The number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania climbed to 4,843 Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health.
The rise from 4,087 cases on Monday represented a roughly 18.5 percent increase.
That day-over-day increase is the lowest recorded since the department began compiling statistics on the confirmed number of cases, but state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during a 2 p.m. news conference that it is too early to draw conclusions from that.
“We are watching that data really carefully, and we have noted those trends as well,” she said. “What we’re watching to see if this is a consistent trend over time, continuing…but I can guarantee you we’re watching the same data very closely.”
Levine said approximately five percent of the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been in health care workers–many of whom are employed on the front lines of the pandemic. Less than one percent of the total cases are in nursing homes, she said.
She said 514 people or approximately 10 percent of the individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 have required hospitalization. Out of those, 159 people have required treatment in an intensive care unit, and 94 of the patients who have been treated in ICUs have required the use of a ventilator to help them breathe.
The state reported that the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania rose from 48 to 63 Tuesday, which represents a 31.25 percent increase.
In Lehigh County, the number of confirmed cases rose from 231 to 272, which represented a 17.75 percent increase. In Northampton County, the number of confirmed cases rose from 184 to 245, which was an increase of 33.15 percent.
Across the two counties combined, there have been a total of nine deaths from COVID-19 to date.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf expanded his stay-at-home order to include six more counties–Cameron, Crawford, Forest, Franklin, Lawrence, Lebanon and Somerset–effective at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 31.
With approximately half of the state’s 67 counties now under it, Wolf has said he is evaluating the need to expand the order to cover additional counties on a daily basis.
“Residents in these counties may leave their homes only for tasks to maintain the health and safety of themselves and their families,” Levine said. “It is OK to go for a walk or a hike or to exercise, but you really must maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus COVID-19.”
Note: See below or click here for a list of allowable reasons for leaving home in stay-at-home counties.
Levine said residents who have second homes in other parts of the state should not be tempted to visit them to perform spring maintenance at this time, regardless of where they live, because all residents are asked to stay home to help contain the disease.
“If we do not all stay home and stay safe, then we will see the worst case scenarios in all of these models, including the potential overwhelming of our health care systems,” she said. “That is why the governor’s mitigation and prevention efforts are so important.”
When asked about when the virus’s spread will peak, Levine responded by saying there is no easy answer to that question because the modeling of infectious diseases is so complex.
Levine noted that the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has created a Pennsylvania-specific model called Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics (FRED) to help with statewide emergency planning in situations such as the current pandemic.
“This is the tool we have been using,” the Department of Health said in a tweet about FRED.
Also highlighted during the news conference was the news that President Donald Trump has approved Gov. Wolf’s request for a federal disaster declaration for Pennsylvania for the toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on the state.
The authorization means that support will be available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a variety of COVID-19 related impacts.
Also noteworthy on Tuesday was that the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed the number of deaths in China, where the pandemic began late last year.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, more than 3,400 Americans have died from the disease and more than 177,000 have tested positive for it to date. The U.S. now leads the world in terms of the total number of confirmed cases by country, however Italy has recorded the most fatalities from COVID-19 by far. As of Tuesday, more than 12,000 Italians had died from it, according to JHU.
The novel coronavirus can infect anyone, however health officials say people 65 and over as well as individuals with underlying health conditions and/or compromised immune systems are at greatest risk of developing complications requiring hospitalization.
The best defense against COVID-19, public health officials continue to say, is frequent handwashing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. In lieu of soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective at killing the coronavirus.
The following information is from the office of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf. Under Wolf’s orders, and to help slow the spread of the disease, all K-12 schools as well as businesses classified as non-life-sustaining are to remain closed.
Individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following allowable individual activities and allowable essential travel:
- Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home
- Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves, for their family or household members, or as part of volunteer efforts, or to deliver those services or supplies to others to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
- Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing
- To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business
- To care for a family member or pet in another household
- Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities
- Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons
- Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services
- Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction
- Travel required by law enforcement or court order
- Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth
- Anyone performing life-sustaining travel does not need paperwork to prove the reason for travel.
The following operations are exempt:
- Life-sustaining business activities
- Health care or medical services providers
- Access to life-sustaining services for low-income residents, including food banks
- Access to child care services for employees of life-sustaining businesses that remain open as follows: child care facilities operating under the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning waiver process; group and family child care operating in a residence; and part-day school age programs operating under an exemption from the March 19, 2020 business closure Orders
- News media
- Law enforcement, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters
- The federal government
- Religious institutions