Although the rate of infection has slowed dramatically thanks to public health and safety measures like social distancing and face mask use, statistics related to COVID-19’s spread across Pennsylvania and beyond continue to define the outbreak in unsettling terms.
The most noteworthy example of that on Tuesday was the report that the U.S. had surpassed a grim milestone, as the national death toll from COVID-19 topped 100,000; a figure many health experts say is likely an underestimate of the true count.
Closer to home, more than 400 Lehigh Valley residents have died from the illness to date and approximately 6,600 have received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
The new case totals reported by the state each day have declined precipitously in the second half of May, with Lehigh County confirming just nine new cases on Tuesday for a total of 3,676 and Northampton County adding 13 to bring its total to 2,933.
A handful of the new cases confirmed are in a Northampton County zip code that has now reached the unenviable milestone of having had more than 500 COVID-19 cases.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed via an interactive map it hosts that the 18017 zip now has a caseload of 502. The zip code includes parts of the City of Bethlehem; Hanover Township, Northampton County; and Hanover Township, Lehigh County.
The only zip code in Northampton County that has had more confirmed cases of the virus is 18042, which includes the City of Easton and parts of surrounding municipalities.
As of Tuesday, there were 256 confirmed and 15 probable cases of coronavirus in the 18015 zip code, which includes parts of Lower Saucon Township, Upper Saucon Township, Salisbury Township, the City of Bethlehem and Fountain Hill borough.
There were 66 confirmed cases and seven probable cases of the virus in the adjacent 18055 zip code, which includes the borough of Hellertown, parts of Lower Saucon Township, and small parts of Williams Township in Northampton County and Springfield Township in Bucks County.
To view more case totals by zip code, visit the Department of Health’s website.
Per the health department, 199 Northampton County residents have died from the virus; a total that represents a slight difference from the death toll of 210 reported by the county coroner.
Northampton County has its own COVID-19 testing site for residents which is operating on a temporary basis at Easton Hospital until Friday, June 5. The drive-thru facility is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to anyone exhibiting at least one of following CDC-recognized symptoms of COVID-19: fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or loss of taste and/or smell. Tests are conducted free of charge, and residents should bring a photo ID and/or insurance card if they have them.
“Testing will get us open and testing will keep us open,” said county executive Lamont McClure in a news release. “COVID-19 is still active in our area and I encourage everyone to continue to practice social distancing and to wear a mask while they’re out in public.”
The news release noted that in its first 13 days of operation, the drive-thru testing center at Easton Hospital had tested nearly 900 Northampton County residents for COVID-19.
Statewide Tuesday, the Department of Health reported the lowest number of new cases of coronavirus in months, with 451 new cases added to bring the state’s case total to date to 68,637. It wasn’t immediately clear if the low case totals reported by the state Monday and Tuesday were partly due to reporting delays related to the holiday weekend. Similar delays have been documented in the past.
To date the state has confirmed 5,152 deaths from COVID-19, many of which have taken place in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. After releasing preliminary data about the number of cases and deaths in those facilities that contained inaccuracies last week and then an update on Friday, the health department was expected to release a newly-updated list on Tuesday.
While recognizing the losses, Gov. Tom Wolf in a news release praised the efforts of residents who he said are making the sacrifices necessary to stop the spread of the virus and continue to reopen Pennsylvania.
“We’re able to make this progress toward safely reopening our economy because people are taking precautions and keeping themselves and their communities safe–whether it is a person wearing a mask or a business changing their operations to protect employees and customers,” Wolf said. “I thank each and every one of you for doing your part.”
Wolf also announced that Centre County in central Pennsylvania will join 17 other primarily rural counties that will move from the yellow phase of his reopening plan to the third and final green phase, with relaxed restrictions on gatherings and business operations, on Friday. The other counties moving to green are Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.
Eight other counties located in south central and northeastern Pennsylvania will move from the most-restrictive red phase to yellow Friday: Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.
“Counties that remain in red on May 29 and are expected to move to yellow by June 5 include Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery and Philadelphia,” Wolf’s news release said.
Many businesses in the Lehigh Valley are eager to reopen as the restrictions on activities are loosened, however not all will be able to do so after the area transitions to yellow.
Gyms, for example, will not be able to open until their locations are within a green zone, and even then they may only do so with 50 percent occupancy.
A Lehigh County gym owner over the weekend said he can’t afford to wait that long and reopened by hosting a publicized event that drew not only supporters, but also Pennsylvania state troopers from Troop M’s Bethlehem barracks who issued him two citations.
SuperSets owner Ed Frack later took to Facebook to demand that the state reopen, while others are asking that gyms be permitted to reopen with limited occupancy under yellow.