Pennsylvania is now an emerging hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.
The state was discussed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening briefings, as President Donald J. Trump and his White House Coronavirus Task Force updated the nation on the war against the “invisible enemy.”
It’s been one month since a pandemic hit Pennsylvania and Gov. Tom Wolf on March 6 announced two positive cases of COVID-19 had been detected on the eastern side of the state.
Since those coronavirus cases emerged in Delaware and Wayne counties, the coronavirus has spread to 65 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, and the entire state is under stay-at-home orders.
In the last four weeks, the virus has spread exponentially across Pennsylvania, sickening more than 11,000, putting more than 1,000 in the hospital and killing 150 people.
About 15 percent of all Pennsylvanians tested are positive for COVID-19, and there have been more than 1,400 new cases a day for the last three days.
This growth has caught the attention of federal officials.
The biggest hot spots in the U.S. are currently New York, Louisiana and Detroit, Birx said. But the new and emerging hot spots across the country are Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., she said.
As of Sunday, New York had more than 122,000 positive cases and more than 4,100 deaths.
To avoid becoming the next New York, Birx urged Pennsylvanians and those in other states to take mitigation efforts seriously, stay at home and practice social distancing when going outside is necessary.
“Now is the time to do everything you can,” she said. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe.”
Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said he wasn’t exactly sure why Dr. Birx mentioned Pennsylvania.
“Obviously, we are seeing our cases rise at a near exponential pace, and significant concern in the eastern part of the state neighboring New York and New Jersey, but there have not been specific discussions with the Task Force,” he said.
Much has been learned during the last month of the pandemic and yet many questions still remain. Below we provide a comprehensive update on what we know and don’t know about the coronavirus and how long it may last in Pennsylvania.
What we know
Testing has increased substantially, and drive-thru testing is available at several locations throughout Pennsylvania. But there’s still a shortage of COVID-19 tests across the country.
If you’re sick or concerned you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you call your healthcare provider. Most patients who are asymptomatic are not recommended for testing.
Testing overall is still about 10 to 14 days behind, meaning the data today shows the rate of infection two weeks ago.
The CDC is now shifting its testing efforts to include new antibody tests that will help determine who was infected and asymptomatic, and may now be immune to the virus.
Knowing who is protected from the infection will be important to getting the country back to work and reopening the U.S. economy, federal officials said.
The coronavirus is two times more contagious than the seasonal flu, according to the CDC, and it’s spreading exponentially in Pennsylvania.
More than 1,400 cases has been added each of the last three days: 1,493 on Sunday, 1,597 on Saturday and 1,404 on Friday.
Pennsylvania now has more than 11,500 positive cases and more than 66,000 negative cases.
But we don’t know how many people really have the disease. Because of a testing shortage and slow start to testing across the country, it is unknown how many people really have COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.
COVID-19 has infected Pennsylvanians of all ages, infants to the elderly.
The breakdown of ages of those who test positive for the disease is shown below:
- O-4: Less than 1 percent
- 5-12: Less than 1 percent
- 13-18: 1 percent
- 19-24: 8 percent
- 25-49: 42 percent
- 50-64: 29 percent
- 65+: 20 percent
The CDC is recommending you wear masks into public, but they won’t keep you from getting COVID-19.
They are recommended to help prevent you from spreading the disease. The masks could help asymptomatic people from infecting others if they are in crowded grocery stories or pharmacies where customers aren’t able to stand 6 feet apart or more.
Homemade masks will not prevent you from getting the coronavirus, the CDC said, and you should continue to practice social distancing.
About 10 percent of the people who test positive for the coronavirus end up hospitalized in Pennsylvania. Patients of all ages have been hospitalized in the last month.
As of Sunday, there were 1,072 people hospitalized.
The breakdown of ages of those who are hospitalized is shown below:
- 0-4: Less than 1 percent
- 5-12: 0 percent
- 13-18: Less than 1 percent
- 19-24: 1 percent
- 25-49: 19 percent
- 50-64: 28 percent
- 65+: 51 percent
About 300 of those patients are in intensive care units and more than half are on ventilators.
It’s unclear how many patients heal after they are put on ventilators, which are life-saving machines that help patients breathe or breathe for them.
The rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Pennsylvania is expected to peak in about two weeks, according to projections from the University of Washington.
Pennsylvania will have more than 7,400 patients hospitalized, need more than 300 intensive care unit beds and need more than 265 life-saving ventilators on April 18, according to that study.
That same University of Washington study shows that deaths could peak at 79 per day in Pennsylvania by April 19 and that more than 2,000 people in the state could die from the coronavirus by Aug. 4.
Areas of concern
The biggest areas of concern in Pennsylvania, according to state officials, right now are:
- A continued shortage of personal protective equipment for medical workers
- A broken supply chain to get more masks and ventilators
- The exponential increase in positive cases
- Growing spread of infections at nursing homes, which was about 1 in 10 on Friday
- Controlling the spread of the virus so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system
People spread out around the flagpole at St. John’s Blymire’s United Church Of Christ on Wednesday morning and prayed for the community, nurses and doctors, government leaders and many others during the turmoil from the coronavirus pandemic. York Daily Record
Signs of hope
There are a few signs of hope in Pennsylvania:
Doctors say about 90 percent of COVID-19 patients don’t need to be hospitalized and can manage symptoms and heal at home
- About 40 percent of intensive care unit beds have remained open during the pandemic, which is a sign the health care system has not been overwhelmed
- The state still has about 75 percent of its stock of ventilators available, though Wolf said he’d like an additional 1,000 to 1,400
- Doctors say most Pennsylvanians appear to be practicing social distancing, and it’s working
What we don’t know
How long will the coronavirus pandemic last and how bad will it be?
It could last for more than 18 months and include “multiple waves of illness,” according to a federal government response plan shared with The New York Times. But nobody really knows for sure.
The plan also said, “The spread and severity of COVID-19 will be difficult to forecast and characterize.”
Trump last week said the U.S. could see between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who is spending millions through his philanthropic channels to find a cure, told CNBC things won’t “go back to truly normal until we have a vaccine that we’ve gotten out to basically the entire world.”
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
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