Pennsylvania COVID situation “even more dire,” Wolf says

REUTERS/Mark Makela

Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that Pennsylvania’s pandemic outlook has become “even more dire” and that, if current trends remain, overwhelmed hospitals may soon have to turn away patients with serious conditions.

Pennsylvania and Philadelphia have hit record-high single-day case counts recently, with the state reporting nearly 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths over the past week.

Several counties in the northern part of the commonwealth have few intensive care unit beds left, and some hospitals have been forced to transfer patients to other medical centers, Wolf said.

He described a situation in which people with acute health problems, such as heart attacks, have to wait longer for treatment or travel to a far-away hospital.

“If our hospitals are overwhelmed, people who might have survived serious illnesses, they’ll die,” Wolf said during an afternoon press briefing.

“This dangerous and disturbing scenario is not only possible, it becomes increasingly likely with every day that COVID continues to spread in Pennsylvania,” the governor added.

Though Wolf painted a grim picture, he did not announce any new coronavirus restrictions.

Reporters peppered him with questions about why his administration was not acting to tighten regulations. Wolf said a decision on additional measures could be coming in the next few days.

“We are looking at all sorts of issues right now and very shortly we will come back with more recommendations,” he said.

The governor focused on personal responsibility, calling on residents to follow health guidelines, including staying home whenever possible.

“Right now, we all need to take a hard look at our choices and our actions and take every precaution to protect our neighbors, families and friends,” Wolf said.

Nearly 5,500 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Pennsylvania, including 1,112 in the ICU. The swelling numbers represent a challenge the state’s healthcare system “has never faced before,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine suggested that part of the recent spike is connected to holiday festivities last month. Credit: Commonwealth Media Services

Philadelphia’s hospitals are treating 873 people with the virus, and 17.5% of the city’s ICU beds and 13.3% of its adult surgical slots are available.

City health officials have recorded 2,719 new infections and 22 virus-related fatalities since Friday. Philadelphia’s pandemic death toll stands at 2,055.

Pennsylvania registered 6,330 additional cases on Monday and 8,630 on Sunday after reporting an all-time high of nearly 13,000 Saturday. Last week, the state’s positive test rate was 14.4%, up from 11.7% the prior week.

Levine suggested that part of the recent spike is connected to holiday festivities last month.

“It looks like people certainly did travel over Thanksgiving and that there were probably more receptions and parties and dinners than we had recommended, and so we’re seeing those increases,” she said.

Officials in Harrisburg also urged people to get a flu shot by the end of the year to prevent an outbreak of that virus.

So far, influenza activity has been low, though the infection’s seasonal peak has not yet arrived. There have only been 12 flu-related hospitalizations and one death in Pennsylvania.

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