Gov. Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania is paying the price for test result delays due to the irresponsibility of other states, in a press conference in Lancaster city on Friday.
Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine made their first public visit to Lancaster County since the coronavirus pandemic began in Pennsylvania, to discuss the role the city’s federally qualified community health center has played for public health during the pandemic.
Coronavirus cases in the United States continue to increase, surpassing four million cases on Friday. States like Texas and Florida, which were some of the fastest to remove restrictions, have seen cases surge. Wolf and Levine said they do not want to happen here.
“Right now we’re paying the price for the upsurge of cases all across the United States,” Wolf said outside the health center, while patients nearby were in line for their appointments. “The national testing services are taking sometimes up to two weeks to turn test results around... That’s unacceptable.”
Speaking in a grassy area outside the Lancaster Health Center, with a cluster of a dozen people nearby, Wolf also defended his decision to restrict bars and restaurants in an order he issued last week. Local business owners told LNP | LancasterOnline last week that these latest restrictions “might be the one that just knocks us out.” The Lancaster Chamber also asked Wolf to remove Lancaster from its order, citing its success in the Recovery Lancaster initiative.
One of the key metrics Levine noted as a reason for the recent bar and restaurant restrictions is a percent positivity in testing. The World Health Organization suggests that out of all tests completed, only 5% of cases should be positive. Pennsylvania currently has a 5.7% percent positivity rate, Levine said.
Once the state gets below that 5% marker, she did not commit that the restrictions will be lifted.
Despite calls for local control by Lancaster’s Republican lawmakers and local officials, Wolf said there already is a combination of state and local decisions happening in Pennsylvania. For example, school districts must prepare their own reopening plans, following the Department of Education’s guidelines.
Wolf praised Lancaster County’s local response made possible by federal coronavirus relief dollars, but said he will continue to issue statewide orders where he sees fit because the virus "doesn't respect county borders."
“I think it’s great that Lancaster has figured out what’s appropriate for right here,” he added. “As we get through any crisis, that county boundary is relevant in some cases, and in some cases it’s not.”
Community health’s role in COVID-19 pandemic
The Lancaster Health Center offers services to people with insurance, with Medicare or Medicaid, or people who do not have insurance, according to its website. The center also offers a discount program with a sliding scale fee for medical and dental services based on household size and income.
The Lancaster Health Center stood apart as the only community testing center in the city for the first several weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
In April, the Lancaster Health Center and the Welsh Mountain Health Center were allocated one-time grants totaling to $1.5 million in federal dollars as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 response that allocated $1.32 billion to approximately 1,400 health centers for coronavirus testing and care.
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Dr. Anne-Marie Derrico, the chief medical officer for Lancaster Health Center, said the community health center has had an 86% contact tracing success rate, meaning they made contact with 86% of the close contacts of those who tested positive to alert them they should self-isolate.
The center has remained open for primary care -- using tele-health where possible -- and launched a campaign to reach non-English speaking residents, Derrico said.
“All of these efforts have contributed in reducing significant health disparities that affect the most vulnerable populations and communities,” Derrico added.
Wolf and Levine praised the Lancaster Health Center, as well as Pennsylvania’s other federally qualified centers, for their importance before and during the pandemic for ensuring access to health care.
“It’s never been more important than during this pandemic,” Wolf said.