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As COVID-19 resurges, Pennsylvania is better prepared than last spring, officials say

Penn Medicine Contact Tracing

Members of the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health COVID-19 contact tracing team at Burle Business Park on Aug. 5, 2020.

Pennsylvania is seeing a fall resurgence in COVID-19 cases, but is better prepared than last spring to handle the rise and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, state officials said at a briefing Wednesday.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the state has no plans to impose stay-at-home orders or further restrict businesses, but noted she can’t predict how high cases will climb this winter when respiratory viruses commonly spread indoors.

Any resurgence of the coronavirus may be more effectively mitigated now than last spring because of increases in testing, contact tracing and supplies of personal protective equipment, she said.

Meanwhile, the state this week began distributing its first shipment of 250,000 antigen test kits that provide results in 15 minutes. The rapid test kits, provided by the federal government, are going first to health care-related facilities, colleges and prisons in the high incidence counties of Bradford, Centre, Lebanon, Montour, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Snyder.

The state expects to distribute 250,000 rapid test kits weekly across the state for a total of 3.8 million through the end of December, said Michael Huff, the state’s director of testing and contact tracing.

These test kits are in addition to those the federal government is sending directly to skilled nursing facilities, personal care homes and historically black colleges and universities.

The rapid testing is also in addition to the nearly 30,000 laboratory-processed COVID-19 tests conducted daily at over 400 sites across Pennsylvania. The new test allows for quicker interventions, but the traditional test is considered more accurate.

Levine said it’s too soon to know if the 5,500 fans who attended last Sunday’s NFL game in Pittsburgh spread COVID-19, but she expressed confidence that the 7,500 fans expected to attend this Sunday’s game in Philadelphia “should feel safe.”

Levine said the team is taking “really robust protections” with everyone required to wear masks and social distance.

Levine said contact tracing has not yet revealed infections arising from recent campaign rallies and auto racing events in Pennsylvania where many people did not follow public health guidelines.

New cases in Pennsylvania were at 7,269 in the past seven days compared to 6,137 the previous seven days. Hospitalizations have increased to 640 in the same time period, up from 507. That compares to over 3,000 inpatients last April.

The incidence is particularly rising in adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, Levine said.

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