While government officials in Pennsylvania are stressing that preparations are being made to combat the coronavirus, just about everyone is encouraging citizens to exercise caution in order to curb the spread of the disease.
On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration released a statement addressing Pennsylvania’s recently increased capability to test for COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus. According to Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, up to 25 potential case specimens can now be tested in the state public health laboratory in Exton per day.
"The ability to test for potential cases of COVID-19 at our state lab allows us to better protect Pennsylvanians," Levine said. "This is a very important step for us as we continue to work to provide timely updates. This testing now will allow us to receive results more quickly rather than waiting for the samples to be shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
As of Thursday, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, but government and health officials are preparing for the inevitable arrival of the illness.
Testing for the virus will require a potential patient to visit a clinician, where biological specimens can be taken and sent to the state lab for testing.
Wolf’s office has warned that these tests are not the same as the rapid tests used to detect conditions like strep throat, though "it is expected that private and commercial laboratories will also have the ability to test" soon.
Any positive cases will be reported as presumptive positives and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.
"We were doing whatever testing we needed to do using the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta," Wolf said on Thursday. "We now have our own testing devices in our laboratories in Harrisburg, so we can now do that ourselves."
The governor also noted that supplies are being stockpiled in preparation for the arrival of the virus.
As of March 4, there have been more than 94,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and more than 3,200 deaths. Within the United States, there have been at least 128 cases with 12 deaths, 11 in Washington state and one in California. Thus far, Washington, Oregon and California have confirmed community spread of the virus.
"Since the start of this outbreak, we’ve taken a proactive approach to prepare and carefully monitor potential cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania," Levine said. "As the CDC has said, we need to be prepared for community spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. We are working to make sure our health systems, first responders and county and municipal health departments have the resources they need to respond."
On Thursday, Sen. Bob Casey released a statement calling President Donald Trump’s recent actions related to health care and the Affordable Care Act into question in light of the onset of the coronavirus. Casey said that Trump campaigned on protecting Medicaid, lowering health insurance costs and ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, though he has yet to accomplish any of those goals, which could prove to be problematic when COVID-19 hits Pennsylvania residents.
"Instead, he is supporting a lawsuit that would strike down the ACA through the courts, obsessed with sabotaging the law through administrative action and proposing to slash funding for health care at every opportunity," Casey said. "With cases of coronavirus on the rise, the implications for President Trump’s destruction of our health care could not be any more serious. The American people deserve better."
Casey also released a series of questions related to Trump’s handling of the coronarvirus and health care options in anticipation of the president’s scheduled town hall in Scranton on Thursday evening.
"Will you commit to restoring proposed cuts to key public health agencies, including nearly $700 million in cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $2.6 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health, so that we are able to combat this serious public health emergency?" one of the questions reads.
To date, the Wolf administration has taken several steps in preparation of the arrival of the virus, including activating the Department of Health’s Emergency Operations Center to allow for enhanced response coordination; maintaining lines of communication and outreach with federal, state and local partners; providing symptom monitoring for residents of Pennsylvania who are returning from China; providing information to health care professionals, businesses and educational settings; and reviewing and adapting the current pandemic flu plans specifically for COVID-19.
Levine said that any updates regarding COVID-19 will be shared continually through the Commonwealth’s health website, as well as their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and can appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure. Patient conditions have ranged from people with little to no symptoms to people becoming severely ill and dying.
Pennsylvanians have been encouraged to help stop the spread of the virus by washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available; covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing; cleaning surfaces like countertops, light switches, phones and other surfaces frequently; and staying home and avoiding contact with others if you do become ill.