‘You’re putting yourselves at risk’ Levine tells protesters planning event at the Capitol next week

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

    Standing firm on the stay-at-home orders and social distancing efforts implemented by state officials, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine reiterated why it’s important for Pennsylvanians to follow guidance from state officials. 

    “Now is not the time to relax those social distancing efforts,” Levine said during an online briefing, Thursday.  

    On Monday, April 20, protesters are expected to occupy the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to protest Gov. Tom Wolf’s continued stay-at-home order, and the closing of non-essential businesses across the state that’s helped crater tax revenues and sent unemployment claims skyrocketing.

    “You’re putting yourselves at risk for COVID-19,” Levine said of the potential protesters.

    As of midday Thursday, Pennsylvania saw 1,245 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 27,735 in all 67 counties, with 707 confirmed fatalities. 

    Currently, 2,503 Pennsylvanians are hospitalized with the disease, according to data from the Department of Health. 

    Levine addressed the concerns of rural Pennsylvanians who are questioning the need for statewide stay-at-home orders.

    Levine countered the argument, saying “We understand the majority of cases have been in the southeastern part of the state and the northeast,” She said, adding that cases across the state have been underreported, especially in rural areas. 

    Levine also dismissed the idea of implementing a strategy used with less-contagious coronavirus strains such as SARS called “herd immunity,” in which a large percentage of a community is immune to a contagious disease due to mass exposure, calling the potential impact “catastrophic.” 

    On Wednesday, Wolf ordered all essential businesses now operating in the state to require masks workers and customers to wear faces masks, and for businesses to turn away customers who are not wearing masks. 

    “We want to protect the workers that are in those life-sustaining activities,” Levine said. “It would be safer if everyone who goes outside to wear a mask.”

    Levine also recommended Pennsylvanians who use public transportation wear a mask. 

    State officials are looking at trends in data on COVID-19 cases across the state to see if social distancing efforts are working, Levine said. But she gave no indication of when restrictions might be lifted. 

    “We don’t know how long we will be under stay-at-home orders,” Levine said, adding, “We have not had a wave of cases that have overwhelmed our healthcare system.”

    According to the University of Washington models, Thursday should be the “peak” of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 cases, but Levine said the state will have to “wait and see” if that turns out to be accurate. 

    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.