Pa. coronavirus update: State announces ‘targeted’ efforts on COVID-19 surge

Pa. Health Secretary Rachel Levine encouraged Pennsylvanians to download the COVID AlertPA, which notifies users when they’ve been in contact with the virus. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pa. Health Secretary Rachel Levine encouraged Pennsylvanians to download the COVID AlertPA, which notifies users when they’ve been in contact with the virus. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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

Updated 3:53 p.m.

Pennsylvania reported 5,900 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 275,513. The state reported 30 new fatalities, bringing the total to 9,355 deaths attributable to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia reported 1,034 additional confirmed cases, for a total of 55,641. Eight new deaths were reported, for a total of 1,925.

Pa. announces mask, travel restrictions, but no new enforcement

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Tuesday new “targeted and strategic actions” to stem rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the commonwealth.

The order mandates that travelers entering or returning to Pennsylvania, except for regular commuters, obtain negative COVID-19 tests 72 hours prior to their arrival, or otherwise quarantine 14 days after arrival.

Masks will now be required indoors when members of different households mix, even if they can maintain 6 feet of distance. This applies in public places like bars and restaurants as well as in private homes.

Neither new measure has any enforcement mechanism. The bottom line, Levine said, is that officials do not want people traveling for Thanksgiving.

“I think what we’re asking — in any of our states —  is actually for people not to travel,” said Levine. “We really want people to stay at home and to stay within their household … not to do a lot of traveling to see friends and family during the Thanksgiving holiday.”

She also recommended that colleges and universities develop a testing protocol for returning students that includes testing everyone upon their arrival on campus, with regular tests thereafter. The Health and Education Departments also recommend that institutions make sure they have sufficient facilities to effectively isolate those who fall ill.

The measures and recommendations are ultimately meant to avoid overwhelming hospitals, Levine said.

“The IHME model from the University of Washington projects that Pennsylvania will run out of intensive care beds in December,” said Levine. “These models suggest that there will be sufficient medical surgical beds across the commonwealth, but it is not clear that they will be available in all regions. And these models actually do not take into account people who may be hospitalized due to influenza.”

Montco chair: Hospitalizations rising at an ‘extremely rapid pace’

Montgomery County Commissioners Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh warned Tuesday that hospitalizations in the county were rising “at an extremely rapid pace.”

Officials announced 1,828 new positive cases in the county over the past week, with seven new deaths.

“I want to remind residents to work at home if they can, to minimize unnecessary trips, and avoid social gatherings,” said Arkoosh. “We continue to have strong availability of COVID-19 testing, and I want to urge anyone who wants or needs to be tested to get tested. The more we are able to test our community —  whether you have symptoms or not — the more we will know what is happening across the county and be able to quickly suppress any outbreaks.”

None of the individuals who died of COVID-19 in the past week had been in long-term care facilities, according to a release from the county. Thirty of the new COVID-19 cases were in such facilities.

Wolf administration sending more rapid COVID-19 tests to counties in need

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office announced Tuesday the distribution of a batch of federal government antigen test kits to institutions in Bedford, Cambria, Franklin, Lancaster and Lehigh counties.

Antigen tests are less sensitive than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, but return results much faster. Antigen tests look for pieces of proteins that make up the COVID-19 virus, while the PCR test detects viral RNA.

Last week, 139,200 tests were distributed to facilities in Armstrong, Dauphin, Delaware and Indiana counties. The newest batch is the sixth to be distributed.

Senators seek to expand problem nursing-home oversight

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey unveiled Tuesday legislation that would expand a federal watchlist that targets nursing homes with recurring safety inspection failures.

Currently, nursing homes identified by the federal Special Focus Facility program for those that consistently fail to meet standards get more frequent inspections, and more penalties for failures — including potentially losing federal reimbursements. The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act legislation would expand the number of problem facilities that could receive extra scrutiny from the current maximum of 88 to more than 500.

“We have an imperative to help nursing home residents and workers amid this public health crisis, and we must also improve care quality in nursing facilities — especially those that have a consistent pattern of failing safety and care standards. We have an obligation to these residents and workers to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 and keep them safe,” Casey said in a joint press release with Toomey.

Nursing homes have accounted for about 40% of all COVID-19-related deaths in the United States and were the scenes of the earliest major outbreaks of the coronavirus.

“Two of every three Pennsylvanians to die from COVID-19 were residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Unfortunately, some of the largest outbreaks occurred in facilities with records of persistent failure to protect their residents,” Toomey said in the release.

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