(*This post has been updated to include additional comment from state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine)
Officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 52 new cases of COVID-19 at midday on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 185 cases. The illness is now present in 22 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
The state reported its first death from the virus on Wednesday. The Morning Call of Allentown identified him as Carmine Fusco, 55, of Northampton County.
“Our notable increase in cases over the last few days and our first death in Pennsylvania indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement. “Pennsylvanians have a very important job right now: stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We have seen case counts continue to increase and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home.”
Statewide, the Department of Health said there are 185 cases of COVID-19 reported from commercial, hospital and state labs. So far, 1,608 patients who have tested negative. One caveat, “With commercial labs being the primary testing option for most Pennsylvanians, data is not available on the total number of tests pending,” the Health Department said.
During a 2 p.m. briefing with reporters, Levine said the state has been working with hospitals, health centers and networks to “evaluate elective surgery procedures are absolutely necessary, and if they are not “to develop a plan to postpone them.”
Levine acknowledged Thursday that the state does have “significant hospitalization rates” as a result of the outbreak, but noted that the rate varies daily. She said the state has been in close contact with hospitals and health systems to make sure they have sufficient supplies to deal with an expected surge in patients.
“We’re also working with the, to get rid of the regulations the Department of Health has on adding new beds,” Levine said. “If they need new beds, they can just go ahead and do that.”
Levine continued to stress that, if people think they might have contracted the virus, they should first contact their primary care physician, rather than showing up at a doctor’s office or an emergency room.
“If you have very mild symptoms and not very ill, you might consider staying home. We don’t want you going to the emergency department. Staying home would be really, really prudent,” she said.
“I do believe there are more cases in the community than the numbers we are reporting because some people aren’t being tested,” she said.
Capital-Star Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison contributed to this story.