The Lead

Coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania up to 33; commercial labs open

By: - March 13, 2020 2:19 pm

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health.

*Updated with additional comment from the Department of Health at 2:26 p.m. 3/13

The state Department of Health has confirmed 33 cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania as of 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13, including the state’s first confirmed pediatric case of the coronavirus.

The pediatric case, or someone under 18 years of age, was still under investigation, and health officials had no further details.

Six of the test results have been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Commercial labs are open

The state will continue to conduct tests at its lab in Exton in Chester County, but two private, commercial labs are now operational as of Friday, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said at the briefing.

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Previously, the state had to approve all tests that were sent to the state lab. Levine said doctors can send samples for coronavirus testing to a private lab with or without consulting the Department of Health.

“The addition of the commercial laboratories is great because they can just do the tests,” she said.

Some hospitals, Levine added, are close to processing their own tests. She expected more capacity to come online next week.

The state lab has so far tested more than 300 people, with 140 negative tests and 130 pending. It abides by guidance from the CDC to test patients showing symptoms of the coronavirus — such as a fever greater than 100 degrees, shortness of breath, or a cough.

Even with the additional capacity, Levine advised Pennsylvanians that “if you do not have any symptoms, you don’t need to be tested at this time.”

Even with extra testing capacity, Levine said there is not the capacity to conduct a whole population sample of, for example, Philadelphia and its suburbs. 

The department is preparing guidance for doctors on accessing the private labs that could be available as soon as Friday.

Gov. Tom Wolf had previously announced that all individuals with insurance — including Medicaid and CHIP — will be tested with no cost sharing. Individuals without insurance will also be tested for free at the state lab.

Nate Wardle, a spokesperson for the Health department, said that the department will work with uninsured individuals “if they contact the department, to ensure they do not have to pay.”

Earlier in the week, Sara Goulet, a spokeswoman for Wolf, said that “the state is exploring options for assisting uninsured people” who are tested at private labs.

About 675,000 Pennsylvanians did not have health insurance in 2017, the most recent data available according to the Pennsylvania State Data Center, run by Penn State University. That’s roughly 6.6 percent of the state’s population.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.