State health department confirms 2 coronavirus cases in Bucks, 1 in Montco

KYW Staff
March 11, 2020 - 11:24 am
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UPDATED: 7:10 p.m.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Cases of the new coronavirus crept into new counties in Pennsylvania as more schools and prisons took precautions Wednesday and Philadelphia's St. Patrick's Day Parade was canceled.

Pennsylvania state health officials Wednesday afternoon confirmed that the state has 16 positive cases of COVID-19, the latest one being an adult from Monroe County. 

A look at the latest developments in the spread of the new coronavirus in Pennsylvania:

What we know

All of the people who have tested positive in the state live in eastern Pennsylvania, authorities say. Most people are believed to have contracted the virus while traveling outside the state or country, but some new cases are in people who got sick while inside Pennsylvania.

Related: Ongoing coronavirus coverage

Late Tuesday, Bucks County's health department said it had discovered the county's first two cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. They are in isolation at home. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed Wednesday morning three additional presumptive positive case of COVID-19 — two adults who live together in Bucks County and had attended an out-of-state gathering recently, and one from Montgomery County. All are adults and in isolation at home.  

The Montgomery County total of the virus is nine cases and the statewide total is 16 cases; 14 of those cases are presumptive positive, and two cases, in Delaware and Wayne counties, have been confirmed by the CDC.

An adult from another state hospitalized in Montgomery County is not included in state totals. An undisclosed number of others are being monitored as potential cases. 

The latest positive test in Montgomery County is from a Lower Providence Township Police Department officer. The Montgomery County Office of Public Health is working to determine who this individual came into contact with before starting a self-isolation period. He is currently at home being monitored, and officials said he had direct contact with with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia cardiologist who tested positive for the virus. 

CHOP said that physician treated about two dozen patients and came into contact with 17 staff members at a King of Prussia facility. The physician returned to work after overseas travel and saw patients over four days last week. The hospital said it cleaned, disinfected and reopened the facility. 

At least three people — including the cardiologist — were hospitalized and the rest were at home, officials said.

Montgomery County is also asking local employers to offer sick pay to their employees, even if temporary. 

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh said with dozens of municipal police departments along with State Police, "Public safety is being handled. We have mutual aid agreements across the county that will be put into place if necessary." 

She recommends large gatherings in the county be canceled, adding the county is working with school districts.

Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the state Health Department supports local decisions to cancel public events.

"We are not mandating mitigation efforts at this time. But we support mitigation efforts. And so again, we will be discussing this every day," Levine said. 

But with the situation rapidly changing, Levine says those mitigation efforts may become mandatory.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. 

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

Philadelphia 

Philadelphia officials confirmed the city's first case on Tuesday, saying they had tested a handful of patients since the test became available last week.

City health officials said the case is an adult from Philadelphia who is receiving treatment and is isolated at home. They believe the individual was exposed to another person believed to have COVID-19. 

Dr. Thomas Farley, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said Tuesday he expects to see additional cases identified in the city. 

"We are continuing to work to identify cases, quarantine individuals who may have been exposed, and contain this virus," Farley said. "The most important thing you can do to help: If you are sick with fever or cough, stay home. If you think you should be tested, contact your doctor."

As of Wednesday evening, city officials say 39 people in Philadelphia are under investigation for possible COVID-19 coronavirus infection.

Warnings 

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine isn't recommending that large gatherings be canceled.

Philadelphia officials are not encouraging school closures, but they are urging people not to attend events of more than 5,000 attendees, including professional sporting events. 

"Obviously this is a difficult situation and we certainly recognize that many businesses and individuals rely on these sorts of events for their livelihood, but we do so out of an abundance of caution," said Managing Director Brian Abernathy. "This also impacts our sports teams, both professional, collegiate and even high school. It is simply far more important at this point in time to keep residents and visitors out of large crowds of that size."

If someone is experiencing symptoms or believes he or she may have been exposed to the virus, they are advised to call 1-877-PA-HEALTH. The Pennsylvania Department of Health can answer questions and notify a hospital. If you plan on visiting your doctor regarding coronavirus, notify your physician ahead of time so that precautions can be made.

For the latest information, the city says people can text "COVIDPHL" to 888777 to receive coronavirus updates.

What we don't know

Officials are giving few details about patients. 

The state Department of Health is not saying how many samples it is testing, how many negative tests it has taken or how many people it is monitoring under quarantine. It is also not saying where precisely someone traveled when they were exposed or which hospitals are treating patients, although some counties or institutions are giving more details.

Cancellations

Philadelphia's St. Patrick's Day Parade was canceled Tuesday night.

"After heartfelt consideration and serious conversation with officials from the City of Philadelphia, the St. Patrick's Day Observance Association has decided to cancel the parade and all events related to the 2020 Philadelphia Saint Patrick's Day Parade," the association said in a statement released late Tuesday night.

The city followed up with a statement confirming the decision, saying "we appreciate their willingness to take the health and safety of the marchers and the paradegoers into account."

Two major conferences scheduled for the Pennsylvania Convention Center have cancelled.

At least six Delaware County school districts are planning to close for a day, mostly Friday or Monday, to test their preparedness, the Delaware County Times reported.

Muhlenberg College in Allentown is ending in-person classes after Friday and shifting to "alternate modes of instruction" through April 13. Most students will have to move out of on-campus housing by Saturday afternoon.

West Chester University and Bucknell University both announced Tuesday that they are suspending in-person instruction for the rest of the semester.

Bloomsburg University and Dickinson College extended spring break, while Penn State, whose students are on spring break, is requiring a 14-day quarantine period for students or employees returning from a country where COVID-19 is widespread before they return to campus. 

Northampton County Prison banned visitors and volunteers from entering as of Tuesday.

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The story has been updated to include the latest presumed cases of coronavirus infection.

KYW Newsradio and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

The AP receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. 

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