With County at Substantial Transmission Level, PA Warns Against Small Gatherings & In-Person Classes
(HARRISBURG NOV 13 2020) Monroe County recorded 397 new coronavirus cases so far during November. Over forty percent of those have come in the last three days, firmly pushing the county's coronavirus statistics into the "substantial" transmission category, according to data released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The level of transmission is determined by the county's incidence and positivity rates. The 'incidence rate' is the number of new cases per 100,000 of population over a seven-day period. The 'positivity rate' refers to the percent of positive coronavirus tests in a seven-day period.
Under guidelines developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, based on CDC and White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendations, a county is considered to have substantial transmission of the virus if the incidence rate is at least 100, or if the positivity rate hits 10%. In the latest report, Monroe County satisfied both measurements.
Two weeks ago, Monroe County's incidence rate was a little over 44 and its positivity rate was 5.5%. Last week the incidence rate more than doubled, to 96.8, while the percent of positive coronavirus tests jumped to 8.2%. The dashboard, which is updated weekly and covers the seven-day period ending on Thursday of the week it is updated, shows that in the seven-days ending yesterday, Thursday, November 12, both of those measures shifted upwards. to an incidence rate of 153.4 and a positivity rate of 10.1%.
Small Gatherings Seen as Source of Spread and Should be Avoided
With over 50 counties showing "concerning" levels of new cases, yesterday Dr. Rachel Levine, the commonwealth's Secretary of Health, urged the public to avoid even small gatherings. "We're recommending avoiding small gatherings, neighborhood gatherings, family gatherings, and more, as there is more and more evidence that small gatherings are the sources of community spread."
Saying that the governor and the department are discussing whether to impose new mitigation measures, Dr. Levine stressed the need to help stem the new wave of the virus by staying within one's household group and continuing to social distance from others. Universal mask-wearing outside the home, and frequent hand-washing, continue to be strongly encouraged by the public health experts.
Education & Health Department Guidelines Call for Schools to Close
With respect to schools in counties with substantial spread, such as Monroe County, Dr. Levine said "we want you to consider 100% remote learning." She acknowledged that they were not mandates, but were extremely strong public health guidelines that schools ought to follow. Earlier this week, Stroudsburg Area School District temporarily closed the high school and junior high to in-person learning, and Pleasant Valley closed the entire district, due to coronavirus cases among students and staff. Pocono Mountain says it has five such cases right now. The Pocono Mountain School District did not respond to a request for comment on whether it will adhere to the Department of Health and Department of Education guidelines, which say that schools in counties with substantial transmission should cease all in-person education.
"Absolutely No Evidence" Virus is Less Dangerous Now
The health secretary noted that the commonwealth's health care systems "are not overwhelmed at this point," but firmly rejected any suggestion that the virus is less dangerous or less contagious. "There is absolutely no evidence," she said in a virtual meeting with reporters yesterday, "that the virus is less severe or virulent than before."
Dr. Levine said that medical care is much better today than a few months ago because more is known about treatment methods. Far fewer patients are placed on ventilators today (9% now versus 30% in the spring), not because the patients are not as severely ill, but because "we've learned" to distinguish between patients who need and do not need the assistance of a ventilator. The secretary said another reason health care is better is that we have therapeutics not available in the spring. "We also have far more PPE in storage than before," she said.