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GOV. WOLF AND SEC. LEVINE PROVIDE UPDATE ON COVID-19

GOV. WOLF AND SEC. LEVINE PROVIDE UPDATE ON COVID-19

By Harrison Cann, Pennsylvania Legislative Services | March 16, 2019

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine provided an update on the measures Pennsylvania is taking to mitigate COVID-19 in Pennsylvania at a press conference this afternoon.

Gov. Wolf stated that his administration has been closely monitoring the situation and focusing mitigation efforts on a county-by-county basis. He announced that those mitigation efforts will be extended across the entire commonwealth.

“This is not a decision I take lightly at all. It is one I am making because medical experts believe it is the only way we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients,” Gov. Wolf added. He stated that the decision was made in conjunction with officials at all levels and that starting at midnight all nonessential businesses should close.

Gov. Wolf noted that bars and restaurants should be included, except for takeout orders, and that daytime programs and facilities for seniors are included as well. He said that municipal services such as trash collection, grocery stores, and medical facilities should remain open. He added that he expects these mitigation efforts to continue for two weeks but that the situation will be constantly monitored.

“We need to eliminate as many physical contacts as we can to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and we need to work together to do this,” Gov. Wolf stated. “I know for all of us the next few weeks are going to be challenging. There is no reason to be fearful or to panic but we need to take this disease seriously.”

He urged people to make as few trips outside out of their homes as possible, and to try and make shopping trips during nonpeak hours. He also urged people to call or video chat loved ones to maintain contact while avoiding physical contact. He added that daily updates will continue to occur and that more information can be found on the Department of Health’s (DOH) website and social media accounts.

Sec. Levine stated that 76 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for COVID-19 as of this morning and that all are either in isolation at home or being treated in a hospital. She added that test results from commercial and hospital laboratories are coming in addition to state testing sites, and that 670 patients have tested negative. She then advised people to stay home regardless of how they feel and that they should only seek a test if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. She stated that anyone feeling sick should call their doctor and that doctors can decide to order a test through a commercial laboratory if necessary.

“If you are feeling ill and know someone who has been exposed…or you believe you have a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and seek medical care,” Sec. Levine stated. “Let the 9-1-1 operator know that you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to a COVID-19 exposure. Your health care provider can order tests through a commercial laboratory or through the state health laboratory.”

Regarding frequent questions from parents, Sec. Levine advised against taking children to playdates and sleepovers. She stated that she understands how challenging social distancing can be for children but that the state’s measures are designed to slow the spread of the virus. She encouraged parents to let their kids play outside and to take them for a walk or bike ride to get them out of the house.

Sec. Levine noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised to avoid gatherings of 50 people or more. She stressed that Pennsylvanians have an important role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. She noted that mental health resources are also available to those experiencing a mental health crisis.

Concluding, Sec. Levine reiterated her “daily reminders” for individuals to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and to cover any coughs and sneezes with their elbow. She added that people need to clean surfaces regularly and avoid touching their face after touching surfaces. She also noted that information will continue to be available at health.pa.gov, on DOH social media accounts, and at regular press conferences.

Gov. Wolf and Sec. Levine then answered questions submitted electronically by reporters.

What retail directives are being discussed in the wake of items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper selling out at grocery stores?

Gov. Wolf responded that pharmacies and grocery stores will not close so there is no reason to change ordinary shopping routines. He stated that the supply chain will be able to sustain people normally buying products and that everyone needs to pay attention but not panic.

 

Should people feel free to handle things like gas pumps, mail and cash?

Sec. Levine responded that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces but that it is unlikely to be on items like that. She stated that it is possible but that if someone wants to be safe they should have wipes to wipe down items.

Three dirt tracks ran races this weekend and will not cancel races unless forced to by the government. Will you force this business to cancel races and what is your message to fans attending races?

Gov. Wolf responded that he is not going to force a business to cancel anything. He added that Pennsylvanians are in this together and that it is up to people to decide what they want to do with their lives. He stated that people should think of others when going about their daily lives.

Are positive commercial tests for COVID-19 being reported to DOH or is there a lag time?

Sec. Levine responded that DOH is getting same-day results from commercial laboratories and that there is a regular system of obtaining lab results.

Will there be any restrictions on day care facilities?

Gov. Wolf responded that schools are closed and that he recognizes the challenges parents have caring for children that need day care while they are at work. He stated that people need to be concerned about what children bring home and about the child care workers so he is calling for child care facilities to close. He reiterated that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) will not be sent out to enforce it but he advises it during this public health issue.

Are casinos, movie theaters, gyms and race tracks included?

Gov. Wolf responded that casinos in targeted counties were asked to close and that it will now be true across the state. He stressed that opportunities for people to gather together need to be limited and that it has to be self-enforced.

What do you say to residents in counties without cases that are hesitating to follow social distancing and other guidance?

Sec. Levine responded that as the state goes from mitigation to containment it is important that everyone in the commonwealth practices social distancing. She added that governors were in a call with the White House earlier today and that Vice President Mike Pence said that having “active mitigation before there is sustained community spread is essential.”

Is Pennsylvania on its own here in getting ventilators and other essential supplies?

Gov. Wolf responded that they are doing everything they can and that there is a national demand for equipment, so Pennsylvania is not alone. He added that Pennsylvania has stockpiled some equipment and that he will be asking the federal government for additional help. He stressed the importance of mitigation efforts to limit the demand for equipment.

Is Pennsylvania asking to restrict travel from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. similar to New York and New Jersey?

Gov. Wolf responded that he is not restricting that but that he would like people to stay home 24 hours a day when possible. He added that every state wants to limit the amount of people interacting with others.

How many people have been tested and how many are under investigation?

Sec. Levine responded that 670 patients have tested negative and 76 have tested positive. She added that many tests are now being done by commercial laboratories so testing will continue to expand.

Are you considering using the Pennsylvania National Guard during mitigation efforts?

Gov. Wolf responded that he is not.

Does this closure apply to the Department of Transportation (PennDOT)?

Gov. Wolf responded that he is working with all state employees to determine who is essential and that essential employees of PennDOT will continue to work.

Can you say that there is no community spread in Montgomery County or anywhere else?

Sec. Levine responded that community spread means there are patients who have contracted COVID-19 and DOH does not know how they were exposed. She stated that there are a very few number of cases that have not found a specific contact yet so there is a presumption as of now that those have community spread. She added that CDC is concerned about sustained community spread and that Pennsylvania has not reached that threshold in any area yet. She said that they do suspect sustained community spread and that there needs to be active mitigation efforts before that.

What does this mean for facilities expected to host voting for special and primary elections?

Gov. Wolf responded that he is unsure about the impact on primary elections and that he has taken into consideration some other states delaying their primary elections. He added that Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) has decided to not move the special election tomorrow.

Dr. Sharon Watkins, state epidemiologist, DOH, commented on community spread. She stated that as cases increase it becomes more difficult to investigate and fully understand all risk factors for cases. She added that there are some cases that have not determined risk factors and that those numbers are likely to increase in the next few days.

What step has Pennsylvania taken to secure funding for Pennsylvania businesses and will there be any emergency relief funding from state funds to restaurant and service industries?

Gov. Wolf responded that he is working with the Small Business Administration to make sure Pennsylvanians get their share of small business loans promised by President Donald Trump. He added that there are additional state funds that can be freed up and that they have to work with the Capitol Financing Authority to make funds available.

Can you take your family on a hike at a state park or is that discouraged?

Gov. Wolf responded that state parks will remain open but that he has concerns for the state employees working there. He reiterated that everyone needs to be cautious about their interactions with the public and that it applies to any social setting.

Will driver license centers also be closed?

Gov. Wolf responded that driver license centers were closed down in certain areas to protect state employees but that there is no statewide decision on that. He added that he is unsure if the federal government will move back the requirement for REAL ID to be in place.

What should people do if they are experiencing symptoms but have not traveled abroad or have a known contact?

Dr. Watkins responded that people experiencing mild symptoms should stay at home and call their health care provider if symptoms worsen. She added that if a patient has known contact with exposure, lives in a congregate care setting and is sick, or is a health care worker and is sick, they should contact DOH and they will set up testing.

Sec. Levine commented that if a health care provider feels a patient has mild symptoms and could have COVID-19 then they can conduct a test through their commercial laboratories. She added that over time most patients will be tested that way and that providers should be able to send tests like they normally do.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) said they would have created their own in-house test earlier but the CDC said state and federal health agencies would take care of that. Was it a mistake to discourage commercial and clinical labs from creating their own testing ability from the beginning?

Gov. Wolf responded that he was not aware the CDC made that directive. Sec. Levine added that all testing was done at the CDC until about two weeks ago. She stated that the federal government and state have been encouraging academic health centers to do testing so there has been no discouragement for developing tests. Dr. Watkins commented that testing was rolled out in a prioritized manner from CDC but that all testing in encouraged.

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