COVID-19 in Pa.: Wolf signs order allowing allowing state to move personal protective equipment and ventilators among healthcare facilities

    Gov. Tom Wolf addresses Pennsylvania during an online news conference on Sunday, 3/22/20 (Screen Capture)

    Pennsylvania has seen a “subtle flattening of the curve” in the rate of new COVID- 19 infections over the past week, indicating that social distancing and stay-at-home orders are having an effect, the state’s top public health official said Wednesday.

     “We do expect to see the raw numbers increase,” state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during an online press briefing, “but we cannot become complacent.” 

    She added it was essential now more than ever that people stay home as much as possible, to avoid overwhelming the state’s healthcare system. 

    Pennsylvania now has 16,239 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a total of 310 deaths, according to the latest Health Department data.

    Levine said the federal government has identified Philadelphia as a new “hotspot,” in terms of the number of cases, and that Luzerne County and the Lehigh Valley were also areas of concern. The western part of the state is more stable, she said, but state officials were watching that as well. 

    The state also has created a new hospital preparedness dashboard, with data reported directly from hospitals, with information about how many beds are available, and how many ventilators are in use and available at each facility. 

    During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Tom Wolf said he had signed an order to allow the state to move personal protective equipment and ventilators among healthcare facilities.

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    Wolf said moving the equipment to facilities in high population areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, or, to lower population areas with fewer existing resources, would help the state brace for an expected surge in patients.

    “This will prevent sick Pennsylvanians from having to choose which hospital to go to for fear that some have less access to equipment than others,” Wolf said during Wednesday’s briefing. “It will help us make use of every ventilator, every piece of PPE and every medical worker.” 

    Under the order, which applies to both private and public healthcare providers, suppliers and manufacturers, the state will pay for the equipment “under terms and conditions agreed upon.” 

    Providers are required to report inventory to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency within five days of Wolf’s order.

    COVID-19 in Philly: City and suburban leaders call for ‘load balancing’ procedures for hospitals

    Wolf said during the briefing that the order did not mean the state was confiscating supplies, adding he was trying “to make sure we take the scarce resources we have” and deploy them where most needed. 

    In a statement, Andy Carter, CEO of the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, said the industry trade group looked forward to working with the administration on the implementation of its order.

    “Our first priority is to ensure the health and safety of frontline health care workers and the patients they care for. During a time when supply chains are stretched thin and demand is high, our statewide mutual aid agreement is an effective tool to ensure that critical resources and supplies are distributed quickly and efficiently among the state’s health care facilities,” Carter said. “We hope that this Executive Order leverages the existing infrastructure to move forward. Our neighbors in New York have demonstrated the effectiveness of voluntary sharing and coordination.”

    Correspondent Kim Lyons covers Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed additional reporting.