Pennsylvania officials report 'significant community spread' of COVID-19 in all settings

Pennsylvania COVID-19 live updates, news and information

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020
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NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said there are 4,476 new COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth as of 8 a.m. Monday.

Levine said this is the highest rise in cases than has been seen in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since March, 269,613 people have tested positive in Pennsylvania. 68% of those people are considered 'recovered,' meaning it has been more than 30 days since a positive test or onset of symptoms. Levine said that percentage is decreasing with the high number of new cases.

Levine also said there are many COVID-19 'long-haulers' in Pennsylvania, where true recovery may take months.

She reported that hospitalizations and the percentage of virus tests have also rose sharply across Pennsylvania as of late.

Currently, there are 2,374 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19. Of that number, 501 patients are in the intensive care unit. Most of the patients hospitalized are ages 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a statewide mask mandate, occupancy restrictions at bars and restaurants and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Levine said there has not been any discussion about moving to reimpose broader restrictions statewide, as seen earlier in the pandemic. However, she did say there is significant community spread in Pennsylvania, and not just in congregate care or urban settings.

"We want people to follow the guidance, telework as much as possible and isolate and quarantine if necessary," she said.

Philadelphia announces new restrictions

Mayor Jim Kenney and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley announced sweeping new restrictions during a news conference on Monday afternoon.

"I know these restrictions are tough. People are going to be put out of work, and some businesses may go under. We also know that the consequences to health of not doing it are really bad," Farley said. "If we do this right, our businesses will recover faster because the epidemic wave will subside sooner."

The new restrictions impact indoor and outdoor dining, schools, businesses and sporting events. CLICK HERE for the full list.

Montco Schools Ordered to go Virtual

Health officials in Pennsylvania's third-most populous county ordered schools Friday to temporarily halt classroom instruction in what they said was an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The Montgomery County Board of Health mandated that all public and private K-12 schools in the suburban Philadelphia county offer virtual instruction for two weeks beginning Nov. 23.

The unanimous vote came one day after dozens of parents and school administrators expressed vehement opposition to the plan, calling online education insufficient and accusing the health board of failing to present any evidence linking schools to the wider outbreak.

Board members said Friday that rising cases counts and hospitalizations, along with the potential that children will contract the virus over Thanksgiving break and then spread it in schools, required them to act.

"I completely understand their concerns," said board member Dr. Francis Jeyaraj, a pediatrician. "But these are difficult times for all of us. It's a total community effort."

Board member Barbara Wadsworth, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Main Line Health, said her four hospitals were treating 33 patients for COVID-19 four weeks ago, with that number rising to 106 now.

She said virtual instruction is "difficult and certainly not easy, but I think that if we don't do this then we will be in a significantly worse situation post-Thanksgiving holiday."

The decision left some parents furious.

"It was like a moment of being speechless and wanting to scream at the top of my lungs at the same time," said Katrina Turtu of Telford.

After hearing the board's decision to close all schools for two weeks, Turtu says she was left feeling frustrated and deflated. Her daughter, Annabella, is on the autism spectrum and has severe anxiety.

"Within a month of her being out of school, she was expressing suicidal tendencies. At 7 years old her words were she 'can't handle this anymore,' she 'doesn't want to live.' I wanted these people yesterday, and those board members, to think about that for a second," says Turtu.

Parents worry that this two-week time period may be extended and wonder why other businesses aren't being shuttered first.

"I don't want anything to shut down quite honestly, but I know that schools are not the first thing to shut down," said Erin Stein or Fort Washington.

The board made one small concession, dropping language that made the shutdown more open-ended.

Across Pennsylvania, some schools, including in the state's largest school district in Philadelphia, have yet to return to classroom instruction, while others started the academic year virtually and then invited students to return to class at least part time.

Schools that are open for in-person instruction have responded to small clusters of virus cases by shutting down for several days at a time.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a statewide schools closure after the pandemic arrived in Pennsylvania last March.

For this academic year, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends that schools go virtual if the surrounding county is determined to have a "substantial" level of community spread for two consecutive weeks - the status in 23 counties right now - but leaves the ultimate decision to local authorities.

The Montgomery County Office of Public Health said they will now vote Friday at noon on whether to start two weeks of virtual-only school beginning November 23.


Lower Merion School District going all-virtual

The Lower Merion School District will return to all-virtual learning starting November 17, 2020. Officials had hoped to keep middle school and high school students in the classroom until next week, but after looking at the latest COVID-19 case counts, Montgomery County heath officials advised the district to end in-person instruction immediately.

Central Bucks School District has no plans to suspend in-class instruction

Sports and in-person classes will continue as planned for the foreseeable future for the Central Bucks School District, the third-largest in the state. The decision was confirmed by Superintendent Dr. John Kopicki, which resonated well with students and parents.

Delaware, Montgomery counties sounding alarm on COVID-19 surge

Officials in Montgomery and Delaware counties are sounding the alarm on COVID-19, warning that the surge is putting a strain on the hospital system.

Ivy League is canceling winter sports for the 2020-21 season

The Ivy League is canceling winter sports for the 2020-21 season. The conference is also postponing spring sports until at least the end of February and won't conduct competition for fall sports during the spring semester.

Students in the Philadelphia region should go all-virtual starting next week, CHOP PolicyLab says

Experts with the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are recommending all students in areas with "rapidly accelerating" COVID transmission rates revert to online learning as soon as next week.

COVID-19 resurgence causing staffing issues at 911 call center in Delaware County

The COVID-19 resurgence is causing staffing issues at the Delaware County 911 call center, Action News has learned. Officials say there is another outbreak among health care workers at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby.


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CDC says masks protect you, not just those around you, in updated guidance

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The latest update says wearing a face-covering doesn't just protect the people around you, but it also protects the wearer from incoming virus projectiles.

WATCH: How COVID is impacting holiday gatherings, travel

How COVID is impacting holiday gatherings, travel. Bob Brooks reports for Action News on Nov. 10, 2020.

CDC releases updated guidelines for Thanksgiving

The CDC posted its most specific guidance yet on Thanksgiving Monday, which emphasizes that the safest option for the holiday is celebrating only with people in your household or taking extra precautions like wearing masks and keeping your distance if you celebrate with others.


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