(*This post has been updated to include a statement from Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, on the status of three special elections for state House now scheduled for Tuesday March 17, 2020. Those contests will not be postponed)
State health officials on Saturday afternoon announced six new cases of COVID-19, with the illness spreading to Allegheny County, where there are two, new cases.
The new COVID-19 cases bring Pennsylvania’s statewide total to 47, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced at a 2 p.m. press conference. The new cases include two adults from Montgomery County, one adult from Philadelphia County and one adult from Chester County, the state Health Department said in a statement.
According to Levine, 402 patients to date that have been or are being tested. Of those 205 tested negative; 41 were presumptive positive cases, and six were confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Levine said 150 samples are at the lab or on their way to be tested.
The two people in Allegheny County who tested positive for the virus live in the same household in Pittsburgh, health officials there told journalists Saturday. One person is in their 60s, the other is in their 70s. They are not hospitalized, but isolating themselves at home. The people are believed to have contracted the virus during travel out of state, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen said.
The two visited the emergency department at West Penn Hospital in the city’s Bloomfield neighborhood and were sent home to be quarantined. The health department’s Dr. Kristin Mertz said there was currently “no evidence of community spread” of the virus.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said it has developed a test for COVID-19, which it will begin administering to patients with doctor referrals on Tuesday at its South Side facility. The test is given via a nasal swab and should provide results in 24 hours, UPMC officials said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto declared a state of emergency in the city on Friday.
“Yesterday, the county announced a number of additional steps that corresponded with revised guidance from the Health Department,” Fitzgerald said. “Those steps were taken to mitigate any impact on our community should we have local COVID-19 cases. That day is today, but working together, we are prepared and ready to continue to serve the public and protect our community.”
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.”
Right now, those mitigation efforts are still voluntary. Asked whether he’d considered making them mandatory, Wolf said, “if we went to mandatory, we’d still rely on people making the right decision.”
“It would be a capricious exercise for a government to make a one-size-fits-all announcement. I have the ability to do that, but I just don’t think it would be effective,” he said.
On Friday, officials announced the first cases identified outside eastern Pennsylvania. They included one case in Washington County, in southwestern Pennsylvania. Three cases were also identified in Cumberland County in central Pennsylvania.
The administration also ordered the shutdown of Pennsylvania’s public schools, including charter schools.
The Primary Election
Wolf said there are discussions on whether to move the date of Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary election, but no decision has been made.
“It’s something that’s being talked about, but April 28 is too far away to make a decision,” he said; “It’s on the table, but there’s no decision.”
Asked whether he’d support such a move, Wolf said that while he “[wants] to keep our democracy alive,” his “goal is to keep Pennsylvania safe.”
*In a statement released after the news conference, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said there are no plans to move a trio of special House elections now scheduled for Tuesday.
“The impact of the COVID-19 virus is being felt by all of us, and I applaud the 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. “When you consider that absentee ballots have already been applied for and returned, these elections are already underway.”
Capital-Star Pittsburgh Correspondent Kim Lyons and Charlie Deitch, editor of the Pittsburgh Current, also contributed to this story.