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Wolf to residents: Mask up in public

Health official says ‘your mask protects me and my mask protects you’

Until a few days ago, the state Department of Health, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, didn’t recommend that apparently healthy people wear masks in public as a protection against the coronavirus.

Then came rumblings from the CDC that guidance for wearing masks in public may be changing, given evidence that up to a quarter of people infected with the virus may show no symptoms — and thus are apparently healthy.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf urged all Pennsylvanians to wear a mask anytime they go out in public. He spoke a few hours before the federal government issued its own recommendation for Americans to wear face coverings.

“Staying home is the most effective way to protect yourself and your family,” said Health Secretary Rachel Levine during the DoH’s daily COVID webcast. “But if you have to go out to food shop or to the pharmacy, wearing a mask or a bandanna could be an extra layer of protection.”

Masks of cloth are sufficient, and the DoH put instructions on how to make them at home on its website, Levine said.

People should not go after the more formidable surgical masks or N95 masks, because they’re in short supply for the health care workers and first responders at far greater risk of infection in their jobs — and whose continued availability is critical during the crisis, according to Levine.

The masks to be worn in public are not intended to protect their wearers. Rather, “your mask protects me, and my mask protects you,” Levine said.

“They might keep an innocent bystander from getting COVID” — including workers in essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies,” Wolf said.

The masks are also not “a pass to go back to work (in a non-essential business) or to visit or to go out and socialize,” Levine said. Rather, they are “one more tool in the toolbox to protect ourselves against the spread,” she said.

It should still be OK not to wear a mask if one knows he or she isn’t going to see anyone, perhaps for running or hiking — although it would still be a good idea to take a mask or bandanna along just in case, officials indicated.

As the cloth masks are “not foolproof,” heeding the state’s stay-home order must continue, Wolf said.

The department has been working with the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania on modeling to determine the path of the pandemic here vs. the capacity of Pennsylvania hospitals, but there is no definitive answer yet on whether the state’s business and school closures, its stay-home order and now the masking recommendation, coupled with help for hospitals to gear up with staffing, personal protective equipment and ventilators, will be enough to keep a surge in patients from overwhelming the health system, according to Wolf and Levine.

The predicted outcome changes depending on variables introduced into the models, Levine said.

A University of Washington model predicts that Pennsylvania will be OK, she said.

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter which model you consider, Wolf said.

“If we stay at home and practice social distancing, we nip it in the bud,” he said. “But if we spread it, it’s going to overwhelm the hospital system and the peak — whenever it comes — will be just awful.”

In the end, it “comes down to what 12.8 million Pennsylvanians will do,” he said.

With religious holidays approaching, including Easter and Passover, religious leaders should ensure they don’t bring groups together to workship, creating a “petri dish” of infection, Wolf said, citing the case of a Georgia funeral that become the “epicenter” for an infection outbreak.

There are creative ways to allow for worship without congregating, online streaming of services and services in parking lots, with attendees remaining in their cars, Wolf said.

Wolf also demanded a stop to expressions of hate and resentment against Asians — expressions based on the origination of the pandemic in China.

“I’m disappointed and ashamed,” he said, noting that Pennsylvania was founded in the 1600s as a bastion of tolerance.

He supports the filing of hate crime charges by state police against any culprits, he said.

“It’s one more symptom of this terrible (coronavirus) disease,” Wolf said. “We all need to work together.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

By the numbers:

New cases in Blair County: 0

Cumulative cases in Blair County: 4

New cases in contiguous counties: Centre 4; Clearfield 1; Huntingdon 1

Cumulative cases in contiguous counties: Bedford 3; Cambria 4; Centre 32; Clearfield 5; Huntingdon 3

New cases statewide: 1,404, up 15 percent

Cumulative cases statewide: 8,420, in 63 counties

New negative tests statewide: 5,597

Cumulative negative tests statewide: 53,695

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