6 new coronavirus cases confirmed in Pa.

KYW Staff
March 12, 2020 - 9:04 am

UPDATED: 2:12 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Cases of the new coronavirus continue to creep across Pennsylvania's suburban southeastern counties. On Thursday morning, the state's Department of Health confirmed five additional presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Four cases are Montgomery County residents and one is a Northampton County resident. Gov. Wolf confirmed a sixth case in a public address on Thursday afternoon.

Travelers are reacting to a new European travel restriction announced Wednesday night by President Donald Trump. Gov. Tom Wolf's administration also took steps to limit travel and gatherings.

At least a dozen dozen colleges and universities moved classes online. Penn State encouraged its 76,000 students at its main campus and 21 satellite campuses to stay home the next three weeks, while the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh want students to go home for the semester. 

Here is a look at the latest developments in Pennsylvania:

What we know

All the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 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 a growing number of cases, including a police officer, are people who got sick from contact inside Pennsylvania.

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 patient is an adult from Philadelphia who is receiving treatment in isolation at home.

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

Related: The latest on the new coronavirus in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

On Thursday morning, the state's Department of Health announced four new cases of the coronavirus in Montgomery County and one new case in Northampton County. Later Thursday, in a public address with state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, Gov. Wolf announced a sixth new case, this one in Pike County.

This brings the total number of cases in Pennsylvania up to 22, and the total in Montgomery County alone to 13.

A positive test confirmed on Wednesday 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. 

The message from Montgomery County commissioners is that the coronavirus is here, and they are doing all they can to contain it.

County officials are also asking area employers to offer sick pay to their employees, even if temporary. 

For the first time, the state's health department shared details Wednesday about the number of people being tested for coronavirus in the state. 

As of late Thursday afternoon, health officials said 219 people have been identified for coronavirus testing, 116 of which tested negative. The results of 81 tests are pending. Of the statewide total, 20 cases are presumptive positive, and two, one in Delaware County and one in Wayne County, 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. 

"We do have a number of individuals who are being monitored, and they’re not currently being tested if they are asymptomatic," Dr. Sharon Watkins, the state epidemiologist, said Wednesday.

Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the state's 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."

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.

Warnings

Philadelphia City Council took special precautions against the coronavirus when it met on Thursday. 

As spectators sat every other seat, to create distance between each other, council members took on the virus from a number of angles.

Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a resolution calling for a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shut-offs in the event of an out break. Councilmember Kendra Brooks introduced a resolution calling on the city to ensure that workers' health benefits and paid time off are protected. And Councilmember David Oh offered a measure asking the School District of Philadelphia and the state school board to waive the requirement for a doctor's note if a student is absent for more than three days. 

The Kenney administration also requested the transfer of $85 million to fight a potential outbreak.

In the public seating area of City Council chambers, every other chair is blocked off to create distance between spectators.
Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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.

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine isn't recommending that large gatherings be canceled, although Montgomery County officials urged the cancellation of all public events and even large private gatherings.

Travel restrictions

In a televised address from the Oval Office Wednesday night, President Trump announced that the United States would suspend travel from European countries, not including Great Britain, for 30 days, effective Saturday at midnight. The goal is to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Many travelers at Philadelphia International Airport heard about it for the first time early Thursday morning. Most said they were concerned, but not concerned enough to cancel their trips. 

A lot of travelers said they are bringing hand sanitizer with them and taking precautions, such as washing their hands more than usual. 

Travelers at Philadelphia International Airport
Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

Teresa Thompson of Coatsville, who has never been on a flight before, said she is going through with her plans. She is not traveling to Europe, and she said she is not really concerned about the virus.

"I have hand sanitizer with me, for one," she said. "No. 2, I know it's serious, but you don't have to panic like everybody else is doing."

She added, "I'm scared about the flight more than the virus."

Another traveler said, as new developments continue to unfold regarding coronavirus protocol, she's hoping nothing changes while she's in Puerto Rico this week to impede her return to normal life. 

Dennis Bronsburg of Pottstown, hopping a flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, said the thought of cancelling his trip did not cross his mind.

"Not once, no," he said. "I've never been out of the country. I'm dying to go."

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday increased their global health advisory to a Level 3, encouraging people to reconsider all travel. Level 3 is the second-strongest advisory behind "Do not travel." They warn that areas, even where coronavirus cases have not yet been reported could restrict travel without notice. 

Gov. Wolf's administration told tens of thousands of state workers to avoid out-of-state business travel and large gatherings but stopped short of ordering otherwise healthy employees to work from home.

As Pittsburgh and Allegheny County released details of their preparedness, the U.S. State Department said foreign ministers from leading industrial nations who had planned to meet in Pittsburgh this month will instead hold a video teleconference.

Cancellations

The Wells Fargo Center announced it would close its facilities on Thursday for extensive cleaning and sanitation. 

Philadelphia canceled its St. Patrick's Day Parade on Tuesday night, and Pittsburgh and Scranton followed suit Wednesday.

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

Penn State, Penn, Pitt, Temple, Villanova, West Chester and a dozen other colleges and universities, almost all in eastern Pennsylvania, are ending in-person instruction and moving classes online, either temporarily or for the semester. Many are canceling events and travel, too.

Several schools are extending spring break, including the University of Pennsylvania, which said students should go home by Sunday for the rest of the semester, or not return from spring break. 

The university's president announced via email on Wednesday that classes will resume on March 23, but they will be online for the rest of the semester. Staff members will help get belongings returned to the students who are away. 

"A little disappointed, because we're supposed to graduate this year," said one student. "We're suppossed to graduate in 2020, and these were the last two months we have at Penn, and we love this place so much we dont want to leave."

Those who were still on campus said they sort of expected it, but they still seemed concerned about what would happen next. 

"We're international, too. So, we're from Asia, so, things aren't really good back home, either. So, we're kind of stuck in this situation where we don't know if we should be going back or if we should stay on campus," said another.

Penn State, which said it is moving to online classes through at least April 3, also strongly encouraged students to stay home during the three-week period and not return to campus.

Penn, along with other Ivy League schools, canceled all spring athletics practice and competition for the rest of the academic year.

Meanwhile, hospitals and prisons, including the state prison in Phoenix, in suburban Philadelphia, moved to tighten visitor policies or screening, and some schools in suburban Philadelphia canceled events or planned to close for a day to test their preparedness.

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KYW Newsradio's Mark Abrams, Hadas Kuznits, Antionette Lee, Pat Loeb, Jim Melwert, Tony Romeo and Eric Walter; and Associated Press reporter Michael Rubinkam contributed to this report.

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