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Blair’s move to green still not set

There has been speculation that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration might announce today that Blair County will go from the yellow phase of coronavirus recovery to the green one Friday.

“Unfortunately, I do not have any updates on new upcoming reopening information,” a state Department of Health spokeswoman stated in an email Thursday when asked whether that will happen. “Please stay tuned for the governor’s updates tomorrow.”

“Those who say, don’t know, and those who know, don’t say,” said State Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona, in a voicemail Thursday.

Wolf, however, moved Blair County to yellow a week after it moved Centre County to that phase, Schmitt observed, and today Centre is moving to green.

“If the governor is going to be consistent, he should move Blair to green a week after he moved Centre,” Schmitt said. “(Still) the only thing consistent about this administration in dealing with the mitigation plan has been its inconsistency.”

Bill to Wolf

The state House and Senate have unanimously passed the Senior Protection Act, which will go to Gov. Tom Wolf, according to a news release Thursday from House Speaker Mike Turzai.

“The legislation would establish a coordinated, collaborative public-private-part­nership approach of regional health system collaboratives,” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in long-term care facilities, where there have been 3,501 COVID-19 deaths — 65 percent of the state’s COVID-19 death total, according to the news release. “These health collaboratives would administer/manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect the seniors in these facilities.”

It’s based on a plan developed by UPMC, which operates about 30 senior living communities, none of which had any COVID-19 infections as of recently.

While the legislation is bipartisan, the Republican majority in the General Assembly has been critical of the Democratic adminstration’s handling of long-term care facilities.

They’ve especially excoriated the practice of returning long-term care residents who’d been hospitalized for COVID-19 back to the homes where they came from, a practice the critics say have contributed to outbreaks.

“We’ve done a deep dive” into that, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during a recent webcast.

The practice was in accord with guidance — then and now — from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guidance that almost every state was following, Levine said.

The vast majority of those patients contracted the disease in the long-term facilities and were simply returning after they’d recovered, Levine said.

“It’s not that they caught the illness in the hospital,” she said.

The guidance was handed down at a time when there was concern that hospitals would be overwhelmed, and that the beds those residents occupied should be cleared to be available for other patients, she said.

“For the most part, hospitals can’t just keep people if they don’t require hospital care,” she said.

Moreover, as those residents returned, the department provided “cohorting” guidance to keep people who were contagious separate from those that weren’t, Levine said.

The department also provided guidance on infection control, she said.

The outbreak problems have been caused mainly by infections brought in by staff who were asymptomatic or presymptomatic, she said.

The state is currently following federal guidelines in setting up protocols to test everyone — employees and patients — in long-term care facilities to deal with that issue.

Early on, testing capacity was insufficient for that, she has indicated.

A Brown University study has indicated that the worst outbreaks in long-term care facilities tended to be those located in communities where there were lots of cases generally, especially communities with a high population density, Levine said.

By the numbers:

New/total COVID-19 county cases: Blair 1/49 (1 death); Bedford 0/38 (2 deaths); Cambria 0/57 (2 deaths); Centre 1/150 (6 deaths, plus 1 from coroner); Clearfield 0/37; Huntingdon 0/228 (includes SCI Huntingdon 162 inmates, 135 recovered, 3 deaths; 53 employees, 32 recovered);

Area new/total cases: 2/559

New/total cases statewide: 625 (down 19 percent)/70,042 (64 percent recovered), 595 positive serology tests

New/total deaths statewide: 108/5,373, 7.6 percent of positive cases

New/total negative tests in area counties: 370/10,841

New/total tests in area (new positives plus new negatives): 372/11,400, 2.2 percent of population in Blair; 1.9 percent of population in area

New/total negative tests statewide: 7,814/357,804

New/total tests statewide: 8,439/427,846; 3.3 percent of population

Infection rate (percent of population with confirmed positives) region/state: 0.09 percent/0.54 percent

Positivity rate (percent of total tests that are positive) region/state: 5.1 percent/16.3 percent

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