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Dr. Rachel Levine announces tougher orders on travel and masks to slow COVID-19 spread

This story was updated at 4:45 p.m.

Pennsylvania will require visitors to the state to provide proof they tested negative for COVID-19, and is recommending all residents wear masks indoors and outdoors even if six feet from another person.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced those and two other new mitigation efforts that the Wolf Administration will be taking to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

The efforts include an order requiring visitors into the state to have a negative COVID-19 test, a strengthening of the state’s masking order, a memorandum to acute care hospitals and a list of recommendations for colleges and universities.

Levine said the state is not looking to enact any mass closures of businesses or introducing another phased reopening process as it did earlier in the year.

“These targeted measures are extremely important and we want to emphasize all of these very important measures,” she said. “If we all do our part and stand united we may not need further mitigation efforts taken.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announces a number of COVID-19 mitigation efforts during a press call on Tuesday. PHOTO PROVIDED

An hour before the secretary’s news conference earlier today, the state Department of Health reported 5,900 additional positive cases of COVID-19 as of 12 a.m. on Nov. 17. Referencing the growing number of cases, Levine said that the state was in need of targeted actions to reduce spread.

“We continue to see the number of new COVID-19 cases rising, our percent positivity rising, our hospitalizations rising, as well as the number of Pennsylvanians critically ill due to COVID-19 rising,” Levine said.

Levine issued a new order requiring anyone who visits from another state to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before entering Pennsylvania or to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the state.

While she has the authority to enforce isolation and quarantines, Levine said that she will not be enforcing the orders, rather, the order is meant to communicate to Pennsylvanians not to travel out of the state for the holidays.

“We are not looking to take people to court but I do have that authority,” she said. “We cannot check every car driving into Pennsylvania and we have no plans to check everyone coming off of every airplane.”

The state also issued a recommendation that Pennsylvanians wear masks indoors and outdoors even if they are more than six feet away from someone else. This is more stringent then Levine’s April 15 order and applies to schools, gyms, homes, retail, public transportation, doctors’ offices and anywhere food is packaged or served.

Levine’s list of COVID-19 mitigation efforts included a list of recommendations issued to colleges and universities to implement more stringent testing of students returning to school after the holidays.

The recommendations include establishing routine protocols for testing, creating adequate capacity for isolation and quarantine, preparing to enforce violations for students who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing and testing students at the beginning of each term.

Levine also sent a memorandum to acute care hospitals outlining expectations relating to patient care as the pandemic worsens. She quoted a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which projects that Pennsylvania will run out of ICU beds by next month.

“To address this, I have outlined my expectations for acute care hospitals outlining our opportunities to work collaboratively during these challenging times,” she said.

In the memorandum, the department noted it is looking to share data and expectations with the hospital community to ensure they are prepared to manage increases in patient numbers.

Ioannis Pashakis
Ioannis Pashakis covers health care, the gig economy, cannabis and technology. Email him at ipashakis@bridgetowermedia.com.

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