Health officials: Pa. up to 96 COVID-19 cases, drive-through testing sites planned in Philly area

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

    This story was updated at 3:28 p.m. with new information from an afternoon press conference.

    State officials on Tuesday announced plans to launch drive-through testing sites in Philadelphia and its suburbs, as Pennsylvania approached 100 known cases of the COVID-19 virus.

    State emergency personnel are currently seeking locations for the federally supported testing sites, which they plan to open in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director David Padfield said.

    Padfield did not announce an anticipated opening date for the sites, but said they will offer testing to Pennsylvanians who exhibit symptoms of the COVID virus, which include a high fever, coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat.

    Montgomery County is home to 32 of Pennsylvania’s 96-known COVID patients, according to state Department of Health data.

    The Department of Health has identified 10 cases in Philadelphia as of Tuesday afternoon, but local officials there say the total has reached 18.

    The state Department of Health announced 20 new cases of COVID-19 midday Tuesday bringing the total to 96 cases in the commonwealth.

    “Your job right now is to stay calm, stay home, and stay safe,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine told Pennsylvanians in a daily news briefing Tuesday, one day after Gov. Tom Wolf urged bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other non-essential businesses to close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

    Levine said on Tuesday that the state has seen some cases of COVID that they cannot track back to other known patients. But she said the state has not yet seen evidence that the virus is circulating widely among the public.

    The state now has COVID patients in 15 counties, including its first case in Beaver County in western Pennsylvania, Levine announced Tuesday.

    The surge in cases comes as testing numbers increase and commercial labs become the “primary testing option” for Pennsylvanians, Levine said in a Tuesday press release.

    The Department of Health has collected 975 COVID tests to date, 879 of which were negative.

    Starting on Tuesday, the Department of Health will announce new COVID cases at noon each day, which will reflect all known cases identified as of 12:01 a.m. that morning.

    On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf asked for a number of non-essential businesses to close throughout the state — such as gyms, spas and concert venues. Restaurants and bars were asked to only serve take out, shuttering in-person dining. 

    Wolf, meanwhile, asked for essential businesses to stay open — a long list including everything from grocery stores, hospitals and gas stations to veterinary clinics, construction projects and banks.

    All state public schools have also been closed until March 30.