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COVID-19 — New state cases top 1K

The state Department of Health on Friday reported 1,213 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily number since April 30.

It’s only the fourth time since May 10 that the new-case count has exceeded 1,000, based on figures as initially reported by the DoH.

The high point for new cases from the start of the pandemic is 1,989 on April 9, as originally reported — although a graph on the DoH website registers the high point as 2,062 for the day before.

Titled “Daily COVID-19 cases,” that graph traces a steep upward slope beginning in mid-March to the early-April peak, then a steady decline into early June.

The single-day low, as reported on the graph, was 304 on June 7. Since then, there’s been a steady rise, coinciding with the movement of most counties from late May through June into the green phase of reopening, coupled with a surge in cases over the last few weeks in the southern areas of the U.S.

Indicative of Pennsylvania trending in the wrong direction is the positivity rate.

Last week, positive tests as a percentage of people tested over the prior 14 days was 4.4 percent, according to a governor’s office news release Friday. This week, the positivity rate for the prior 14 days is 4.7 percent, according to the news release and a dashboard on the DoH website.

The positivity rate for people tested over the last seven days is even higher — 5.7 percent, according to Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, speaking at a news conference in Lancaster on Friday.

Five percent is the “cutoff” that signals danger, Levine indicated.

“We were doing a good job,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at the news conference, speaking of the state’s success in lowering the new case counts from the April peak. “(Now) we’re trying to hold back a wave.”

One of the planks in the bulwark against that wave is testing, according to Wolf.

The administration is aiming to double the 28,000 tests performed on its best day so far, the governor said.

There are currently more than 440 testing sites, heavily concentrated around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and “we want (that number) to grow,” he said.

The administration wants anyone who believes they have COVID-19 symptoms to get tested, Levine said.

Key to controlling outbreaks are case investigations triggered when someone tests positive, according to Levine.

Before 24 hours have elapsed, state-based or local department workers with clinical backgrounds or clinical staffers from the National Guard interview those who test positive to find out where they were exposed and who they were in “close contact” with during their infectious period, Levine said.

“Close contact” means being within 6 feet for 15 minutes, she said.

Tracers record demographic and health information, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and place of residence, as well as symptoms and when those symptoms began, Levine said.

The information is sent to the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System database.

People testing positive are required to self-isolate, Levine said.

The self-isolation continues until at least 10 days have lapsed since the first appearance of symptoms, and at least three days have lapsed after fever has subsided without help from fever-reducing medications — and after respiratory symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath have improved, according to instructions on the DoH website.

Within 24 hours of getting information from the infected person, tracers reach out to the close contacts, calling them, emailing them or sending letters if necessary to inform them of what has happened and to tell them they must quarantine at home for 14 days — without identifying the infected person, Levine said.

If the close contacts are members of the initially infected person’s household, quarantines may last longer, Levine said.

The department is using the Sara Alert system to help monitor people who have been exposed, according to Levine.

It checks in automatically with those who enroll, Levine said.

The system allows both those who have tested positive and those who have been exposed to share symptoms daily via smart phone with public health agencies, according to a video on the Sara Alert website.

“This is not new,” Levine said of the case investigation protocol.

It’s done the same way with measles, sexually transmitted diseases and other maladies, she said.

“It’s bread-and-butter public health,” she stated.

“It’s a tried-and-true public health tool,” said Dr. Anne-Marie Derrico, chief medical officer for the Lancaster Health Center, where Friday’s press conference took place.

There have been issues with people not answering the phone when tracers call, Levine said.

“It’s important you answer those phone calls, because they can save your life and the life of someone you love,” Levine said.

School exception

Friday was the deadline for nursing homes in Pennsylvania to comply with the requirement to get all residents and staffers tested for COVID-19, Levine said.

Of two groups that didn’t make the deadline, one had tests pending, many with national firms like LabCorp and Quest that have been overwhelmed with demand and are not returning results quickly, and one group whose members have scheduled tests at the beginning of next week, she said.

As expected, the testing has resulted in higher new-case numbers among residents and staffers, mainly catching people who were asymptomatic, she said.

That has helped with proper cohorting of patients, she said.

“There have not been massive increases,” however, she said.

Schools are to be given waivers relieving them of the requirement to comply with the current 25-person limit on indoor events, because of their “importance” in comparison to other indoor events, Levine said Friday, in answer to a reporter’s question at the news conference.

“Critically important,” Levine said. “We’re doing all we can to allow schools to be open.”

School districts, their superintendents and the Departments of Education and Health are working together to ensure that teachers, staffers and parents feel comfortable with sending children back for in-person learning, Levine said.

Veto coming?

Wolf may be rethinking his declared intention to veto a bill that calls for administrations to honor Right-to-Know requests during emergency declarations.

The bill was passed unanimously by the General Assembly.

As of Friday afternoon, the governor hadn’t yet exercised his veto.

“I have until Sunday,” he said, in answer to a reporter’s question, referring to the 10-day period after which an unsigned bill automatically becomes law.

He’s “absolutely” for the transparency the bill espouses, but worries the proposed law isn’t flexible enough to protect employees who may not be able to reach documents located in buildings that are inaccessible during emergencies, thus forcing administrations into violations of the law, he said.

If he can be assured the bill would be implemented in a way to keep those employees safe, “I’m fine with it,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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