As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise statewide, Pennsylvanians are being encouraged to reconsider small gatherings with friends and family.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 2,751 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest ever one-day increase. Tuesday was the 22nd consecutive day where Pennsylvania has had at least 1,000 new cases of COVID-19.
In northeast Pennsylvania, Monroe County reported 12 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 2,013 cases.
Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, where cases have been spiking, reported the biggest increases — 49 and 78, respectively.
Wayne County had zero new cases again, while Pike and Carbon counties added four and seven cases.
Northampton County tallied 37 new cases, and Lehigh County added 45.
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine called the increase in positive cases and a sharp increase in hospitalizations “concerning” during a press briefing Monday and encouraged social distancing and avoiding small and large gatherings.
“As we approach the holidays, we need to rethink those gatherings and think about more and more gatherings being virtual or only staying with your family that you live with that you’re exposed to all the time,” Levine said. “I think that it’s a sacrifice, but I think that sacrifice can mean that people don’t get sick in your family and your community and it would be worth it.”
The department has compared the rate of infection to what Pennsylvania dealt with in April. That uptick is alarming state health officials. Levine reiterated the importance of mitigation strategies on Monday, as she has since March.
“I cannot underscore how important they are: we need people to wear a mask properly over their nose and mouth each time they go into public,” Levine said. “It is essential that people social distance and avoid large gatherings. And also, small gatherings of people, even people who are part of their social circle because we have seen an increasing number of cases linked to small gatherings of people who may even be familiar with each other, but they’re not masking, they’re not washing their hands, they’re not social distancing.”
Levine acknowledged that while there is a substantial number of people hospitalized with the virus compared to a week ago — 1,104 Monday morning compared to 841 the previous Monday — doctors know how to treat the virus better than they did in April, when there were more than 3,000 people hospitalized statewide.
On Tuesday, four Monroe County patients were hospitalized, with none requiring a ventilator.
Totals in other counties are: Carbon, one hospitalized patient, not on a ventilator; Lackawanna, 12 hospitalized patients, one on a ventilator; Lehigh, 66 hospitalized patients, six on ventilators; Luzerne, 47 hospitalized patients, three on ventilators; Northampton, one hospitalized patient, on a ventilator; Wayne, no hospitalized patients.
The Department of Health dashboard did not have data for Pike County.
“We have improved therapeutics and treatments,” Levine said. “I think that patients are sick, but our medical care is much better.”
Despite the promise of treatments like remdesivir, an antiviral medication used in 50 countries worldwide for emergency treatment of COVID-19, and dexamethasone, a steroid medication that has been used for decades but has been found to decrease the inflammation caused by the virus, Pennsylvanians shouldn’t give up on public health responses.
In addition to therapeutic treatments, the state is continuing to expand testing and focus on targeted mitigation, such as social distancing, mask-wearing and restricting indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Herd immunity is not the answer, she reiterated.
“We need to use all the tools in our toolbox in order to work to control the spread of COVID-19,” Levine said. “We cannot rely upon any strategy that relies — that depends upon — quote-unquote ‘herd immunity.’ Really, all public health officials — local officials, state officials and federal officials — do not agree with that strategy that basically means letting it burn. That is not a good public health strategy to follow.”