The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on July 30, 2020. (Jordan Wolman/B&W Staff)

Pa. Department of Health issues new measures in response to rising COVID-19 daily case count

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With the COVID-19 case count rising in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has identified four new mitigation measures to implement, which Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced on Nov. 17. 

Levine has issued an order requiring Pennsylvania residents and visitors entering or returning to the state from other states to have tested negative up to 72 hours prior to their arrival. The order excludes those who commute across state lines for work or medical treatment.

If unable or unwilling to get tested, individuals must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. 

Levine also issued a memorandum to hospitals urging them to move up necessary elective procedures in anticipation of a pandemic-driven strain on the health care system. 

“It is our collective responsibility to protect our communities and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians from COVID-19 and to continue to work together to get through this pandemic,” Wolf said. “These targeted mitigation efforts, combined with existing ones, are paramount to saving lives and protecting our economy.” 

The new measures come as Pennsylvania’s Department of Health is reporting, as of midnight on Nov. 17, there are 5,900 new positive cases, breaking yet another record for the highest daily increase of cases to date in the state, bringing the total count to 275,513 cases. 

There is also a surge in hospitalizations statewide. The Health Department indicated that as of Nov. 17, 2,575 individuals are currently hospitalized for COVID-19. Of those, 558 are in intensive care. 

Levine’s new order strengthens an initial masking order issued April 15. The new provision states masks are required indoors at all times when away from the home and outdoors if unable to remain six feet apart from others, excluding household members.

“The administration will continue to monitor the risks posed by COVID-19 across the commonwealth and will reinstate or institute new targeted mitigation tactics as necessary,” Wolf said. 

The Health Department has seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among younger age groups, particularly 19 to 24-year-olds. 

Both the state Health and Education departments recommended colleges and universities implement a testing plan for when students return after the holidays. 

The departments have advised colleges and universities to have adequate isolation and quarantine capacities and should be prepared to enforce violations of policies such as mask wearing and physical distancing. 

Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s media relations director, said the university is aware of new state regulations and plans on complying. 

Graphic by Jenna Simon/B&W Staff

“In terms of testing, our campus protocol is actually more stringent, requiring two negative tests before enabling campus access,” Friedman said in an email. 

Friedman said enforcement relies on members of the community taking steps to protect themselves and others. 

Consistent with the fall 2020 semester policy, Friedman said violations of COVID-19 mitigation protocols will continue to be taken seriously and addressed through the Code of Conduct process. 

Lehigh reported 61 active COVID-19 cases among students in Bethlehem, which is an increase from 55 on Monday and just seven active cases on Nov. 9. Lehigh and Northampton counties are two of the state’s 62 counties — out of 67 total counties — with a transmission rate above five percent.

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