With Pennsylvania facing rising case counts and with thousands hospitalized, the Wolf administration says it’s deploying new COVID-19 testing “strike teams” around the state to offer testing to further contain its spread.
The teams will start work in Bedford, Mifflin, Northampton and Tioga counties on Wednesday, expanding to Butler County on Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf and state Health Department testing head Michael Huff said in a joint news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The teams will eventually deploy statewide, working in 61 of the state’s 67 counties without their own health departments, officials said. The first round of counties were chosen because they have seen “recent, rapid increases in COVID case numbers,” Wolf told journalists.
The five strike teams come through an expansion of the state’s contract with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare. They’ll offer the standard nasal swab test that’s become a familiar image of the pandemic.
“Increased testing will help the sate in assessing the prevalence of the virus,” Huff told reporters. The tests are available to patients age three and older, and people don’t have to show symptoms to get tested.
“But if you test positive, and you don’t exhibit symptoms, you still have to isolate,” Huff said.
As of midday Tuesday, the state Health Department confirmed 5,676 new cases of the virus and confirmed 180 new fatalities. That brings the statewide tally since the start of the pandemic to 367,140 cases in all 67 counties, and a total of 10,563 deaths attributed to the pandemic, the Health Department said.
Statewide, 4,631 people were hospitalized because of the virus, with 970 patients in hospital intensive care units. On Monday, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine warned that ICU units were “strained” by the current case load.
Wolf repeated the state’s ongoing plea for people to cooperate with contact tracing and other mitigation efforts.
“We need every Pennsylvanian who contracts COVID to cooperate with health workers,” he said. “There are things every single one of us can do to stop the spread. It is essential that every Pennsylvanian take the threat of the virus seriously. Wear a mask. Stay at home when you don’t have to go out. Follow the travel restrictions. All these are in place to help keep this virus from hurting more people and getting us through this as quickly as we can.”
Wolf’s plea comes the day after revelations that two Republican state senators had tested positive for the virus after attending a hearing in Gettysburg last week where the crowd was largely maskless.