50 cases algorithm ‘Just one piece of the puzzle’ for county reopening, Levine says

    Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine during a briefing on Tuesday, 4/14/20 (screen capture)

    As Pennsylvania moves toward its gradual reopening on May 8, state officials say they are looking at more than just case counts by area. 

    During her daily briefing Thursday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the administration’s metric of 50 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period would be necessary, but “just one piece of the puzzle” for reopening. 

    “We’re looking for metrics that allow us to look at change over time,” Levine said, adding that there are many metrics being used to determine whether or not a county is ready to partially reopen and move to the “yellow phase” of the reopening plan outlined by Gov. Tom Wolf. 

    “Some of that will be quantitative and some of that will be qualitative,” Levine said. 

    Despite the federal government allowing guidelines on social distancing measures to expire Thursday, Levine said Wolf’s stay-at-home orders remain in place for red-phase counties and social distancing efforts will still need to be minded in yellow-phase areas. 

    Levine said she expects to discuss more information about “life in the yellow zone” during a briefing on Friday. She also said the first counties to partially reopen will be announced Friday, but could not say when that information would be released. 

    So far, state officials have struggled to get hospitals and healthcare systems to report race and ethnicity data as it relates to COVID-19 cases. 

    Levine said Thursday that the Department of Health is still asking for this data from healthcare facilities, but said it’s a hard mandate to enforce.

     “We’re doing better, in terms of reporting that data,” Levine said, but we’re not there yet.”

    As some regions of the state prepare to reopen, Levine said increased testing abilities would be crucial. 

    While testing was previously limited to symptomatic healthcare workers and first responders, Levine said the department has “liberalized” that guideline, allowing anyone who is symptomatic to be tested. 

    The department has also encouraged hospitals to test those seeking elective surgeries and procedures, even if they are asymptomatic. 

    To date, the department has sent 1,378 shipments of personal protective equipment to nursing and personal care homes, including the state’s 695 licensed skilled-nursing facilities.

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.