Graphic by Jenna Simon/B&W Staff

Cases rise at Lehigh, Pa. sees increased hospitalizations, Lehigh Valley positivity rate tops 5 percent

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Coronavirus numbers continue to rise both on Lehigh’s campus and in Pennsylvania.

Lehigh’s dashboard shows 55 active cases among students in Bethlehem as of Monday. That’s up from just seven active cases one week ago and 39 cases on Friday. Exit testing before the Thanksgiving break for non-remote students only is being conducted this week.

Earlier today, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health held a media briefing regarding the COVID-19 spike. Secretary of Health Rachel Levine discussed the rising numbers and how to combat the pandemic as winter approaches.

The state reported almost 10,000 new coronavirus cases combined between Sunday and Monday alone, with 4,476 new cases announced Monday along with 5,199 cases on Sunday. The statewide total is currently 269,613.

Levine also painted a grim picture of rising hospitalizations. Levine said there are 2,374 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of 8 a.m. Monday. Of those, 510 are in an intensive care unit and 258 are on a ventilator.

The majority of the people hospitalized with virus complications are 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older. 

In comparison with this time last week, 1,735 individuals were hospitalized due to complications with the virus. That represents approximately a 650-person increase of hospitalizations in just one week. 

“This number is rising rapidly and highlights the role that we all play in preventing our health systems from becoming overrun from COVID-19,” Levine said.

Pennsylvania is seeing its highest increase in cases since the pandemic began, bringing the state’s positivity rate to 9.6 percent this past week. That’s a 2.6 percent increase from last week’s positivity rate of 7 percent. 

Of the total number of cases, 68 percent are considered recovered, but this number is decreasing with the high number of new cases.

Levine added many of the reported new cases are considered “long-haulers.” Symptoms in these individuals seem to be lasting longer, delaying recovery for months. 

Levine also said 62 of the state’s 67 counties — including Lehigh and Northampton counties — have a positivity rate of over 5 percent. This is 10 more counties than last week. 

“Today I want to highlight all the things that we can do right now,” Levine said. “First, we can answer the call to prevent the spread of this virus. We need people to answer the call when a case investigator or contact tracer calls them and provides them with information that can actually save someone’s life.” 

Levine continued to say that we can answer the call by wearing a mask. 

“This is a proven public health measure endorsed by medical experts, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and others,” Levine said.

People are also encouraged to social distance and stay away from not only large crowds, but small gatherings as well. As cases rise, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health recommends seeing no one outside of immediate family or people outside the household. 

“I know that this is particularly challenging, especially as the holidays approach,” Levine added. 

“However, we are fortunate that 2020 has brought us new technology that allows us to see our family virtually. If that is not possible, you can make a phone call, write a letter, children can draw pictures for their loved ones, to show that we are still connected, even at a distance.” 

Levine recommends downloading the COVID Alert PA app, which currently has 485,000 users, to stay updated. This app alerts those who have been exposed to the virus in a safe and effective way. 

“I certainly know 2020 has been a difficult year,” Levine said. “But we can get through this if we stand united together. It requires each of us, working together, regardless of any of our differences.”

If you are struggling during these times, you may call Preserve PA, a COVID-19 crisis counseling program. The number is 1-855-284-2494. It is available in both English and Spanish. 

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