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Blair confirms a third virus case

Wolf seeks disaster declaration

Blair County got it’s third confirmed case of coronavirus Sunday, after getting its second the day before and it’s first on Thursday, according to the state Department of Health, which provides daily website updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a daily webcast.

Blair’s neighbor to the north, Centre County, whose residents were placed on a stay-at-home order Saturday after its caseload rose to 15, added seven cases Sunday, bringing its total to 22.

The numbers for Blair’s other contiguous counties remained the same: Clearfield with two, Cambria and Huntingdon with one each and Bedford still without a coronavirus positive.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Sunday asked the White House for a major disaster declaration, so Pennsylvania can become eligible for COVID-19 disaster unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, community disaster loans, disaster supplemental nutrition and hazard mitigation, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The state is already eligible for reimbursement of costs for emergency protective measures taken by it, by county and local governments and by some nonprofits, based on the president’s nationwide emergency proclamation that began Jan. 20, according to the news release.

Pennsylvania on Sunday added 649 new COVID cases, about 100 more than on Saturday — whose number was comparable to the tally of new cases for the previous couple of days.

State health officials are watching that daily data for a “sustained” plateau of new cases and then for a decrease, so they can tell whether mitigation efforts — closure of non-essential businesses and schools and stay-at-home orders in targeted counties — are working, said State Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

But even when there comes to be a decrease in the number of new cases, it will be critical not to release mitigation efforts too soon, Levine said.

The mitigation orders are in place to “cut the top off” of a potential infection surge, as represented graphically, to prevent the overwhelming of hospitals, Levine said.

So far, with a total of 3,394 cases in 58 counties, including 316 hospitalizations, there is still plenty of capacity, according to Levine.

There are currently 3,400 ICU beds in Pennsylvania, 40 percent still available; and 4,000-plus ventilators, with 75 percent still available, Levine said Saturday.

Of positive cases in the state, about 27 percent are between 50 and 64, while 19 percent are older, according to the Department of Health.

Most hospitalized patients and most of the state’s 38 deaths have been 65 or older, according to a department news release Sunday.

Sixty-four patients have been in nursing homes, Levine said.

There are 36 nursing homes with at least one case, she said.

Most of those are in }southeastern Pennsylvania, where the outbreak is heaviest, she said.

Nursing home patients represent just 0.1 percent of the nursing home population and the homes with cases represent just 5 percent of the 695 facilities.

But nursing home patients are among the most vulnerable, because of age and frequent underlying health conditions, Levine said.

That vulnerability is why the state enacted strict visitation guidelines in early March, Levine said.

There are other ways besides visiting to stay in touch, with phone calls, letters, cards, video chats and checks with staff, Levine said.

She hasn’t been able to visit her own mother, but calls twice a day, she said.

Nursing home employees must stay at home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, she said.

If they have symptoms and come to work anyway, they won’t be allowed in, she said.

And if they develop symptoms at work, they will be taken to be evaluated, she said.

People who have loved ones dying in a nursing home should work with the nursing home administration and clergy, Levine suggested.

In the southeast, the federal government has provided a subsidy that has allowed work to start on two field hospitals, Levine said.

Two mass testing sites are already operating in that area — in Philadelphia County, which has 865 cases, and in Montgomery, which has 488, according to Levine.

Pennsylvania could consider asking for federal help to open a third mass testing site in the Poconos, in the northeast, Levine said, answering a question about concerns expressed by a hospital in that region that people fleeing there from the nation’s worst outbreak area, New York City, may make the Poconos a potential hot spot.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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