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Local virus cases stagnate

State: Don’t ease off on distancing

Stagnation generally has unfavorable connotations, but not for coronavirus positive cases.

For Blair and its contiguous counties, those COVID-19 positives seem to have stagnated recently, as the county — so far — hasn’t become a pandemic hot spot.

Additionally, statewide, the number of new cases daily has dipped a little in the past two days, which is good — though it’s not nearly enough to draw definitive conclusions, according to officials on the state’s daily coronavirus webcast Monday.

In the past seven days, the six local counties have averaged a total of less than five additional daily cases.

That’s less than one case per county per day.

During that time — since March 31 — Blair has added a single case, bringing its total to five.

Of the rest of the 34 new local cases during the past week, Bedford has added two, Cambria five, Centre 20, Clearfield three and Huntingdon three.

There have been 71 cases in the local counties since Centre had the first on March 20. That is an average of a little less than four new cases per county during those 18 days.

Statewide, after seven days in which the number of new cases increased an average of 15 percent per day, the most recent two days provided decreases of 7 and 1.5 percent.

“(But) it’s way too early to tell whether we’re seeing a true plateau,” said State Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

The number of new cases may have leveled off, but the absolute number of cases is still growing “at an alarming rate,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.

There’s still community spread “everywhere,” Dr. Levine said.

While the expected surge of patients “may not be as great as we once anticipated,” it’s no time to let up on mitigation efforts, which include closures of schools and non-essential businesses, a stay-home order and a recommendation for masking in public, Wolf said.

“It’s important for people in Pennsylvania not to become complacent,” Levine said. “This is a critical time.”

Pennsylvania is next to the hot zones of New Jersey and it’s near New York City, Levine observed, when commenting on a prediction made over the weekend by White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx that Pennsylvania could be in the next group of hot spots.

The Department of Health won’t get a handle on the crisis here without further analysis of three- and seven-day intervals, coupled with further examination of computer models created by the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington, Levine indicated.

Pennsylvanians needn’t wear masks if they go for a run or a walk alone or with the people with whom they live, but they should wear one if they might encounter others on the way, such that they can’t practice “social distancing,” Levine said.

It may take time for people to buy into mask-wearing, given that “this kind of thing is very different, like wearing seatbelts,” when they first became available, Wolf said.

“(But) people will pick it up,” said Wolf, who took off a mask before addressing listeners on Monday’s webcast.

To expedite procurement of COVID-19-related supplies for medical providers and emergency responders, the state has created a “web portal” for manufacturers and distributors.

The Pennsylvania Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal involves the DoH, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of General Services and the Department of Community and Economic Development, along with manufacturers’ associations and business groups, according to Wolf.

The supplies needed include personal protective equipment and ventilators.

The state is looking for participation not only for companies that can produce the equipment, but those that can produce components of equipment like ventilators, such as plastic tubing, Wolf said. The state is also looking to recruit companies that can “pivot” to produce such items, he said.

“I know there are manufacturers across the state that are willing and able to help,” he said.

The department is looking into whether to begin sharing case information broken down to the municipal level, due to many requests, especially from county and emergency management officials, Levine indicated.

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