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COVID cases in Pa. exceed April numbers; N.J. hospitalizations match July rates: ‘Exponential spread is moving in’

As Pennsylvania’s total cases exceeded 200,000 Wednesday, and New Jersey had more than 1,000 people hospitalized, Dr. Fauci predicted no “semblance of normality” before the end of 2021.

Nurse Julia Henessey (right) instructs Janice Mason on how to use the swab at the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Philadelphia, Pa. on October 1, 2020.
Nurse Julia Henessey (right) instructs Janice Mason on how to use the swab at the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Philadelphia, Pa. on October 1, 2020.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania’s fall coronavirus surge has surpassed the state’s April peak in new cases, with more than 40,000 people infected in October alone, while New Jersey saw the most hospitalizations Wednesday since the start of July.

The rising metrics continued sounding alarm bells on a day when Pennsylvania’s average daily number of new cases rose above 2,000 for the first time during the pandemic, with the state’s total number of cases exceeding 200,000.

The proportion of people testing positive also continued rising this week, the Department of Health reported.

“We’re seeing evidence that exponential spread is moving in,” said David Rubin, the physician leading the COVID-19 modeling project by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. That would mean it takes less and less time for case numbers to double.

Nationwide, the number of cases also continued climbing. Though the number of daily deaths has remained much lower than during the pandemic’s peak, 983 people in the United States died of the virus or its complications on Tuesday, an increase of 13% from two weeks earlier, according to New York Times data.

Given “the way things are looking” in this country, “I think it will be easily by the end of 2021 and perhaps into the next year before we start having some semblance of normality,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, said Wednesday.

That timeline would apply if a substantial portion of the population is vaccinated by mid-to-late 2021, Fauci said during a teleconference interview with a University of Melbourne professor. He predicted that Americans could be in theaters with spaced seating and possibly masked by the third quarter of 2021, but that it would be “well over a year” before people will be able to fill a theater at maximum capacity without masks.

» READ MORE: COVID-19 is spreading so fast in the fall surge that Philly can no longer trace all cases, officials say as they warn the ‘worst’ could be ahead

The commonwealth ranks 10th among states in daily case increases in the last seven days, according to a Washington Post data analysis, with an increase of 39%. It ranks 11th for the number of new cases reported in the last seven days.

Though Pennsylvania has surpassed the April peak in daily case numbers, its death rate remains much lower than it was in the spring. Over the last two weeks, the state’s death rate has been at 2.4, well under the national rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 people, and ranks 35th among states and the District of Columbia. On Wednesday, North Dakota had the highest rate at 15.6 deaths per 100,000, according to data from the New York Times.

The lower death rate has partially been attributed by public health officials to the increased proportion of cases in young adults. Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine also said this week that medical care has improved as doctors and scientists have learned more about the virus.

Hospitalizations have also remained much lower than in the spring. That can partly be attributed to increased testing — a larger proportion of cases are asymptomatic or mild compared with the start of the pandemic, when it was more likely that only sicker people would get tests, Philadelphia health officials said Tuesday.

Still, the hospitalization rate and death rate lag behind case increases by a couple of weeks.

“Today’s case increases will be felt by hospitals in 10 to 14 days,” Rubin said.

In Pennsylvania, 1,187 people were hospitalized on Wednesday. So far, hospitals in most Pennsylvania counties have ample capacity, state monitoring shows.

A total of 1,010 New Jersey residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. That’s up 20% compared with last week and 128% compared with this time last month, when 443 were hospitalized. During the first peak of the pandemic, New Jersey reported more than 7,700 hospitalizations.

“It’s serious, there’s no question about it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said of the state’s hospitalizations during an interview on PIX11 on Wednesday morning. “We’re concerned.”

New Jersey reported 1,692 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday and 14 deaths.

Murphy announced an executive order to expand worker protections for COVID-19. The move establishes workplace health and safety standards — sanitizing, mask-wearing, health screening, hand-washing, social distancing, and so on — that apply to all New Jersey-based workers, in both the private and public sectors.

The state Labor Department will create an online mechanism for workers to complain about violations and, with the Department of Health, will address complaints and enforce the requirements “when necessary,” according to Murphy. It will also provide materials and training to make workers and employers aware of their rights and obligations.

“We are deeply grateful to all employers who have taken it upon themselves to follow, or in many cases exceed, the guidance to make sure that everyone in their establishments is safe. The order that I’m signing today builds on that spirit to create sensible and consistent standards across New Jersey’s economy,” Murphy said.

Joined by Rep. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), Murphy said he was signing the executive order in part because the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration has not established COVID-19 health and safety standards for workers. Legislation introduced in Congress by Norcross is part of the coronavirus stimulus package known as the HEROES Act, which was passed by the U.S. House but has not been given a vote by the Senate amid a deal stalemate.

“This framework is also sending that message back to Washington that you can’t ignore this. It won’t go away,” said Norcross.

Staff writer Laura McCrystal and graphics editor John Duchneskie contributed to this article.