Medical employee COVID-19 cases increase as outbreak spreads

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
WellSpan's second drive-thru coronavirus testing site in York County is open at the York Expo Center, Friday, March 20, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Gov. Tom Wolf has said the priority of his COVID-19 mitigation measures has been to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. But even medical workers themselves are suffering as the coronavirus spreads.

In York County alone, two employees in hospitals or medical facilities tested positive this week: One at Family Practice Center, PC in Lewisberry on Tuesday and an employee at WellSpan York Hospital on Monday.

There are several other known cases of medical workers contracting the virus in the Harrisburg region, said Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

"We know that those treating individuals with COVID-19 are our first line of defense, and we are taking all steps to protect them and their well-being," Wardle said. "We are certainly concerned that a worst-case scenario could strain our health care system to a point they cannot keep up."

As of now, most hospitals are poised to be able to handle the influx of patients, Wardle added. In neighboring New York state, officials are concerned that the rising infection rates will soon overwhelm the health care system. 

More:Wolf issues stay-at-home order for hardest-hit counties

More:Information about coronavirus and COVID-19 from the CDC

More:COVID-19 cases in York County climb by 8 as state sees record increase

Cases have continued to increase rapidly in the state, especially since testing capabilities were expanded to private labs.

As of Tuesday at noon, there were 851 cases in the state, up 207 from the day before, the largest day-to-day increase thus far in the state.

The death toll also rose to seven, none of which have been in York County — which has reported 18 confirmed cases.

"It's an uncertain time for us all," said Albert Lagerman, CEO of Family Practice Center. "We're certainly following CDC guidelines. But again, we're at the front lines, and our people are dealing with patients who could possibly have the disease."

Details beyond a positive test for the employees at the Lewisberry facility and WellSpan hospital are not publicly available.

Therefore, it's unclear whether those diagnosed were physicians or nurses directly treating patients or another staff member.

In both cases, though, facilities have responded by instituting precautionary measures. 

Staff and patients who came into contact with the employee at the Lewisberry facility are self-quarantining, and the facility is monitoring them for symptoms. 

The employee is said to be "doing well" and remains at home, Lagerman said.

At WellSpan, which operates three open-air testing tents in York County, employees and patients who may have come into contact with the infected staff member are encouraged to be alert of any potential symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.

That employee remains on leave, according to WellSpan.

WellSpan's second drive-thru coronavirus testing site in York County is open at the York Expo Center, Friday, March 20, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Safety precautions in hospitals are paired with significant measures at the state and local levels to keep the coronavirus from spreading throughout the public.

On top of shuttering schools for an additional week, Wolf on Monday issued a “stay-at-home" order for the seven  counties hit hardest by COVID-19.

The Pennsylvania State Police and York City officials on Monday also began to enforce  Wolf's order to close all "non-life-sustaining" businesses, which he issued last week.

Enforcement begins with warnings, but further noncompliance could lead to fines and up to 30 days in jail.

As of Tuesday, there had been nearly 400,000 known cases of coronavirus worldwide, killing more than 17,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 46,000 cases had been confirmed in the U.S., resulting in nearly 600 deaths.

"We need people to stay calm, stay home and stay safe,"  Wardle said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.