HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The coronavirus has infected another 511 people to surpass 73,000 total cases in Pennsylvania, and another 75 people have died from it, the state Health Department said Wednesday.
The agency has now attributed a total of 5,742 deaths to the virus in Pennsylvania.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the confirmed count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. About 68% of the people who tested positive have recovered, the department said, while the rate of positive tests is steadily falling to 18% of those tested.
Pennsylvania is currently in the process of a three-step reopening.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that nearly 6 million people in hard-hit southeastern Pennsylvania are scheduled to shed his tightest restrictions on Friday. That includes the stay-at-home order that is part of the so-called “red” phase.
Another 3.8 million people live in counties that are under Wolf’s least-restrictive “green” phase, or will be starting Friday.
To determine whether a county can enter a less-restrictive phase, Wolf last week said his administration is studying the rate of new cases over seven days, the percentage of positive cases over 14 days and whether outbreaks can be managed with contact tracing.
However, even in the green phase, businesses are required to maintain social distancing measures, including requiring customers and employees to wear masks, and to limit capacity.
Wolf administration officials haven’t said when those requirements would lift, but Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine suggested that they may remain in place until there is a safe and effective vaccine that is widely available.
Wolf on Wednesday renewed a 90-day disaster declaration he originally signed on March 6 following the confirmation of the first positive cases of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania.
The original declaration was set to expire Thursday.
“Pennsylvanians have done a tremendous job flattening the curve and case numbers continue to decrease,” Wolf said in a statement. “Renewing the disaster declaration helps state agencies with resources and supports as we continue mitigation and recovery.”
Under state law, an emergency disaster declaration gives governors the authority to issue or rescind executive orders and regulations, access stockpiles of emergency supplies and equipment and suspend laws or regulations that government state agencies.
The Department of Health is clearing dentists to resume non-emergency routine dental care and cleanings, and asked them to follow federal guidelines.
Until Wednesday, the department had only cleared dentists to resume some elective dental procedures.
Dental providers must use personal protective equipment, all patients should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before arriving at the practice and social distancing should be maintained while inside the dentists’ offices.
Levine said Wolf’s office is expected to produce more details this week on the administration’s safety guidance for sports, including youth sports.
The Department of Health said it is working to set up six regional consortiums to help develop contact tracing efforts.
It said the consortiums could include universities and colleges, business and community organizations, federally qualified health centers, county human services organizations, foundations and health systems to assess the number of contact tracers needed in each area, help recruit them and ensure they are trained.
The effort is designed to lead to a contact-tracing infrastructure that will be in place by the fall, if there is a resurgence of the virus.
TESTING IN RURAL AREAS
The Wolf administration said it has a new partnership with Walmart and Quest Diagnostics to create five free drive-through coronavirus testing sites in parts of the state where testing sites are relatively scarce.
Testing will be at Walmarts in Erie, Clarion, Montoursville, Clearfield and Hermitage on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Anyone who needs a test can get one, Levine said.
Up to 50 tests can be administered each day at each site, and people seeking a test must register the day before to confirm an appointment. Registration can be done at the Department of Health website or Quest’s website.