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By Sheri Melnick, Pennsylvania Legislative Services | March 9, 2020


Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), was joined by Pedro Rivera, secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE); Randy Padfield, director, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA); and administration officials to provide an update on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, this afternoon.


Sec. Levine explained that there are now 10 Pennsylvanians who have tested presumptively positive for COVID-19, with seven from Montgomery County, a previous case from Delaware County, a new case in Monroe County, and a previous case in Wayne County. She stated that two of the Montgomery County residents and the Monroe County resident are currently hospitalized. She noted that one of the Montgomery County residents is hospitalized at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania but did not release the locations of where the other patients were hospitalized. Sec. Levine commented that DOH is waiting for the results from the testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She explained that DOH is treating the cases where patients are presumptively positive by taking all public health actions. She asserted that this includes contact tracing, whereby DOH reaches out to anyone who came into direct contact with these people to see if they have developed symptoms and need to be tested.


Sec. Levine remarked that DOH is in “constant communication” with county and municipal health departments across the state. She commented on the expectation that more cases will be confirmed “in the upcoming days and weeks” and encouraged people to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Sec. Levine urged people to wash their hands for 20 seconds with warm soap and water and to sneeze and cough into their elbows. She said, “These are the same healthy habits that people should continue to protect themselves against the spread of COVID-19.”


Sec. Levine emphasized that people can obtain reliable information related to Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19 on the DOH website. She noted that the CDC provides international information related to COVID-19 on the CDC website. She asserted that as the situation evolves, DOH will continue to update Pennsylvanians on the latest information. Sec. Levine noted that, at this time, DOH is not recommending canceling social gatherings but is urging people to stay home if they are sick. She stressed the importance of contacting a health care provider with health-related questions. She said, “What is most important for Pennsylvanians is to stay calm.”


Sec. Levine opened the floor for questions.


Was a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) one of the people who were hospitalized?

Sec. Levine said that because of regulations and concerns about confidentiality, she would not confirm or deny that information. She stated that a resident of Montgomery County was hospitalized at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.


Are all the new cases adults?

Sec. Levine confirmed that all the new cases are adults.


Can you provide a timeline as to how long it will take the CDC to provide test results?

Sec. Levine stated that she did not have the exact timeline, though all the tests sent to the CDC had presumptive positive results at the lab in Pennsylvania. She explained that all presumptive positive tests are sent to the CDC for confirmation.


Do you know the source of COVID-19 for those from Montgomery County who had gotten the virus by traveling out of state?

Sec. Levine asserted that the source was travel-related and was international travel for one of the individuals, and the other case was for someone who was in contact with a person.


Do you know why the presumptive positive cases are affecting the eastern part of the state but not the western part?

Sec. Levine responded that there was no “particular reason” and noted that more people live in the eastern part of the state. She remarked on the cases in Wayne and Monroe Counties.


Why do the tests need to be confirmed by the CDC?

Sec. Levine said that is the requirement of the CDC to ensure labs are functioning well. She explained that she has not heard of any test in the U.S. that has been wrong.


Are they redoing the tests?

Sec. Levine stated that the CDC takes a solution from the sample and will redo the test.


What do you mean by adult?

Sec. Levine noted that she is not going to provide additional information and explained that those quarantined at their homes “pose no risk to the public.”


When it is time to hospitalize people who test positive and might have comorbidities, are there specific health facilities to accommodate that, or can all health facilities accommodate them?

Sec. Levine remarked that all facilities will be able to treat those patients and asserted that if a patient is very ill and needs to be transferred, they will be transferred.


Will there become a point where you will not provide press conference updates with each new case confirmation?

Sec. Levine stated that DOH plans to have regular press conferences to provide updates. When commenting on community spread, where incidences of COVID-19 are not travel-related or resulting from close contact, she explained that California and Washington have experienced community spread. She confirmed that as of now Pennsylvania has not had community spread but that it “would not be surprising.” She said, “We plan to have regular press releases to make sure that Pennsylvanians are kept aware of events associated with COVID-19.” Sec. Levine noted that she updates the governor every day.


If a patient needs to be transferred to a different facility, is that because the new facility might have more resources?

Sec. Levine said that if any patient needs to go to a tertiary care medical center they will be transferred. She stated that this “happens for many conditions.”


How are patients beings treated in the hospital?

Sec. Levine responded that she does not have all the specifics but that the patients are in isolation, and the staff caring for them uses personal protective equipment.


Is there a minimum set of symptoms for someone to be admitted to a hospital?

Sec. Levine stated that patients are admitted not just because they have COVID-19. She explained that if they have mild symptoms and are medically stable, they will be sent home for isolation and quarantine. If they require inpatient care, she asserted, they will be admitted to the hospital.


Are there any plans in Pennsylvania to discuss the possible closure of schools?

Sec. Rivera said that PDE is present at the press conference to show the coordination that exists between PDE, PEMA, and DOH. He noted that PDE has been in communication with intermediate units and school districts. He emphasized that school districts have emergency preparedness plans in place that they can customize to meet their current needs.

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