Expanded testing capability may be playing a role in the rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in Pennsylvania. However, a nearly 50 percent rise in the number of cases since Wednesday is a concerning statistic, particularly for hospitals bracing for an influx of patients seriously ill with the disease.
On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released figures confirming that the total number of confirmed cases in the state rose from 1,127 on Wednesday to 1,687 Thursday, which is an increase of approximately 49.7 percent.
Deaths attributed to the coronavirus rose from 11 to 16, an increase of approximately 45 percent.
In Northampton County–which along with Lehigh County is now under a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf–the number of cases rose from 44 to 56, an increase of about 27 percent. In Lehigh County, the number of cases increased from 38 to 63, which represents an increase of about 65 percent.
To date, one quarter of Pennsylvania’s coronavirus deaths have occurred in the Lehigh Valley, with three occurring in Northampton County and one in Lehigh County.
The largest cluster of coronavirus cases continues to be in southeastern Pennsylvania, where there are more than 1,000 cases spread between Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties.
Along with Lehigh and Northampton, residents of those counties are also subject to the stay-at-home order that will be in place until April 6. Also subject to the order are Allegheny and Erie counties in the western part of the state.
It’s not clear if the order will be expanded further, however there have been calls for Wolf to do that.
One reason for the increasing concern is the confirmation of community spread of the virus in some areas, which means that it is spreading from members of the community, within the community. St. Luke’s University Health Network infectious disease experts confirmed that community spread is occurring in the Lehigh Valley on Wednesday.
Community spread makes it harder to trace the contacts of confirmed cases, which is another reason public health and safety officials are urging anyone who doesn’t need to leave home for essential work or life-sustaining activities such as talking a walk alone, purchasing food at a grocery store or taking care of a relative to stay put. Click here for a list of allowable activities and travel.
All K-12 schools in Pennsylvania are closed until at least April 6, and most businesses are closed until further notice to help promote social distancing and slow the spread of the virus. For a list of local business updates click here. For a list of local restaurants and other establishments offering curbside delivery, takeout or delivery of food, click here.
As of mid-day Thursday, there were nearly half a million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide.
There are approximately 70,000 confirmed cases in the United States, where New York state currently has the most reported cases of the virus. More than a thousand Americans have died from COVID-19, which as of Thursday had killed 280 people in New York City alone, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.