Chester among 59 state counties with significant COVID-19 increase11/18/2020 12:53PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine released a weekly status update on Monday, revealing that as of Nov. 12, the state saw a seven-day increase of 26,215 newly-reported cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth from Nov. 6-12, compared to the period of Oct. 30-Nov. 5 -- a statewide positivity rate of 9.6 percent.
The data, reported on the state’s COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard, indicated that the increase represented 9,569 more new cases than the previous week’s totals, which saw 16,646 cases, or a 6.8 percent positivity rate.
The data available on the early warning monitoring dashboard includes week-over-week case differences, incidence rates, test percent-positivity, and rates of hospitalizations, ventilations and emergency room visits tied to COVID-19. It also designed to provide early warning signs of factors that affect the state’s mitigation efforts.
It also found that Chester County is one of 59 counties in the state reporting a substantial rise in the number of positive cases of the virus.
As of Friday’s data, Chester County joined neighboring Delaware, Montgomery, Lancaster and Philadelphia counties who were placed in the “substantial level of community transmission” category. This represents a sudden change in category for Chester County; recordings for the previous 15 weeks beginning on July 31 and ending on Nov. 6 indicated that the county was in the “moderate” level of community transmission.
Every county in the state recorded an increase in positivity above five percent except Forest, Cameron, Union, Wayne and Susquehanna counties.
As of last week, there have been 269,613 positive diagnoses of COVID-19 and 9,385 deaths. In Chester County, a total of 9,895 positive cases have been diagnosed so far, and there have been a total of 384 deaths reported.
Against the backdrop of these rising numbers, the significant increase in cases and positivity rate is cause for great concern, Gov. Wolf said.
“We need all Pennsylvanians to take a stand and answer the call to protect one another,” he said. “We need Pennsylvanians to be united in wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing our hands and avoiding gatherings. It is only by working together that Pennsylvanians can prevent the spread of the virus.”
The state’s Department of Health also provided data that revealed that of the 20,985 confirmed cases reported between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7, 16 percent (3,327) responded to a questionnaire that asked them if they had visited a business establishment or a mass gathering – all possible sites for transmission -- 14 days prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms. Of the 535 who responded:
* 53 percent (284) reported going to a restaurant
* 26 percent (140) reported going to some other business establishment
* 12.5 percent (67) reported going to a bar;
* 11 percent (60) reported going to a gym/fitness center; and
* 7 percent (39) reported going to a salon/barbershop.
Of the 16 percent, 18.4 percent (615) answered that they had attended a mass gathering or other large event 14 days prior to onset of symptoms.
Slight decrease in public visitation
While the numbers are considered alarming, they do represent a slight decrease in the frequency of visitation when compared to data released a week earlier. Those who reported going to a restaurant decreased from 55 percent to 53 percent; those using a gym/fitness center dropped from 12 percent to 11 percent; those going to a salon/barbershop decreased from 8 percent to 7 percent; those reported visiting a bar also decreased by one percentage point, from 8 percent to 7 percent; and the reported number of those who attended a mass gathering or other large event decreased slightly to 18.4 percent from 19 percent the previous week.
These slight downticks aside, Levine said the case increase, percent positivity and other factors that have contributed to a sudden and rapid increase in COVID-19 in the commonwealth remain very concerning.
“We know COVID-19 does not discriminate,” she said. “It is affecting all Pennsylvanians, no matter your race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status or whether you live a rural, suburban or urban area. We need all Pennsylvanians to take the steps they can take to protect one another.”
On the heels of these numbers, the state’s Department of Health also updated its travel recommendations that were initially put into place in early July, adding Virginia to the list of 34 states recommended for travelers returning to the state to quarantine for 14 days. In addition, the state added Delaware and Maryland to a list of bordering states in which non-essential travel is highly discouraged. The other neighboring states are New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia.
County introduces three new initiatives
Meanwhile, Chester County continues to brace against the continually-rising presence of COVID-19 by helping some of its most essential workers. On Oct. 29, the Chester County Commissioners approved the $2.5 million COVID-19 Emergency Responder Organization Support Program that will provide financial assistance to fire, emergency medical services (EMS) and police organizations that have suffered the impacts of the virus.
The program will provide funds to cover equipment needs, to offset unplanned expenses related to the pandemic, and to restore revenue lost due to the cancellation of fundraising activities during 2020. Created from CARES Act funding acquired by the county government, the first part of the program covers Chester County fire and EMS organizations that are registered as a 501(c)3, that have a primary 9-1-1 response territory in the county, have their main station located in the county, and were formed before Dec. 31, 2019.
Specifically, the grant funds for eligible fire and EMS organizations can be used to cover unreimbursed working capital costs needed to maintain the organization during COVID-19 disruption including payroll, rent and mortgage, supplies, lost fundraising revenues and other COVID-19 expenses like hazard pay and the cost of personal protective equipment.
The second part of the program will provide law enforcement grants to eligible police departments who have a station or barracks located in the County and were formed prior to Dec. 31, 2019. The grants will provide each eligible department with specialized cleaning and decontamination equipment to address the threat of COVID-19 spread.
The county’s COVID-19 Emergency Responder Organization Support Program is part of a major $31.7 million COVID-19 funding program approved by the Chester County Commissioners.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, influenza activity begins to increase in October, with up to 56 million flu illnesses reported last flu season that began in October 2019. While the flu is a respiratory virus that is separate from COVID-19, public health officials are urging the use of face masks to limit the circulation of both viruses and reduce the risk of a double epidemic.
As the alarming spike in COVID-19 numbers dovetails with the start of the flu season, the county recently launched “Simple Ask: Wear a Mask,” a public health campaign to directly support county businesses and restaurants by providing funding as well as free toolkits including 10,000 masks, signage and other messaging.
Leaders of the County’s chambers of commerce were recently presented with some of the 10,000 free face masks now at their disposal to distribute to small business employers, as well as free “Simple Ask: Wear a Mask” business signage, window decals, posters and customer appreciation stickers. Street banners will also be posted in all county boroughs and the City of Coatesville with lawn signs displayed at public buildings and major businesses.
“As the strongest economy in Pennsylvania, supporting the livelihoods of thousands of workers and their families, we are determined to control and even reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the flu this fall with the best tools available right now: face masks and funding,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “We cannot waiver and, in fact, must escalate our efforts during this critical time for restoring public health and economic well-being.”
The Commissioners also announced direct funding for eligible chambers of commerce throughout the county, with grants totaling $150,000 to help them carry out their support of local businesses.
“This is the time to double down on our efforts, and Chester County is offering the resources to do it,” says Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell. “The World Health Organization has reported that worldwide circulation of influenza has been lower than expected so far, and the trend is largely attributable to social distancing and hygiene protocols implemented during COVID-19. With health care personnel working at capacity and infection testing focused on COVID-19, we cannot take unnecessary risks.”
The County also noted plans for $28 million in CARES funding to be rolled out in the next week to assist the mainstays of Chester County’s communities and economy, including $10 million for public schools, $10 million for childcare subsidy, $5 million for childcare programs and $3.5 million for nonprofits.
To learn more about the county’s “Wear a Mask” campaign, visit https://chesco.org/simpleask.
To keep up to date on statewide COVID-19 news, regulations and initiatives, visit www.pa.gov.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].