HARRISBURG (AP) — Pennsylvania on Wednesday reported below 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus for the fourth straight day, the longest such streak since the daily reports of new cases first reached four figures in early April.
Health Secretary Rachel Levine called the four-day dip below 1,000 “good news.”
“Trends mean more than any specific day, but it’s starting to form a trend, so I think that that’s very positive news,” Levine said during a video news conference.
Also Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the creation of the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps, an organization whose scale, funding and timeline remained unclear Wednesday.
The corps, Wolf said, will be designed to marshal Pennsylvanians into a force of workers to help contain future outbreaks of the virus and inject life into the economy.
“To have an impact on the economy, we want this to be a big deal,” Wolf told a video news conference.
He said he is working to secure federal funding for the project.
In other coronavirus-related news in Pennsylvania:
Cases tallied in the two months since Pennsylvania reported its first positive test now number more than 51,840, according to the state Department of Health, an increase of 888 from Tuesday’s figures.
Even so, the state has reported nearly 7,500 new cases in the past week, an increase of 17%. The state reported 94 more deaths, bringing the statewide total to 3,106.
All told, about 256,000 people have been tested in Pennsylvania in the past two months, or 2% of the population. About one-fifth of those tests were conducted in the past week.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
VETERANS’ HOME DEATHS
The death toll at a hard-hit state veterans’ home in southeastern Pennsylvania has continued to rise, as the state’s secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said he had sought inspections of the facility.
Federal, state and county inspections came back clean and showed that the Southeastern Veterans’ Center have sound protocols in responding to the spread of the coronavirus, Maj. Gen. Tony Carelli told a panel of Democratic state senators Wednesday.
Inspectors from the state Department of Health visited Friday, Carelli said, after he asked the department’s secretary to make an exception to her policy of suspending nursing home inspections during the pandemic.
There are conflicting reports on the number of COVID-related deaths at the center, in Chester County, outside Philadelphia.
The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs reported 22 deaths across all six homes it operates in Pennsylvania. But the Chester County coroner said Wednesday that she had found 34 deaths at Southeastern alone.
However, Carelli and other department officials acknowledged Wednesday that, because of the unavailability of tests, they had been unable to test everyone who died at the facility.
CIVIL LIABILITY PROTECTION
Wolf signed an executive order Wednesday extending protection from civil liability for medical and health care professionals who show they acted in good faith while responding to the pandemic during the state’s disaster emergency.
The order also temporarily relaxed various practitioner regulations, including removing a physician supervision requirement for advanced practice nurses like nurse anesthetists, the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists said.
The organization said suspending that requirement lets hospitals use nurses to fill critical roles outside the operating room during the pandemic. Nurse anesthetists have skills critical to the coronavirus response because they can help intubate patients and manage them on ventilators.
Liability protection had been sought by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, noting that New Jersey and New York had extended such protections, while broader legislation to that effect has stalled in the state Legislature.
However, the medical society said Wolf’s order did not cover physicians in outpatient offices, such as primary care offices and surgery centers, and said “more needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, a nursing home trade association said it was “shocked and dumbfounded” that Wolf’s order did not cover nursing homes, and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry protections should also be extended to the entire medical community, including hospitals and health systems.
The chamber also urged protection for businesses that have overhauled operations to comply with social distancing orders and shifted their production lines to make desperately needed personal protective equipment.
MEMORIAL DAY FLAGS
Montgomery County in hard-hit suburban Philadelphia has postponed the distribution of tens of thousands of flags for Memorial Day, and will distribute them instead ahead of Independence Day.
Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Council, said 59,000 flags are normally distributed to 59 organizations such as scout troops, church organizations, rotary clubs and VFW groups who place them at 212 locations.
The county has purchased the flags for this year but “bringing these large numbers of groups together creates the very situation that we have been trying so hard to avoid,” Arkoosh said.
Instead, they are planning to move placing of the 59,000 flags on graves to the Fourth of July “when we believe we will be able to honor the fallen with less risk to the volunteers and to our community.”
77 LIQUOR STORES TO REOPEN
Business reopenings that will begin Friday in 24 counties across northern and northwestern Pennsylvania designated by Wolf as “yellow” zones will include 77 state-owned liquor stores, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said Wednesday.
The stores will limit the number of customers and employees inside to 25 people or less, depending on store size, and require face masks and social distancing.
The first hour will be reserved for older people and others at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.