Community spread of COVID-19 has reached the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos, according to St. Luke’s University Health Network infectious disease specialists who made the announcement Wednesday.
Community spread means the virus is being transmitted among members of the community, in the community, the hospital said.
Put another way, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.”
For more information about how COVID-19 is spread, visit the CDC website, which contains a link to a White House webpage that outlines President Donald Trump’s guidelines for slowing the spread of the virus in the U.S. in the next 15 days.
Those guidelines include the following:
- “If you are an older person, stay home and away from other people.”
- “If you feel sick, stay home. Do not go to work. Contact your medical provider.”
The White House also says individuals who “work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply…have a special responsibility to maintain (their) normal work schedule” and “should follow CDC guidance to protect (their) health at work.”
In their news release confirming that community spread of the coronavirus is now here in the Lehigh Valley, St. Luke’s University Health Network urged the public to shelter at home to help stop the community spread, which can occur when people come into close contact with one another (within less than six feet) and when someone releases the virus into the air by coughing or sneezing.
The hospital also said it has instituted a universal masking policy for its patient-facing health care workers and employees to help reduce the community spread of COVID-19.
In another sign that the coronavirus situation in the commonwealth is worsening, the governor of Pennsylvania on Wednesday ordered residents of both Northampton and Lehigh counties to stay at home–along with the residents of eight other counties–at least until April 6 to help slow the spread of the pandemic. The order takes effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and will impact nearly 700,000 people who live in the Lehigh Valley.
State health officials Wednesday reported a combined case total of 82, which represents a 36.6 percent increase in confirmed cases since Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, officials reported more than 1,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide. They also said 11 Pennsylvania residents have died due to being infected by COVID-19, including three residents of Northampton County.
Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order, residents of the two counties are only to leave home for life-sustaining reasons such as work at an essential business, doctor’s visits, to purchase food or medicine, or to care for someone in another residence if there is no other way of doing that.
Meanwhile, local hospitals have been bracing for a surge in coronavirus-related cases and attempting to stockpile things like personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be needed by the doctors, nurses and health care workers who are treating the patients.
“Community spread indicates that the region will experience a rapid surge of cases in the next few weeks” which will tax local health care resources, confirmed St. Luke’s infectious disease specialist Jeffrey Jahre, MD, Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs.
“It is critical that the public heads the advice to stay home,” Jahre said. “We all can do our part to stop the spread. Most important right now is to stay home unless you are providing ‘life-sustaining’ services. Our health care workers, our grocery store employees, people in distribution–they can protect themselves by practicing good hygiene and social distancing when possible.”
St. Luke’s offers telehealth virtual visits for individuals who need to receive care but don’t want to leave home to see a practitioner. For more information, call the St. Luke’s InfoLink at 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537).
“Our patients still have regular health needs,” says Jahre. “Not everything is COVID-19 related, and many visits are now being conducted over the phone or computer.”
St. Luke’s has also put out a request for donations to aid hospital workers in their battle against the virus, and the health network has partnered with a local 3D printer to produce masks and face shields for health care workers.
For more on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.sluhn.org/covid-19.