COVID-19: ‘Substantial’ Community Transmission in Lehigh County

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The implications of substantial community transmission of the coronavirus now occuring in Lehigh and a number of other Pennsylvania counties aren’t entirely clear, but in a news release Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf indicated that they may involve school districts.

Lehigh is one of 26 counties state Department of Health officials say currently have “substantial” community transmission of the virus occurring among their populations.

The news release indicated that officials from Pennsylvania’s departments of Education and Health will speak with school district representatives in those counties to discuss the implications of this level of transmission; a level which, according to the Department of Education’s guidelines, warrants the use of a fully remote learning model for students.

Some Southern Lehigh parents earlier this fall demanded that their district bring their children back to the classroom, even holding a rally to protest the use of remote learning.

Coronavirus

Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM

This illustration above, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a depiction of the novel coronavirus; the virus which causes the disease COVID-19. More than 200,000 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the illness since the pandemic began in March, and nearly 9,000 have died, according to the state Department of Health.

Per the Department of Health Northampton County currently has moderate community transmission occurring. Although the state recommends the use of a fully remote learning or hybrid model in school districts with moderate transmission, most Saucon Valley School District students currently attend classes in-person five days a week.

It is unclear if the Saucon Valley School Board’s decision to have students learn in-person rather than via a hybrid or remote model earlier this year has any relation to a number of coronavirus cases recently confirmed at Saucon Valley High School. After five cases were confirmed within the past week, school district superintendent Craig Butler announced Monday that all high school students will transition to remote learning through Nov. 15.

Lehigh County’s percent-positivity testing rate was also called “concerning” in Monday’s news release. Slightly less than the state average of 6.1 percent, at six percent, it is one of a number of statistics that bear watching via the state’s Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard, both Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.

The dashboard is designed to provide early warning signs of factors that affect the state’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts. It includes data such as week-over-week case differences, incidence rates, test percent-positivity rates, and rates of hospitalizations, ventilations and emergency room visits tied to the virus.

“As we have entered a fall resurgence in Pennsylvania, we see case counts on the rise in our counties,” Wolf said in the news release. “We cannot relax our mitigation efforts. We call on Pennsylvanians to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings, download the COVID Alert PA app and answer the call when a public health professional or case investigator call. Together, we are united in this fight and can work to mitigate the spread of this dangerous virus.”

Masks are recommended to be worn by voters at polling places Tuesday, as millions of Pennsylvanians cast their ballots for president of the United States and in other races.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health also announced updated COVID-19-related travel recommendations Monday, adding Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Texas to its list of states from which domestic travelers are recommended to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Pennsylvania.

According to data from CovidActNow.org, Lehigh County is currently reporting an average of approximately 65 new cases of the disease per day; the most since April 20.

Northampton County is reporting an average of 50 new cases per day, which is the most it has reported since early May.

The other Pennsylvania counties the state says currently have substantial community transmission occurring are Armstrong, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Cambria, Centre, Crawford, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Lebanon, Luzerne, Mifflin, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, Tioga, Venango, Westmoreland, Wyoming and York.

The counties with moderate community transmission now occurring, in addition to Northampton County, are Adams, Allegheny, Beaver, Bedford, Bucks, Butler, Carbon, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Greene, Jefferson, Juniata, Lancaster, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Potter, Snyder, Somerset, Susquehanna, Union and Washington.

Only Cameron, Forest, Sullivan, Warren and Wayne counties–all of which have relatively small populations–currently have a low degree of community transmission, per the state.

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