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'Truly alarming': Pa. officials voice concern as virus spikes; local hospitalizations on rise

Staff and wire report
Associated Press
York Hospital Monday, April 6, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

With a spike in coronavirus cases expected to grow Thursday, Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and 1.2 million residents, imposed a one-week shutdown of bars, restaurants and casinos and all gatherings of more than 25 people.

The order is to take effect after midnight Thursday, the county's health director, Dr. Debra Bogen, said in a statement.

The move comes as Pennsylvania on Thursday reported its highest one-day total of confirmed coronavirus cases since May, and Allegheny County reported its highest one-day total of positive tests, which officials called a larger increase than expected.

Bogen also asked Allegheny County residents to follow a voluntary stay-at-home protocol, limiting travel outside the home to necessities.

The rising figures, and rising rate of positive tests, come as health officials in Philadelphia and Allegheny County point to people socializing in bars and returning from beach vacations and travel to coronavirus hot spots in other parts of the U.S.

Statewide, there were 832 additional positive cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday, pushing the total to 88,074. The state last recorded more than 800 new positive tests in May. It also reported another 25 coronavirus-related deaths for a statewide total of 6,712 since early March.

York County had 24 new COVID-19 cases as of noon Thursday, bringing the total to 1,555 since the outbreak began, the state Department of Health reported. There were four new deaths recorded in York County, increasing the total to 52.

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Local hospitalizations increase: York Hospital is seeing an increase in the number of patients being treated there for confirmed or suspected COVID-19, but there's no shortage of remaining hospital beds, a hospital spokesperson said.

"We are currently not at capacity by any means," WellSpan Health spokesperson Ryan Coyle told The York Dispatch.

York Hospital updates its coronavirus data daily online, including numbers of current patients. To view that data, go to wellspan.org and click on "Data Dashboard," located at the very top of the page.

People gather at the Porch in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Sunday, June 28, 2020. In response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County, health officials are ordering all bars and restaurants in the county to stop the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption beginning on Tuesday afternoon. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

As of Thursday, York Hospital had 42 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12 more patients who are suspected of having the virus, for a total of 54 patients.

"I can confirm that we are seeing an increase in cases," Coyle said. "But we have the ability at the hospital to flex our capacity as needed. Our capacity will — and can — change as needed, as we see any spikes in the community."

Coyle also urged people to continue taking precautionary safety measures to avoid contracting COVID-19.

"WellSpan Health continues to stress the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing," he said. "We have from the start ... to help slow the spread."

'Larger than expected': In Allegheny County, officials reported more than 230 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, a day after it reported a single-day high of 110.

“While an increase in the number of cases was expected — this is larger than expected,” county officials said in a statement. “The expectation is that the numbers will also significantly increase again tomorrow.”

On Twitter, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who lives in Allegheny County, called Thursday's figure "truly alarming." The county's percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations are also on the rise.

County health authorities say the median age of the people testing positive is 29. They are asking residents to consider postponing plans to travel to a coronavirus hot spot, and to self-quarantine for 14 days and get tested when returning.

The county, Pennsylvania's second-most populous after Philadelphia, had avoided the higher case counts that hit Philadelphia and much of eastern Pennsylvania in the spring. But over the weekend, Allegheny County officials ordered a halt to drinking alcohol in bars and restaurants in response to a spike in positive tests.

In an interview on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s top health adviser, Health Secretary Rachel Levine, was asked if now is the time is try herd immunity.

She said no, warning that the disease can make even younger adults very sick.

“We know that significant numbers of people get very sick from the virus, not just seniors, but younger adults as well, in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and that would overwhelm the hospitals,” Levine said.

It also would lead to more cases in nursing homes, Levine said, citing academic researchers who found that outbreaks in nursing homes are driven most by how widespread the virus is in the community around it.

What the state needs to do is contain the virus using prevention measures, such as mask-wearing, and targeted efforts to tamp down outbreaks until further treatment methods or a vaccine is developed, Levine said.

— York Dispatch reporters Liz Evans Scolforo and Ron Musselman and Associated Press reporter Marc Levy contributed to this report.