Thursday 349 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city. That brings the number of confirmed cases to 50,885.

The Department of Public Health confirmed no additional fatalities in Philadelphia. The number of residents who have succumbed to the virus in the city remains at 1,904. Of the 1,904 total deaths, 918 (48%) were residents of long-term care facilities, the department said in a release.

In Montco: ‘If we do not work together … the virus will win’

Montgomery County officials said Thursday that the positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive — is now slightly above 5%. Being below the 5% benchmark means the highly contagious virus is being suppressed.

The average positivity rate over the last 14 days is 5.45%, said County Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh, a physician with a master’s in public health. That rate, combined with an uptick in daily caseloads and hospitalizations, signals that residents must continue to adhere to basic pandemic protocols, including routinely wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing, she said.

“If we do not work together, the outcome is clear:tThe virus will win,” said Arkoosh.

Since Nov. 10, the last update, Montgomery County has reported 512 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 15,817 since the start of the pandemic. A total of 201 cases were reported on Wednesday, and 311 on Thursday.

No one has died from the virus since Nov. 10, leaving the death toll at 847 since March.

Arkoosh said Thursday that the uptick in cases can be attributed to two things: colder air and social gatherings.

Colder air enables the virus to stay airborne for longer, raising the risk of transmission. It also means private social gatherings are moving indoors, which also raises the specter of community spread.

After-school activities, including sports, are also proving to be problematic, said Arkoosh.

“There will be an end to this, but we do have a number of months before we can return to our pre-COVID lives,” she said.

“Working together, we have the collective power to keep this virus suppressed.”

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