Pa. charts its highest single-day total for COVID-19 cases, health officials say

    Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, speaks during a press conference addressing the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania, inside PEMA headquarters on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.

    Pennsylvania set a single-day record for new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, one week before citizens go to the polls in the 2020 general election.

    A total of 2,751 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the commonwealth, the state Department of Health said. 

    That’s more than the previous high of people who tested positive in a single day this spring, during the early days of the pandemic.

    The spike matches warnings federal health officials have offered in the lead up to autumn that cases of the coronavirus could once again increase.

    “We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it’s not going to be easy,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said last month.

    According to Johns Hopkins University, Pennsylvania has the second lowest per-capita testing rate in the country. Only Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, has less testing.

    The university’s testing data also shows that Pennsylvania’s testing positivity rate, which shows how often people tested are actually sick, rose by 2 percentage points to 11 percent in recent weeks.

    Pennsylvania cases peaked in mid-April. For most of spring, businesses closed and people stayed indoors under orders from Gov. Tom Wolf.

    The state reopened over the summer, but with continuing restrictions on restaurants, bars and event venues.

    Now, as cases once again increase to new heights, Wolf has not said if he’ll once again order business shutdowns or issue stay-at-home orders.

    While Wolf’s orders were relaxed, officials argued in a court challenge that they were only temporarily suspended, not permanently revoked.

    Wolf has also guarded his executive powers with his veto pen when Republican lawmakers tried to limit his ability to close businesses or control crowd sizes.

    Dr. Rachel Levine, the state secretary of health, repeated her calls for Pennsylvanians to wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep space between others amid rising cases earlier this week.

    The record highs in Pennsylvania match new national single day highs as well.

    A timeline for a vaccine is still unclear. President Donald Trump, while downplaying the national spike ahead of his reelection, has also claimed at a debate last week that a vaccine could be ready by the end of the year. 

    His own health officials have testified a finished vaccine might not be completed until 2021.

    Pennsylvania was one of many states to submit a plan for distributing such a vaccine to state residents this month. It did not release details of the application.

    At a separate press conference Tuesday morning, Wolf and his Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said they provided counties with hand sanitizer and masks to keep people safe if voting in person next week. However, there is no requirement to wear a mask in a polling place.

    All told, 198,446 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania since March. Of them, 8,696 people have died.