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Wolf stresses wearing masks

Administration sending follow-up emails reinforcing message

Since the Wolf administration expanded its order on Wednesday for masks to be worn whenever anyone encounters people who are not of their household outdoors and for all indoor locations open to the public, it has sent four follow-up emails reinforcing the message.

“Masks are mandatory when leaving the home,” begins the second such email Friday, after two on Thursday, following the Wednesday order that was handed down in response to rising COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania and many other states.

UPMC endorses the masking order, being “aligned with federal and local regulations,” according to UPMC spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell, in an email responding to a request for comment from the Mirror. But UPMC also stands by its insistence last week that a rise in case counts by itself should not be cause for alarm, provided hospitalizations and deaths are low and those who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus are protected, according to Sampsell, citing statements from Dr. Donald Yealy, chairman of emergency medicine at UPMC.

“We need to change our mindset and focus on severity of illness, rather than just counting the number of new infections,” Yealy stated in a press conference June 23, as noted by Sampsell.

“For the vast majority of the people testing positive, their illness is mild or they don’t even have symptoms. The younger, healthier people who are becoming infected may be helping to build our collective immunity, something that helps in any viral pandemic,” Yealy said.

Nationally, the number of positive cases are up, but mortality is decreasing, while in communities served by UPMC, the hospitalization rate and the rate of intensive care for COVID-19 are down, Yealy observed in his remarks during a press conference.

“This indicates that the people in our communities who are most vulnerable to the disease aren’t getting (COVID-19) — and those getting it tend to be the ones who recover well or have little sign of infection,” Yealy stated.

“Our stance has not changed,” Sampsell wrote.

On the state Department of Health website, a vertical bar graph on the “Pennsylvania COVID-19 Dashboard” for new cases shows that for about two weeks, the count has generally been increasing.

By contrast, a similar graph shows that for those same two weeks, the death rate has been declining, although not as steeply as it did from late April until early June.

The Wolf administration expanded the mask order Wednesday to counter “hot spots” that “can be traced to situations where Pennsylvanians were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing — two practices that must be adhered to if we want to maintain the freedoms we have in place under our reopening,” stated Gov. Tom Wolf in the news release accompanying the order.

Republican lawmakers have panned that order in a news release focused on the recent decision of the state Supreme Court, striking down their proposal to unilaterally end the gubernatorial emergency declaration that authorizes him to issue such orders.

The court ruling “comes just moments after another unenforceable, unilateral mask order,” the Republican leadership team wrote.

Local lawmakers don’t like the order, either, although they don’t necessarily oppose the use of masks to prevent the spread of infection.

Mask-wearing is a “reasonable accommodation for the safety of others,” state Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona, said Wednesday. “But I don’t like the governor telling us we have to.”

“Many people are wearing the mask dutifully,” said state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, adding that she wears one herself. But the governor’s order is tantamount to “taking away our constitutional and civil liberties,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

By the numbers

New/total county COVID-19 cases: Blair 5/79 (1 death); Bedford 1/89 (4 deaths); Cambria 5/90 (3 deaths); Centre 7/218 (7 deaths); Clearfield 1/74; Huntingdon 2/254 (4 deaths, although SCI-Huntingdon has reported 5)

Area new/total cases: 21/804

New/total cases statewide: 667 (down 19 percent)/88,741 (78 percent recovered), 634 positive serology tests

New/total deaths statewide: 34/6,746

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