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Dr. Rachel Levine: COVID-19 cases doubling every 2 days

Dr. Rachel Levine is the Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania and on the front line of the commonwealth’s medical & public health response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In an interview with Lehigh Valley Business and the Central Penn Business Journal, she warned that the number of coronavirus cases is doubling every two days, underscoring the importance of self-isolation and social distancing.

Here is part of that conversation.

“The idea is to buy time until a vaccine or treatment is developed. We want to prevent it from exploding before a treatment is available.”-Dr. Rachel Levine -PHOTO/SUBMITTED

LVB: There seems to be some confusion among the public regarding the meanings of a shelter in place order and a stay at home order. Is there a difference between the two?

Levine: Shelter in place and stay at home are the same thing. They mean that we want people to stay at home unless participating in life sustaining essential activities. You can go outside, you can go to the park, but maintain social distancing. No pick-up basketball games at the park. Maintain a safe distance at all times.

LVB: Right now, only certain counties are under a shelter in place order. Shouldn’t  Gov. Wolf require this for the entire state of Pennsylvania?

Levine: Right now, that stay at home order is in place for the counties that are most at risk, and have the highest number of cases. This may be expanded to other counties in the state but I cannot say at this time.

LVB: We keep seeing the “flatten the curve graphic,” which promotes staying at home as a way to reduce the spread. Is the curve moving towards flattening now with so many of us sheltering in place? Is shelter in place working?

Flattening the curve first includes mitigation, which is the prevention of the spread. We do this through closure of the schools and of businesses.  What we are seeing is an exponential rise of cases about every two days, a doubling, which is in line with what we are seeing nationally and globally. 200 new cases, then 400 two days later, to now 800…then it will be 1600…

The idea is to buy time until a vaccine or treatment is developed. We want to prevent it from exploding before a treatment is available.  We don’t want to see it explode like it has done in Italy. It’s too early to see if the social distancing is flattening the curve.

LVB: With the state asking everyone to stay indoors unless medically necessary or for groceries, etc…what is the best way for citizens to give blood at a time when it is likely very much needed?

Giving blood is considered a life sustaining activity. It is absolutely important and encouraged to go out and give blood. There are protocols in place to maintain social distancing during the process of donating.

LVB: I’m hearing concerns from workers at resorts in the Poconos that are staying open. Workers are fearful that out of state visitors to the resorts mixed with so many employees forced to keep working, will spread the virus. Is there anything that can be done to help?

I would refer this question to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. There is a number that people can call with concerns about a business being open. The line is 1-877-724-3258. Option 1.

LVB: What is the state doing to ensure that those on the front lines, nurses, doctors, and social workers, are getting the personal protective equipment they need? We are hearing a lot about a shortage of face masks.

Right now, our main concerns are ensuring that health care organizations have enough staffing in place, enough space to care for patients, and enough supplies to treat those who are in need. Presently, our stores of supplies are adequate, and health care organizations are able to order more from our national supply.

LVB: What is most frustrating about your job right now?

I would not call it frustrating, I would say challenging. I have said all along that what kept me up at night was the possibility of a global pandemic reaching Pennsylvania and now it is here. It is definitely challenging. This is an enormous public health threat and our responsibility is to keep the public as safe as possible.

LVB: Does COVID-19 look like it will be a seasonal virus like the flu?

We have no idea. There is some slight evidence that it is not as transmissible in warmer weather, which might mean that the number of cases would naturally lower in the summer months, but look at Florida, they have a lot of cases and it’s very warm there. There is a lot that is unknown right now.

LVB: Will more aggressive measures be taken to slow the spread? What about stopping interstate travel?

There is no consideration to close state borders right now. I’m not hearing that from the state or federal level. Not at this time. As far as the expansion of the stay at home order, and schools closing, that is day by day.

LVB: Is there a message that you want Pennsylvanians to hear right now?

I am a positive and optimistic person. Pennsylvanians are strong. The federal government is taking this seriously. We will get through this.

The most important thing to remember is stay calm. Stay home. Stay Safe.

Dawn Ouellette Nixon
Dawn Ouellette Nixon is a career journalist who believes that good journalism can change the world. As the health care reporter, she covers everything from small town medicine to big pharma. You can also find her chasing a good business story in Berks County. She can be reached at dnixon@bridgetowermedia.com. or 610-807-9619, extension 4118.

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