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PA Tops 100,000 COVID Cases, 7,000 Deaths, Wolf Ready to "Pull Plug" on School Year if Necessary

Pennsylvania's "Early Warning Dashboard", updated weekly, shows the general trend of key metrics compared to the prior week.

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Department of Health today announced 763 new COVID cases bringing the commonwealth's total cases to 100,241 since the first two cases were reported on March 6. With 15 additional deaths, the state's total COVID-related deaths now stands at 7,007.

Monroe County added six new cases and one additional death in today's report, which reflects total reported cases as of 12:01 am today. The County has had a total of 1,494 COVID cases since the first case was announced on March 9. One additional death announced today brings the county total to 116 since the first death reported on March 23.

The statewide grim milestones come as the commonwealth is battling what the governor recently called "a new surge in the offing". With large increases in the southern and southwestern counties, the governor said that across the commonwealth most counties are beginning to see an increase in the rates of infection, which he called "alarming." Declaring that "We will not be Florida", Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, joined with the governor on Wednesday to announce a new round of restrictions focused mainly on bars and restaurants.

At the time they said they were taking that action because their ramped up contact tracing demonstrated that the pockets of outbreaks around the commonwealth were primarily driven by patrons socializing in bars and restaurants while abandoning much of the masking, social distancing, and other mitigation requirements. As a result, they were unknowingly becoming infected or infecting others.

The new resurgence of cases was entering Pennsylvania through the "I-95 corridor", said Dr. David Rubin, a general pediatrician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rubin said the outbreaks in the southern and south western United States were causing the virus to reenter Pennsylvania from the south and west. "It is now clear that the disease resurgence is moving quickly into the north and northeast United States," Rubin said at the Wednesday press conference at which he joined the governor and Levine by Skype,"if we do not act decisively now, the openings we want to see around Labor Day will not be possible," referring to schools.

On Thursday, Levine joined with Pedro Rivera, Secretary of the Department of Education, to announce new guidelines for schools planning to reopen in the fall -- including the requirement that students remain at least six feet apart all day long. Desks, library seating, and cafeteria seats would need to be arranged so that one was not closer than six feet to any other. In addition, all seating had to face the same way and students could not sit across table from one another. The guidance also called for parents to monitor symptoms each morning.

“It is absolutely essential that every public school entity in Pennsylvania is prepared to deliver online instruction,” Pennsylvania State Education Association president Rich Askey wrote to Wolf and Rivera on Thursday. Askey said his members want to return to the classrooms, but “an increasing number of Pennsylvania educators and parents are concerned that reopening schools for in-person instruction poses significant health risks that, in the current environment, may be impossible to completely prevent.”

“It’s very hard for me to predict what things will be like in the fall,” Levine said. “What we absolutely need to do now is everything we possibly can for a safe reopening." Asked Wednesday if he would consider 'pulling the plug' on going back to school, Wolf said, “Yes. I mean, ultimately, I don’t think it’s going to be me pulling the plug — it’s going to be teachers not wanting to come back to schools, parents not wanting to send kids to school.”

At the Pocono Mountain School District Board meeting on Wednesday evening, numerous parents wanted to know what the fall would look like. Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Robison gave them the best answers she could, which is to say, the answers were unsatisfactory. Pointing to the rapidly changing guidance received from the Department of Education, some as late as 4 pm that day, Robison told the parents that "any decision made tonight would need to change" anyway based on the situation and guidance as they existed in the fall. And this was without knowledge of the additional new guidance, including the six-foot mandate, handed down the following day. "Our teachers are ready to educate the students no matter what form school takes this year," Robison said. The board scheduled additional meetings for July 30 and August 12 at which reopening plans will be further discussed.

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