Pa. Health Secretary Levine reports significant COVID-19 death increase as result of data reconciliation efforts

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - MARCH 30: Healthcare professionals prepare to screen people for the coronavirus at a testing site erected by the Maryland National Guard in a parking lot at FedEx Field March 30, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. The guard, in cooperation with the state of Maryland and Prince Georges County, said the site will be able to test about 100 people a day for COVID-19 if they have been recommended by a doctor. There has been 1413 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland and 15 deaths since the start of the global pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The number of Pennsylvanians who have died of COVID-19 has jumped by 276 cases, an increase that the state’s top public health official attributed to data validation efforts by the Department of Health.

Since the first COVID-19 case was reported on March 6, a total of 1,112 Pennsylvanians have died in the pandemic, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during an online briefing on Sunday.

“We are working to reconcile our data with information from several different sources,” Levine said. “We understand how important accurate data is to make informed decisions about our path forward for this global pandemic as we collect data, we are also verifying its accuracy. Some deaths are reported to us with several causes of death with COVID-19 listed as maybe the fourth or fifth cause of death are epidemiologists then investigate whether or not that person has previously tested positive for COVID-19. This work takes time. And so today the increase in deaths is a culmination of that data validating effort.”

Through midday Sunday, the state had confirmed 32,284 cases of COVID-19 in all 67 counties.

Five percent —or 1,618 — of Pennsylvania’s positive COVID-19 infections have been reported in healthcare workers throughout the commonwealth. 

“The majority of patients we’re seeing with COVID-19 are in the southeast, and in the northeast, and that’s where most of the patients are hospitalized,” Levine said. “So I would expect that more than health care workers are from the southeast and the northeast [of Pennsylvania], but I don’t have specific data.” 

The latest on COVID-19 in Pa.: 32,284 confirmed cases in 67 counties

On Saturday, the state announced it was opening a mass-testing site in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County. That testing site at the Mohegan Sun Arena opens Monday.

Less than  10 percent, or 2,629 of all Pennsylvania’s cases have required hospitalization. And 643 patients have required ventilators or breathing machines, Levine said. 

“Across our healthcare system, approximately 45 percent of hospital beds, 39 percent of our Intensive Care Unit beds (ICU),” Levine said. “And nearly 70 percent of our ventilators are still available.”

Despite the death increase, Pennsylvanians’ sacrifices are paying off, Levine said.

“It’s important to remember that we are looking at trends in the data to base our decisions and to confirm that social distancing in the mitigation efforts ordered by the governor are working,” Levine said.

Correspondent Hannah McDonald covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow her on Twitter @HannahMcD0nald.