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Blair cases dip due to error

Two COVID-19 patients are actually from another county

Blair County’s coronavirus case number, as tallied by the state Department of Health, went down to four from six Tuesday, because patients initially presumed to be residents of Blair actually lived in another county, according to the DoH.

Sometimes a doctor who orders a test may cite a patient’s case by the address of his office or the address of the location where a specimen was taken, but the DoH assigns cases statistically according to counties of residence, said spokeswoman Maggi Mumma in an email.

The discrepancy, which led the state to post six Blair cases Monday, also could have been based on a mistaken belief about the county of residence for one or more patients, according to information provided by Mumma and state Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who appeared Tuesday on the DoH daily webcast.

The numbers decline in Blair does not reflect the death or recovery of patients, as those outcomes continue to be part of the county numbers — although the DoH handles each differently, tracking the deaths, but not the recoveries, Mumma stated.

Statewide, the number of new cases on Tuesday rose 9 percent to 756 from new-case number on Monday.

“We’re not seeing the doubling we were seeing before,” Levine said.

Still, as the DoH has stated for the past several days about new-case numbers, it’s too early to draw conclusions about when the pandemic will peak in Pennsylvania and whether it will overwhelm hospitals here — a consequence the state is working to prevent through school and non-essential business closures, stay-home orders and by helping hospitals to gear up with additional workers, beds, personal protective equipment and ventilators.

The DoH is studying epidemiological models provided by the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington to get a handle on when the peak may come, but “modeling is very complex,” Levine said.

Among the many factors it considers are how the virus is being transmitted, the percentage of patients being hospitalized and the effects of social distancing, Levine said.

A factor that seems to be playing out differently here than in China, where the pandemic began, is the hospitalization rate, which is turning out to be lower in the U.S., Levine said.

She compared the modeling to weather forecasting, in which a temperature change of a few degrees or a change in wind direction could mean the difference between 2 feet of snow and flurries.

Despite the variability potential, all the models predict the overwhelming of the state’s hospitals in “the worst case” — which is why mitigation is so critical, Levine said.

Among Blair’s contiguous counties, Bedford got its first two cases Tuesday, Centre added two, bringing its total to 26, while Clearfield remained at four, Cambria at two and Huntingdon at one.

The state added seven counties to its stay-home order Tuesday: Somerset, Cameron, Crawford, Forest, Franklin, Lawrence and Lebanon, bringing the total under stay-home order to 33 — nearly half the 67 counties in Pennsylvania.

Centre is the closest.

While residents of stay-home counties are “asked to leave their homes only if absolutely necessary and if the trip is for a life-sustaining reason,” the “distinction between those counties on a stay-at-home order and those that are not is not significant,” said DoH spokeswoman Sara Goulet in an email. “Gov. Wolf has asked all Pennsylvanians to stay at home and has closed all non-life-sustaining businesses and all Pennsylvania schools until further notice across the state,” Goulet wrote.

Even in stay-home counties, residents can go to the grocery story, to work in essential businesses and for walks or runs, provided they maintain distance from one another.

The main distinction is that in those counties, the directive is enforceable — although the state is asking officers “to serve as educators and not enforcers,” Goulet wrote.

While the state is not aggressively tracking compliance with mitigation instructions, it seems that overall, “Pennsylvanians are doing the right thing” — especially in the stay-home counties, Levine said.

Of 42,488 people tested so far in Pennsylvania, a total of 4,843 have been infected — about 13 percent, according to information supplied by the DoH.

About 40 percent of those infected were between the ages of 25 and 49, the DoH stated.

About 30 percent were between the ages of 50 and 64, while 20 percent were 65 or older.

Ten percent of the Pennsylvania patients — 514 — have been hospitalized, and most were 65 or older, the category that includes most of the 63 who have died, according to the DoH.

Almost 10 percent of COVID patients were between 19 and 24, while a very low percentage were 18 or younger — although young people can carry the virus and infect others, according to information from the DoH and outside sources.

Five percent of those infected were health care workers, while less than 1 percent were residents of nursing homes, Levine said.

Businesses that discover that an employee has tested positive need to send the employee home for isolation or to the hospital, if symptoms dictate, and they need to send the employee’s close contacts home to quarantine for 14 days, Levine said. Such businesses also need to conduct “deep cleaning” in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, she said. Only then can such businesses reopen and let people come back to work, she said.

The state itself is generally not trying to trace contacts of infected people, except in the case of facilities where there are vulnerable populations, like nursing homes, Levine said.

In those cases, the state looks to ensure that patients — whether residents or staff — are isolated and that those who were in contact with them are quarantined, Levine said.

Pennsylvania residents who have second homes in rural areas of the state should resist the temptation to visit those second homes for spring maintenance, Levine said. Routine maintenance is ultimately far less important than doing one’s part to deal with “a global pandemic,” she said. “This is an emergency,” she stated.

The state is keeping track of the CDC’s ongoing reappraisal of prior recommendation that healthy people shouldn’t wear masks in public — a recommendation that the DoH has abided by, Levine indicated.

Such masks would be of cloth and would not be the N95 masks that hospitals urgently need more of for their employees, she said.

The masks would keep the wearer from infecting others by shedding virus-bearing droplets, Levine said.

“My mask protects you,” she said. “Yours protects me.”

The state has yet not made a decision whether to shift its recommendation, according to Levine.

It’s up to hospitals and hospital systems whether to buy new COVID-19 test apparatus that provides quick results — reportedly in 15 minutes, according to Levine.

The apparatus could be useful, especially in emergency departments, she said.

The state is not buying such equipment for now, according to Levine. “We need to look carefully at its accuracy,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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