888 more COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 94 new deaths

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania on Wednesday reported below 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus for the fourth straight day, the longest such streak since the daily reports of new cases first reached four figures in early April.

Cases tallied in the two months since Pennsylvania reported its first positive test now number more than 51,840, according to the state Department of Health, an increase of 888 from Tuesday's figures.

Even so, the state has reported nearly 7,500 new cases in the past week, an increase of 17%. The state reported 94 more deaths, bringing the statewide total to 3,106.

All told, about 256,000 people have been tested in Pennsylvania in the past two months, or 2% of the population. About one-fifth of those tests were conducted in the past week.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state's confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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CREATION OF CORONAVIRUS CORPS

On Wednesday, Wolf announced the creation of the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps, a public service initiative that will support efforts this fall to increase testing and contact tracing. It will also provide critical new job opportunities in the public health sector, he said.

"Our highest priority remains protecting public health and safety, but we must also look ahead to see how we can address future needs. To reopen our economy to its maximum potential, we will need to boost our ability to contain this highly transmissible virus," Wolf said. "The Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps will serve as a public service program that will expand our ability to conduct contact tracing and testing and mobilize Pennsylvanians to contain COVID-19."

According to a news release, as Pennsylvania plans to ramp up efforts in the coming months, the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps would bring these efforts to fruition by:

- Partnering with local public health agencies, community organizations, and the nonprofit community to expand Pennsylvania's existing testing and contract tracing initiatives;
- Leveraging additional resources to fund testing and contact tracing initiatives;
- Exploring creative ways to recruit experienced Pennsylvanians with health care and public health experience to support this initiative; and
- Coordinating existing resources deployed by the commonwealth, including community health nurses and county health departments who are currently conducting testing and contact tracing throughout the state.

The corps will also provide for a unique opportunity for Pennsylvania to recruit and train COVID-19-impacted dislocated and unemployed workers into public service for contact tracing roles, the release said.

VETERANS' HOME DEATHS

The death toll at a hard-hit state veterans' home in southeastern Pennsylvania has continued to rise, as the state's secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said he had sought inspections of the facility.

Federal, state and county inspections came back clean and showed that the Southeastern Veterans' Center have sound protocols in responding to the spread of the coronavirus, Maj. Gen. Tony Carelli told a panel of Democratic state senators Wednesday.

Inspectors from the state Department of Health visited Friday, Carelli said, after he asked the department's secretary to make an exception to her policy of suspending nursing home inspections during the pandemic.

There are conflicting reports on the number of COVID-related deaths at the center, in Chester County, outside Philadelphia.

The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs reported 22 deaths across all six homes it operates in Pennsylvania. But the Chester County coroner said Wednesday that she had found 34 deaths at Southeastern alone.

However, Carelli and other department officials acknowledged Wednesday that, because of the unavailability of tests, they had been unable to test everyone who died at the facility.

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77 LIQUOR STORES TO REOPEN

Business reopenings that will begin Friday in 24 counties across northern and northwestern Pennsylvania will include 77 state-owned liquor stores, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said Wednesday.

The stores will limit the number of customers and employees inside to 25 people or less, depending on store size, and require face masks and social distancing.

The first hour will be reserved for older people and others at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.

The stores are in the area designed by Gov. Tom Wolf as a "yellow" zone, counties in northwestern and northcentral Pennsylvania.

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MAIL-IN BALLOT BOOM

A million or more Pennsylvanians may end up voting by mail in the primary election that is four weeks away.

Until this year, Pennsylvanians who did not want to vote in person needed to have an excuse that fell under a specific category in order to obtain an absentee ballot and vote by mail. An October state law authorized no-excuse mail-in ballots for the first time.

As of Monday, 949,000 applications were submitted for mail-in or absentee ballots, according to the Department of State. During the 2016 primary election, 84,000 absentee ballots were cast in Pennsylvania.

The deadline for registered voters to ask for an absentee or mail-in ballot is May 26. They must be returned by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, the primary day.

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