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Blair sees first COVID-19 case

The coronavirus has arrived.

Blair County has a confirmed COVID-19 case, reported Thursday by the state Department of Health.

Three of Blair’s five contiguous counties also have cases, as the department reported previously: Centre with eight, one more than on Wednesday; Clearfield with two, also one more than on Wednesday, and Cambria with one — while Huntingdon and Bedford remain without a case, according to the department.

The Blair resident who tested positive is reportedly in isolation at home.

The Department of Health declined to provide any demographic information on the Blair resident or information about where the patient lives in the county.

The patient was not one of those from whom a test sample was taken at UPMC’s new specimen collection site on Pleasant Valley Boulevard, according to hospital spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell.

The Blair case was one of 560 new ones reported Thursday, bringing the state total to 1,687, according to Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who spoke in a

webcast.

The rise in cases continues to be “exponential,” with Thursday’s new ones doubling the new cases reported the previous day.

The virus is now in 48 of the state’s 67 counties.

Almost half of all people who have tested positive are at least 50 years old, Levine said.

But given that almost 40 percent are between 25 and 49, there’s no reason younger adults should feel complacent, Levine said.

About 10 percent of those who tested positive have been hospitalized. Of those 170 patients, 56 have needed intensive care and 32 of them have needed ventilators.

Sixteen people have died — almost 70 percent of them over 65, Levine said.

The department continues to seek and distribute supplies to hospitals and other facilities dealing with the crisis.

It has distributed 678,000 N95 masks, 207,000 “procedure” masks, 380,000 gloves, 36,000 gowns and 44,000 goggles and face protection items, Levine said.

The state is also looking to help hospitals increase their bed capacity and obtain ventilators.

The procurement effort should benefit from the health care component of the massive coronavirus stimulus bill that Congress and the president have been working on, and from a

$50 million package the state is set to approve, said Gov. Tom Wolf, who was also on the webcast.

The state’s $50 million will go into a restricted account under the governor’s jurisdiction and be used to buy medical supplies and equipment to be distributed to hospitals and other facilities, according to a governor’s office news release.

The procurement effort should also benefit from a newly established “Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal” developed by the Departments of Health, General Services, Community and Economic Development and the Emergency Management Agency, according to a news release on Thursday.

The portal will enable manufacturers, distributors and other suppliers “to inform us of supplies available for purchase” that can be routed to hospitals and other medical facilities, according to the news release.

Masks, face shields, respirators, hand sanitizer, ventilators, ventilator circuits, endotracheal tubes, gowns, swabs and many more items are needed, according to the news release.

Along with the procurement effort, the main weapon is the social-distancing mitigation orders imposed in recent weeks, designed to stop the exponential rise in cases, thus “flattening the curve” of the infection graph, officials said.

It’s all “so hospitals don’t have to ration care or make unimaginable choices,” Wolf said.

Officials are currently working on “triage” policies in case they’re needed, Levine said.

State officials are now in discussion about the possibility of restricting entry of passengers on buses from New York City, the current epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S., even though Wolf said previously that he isn’t comfortable with imposing restrictions on entry from New York and New Jersey.

In granting waivers to businesses seeking to be labeled “essential,” so those businesses can continue to operate, the state is trying to use “common sense,” said Wolf, who was answering a question about partly finished construction projects that could create safety hazards if waivers aren’t granted and they are left undone.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development has both granted and denied “thousands” of waiver requests and seeks to make “the right calls” with consistency and speed, he said.

He’d like to see the department publish a list of waiver recipients, but only if the benefits of transparency outweigh potential negative “pressures” created by making the list known, he said.

The governor is working with educators on whether to follow the lead of other states by closing schools for the remainder of the current semester year.

“I want to keep (the choice) open” for now, Wolf said. Unemployment claims in the state have surged, with about 800,000 filings since March 15, Wolf said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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