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Pa. health secretary expands mask order, urges hospitals to prepare for surge in COVID-19 cases – PennLive

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said she is expanding the state’s order on wearing masks to cover all outdoor and indoor areas.

In a news conference Tuesday, Levine said the mask order requires wearing face coverings at schools, stores, businesses, gyms, doctors offices, public transportation and anywhere food is packaged or served. Essentially, the order calls for wearing masks when leaving your household.

“We must all be diligent in wearing masks all the time,” Levine said.

Levine announced the expanded mask order as part of a handful of “targeted” and “strategic” steps to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus, as the state sees more infections and hospitalizations.

Citing dire projections by the White House coronavirus task force, Levine said she’s urging hospital officials to prepare for a surge in patients.

As more COVID-19 patients require treatment in hospitals, Levine cited projections that show Pennsylvania hospitals could run out of intensive care unit beds in December. She urged hospitals and health care systems to draw up plans now to help each other if some facilities are filled to capacity.

Levine issued a memo outlining expectations for hospitals. She said hospitals should consider rescheduling elective surgeries if they can be delayed and prepare to reduce those procedures. Levine stopped short of ordering hospitals to halt elective surgeries, as the state did in the spring.

So far, hospitals and health care systems are doing well even as cases have risen in recent weeks. She said some health care systems in the Philadelphia region and northeastern Pennsylvania are seeing more challenges. She said staffing generally isn’t an issue at the state’s hospitals.

Nonetheless, hundreds of nurses at a Bucks County hospital in the Philadelphia suburbs have gone on strike, complaining of low staffing levels, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Despite the rise in cases, Levine stopped short of announcing broader measures placing new restrictions on businesses and schools that were imposed when the coronavirus first emerged in March. She said the hope is that some more targeted measures would help keep schools open and hospitals from being overwhelmed.

In addition, Levine said she’s issued an order calling for those visiting Pennsylvania from other states to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entering the state or to self-quarantine for 14 days. Levine said that order doesn’t apply to those who routinely cross state lines for work, although she recommends people work from home as much as possible.

Levine also called on colleges and universities to develop testing procedures for when students return to campus after the holidays. She also called on colleges to ensure they have enough space for isolating and quarantining students who are infected.

The health department has recorded a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks. Across Pennsylvania, 59 of the state’s 67 counties now have substantial spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Monday.

On Tuesday, the state reported 5,900 new coronavirus cases, marking a one-day high. But the state has broken its record for daily cases with regularity in November. The state reports 9,355 deaths have been tied to COVID-19, including 30 new fatalities reported Tuesday.

More people are being treated in hospitals for the coronavirus. The health department reports 2,737 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals, a number that has more than doubled over the past two weeks. It’s still below the peak of 3,000 in the spring but health officials have said they are concerned about the rise in hospitalizations. Levine said Tuesday she expects the number of hospitalizations to rise.

State officials note the rate of positive tests has risen to 9.6%, up from 6.9% the previous week. Health officials stress the rise in cases isn’t simply a result of more people being tested; a higher percentage of people are testing positive for COVID-19.

Some areas haven’t waited for state officials to take more aggressive action. Philadelphia city officials announced a host of measures Monday, including barring indoor restaurant dining and indoor gatherings. Montgomery County schools have ordered schools to shift to remote learning for a two-week period.

Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have announced broader statewide measures in recent days.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy limited indoor gatherings to 10 people, down from 25, and outdoor events to 150, down from the previous limit of 500. New Jersey restaurants are ordered to close at 10 p.m. Last week, New York also enacted a statewide 10 p.m. curfew for bars, restaurants and gyms, although it allows curbside pickup and delivery of non-alcohol orders after 10 p.m.

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