Updated: 5:16 p.m.
The number of local confirmed cases of the coronavirus has ticked up slightly, as the number of cancellations and disruptions to daily life continues to grow. Patients who test positive locally are referred to as “presumptive” until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm the test results.
- Number of presumptive cases in Pennsylvania: 10
- Number of presumptive cases in New Jersey: 11
- Number of presumptive cases in Delaware: 0
Seven of the Pennsylvania cases are residents of Montgomery County, and there is one each from Delaware, Wayne and Monroe Counties. Three people are hospitalized, but state health officials would not disclose information about their identities or say where they are being treated. The rest are staying home to avoid spreading the virus.
In New Jersey, all but one of the presumptive cases are in North Jersey. So far the lone South Jersey resident testing positive is from Cherry Hill, Camden County. Officials for both states said most of those affected are isolating themselves at home.
One of the local cases is a cardiologist who had been working at the hospital’s King of Prussia Specialty Care site, according to an email from Madeline Bell, president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, obtained by WHYY. Staff and the families of patients who came into contact with the doctor are being told to “self-quarantine” for 14 days. The cardiology clinic and nearby allergy clinic at the King of Prussia location have been taken offline.
The cardiologist had contact with 13 patients, according to Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners at a press conference. The county’s office of public health has started contact tracing — making a list of all the people, places that those patients have had contact with.
This was also the first case in Montgomery County that involved emergency medical services. EMS Medical Director Alvin Wang said all the first responders wore the appropriate protective equipment and do not need to be isolated. Wang added that county staff who take emergency calls now screen calls using a quick survey to see if the callers may have symptoms of the new coronavirus, so they can alert first responders.
Arkoosh added that the county has been in touch with MontCo Anti-Hunger Network, that schools may consider closing, and children who get their most nutritious meal of the day at school may need help.
As the number of local cases mounts, Pennsylvania is gearing up its response. In order to increase the local capacity to identify new cases, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Laboratories, located in Exton, has bought new testing equipment to more efficiently prepare samples. With their new equipment the lab will be able to quickly prepare samples of DNA and RNA, a key first step in running the COVID-19 test.
Although not officially up and running yet, the new equipment is expected to come online soon. “We are continuing to finalize our testing process to use the new piece of equipment to increase our capacity to up to 150 kits a day,” said Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
On a call with reporters Monday afternoon, federal health officials sought to strike a measured tone.
“Many people in the United States will at some time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases with the Centers for Disease Control. But, the risk of exposure is different from the risk of serious illness, and even death. While COVID-19 is “highly contagious,” Messonnier said U.S. health officials do not expect most people who get it to become seriously ill. The elderly and those with existing health issues should be prepared to hunker down for an extended period of time in their homes, as the risk of illness increases for those over 60, and is most acute for those over 80.
New disruptions and cancellations
In an attempt to head off the spread of the coronavirus on campus, Princeton University is gearing up to move all of its classes online.
Following the March 14-22 spring break, all lectures and seminars will be offered virtually, and the school plans to limit gatherings on campus and international travel. Administrators urged students not to return to campus following the break.
“Our medical advisers tell us that we should proceed on the assumption that the virus will spread more broadly and eventually reach our campus,” wrote President Chris Eisgruber in a message to the university community explaining the decision.
“They also tell us that the best time to put in place policies to slow the spread of the virus is now, before we begin to see cases on our campus, rather than later,” he said.
Princeton enrolls more than 8,200 students, including 643 international undergraduates. The university says it will release more details about the changes this afternoon.
Rowan University will extend its spring break though March 27. In an email this morning it encouraged faculty to plan for the possibility of remote teaching, and prepare course materials to be used online. Although the university is still open, faculty are encouraged to accommodate students who cannot attend class for personal or medical reasons.
Public school districts are also planning to take their classrooms online. Haddonfield School District, in New Jersey, will cancel classes on March 16 so that staff can make a plan to set up “virtual classrooms,” in the event that school is disrupted by an outbreak, wrote superintendent Larry Mussoline in a letter to parents.
“These are stressful times, I know, but the Board, our administrative team, teacher team, and I are committed to being as ready as possible and to continuing the education of your children in the event of a prolonged closure,” said Mussoline.
As local and state officials trace who had contact with the people now known to be infected with the coronavirus, several school districts are also cancelling class in order to deep clean spaces where the virus may be present.
All Lower Merion School District schools will be closed on March 10 “for additional sanitizing.” Superintendent Robert Copeland wrote that two students and a staff member may have been exposed to the disease while visiting the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s King of Prussia site, where a cardiologist tested positive for the virus. The students and school district staff member are not showing any symptoms, but will be quarantined for 14 days.
Cheltenham School District canceled classes for the remainder of the week, after learning that the parent of a CSD student had cared for one of the presumptive COVID-19 patients. The parent and their child are now self-quarantining. In a letter, superintendent Wagner Marseille said the district is taking the closures as an opportunity to deep clean all seven school buildings.
The Hatboro-Horsham School District is closing Simmons Elementary on March 10, to sanitize it after learning that a student there had contact with the CHOP cardiologist now among the confirmed cases.
In one instance, the threat of infection has been assessed and dismissed. The five schools that the Central Bucks School District closed as a preventative measure last week reopened on Monday, after schools were cleaned and students and staff tested. School officials cancelled school “out of an abundance of caution” after someone later confirmed to have the coronavirus attended a social gathering with students and staff in the area. Testing of people who came into contact with the confirmed case came back negative. Going forward, Central Bucks School District Superintendent John Kopicki said they will follow a more stringent cleaning protocol.
State officials said they do not believe gatherings should be canceled due to risk of coronavirus transmission at this time. Even so, some events planned for the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia are being called off. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) convention called off their 2020 meeting scheduled for March 13-16. In a statement shared via Twitter, the AAAAI announced that they made the decision after “continuous monitoring of the evolving situation.”
The American Chemical Society announced today on twitter that they were canceling their Spring 2020 meeting, set to take place in Philadelphia.
The grocery store Wegmans announced on Friday that they would be limiting the purchase of products like rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and hand sanitizer to three per order. As some products become scarce, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office started a price gouging tip line on Friday. They’ve received 27 emails already.
“The most common types of emails we’ve received have been for [disinfectant] spray, hand sanitizer, [disinfectant] wipes, bottled water, rubbing alcohol, and liquid soap,” said Jacklin Rhoads, Communication director for the Attorney General’s office.
Laura Benshoff, Sabrina Emms, and Alan Yu contributed to this report.