School openings hinge on case counts, Pennsylvania health officials warn

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- Every region of Pennsylvania has seen an increase in the rate of positive coronavirus cases and failing to stop that could jeopardize the reopening of schools for the fall semester, the state's top health official said Thursday.

In addition, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the majority of counties have seen increases in the number of new cases.

"It's critical to drive down the case counts now in terms of the rise of new cases in order to prepare for schools to reopen," Levine said during a news conference Thursday. "If we don't do that now, that would put that in jeopardy."

In response to the rise in new cases, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration last week imposed a new round of restrictions targeting bars, restaurants, nightclubs and indoor gatherings to slow the virus' spread.

In July, Pennsylvania's 14-day rate of new cases per 100,000 residents has risen by more than 50%, from below 60 to 90.

The seven-day positivity rate - based on the Health Department's daily public disclosures of the number of people who are newly confirmed to be positive and the number of people who tested negative - has gradually increased in July, from about 4.5% to 5.8%.

Deaths have declined in July, although hospitalizations are on the rise across the state, according to state data.

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BAR FOOD

No serving crackers at the bar and calling it a meal.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board issued "clarifying guidance" Wednesday to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Amid a surge in cases in a few hot spots, Wolf recently ordered bars statewide to close unless they also serve meals at tables.

That raised questions about what exactly constitutes a "meal."
To qualify, the food must be prepared on site and constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner, the liquor board said. Pretzels, popcorn and chips and other snack food won't cut it.

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WOLF DEFENDS LEVINE

Wolf issued a statement defending his health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, from "hate and transphobia" in the wake of a weekend incident involving an impersonator in a dunk tank.

A man in the dunk tank donned a blond wig, floral-print dress, and glasses during a weekend carnival held at the Bloomsburg Fair to benefit the region's volunteer fire departments. The fair posted a photo, name-checked Levine and said, "Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you."

The fair subsequently deleted the post and released a statement of apology Tuesday night, calling the impersonation a "disrespectful parody" and "serious lapse in judgment."

Wolf took the fair to task, noting Levine, a transgender woman, has been subjected to a relentless torrent of abuse throughout the pandemic.

"The derogatory incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair is the latest of these vile acts, which by extension impact Transgender people across the commonwealth and nation," he said.
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