COVID-19 in Pa.: Levine outlines factors in reopening state, but ‘We’re not there yet’

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine briefs the press on Saturday, 4/11/20 (Screen Capture)

Pennsylvania’s top public health official said Saturday that the state has made progress in bending the curve in COVID-19 infections, but stressed “we’re not there yet,” when asked how soon it might be before the commonwealth allows residents to go back to work.

“We’ve made progress, but we’re not there yet, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during an online briefing, adding “It won’t be a grand re-opening.”

As of midday Saturday, health officials had confirmed 1,676 positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide tally to 21,655 cases in all 67 counties. To date, 494 Pennsylvanians have died as a result of the illness, according to Health Department data.

The latest on COVID-19 in Pa.: 21,655 confirmed cases in all 67 counties

Levine told journalists Saturday the agency will consider a variety of data in making its decision, including the number of new cases and the percentage of positive cases per-capita, meaning cases per 1,000 people. Such decisions also would be made in consultation with county officials, she added.

“And when we see that COVID-19 is going down, that the incidence is going down, the percentage of new cases is going down, and there is much less community spread, that will be time to lift business ban and allow people to go out. We will do that in a progressive way,” she said.

Earlier this week, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered Pennsylvania’s public, private and parochial schools closed through the end of the 2020 school year.

Asked Saturday whether it was reasonable to expect that the statewide stay at home order would remain in force until the end of the school year in June, Levine echoed the counsel of National Institutes of Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying the data and the disease would dictate the pace.

“The virus determines the timetable. It’s impossible to give a date,” Levine said.

Asked how parents of school-aged children might expect to meet the demands of childcare if the state sends people back to work before school ends, an administration spokesperson said the state had developed such a plan through the state Department of Human Services’ Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), “which implemented a waiver process for child care centers and group child care homes that serve working families.”

“While those centers cater primarily to children who are not school-age, OCDEL is also advising communities that in order to meet the needs of school-age children and parents who are still working now, implementation of part-day school-age programs is a viable option for communities as they consider supporting working families,” the spokesperson, Lyndsay Kensinger, said in an email.

Those waiver requests “are being processed as quickly as possible,” Kensinger said. A full list of child care facilities open now can be viewed at the Human Services Department’s website.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press