Pa. has two ‘presumed’ cases of coronavirus, Wolf, state health officials say

Gov. Tom Wolf briefs the media at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency HQ in suburban Harrisburg on Friday, 3/6/20 (Screen Capture)

Two Pennsylvania adults, one living in suburban Philadelphia, the other in the Poconos, have contracted COVID-19, or coronavirus, Gov. Tom Wolf and state health officials said Friday. The presumed cases are pending official confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control.

The two adults, one living in Delaware County, the other in Wayne County, have been voluntarily quarantined for 14 days, and that quarantine has the force of law, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, said during a briefing at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters.

The cases, if formally confirmed, are the first in Pennsylvania. State officials declined to release the identities of the two patients or their home municipalities, citing privacy concerns. The cases are not a result of community spread, but rather of travel, they said. Officials said one patient “traveled extensively” in Europe.

“Confirmation of these presumed cases are a reminder that every Pennsylvania must control the spread of this disease,” Wolf told journalists. That includes washing your hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds — “That’s as long it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday twice,'” Wolf said.

Wolf told journalists that he intended to sign a generic disaster declaration later in the day on Friday that would give the state additional leeway to combat the virus, which has claimed 12 lives nationwide and sickened hundreds more. That declaration would not be a state of emergency.

Wolf also asked Pennsylvania lawmakers to sign legislation, now before the state House, that would authorize a specific public health emergency declaration. That legislation, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, cleared the state Senate in June 2019.

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State officials are expanding their testing capability for the virus, Levine told reporters Friday, and are working with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Insurance to make sure people are covered for such testing.

Right now, the state can test 25 to 50 specimens a day, and that capacity will rise to 125 to 150 specimens by the weekend.

Officials stressed Friday that the state had been making preparations for the disease for “five weeks,” and “that we should all remain calm here,” Levine said.

On Friday, officials in the Central Bucks School District announced they’d shuttered five schools in the suburban Philadelphia school district due to reported coronavirus exposure, the Morning Call of Allentown reported.

Levine said Friday that the schools had been closed out of an “abundance of caution.”

“In Central Bucks, officials said children and staff members from the five schools had attended a private gathering at a home in the county and were exposed to a person from out of state who later was confirmed to have the virus,” the Morning Call reported.

Levine urged people who believe they may have contracted the virus to get in touch with their healthcare provider or to call the state Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

John L. Micek
John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.