Levine thanks first responders, addresses Atlantic report after technical issues thwart Wednesday briefing

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

    After an IT issue stalled her daily news briefing and the Department of Health’s noon COVID-19 data drop Wednesday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine gave Pennsylvanians an update on COVID-19 mitigation across the state Thursday. 

    With the county observing National Emergency Medical Services Week this week,  Levine began the briefing by thanking Pennsylvania’s more than 42,000 first responders. 

    First responders in the commonwealth answer 1 million requests for services each year, Levine said, calling the efforts of those responding during the COVID-19 pandemic “extremely challenging work.”

    Levine urged first responders to monitor their stress level, saying it is “imperative” that first responders focus on their health, too. 

    She recommended first responders take breaks when needed, exercise and eat well to help manage their stress, but added, If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to ask for help.

     “It’s okay to not be okay,” Levine said.

    Levine said Thursday that state officials are preparing their recommendations for Gov. Tom Wolf on which counties should be transitioned into the yellow phase next, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. 

    Metrics for what “life in the green zone” will mean, Levine said, are still being determined as counties in the yellow phase wait to hear when they will be able to transition to the third and final stage of Wolf’s reopening plan. 

    Levine urged residents of red and yellow counties to take social distancing efforts seriously and wear masks when in a public setting. 

    “COVID-19 is a very serious threat to public health,” Levine said. 

    As more counties are set to transition to yellow on Friday, Levine said that the state is still increasing testing capabilities statewide. 

    The Department of Health is also beginning to collect data on Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome cases and data on COVID-19 recoveries, which Levine said she hopes will be available soon. 

    With national reopening plans finally available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Levine said state health officials are still reviewing the newly released recommendations, but said that the actions of state’s officials in response to COVID-19 has been “following the tenor” of CDC guidelines. 

    In response to a report from The Atlantic that a number of states, including Pennsylvania, were mixing the results of current COVID patients with antibody tests that reveal if an individual has ever had the virus. 

    Levine said that the state does not mix results as stated in the article, but keeps data on the total number of confirmed cases and separate data on probable cases. Those who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies are listed in probable cases, not in the state’s total number of confirmed cases. 

    Additionally, Levine clarified that only confirmed cases are used in determining when counties may transition from phase-to-phase. 

    “We only use the count of confirmed cases when looking at moving counties from red to yellow and then yellow to green,” Levine said. 

    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.