Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases rise to 479; Philly reports 96 cases

There are currently at least 479 cases of the novel coronavirus in Pennsylvania, according to state health officials. Three deaths have been reported.

State health data recorded at least 96 COVID-19 cases within Philadelphia.

FULL COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the state is seeing a spike in cases because more people are getting infected, not because testing has expanded.

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round magenta objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID-RML)

A look at the latest developments in Pennsylvania:

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CASES:

There are currently at least 479 covoronavirus cases in Pennsylvania. Below is a breakdown of the cases by county.

– Adams County: 5

– Allegheny County: 40, 1 death

– Beaver County: 3

– Berks County: 13

– Bucks County: 32

– Butler County: 1

– Centre County: 1

Chester County: 23

– Columbia County: 1

Cumberland County: 11

– Dauphin County: 1

– Delaware County: 45

– Erie County: 2

– Fayette County: 1

– Franklin County: 1

– Lackawanna County: 6

– Lancaster County: 6

– Lebanon County: 3

Lehigh County: 19

– Luzerne County: 7

– Mercer County: 1

– Monroe County: 31

– Montgomery County: 87, 1 death

Northampton County: 21, including 1 death

– Philadelphia County: 96

– Pike County: 3

– Potter County: 1

– Washington County: 7

– Wayne County: 2

– Westmoreland County: 4

– York County: 10

WHAT WE KNOW

Most of the state’s positive COVID-19 patients are in eastern Pennsylvania, with the hardest hit area in Montgomery County.

A 72-year-old Abington Township man succumbed to the illness on March 21.

The confirmed cases largely have been traced back to contact with the new coronavirus in another state or country. Most people are at home in isolation, officials say; a few are hospitalized.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The vast majority of people recover.


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HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS

The Wolf administration is working to determine hospitals’ capability to handle a surge in cases and exploring options to add bed space, staffing and supplies.

One possibility is creating beds in hotels for patients with less serious ailments, while Wolf’s administration told hospitals to postpone elective procedures.

A COVID-19 case at St. Christopher's followed reports that a Lehigh Valley Health Network staffer and a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia cardiologist had met with patients before testing positive.

St. Christopher's intensive care unit staff will wear protective equipment, including gowns, gloves, eye protection and masks when they are treating patients. The unit's staff will wear surgical masks when they are outside of patient rooms, the hospital said.

Meanwhile, hospital systems are increasingly restricting hospital visits and opening local testing sites.

SCHOOL CLOSURES

All schools in Pennsylvania will be closed for two weeks as the state takes sweeping measures aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus. 

The school shutdown order affecting more than 1.7 million school children, in public and private K-12 schools, came as confirmed cases in the state leaped to 41 from 22, including the first patients under 18 and the first west of the Susquehanna River.

PHILADELPHIA

Philadelphia officials are issuing a stay-at-home order and banning public gatherings beginning 8 a.m. Monday in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The city is using a special system to share important information about COVID-19 through free text alerts. You can text the keyword COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive info and updates through ReadyPhiladelphia, the city's mass communication system.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health on Saturday announced the activation of the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline at 1-800-722-7112. The 24/7 helpline is a free resource to anyone in the Greater Philadelphia area who has questions about COVID-19.

MEAL SERVICE

Philadelphia officials are providing meal service for students while schools remain closed.

For more information, including available pick-up sites, see here.

Shelves in Montgomery County are empty as customers stock up on cleaning supplies.

OPEN AND CLOSED

Among businesses allowed to stay open are gas stations, grocery stores, beer distributors, drugstores, funeral homes and building materials stores. It also clarified that emergency building, highway, utility and bridge repairs are still permitted. Restaurants and bars can continue to offer carry-out, delivery and drive-thru food and drink service, but not dine-in service.

Businesses under shutdown orders range from vending machine operators to building contractors to many types of manufacturers, along with professional offices, such architects and engineers.

Retailers ordered to close include car dealers, bookstores, clothing stores, furniture stores, florists, office supply stores and lawn and garden stores. One category went from open to closed: civic and social organizations.

SHUTDOWN PUSHBACK

Amid lobbying by interest groups and others, Wolf’s administration is sorting through nearly 10,000 waiver requests from his order that non-life-sustaining businesses close, Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin said.

Davin insisted lobbying wasn’t heavy and that he would not listen to personal appeals to him to overturn a particular businesses’ non-life-sustaining categorization.

The Wolf administration’s only consideration is health and safety, as dozens of employees in Davin’s department and lawyers in the governor’s office review requests for a waiver, Davin said.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, released a letter asking Wolf to reverse his administration’s decision to shut down construction on highways and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and construction equipment trade associations asked Wolf’s administration to overturn its prohibition on construction projects.

Brian McGuire, president and CEO of the Illinois-based Associated Equipment Distributors, said Pennsylvania’s shutdown order for construction activity was more restrictive than other states.

One thing Davin said he has heard a lot of from lawmakers and business groups is the ability of businesses that might be shut down to otherwise step up and help produce critical equipment that is in short supply, like respirators.

(Photo by Allie Smith/Unsplash)

NURSING LICENSES + HOSPITAL BEDS

Wolf’s administration on Saturday suspended a number of administrative requirements for nurses, including some licensing requirements and temporarily extending license expiration dates as it tries to find ways to boost staffing levels at hospitals to deal with a surge of patients stricken with the new virus.

With hospital beds a premium to prepare for a surge of coronavirus patients, Penn Medicine said Sunday that crews are speeding up work to finish construction on its new hospital on the West Philadelphia campus of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It said 119 rooms will be available to patients with COVID-19 by mid-April. Construction had been slated to finish in the summer of 2021.

Penn Medicine also said it added about 100 nurses, physicians assistants and physicians to its 24/7 virtual visit service, OnDemand.

(Claire Mueller/Unsplash)

PRICE GOUGING

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office says it’s fielded nearly 1,200 complaints about price gouging related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The agency said it has filed 45 complaints and 34 cease-and-desist letters and subpoenas as a result. The office is taking complaints through the email address, pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov.

TURNPIKE TOLLS

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said that cash and credit cards will not be accepted at any interchange statewide beginning Monday at 8 p.m. The measure is designed to keep travelers safe, so that they don’t need to stop at tollbooths or interact with tolling personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission said.

All tolls will be assessed electronically via E-ZPass or the PA Turnpike TOLL BY PLATE program as vehicles travel at posted speed limits through tolling points. Travelers are being asked to still slow down and pay attention when going through interchanges.


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THE COURTS

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is giving the chief judges in each county authority to close down court facilities and suspend time limits that normally apply to court proceedings. The high court acted Monday and provided the emergency powers through April 14. The order, however, doesn’t affect criminal defendants’ right to speedy trials.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.