Pa. up to 63 COVID-19 cases, health officials say, as virus spreads to NePa and Lehigh Valley

    Gov. Tom Wolf updates the press on the latest coronavirus developments during a briefing at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency HQ in suburban Harrisburg on Saturday, 3/14/20 (Screen Capture)

    The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Sunday has confirmed 16 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 63 cases.

    Those new cases are: One in Allegheny County; one in Bucks County; two in Cumberland County; one in Delaware County; one in Lehigh County; one in Luzerne County; three in Monroe County; four in Montgomery County; and two in Philadelphia County. All are either in isolation at home or being treated at the hospital, the agency said in a statement.

    According to the Department of Health, there are 446 patients who have been tested or are in the process of being tested. There also are 205 who have tested negative; 63 confirmed cases; and 183 patient samples are either at the lab for testing or on their way to the lab.

    “While we anticipate that there will be more Pennsylvanians with COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks, it is important for residents to know the commonwealth is prepared and to be prepared themselves,” state Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in a statement. “Right now, you have a higher chance of testing positive for COVID-19 if you have traveled to a country or state with known community outbreaks or have come in contact with someone who has the virus. We are working with the health care community across Pennsylvania to keep them informed, consult on patient testing and ensuring they have the resources they need to care for patients.”

    Schools and Community Centers:

    In a briefing at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters on Saturday, Gov. Tom Wolf also announced that, effective Sunday, such non-essential public spaces as community centers and entertainment venues, will be shuttered in Bucks and Chester counties.

    That comes on top of the administration’s request, issued earlier this week, for similar spaces to be closed in Delaware and Montgomery counties.

    The order does not apply to such critical spaces as gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies, Wolf said Saturday.

    This approach “will slow the spread of COVID19 and will keep Pennsylvania safe,” Wolf said. “If we can slow the spread of this virus, we can flatten the curve … this is what we need to do and we need to do it now … stay calm, stay home and stay safe.”

    Special Election:

    On Thursday, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said in a statement that there would be no changes to special elections scheduled in the 8th, 18th and 58th districts for Tuesday, March 17.

    “The impact of COVID-19 is being felt by all of us,” Turzai said, and I applaud statewide efforts to practice social distancing and increased disinfecting in public spaces. These same practices will be in place on election day, but they do not require the rescheduling of the special elections.”

    Turzai said that the new absentee ballot rules have meant the elections are already underway.

    Democratic Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, criticized Turzai’s decision on Sunday, calling it “irresponsible and dangerous” to let the special elections go on as scheduled.

    Dermody said in a statment, “Despite the clear direction and expert professional advice, urging the elections be postponed by the secretary of health during a call with lawmakers today, Mike Turzai is insisting voters ignore COVID-19, and risk their lives and the lives of loved ones to satisfy his need to maintain power.”

    Pennsylvania Capital-Star Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison contributed to this story. 

    John L. Micek
    John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.
    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.