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Region holding steady amid virus

No confirmed cases in Blair; surrounding counties see positives

It was status quo on Wednesday for the coronavirus in this region: no cases in Blair County, but positives in three contiguous counties: seven in Centre and one each in Cambria and Clearfield, according to the daily COVID-19 web­cast from the state Department of Health.

Statewide, there were 276 new cases, bringing the total positives to 1,127, continuing the “exponential” increase that is doubling the number of new cases every two or three days, according to Secretary of Health Rachel Levine.

“It gets very high very fast,” Levine said.

Reflecting the growth of “community spread,” Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday added two more counties — Lehigh and Northampton — to the eight already under his “stay-at-home order for residents.

The virus is in 44 counties, and it has forced the hospitalization of 120 people since it reached the state in early March, Levine said.

The hospitalization rate for those infected remains about 10 percent, Levine said. Thirty-eight of the hospitalized patients have needed intensive care and 18 of those needed ventilators, she said.

The virus has killed 11 people in Pennsylvania.

Almost 11,200 have tested negative.

The state continues to prepare for a coronavirus patient surge in the coming weeks.

That preparation includes an effort to increase the number of intensive care, isolation, medical-surgical and subacute beds, with hotels a possible location for the latter; to ensure adequate staffing by doctors, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, nurses, X-ray techs and respiratory therapists; and to obtain sufficient supplies of ventilators and N95 masks, Levine said.

The department is also working with the Hospital and Healthsystems Association of Pennsylvania and other stakeholders on “crisis standards of care” that could apply as the crisis mounts, she said, without giving details.

“(But) all of us are trying to avoid the surge,” Wolf said.

State College’s Mount Nittany Medical Center is in Centre County, the only local county with multiple cases, but it has not admitted any of those patients, according to hospital spokeswoman Anissa Ilie.

Still, the hospital has been preparing, Ilie said.

The preparations include daily “virtual” medical staff meetings, a restricted visitation policy, the rescheduling of all non-essential/elective services and the screening of all visitors, employees, providers, patients and vendors, Ilie wrote in an email.

The screening includes questions about signs and symptoms, travel history, contacts with people known to have COVID-19, plus a temperature check — provisions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Ilie.

“We have prepared and practiced for many years with our community and state partners, and we are using that expertise to navigate this situation,” Nirmal Joshi, chief medical officer at Mount Nittany, said in an email.

UPMC, which operates hospitals in Altoona and Bedford among its 40 facilities in western and central Pennsylvania and beyond, is ready for the onslaught with the help of “a strong supply chain system” that can ensure adequate personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and gowns, said spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell in an email Wednesday. “We are closely tracking allocation of these supplies to all UPMC facilities to make sure they have what they need but that none is being wasted.”

The Department of Health is distributing supplies, including ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment to hospitals across the state, as needed, free of charge, department spokesman Nate Wardle wrote in an email.

There are 3,000 ventilators across the state in hospitals and other facilities, with 75 percent currently available to use, Levine said.

At the beginning of the crisis, the health department had more than a million N95 masks in its reserves, and has been distributing them as needed to facilities, while obtaining more from anywhere it can, Levine said. The department is also looking to industry for masks that can be used in health care, she said.

It’s also looking to buy ventilators where it can, she said.

Success in staying ahead of the pandemic isn’t guaranteed.

“We are certainly concerned that a worst-case scenario could strain our health care system to a point they cannot keep up,” Wardle wrote.

There is a financial component to the worry, as expressed Tuesday by Hospital and Healthsystem CEO Andy Carter, who predicted that some hospitals could go broke and close because of the fiscal strain.

The Wolf administration is working with facilities to head off fiscal difficulties, conscious that even “during normal circumstances, many of the hospitals across the state run with a very limited operating margin, without a lot of wiggle room,” Wardle wrote. “We know that the postponement of elective procedures, the cost of responding to COVID-19, etc. could be difficult for many,” he added.

UPMC is not among the hospital systems in financial peril, according to spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

By the numbers:

Statewide coronavirus positives: 1,127

Number of counties with

positives: 44 of 67

Positives added Wednesday: 276

Total deaths: 11

Negative results: 11,193

— Pa. Department of Health

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