The state’s rate of positive tests for COVID-19 continues to decline and for the first time in seven weeks, not all of the state’s counties show a substantial spread of the virus, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Monday.
The state’s positive test rate for the coronavirus fell to 10.5% during the week of Jan. 15-21, down from 12.7% during the previous week. The positive test rate has now dropped for six consecutive weeks after reaching a high of 16.2% in December.
While the rate is dropping, health officials have said a positive test rate of 5% is a troubling sign of community spread.
The Wolf administration said there is now substantial transmission of COVID-19 in 66 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. The state had seen substantial spread of the coronavirus in every Pennsylvania county for the previous six weeks, so that streak has ended.
One county – Cameron County – is seeing low transmission of the virus. The Wolf administration uses three categories to gauge the spread of COVID-19: low, moderate and substantial.
“After six straight weeks of all 67 counties reporting in the substantial level of transmission, we now have one county moving into the low level of transmission category – a great sign of progress,” Wolf said in a statement.
“But there is still more work for us to do and we must not become complacent,” he said. “I believe we can keep up these best public health practices to continue to bring the transmission of COVID-19 down in our communities, keep each other safe, and move forward with rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is reporting fewer new infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks. About 3,900 patients with COVID-19 are being treated in hospitals, down from a peak of more than 6,300 in December.
The state has seen a spike in deaths tied to COVID-19 in recent weeks. Last week, the health department reported the number of coronavirus deaths has topped 20,000. It took eight months for the state to see 10,000 fatalities, but less than two months for that number to double.
State officials have asked school officials to consider the extent of community spread of COVID-19 in determining whether students should be in school or educated remotely. Earlier this month, the Wolf administration said it is recommending that school districts focus on returning elementary school students to classrooms, even in counties with a substantial spread of the virus. The state advises high schools and middle schools to continue with remote instruction in counties with substantial spread.
Still, local school leaders continue to make the call on deciding if schools should hold classes in person, remotely or with a mix of face-to-face and virtual instruction. The state’s guidelines are only recommendations.
Last week, Wolf said he is nominating Alison Beam, his deputy chief of staff, to succeed outgoing Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. President Joe Biden has nominated Levine to be his assistant health secretary.
Beam’s top priority will be overseeing the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in Pennsylvania, an effort which has received growing criticism.
The Wolf administration expanded eligibility for the vaccines last week, enabling those over 65 and younger people with high-risk conditions to get the vaccines. But many have had trouble finding the vaccines as the demand has far exceeded the available supply. More health systems, pharmacies and grocery stores are beginning to get limited supplies of vaccines, but state officials are urging Pennsylvanians to have patience.
The governor also has also named Dr. Wendy Braund as Interim Acting Physician General, replacing Levine in that position.She has been serving as the COVID-19 Response Director for the state health department.
More than 807,000 people in Pennsylvania have contracted the coronavirus and more than 20,600 deaths have been tied to COVID-19, according to the state health department.
Most of those who are infected recover after dealing with relatively mild symptoms and many never get sick. But health experts warn the coronavirus poses a risk to everyone, particularly those who are seniors and those with medical issues.
Even as the state works to ramp up vaccine distribution, health officials stress the importance of wearing mask and practicing social distancing.
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