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Gov Wolf Warns, Cancel New Years Gatherings if You Want to Avoid New COVID Restrictions in January

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announces in a virtual press briefing that the temporary mitigation measures imposed on December 11 would expire January 4, but warned they will be re-imposed if we have another surge in January.

HARRISBURG (DEC 31 2020) – In November, millions of Americans ignored incessant warnings and pleas from public health officials to stay home and limit Thanksgiving celebrations to household members. As a result, by about December 10, the “Thanksgiving surge” was evidenced by large increases in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health data, the week before Thanksgiving, the Monroe County seven-day average of new cases was 45.1 per day. By December 10, the rate had more than doubled, to 95. Hospitalizations in that period increased even more dramatically - by over 460 percent. Deaths were up over 480% - from a 14-day average of 9.6 on November 15, to 46.2 by December 10.

Graph shows the growth in cumulative cases in Monroe County from early November through late December.

These numbers, repeated across Pennsylvania, are what led the Wolf administration to impose the “Targeted Limited-Time Mitigation Orders” on December 11. Those were the directives that ceased all indoor dining, closed bars, suspended scholastic sports and extracurricular activities, and limited indoor gatherings to ten or fewer. Yesterday, Governor Wolf announced that having successfully flattened the “Thanksgiving surge”, those measures would expire, as planned, on January 4.

That announcement came with a warning, however. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that she is prepared to recommend further mitigation orders in the event of surges following the Christmas and New Year holidays. Americans in general traveled more over the Christmas holidays than they had at any time since the pandemic hit the United States.

As a result of the 'Thanksgiving surge', the Top of the Mountain Community will nearly double their total COVID cases this month.

If the post-Christmas surge is as bad or worse than the one in early December, Levine and Governor Tom Wolf said the restrictions could be reimposed. Governor Wolf said that at this time there are no plans to extend the January 4 date, but if cases rise again, extending the shutdown could be a reality. “We’re going to have to watch our numbers very carefully,” said Levine.

Levine warned that people should cancel even small gatherings for New Year’s. The CDC has cited small home-based gatherings as a significant source of the Fall/Winter surge in cases. New York recently revealed contact tracing showed that 74% of recent cases came from small, in-home gatherings. The data on the role of small in-home gatherings in the current surge is unclear and undeveloped – mainly because with so many new cases reliable contact tracing has become impossible, Levine said earlier this month, during the Thanksgiving surge. AAA says they expect around 85 million people to travel for the holidays and experts fear the post-Christmas spike could be worse than the one we saw after Thanksgiving.

Created by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory (ABiL), and Stanford University, the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool calculates the risk level associated with attending a gathering or event. To that end, researchers at the participating institutions have developed a real-time, geo-localized, county-level risk assessment tool featuring an interactive map that displays the estimated chance (0-100%) that at least one COVID-19 positive individual will be present at an event, based on the size of the event. The overall goal is to promote informed behavior during the pandemic by quantifying virus-exposure risk in a way that is familiar to users of the tool.

In Monroe County, the risk-assessment tool estimates a greater than 38% likelihood that a gathering of ten people will include at least one person who is COVID-19 positive. That number jumps to over 51% with just 15 people. Have twenty people over tonight to ring in the New Year, and you are facing a nearly 75% likelihood that at least one person will be bringing something extra to the party.

The risk assessment tool provides a real-time assessment of the likelihood of an event involving COVID-positive attendees on a county level.

“It’s critically important during the holiday weeks, as we approach new years for people to continue as I’ve said to continue their mitigation efforts, to continue to avoid large and small gatherings,” Levine said yesterday. She and the governor urged Pennsylvanians to limit their celebrations to members of the household to help avoid over-taxation of medical resources and another holiday-surge in Pennsylvania.

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