Pa. coronavirus update: Stay home for Thanksgiving, Farley advises

Speaking on ‘Radio Times,’ Philly Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said getting tested is not a foolproof way to keep the virus away for the holiday.

The Rocky statue is outfitted with a mock surgical face mask

In this April 14, 2020, file photo the Rocky statue is outfitted with a mock surgical face mask at the Philadelphia Art Museum in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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

Updated 6:15 p.m.

Pennsylvania reported 6,339 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 281,852. The state reported 110 new fatalities, bringing the total to 9,465 deaths attributable to COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Philadelphia reported 1,560 additional confirmed cases, for a total of 57,201; 17 new deaths were reported, for a total of 1,942.

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Stay home for Thanksgiving, Farley advises

Philadelphia’s top health official warns that getting tested for COVID-19 before heading to Thanksgiving dinner is not a foolproof way to keep the virus out of households.

Speaking on WHYY’s “Radio Times” Wednesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said testing is not a substitute for masks, social distancing, and staying within the company of your own household.

“Even if you tested negative today and Thanksgiving were tomorrow, you could be turning positive tomorrow because you were exposed a week ago,” said Farley. “It’s right around the time when you go from negative to positive that you’re most infectious.”

The number of new coronavirus cases is rising about 4% per day, according to Farley, meaning the rate of new infections doubles in about 17 days.

College students who have to return home should get tested and go into a strict 14-day quarantine if they have any reason to believe they have been exposed to the virus, he said, but even that’s not a guarantee to keep their families safe.

Ideally, Farley said, the holiday should be limited to members of individual households.

There should be no indoor gatherings during this time when cases are on the rise, he said, but the city can only try and enforce mitigation rules in places such as event spaces and restaurants.

“Gatherings that happen in people’s homes, we’re not going to be there,” he said, “we’re just asking people to do this for their own sake, for the sake of their friends and relatives and for the sake of the city as a whole.”

Heather Griggs, a registered nurse and operations chief of the Umatilla County Public Health Department contact tracing center in Pendleton, Ore., updates a list of job assignments on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.
Heather Griggs, a registered nurse and operations chief of the Umatilla County Public Health Department contact tracing center in Pendleton, Ore., updates a list of job assignments on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Ben Lonergan)

Help Philadelphia with contact tracing

In a press release later Wednesday, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health asked those who test positive to help them in contact tracing efforts.

Cases have risen to the point where the Health Department hasn’t been able to get in touch with everyone and begin contact tracing.

A way those who test positive can help is by writing down all the people they were within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more. People are asked to begin their lists of contacts two days before they started having symptoms.

Once people have their lists ready, they can message those contacts themselves or go to the website, where they have the ability to send anonymous texts or emails about the COVID-19 exposure.

People can find what information they should give to others here.

State contact tracing update

Pennsylvania’s director of testing and contact tracing, Michael Huff, said Wednesday that the state’s goal remains to ensure that testing is accessible to all residents with symptoms of COVID-19.

Earlier in the day, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 6,339 additional positive cases of COVID-19, a new single-day high. Since September, a release from the department said, the state has seen a 14-day trend of the average number of hospitalized patients rising by 1,600. Currently, there are 2,737 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19.

According to the Health Department, 34,000 contacts have been processed in areas where it has jurisdiction, 25,000 total close contacts identified their quarantine status and symptoms, 6,500 were not reached, and 1,800 were still in the process of being contacted.

Contacts are encouraged to stay home to monitor themselves with the possibility that they could spread the virus to others.

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“Time is off the essence. Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protect communities from further spread,” Huff said.

He said that if communities cannot isolate patients and ensure that contacts can separate themselves from others, rapid community spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase and strict mitigation efforts could be put into place.

Montgomery County adjusts contact tracing efforts amid surge in cases

Montco health officials will now prioritize contact tracing calls to people under the age of 18 and those over 65, County Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh said Wednesday.

People who are part of a community or household cluster will also be prioritized, and Arkoosh said those who have been exposed to someone who tested positive in a school, sport or work setting can expect an email instead of a call.

Arkoosh, like other health officials in the area, asked the public to help with contact tracing efforts by downloading the COVID Alert PA app.

“This is a tool that can greatly assist contact tracing should you test positive, or someone you were nearby tests positive as well,” she said.

The county’s 14-day positivity rate stands at 7%, according to Arkoosh, but 5% or lower is the target because it means the virus is being suppressed.

In addition to a rise in cases and hospitalizations, the virus is affecting students and faculty in Montco schools.

About 29% of the county’s coronavirus cases among school-age children reported this fall were from the past week, and 28% of the 138 total cases among staff also took place last week.

Though Arkoosh said there are only five instances of spread within schools, with an additional two instances under investigation, the virus has affected staffing in one school district to the point where it had to close.

She said the goal for the next several months is to “keep our positivity rate and incidence rate of new cases as low as possible to minimize risk for students, teachers, support staff and our bus drivers in our schools.”

Schools in Montgomery County will close for two weeks starting Monday to curb any spread due to people gathering during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Criminal jury trials in Philadelphia suspended for now

Due to a surge in coronavirus cases in Philadelphia, all criminal jury trials will be suspended until January.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner supported the measure in a statement, calling it the “right thing to do for public health.”

Still, he urged those working in criminal justice to look at practices in other jurisdictions and how they are allowing “the people’s business to be handled in court as much as possible in these difficult times.”

“The District Attorney’s Office calls on all our criminal justice partners to join us to make our courts work for everyone and to moderate our jail populations in light of the pandemic,” Krasner said in the statement, before slamming the federal government for failing to keep the virus under control.

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