Despite overall progress in lowering the number of new coronavirus cases, “significant” community spread remains in Pennsylvania, including in Philadelphia, Delaware, and Allegheny Counties, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday.
The nearly 1,000 additional cases reported by the state Thursday was “increased from what we’ve had over the last two weeks,” Levine said, with “no particular data dump that’s responsible.”
Philadelphia, too, reported higher numbers of cases the last few days — with 185 on Thursday — and said the percentage of tests coming back positive was higher than it has been recently. The city received a large number of test results Thursday and will “need a few more days to determine if that’s the trend,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
Regardless, he said he does not see the city being able to lift the current coronavirus guidelines soon — spelling sad news for football fans.
It is unlikely that Philadelphia will permit the Eagles to host fans in their stadium by their home opener on Sept. 20, Farley said Thursday. His comment came about a month after the city first said spectators would not be allowed at Lincoln Financial Field but then backtracked, saying it was possible the city would lift its emergency rules in time for football season.
Mayor Jim Kenney said that he would strictly follow medical advice when determining whether any sporting events could occur with spectators — including for the Army-Navy game currently scheduled for December.
“If the numbers continue to improve and it’s medically safe to do it, yeah. And if it’s not medically safe to do it, no,” Kenney said.
Pennsylvania officials on Thursday also defended their recommendation to halt high school sports, saying it was based on evidence from scientists and experts and on the same factors that have caused college athletic conferences such as the Big 10 to call off their fall seasons.
Levine said the move was preemptive: “Kids aren’t back at school, and they’re not in school sports, so I can’t have the data about [outbreaks] until it would happen.”
And, she added, “The idea that children are somehow immune from this disease is untrue. That they can’t have serious side effects from this disease is untrue,” she said. “Children don’t live in a vacuum. They come back to their parents, who are adults who could get very sick. And then they have contact with other family members.”
In addition to its 991 cases, Pennsylvania reported 24 deaths. New Jersey reported 699 new cases and eight deaths on Thursday.
Unlike in New Jersey, where scores of cases have been traced to parties, Philadelphia contact tracers have not identified any big events that have led to a high number of new cases, Farley said. The city also has not traced a large number of cases to reopened businesses, such as barbershops and salons.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told people not to wear face masks with exhalation valves or vents, saying they do not prevent people from transmitting COVID-19 droplets. That recommendation came as research earlier this week suggested neck gaiters are not effective face coverings, either.
Farley recommended Thursday that residents wear masks that have a tight fabric weave and said the city would look into research and make more specific recommendations about types of masks.
A tightly woven mask will not show much light through the fabric, Farley said. Masks should also be tight around the cheeks and chin, he said; a bandanna that is loose around the chin, for example, does not stop the spread of droplets.
Pennsylvania officials released a set of recommendations Thursday that they said would help people of color get better care for the coronavirus in the short term and improve their access to health care in the long term.
The recommendations came from a health disparities task force, which was put together in response to the coronavirus pandemic but also covered inequalities related to housing, criminal justice, food insecurity, and educational and economic opportunities — all factors that affect people’s access to coronavirus testing and care, Levine said.
“Even though COVID-19 is in the task force title, you’ll note many of the recommendations are looking at a much broader set of disparities that exist throughout our commonwealth and our country and have for a long, long time,” Gov. Tom Wolf said, speaking outside a YMCA in York County. He and Levine urged lawmakers to act on the recommendations.
They include a driver’s license amnesty program for people who had their licenses revoked for non-driving related offenses, allowing them to have their licenses restored, said Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the task force chairman.
The task force also recommended creating a standardized remote learning model, expanding broadband internet access, and making it easier to qualify for food assistance programs.
Levine said the state has been able to collect more data on race and ethnicity with coronavirus test results, but many providers still are not reporting the information despite the state’s April mandate to do so.
About 60% of results now include racial data, up from 20% to 30% in April, and about 40% include ethnicity data, up from 10% to 20% in April, she said.
Though state officials warned about Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, case trends for the last 14-days have been falling in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester Counties, according to state and county data.
Bucks County Health Director David Damsker said the slight increase in cases the county saw in late June and July has decreased, providing “very good news.”
“Those numbers have clearly come down now. We don’t know how far down they’re going to go, and it’s really difficult for anyone to say,” Damsker said at a virtual news briefing Thursday. “I think people are wearing masks, people are following the rules.”
Bucks County officials also said they have purchased nearly 200,000 face shields for county schools that will arrive in the next couple of weeks and be distributed first to districts planning in-person learning and then to those operating remotely.
Both Damsker and Philadelphia’s Farley urged people to speak with contact tracers if called.
Collecting the information alerts people that they could be sick and helps them prevent spreading it.