Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration confirmed the first two presumptive cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Pennsylvania on Friday morning.
According to the governor, who presented the announcement with Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and other members of his administration, these two cases are regarded as "presumed," with official confirmation pending Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing.
"One is in Delaware County and the other is in Wayne County," Wolf said. "Both of the cases have been quarantined in their homes, and as you also probably know in Bucks County five schools have been shut down by the superintendent and the health department there."
Levine later clarified that the Bucks County closures were orchestrated as a safety precaution, and have no connection to the presumptive coronavirus cases in Delaware and Wayne counties.
On Friday afternoon, officials from Carbondale Family Health in Lackawanna County stated that a man from Wayne County had tested positive for COVID-19 at their facility.
Dr. James Cruse, medical director of Wayne Memorial Community Health, stated that the patient had very mild symptoms, and that they had self-quarantined for two weeks.
Wayne Memorial Health System in Honesdale did issue a press release with general information on the coronavirus on Tuesday, though the statement did not include any initial confirmation of cases.
Wolf said that his administration has been working diligently since the initial appearance of COVID-19, setting up an incident command center in February where officials have been coordinating measures and monitoring the situation ever since.
Briefings with the CDC continue daily, and the administration has been working alongside the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Aging, and various other agencies related to education, law enforcement and more to share information and limit the spread of the virus.
"Right now, the emphasis of the plan is mitigation tactics to keep this virus from spreading widely," Wolf said. "A confirmation of these presumed — again, presumed — positive cases should serve as a reminder of the role that every Pennsylvanian must continue to play. This is a responsibility that goes to all almost 13 million of us in Pennsylvania."
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 their mouths and noses with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing; cleaning surfaces such as counter tops, light switches, phones and other surfaces frequently; and staying home and avoiding contact with others if they do become ill.
Levine offered some limited information on the condition of the two presumed cases, noting that further details would not be revealed in order to protect the privacy of those individuals.
"They are both at home, they are in isolation or quarantine, and at the same time they are in good physical condition," Levine said.
Levine did confirm that the patients were not infected through community means — meaning that authorities were uncertain of the manner in which an individual was affected — but through travel. Medical professionals will be working with the patients to determine potential exposure to other individuals, Levine said, along with testing and quarantining, if necessary.
"People who are concerned that they might have been exposed to COVID-19 would call our number, 1-877-PAHEALTH and discuss it with our staff, or they would call their doctor or hospital, and then they would call us, decide whether the person met the CDC criteria for testing, and then we would obtain that testing," Levine said.
As of this week, the state lab was able to test between 20 to 25 individuals for COVID-19 daily, though equipment has been purchased in order to increase testing capacity to 125-150 individuals per day.
Levine said that with commercial labs opening up for testing, the process should be streamlined somewhat more, with doctors having the opportunity to order tests. Testing costs at the Exton lab would be covered by the state, and Levine suggested that testing at commercial labs would be covered through insurance.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield noted that the appearance of COVID-19 in the commonwealth was a matter of when, not if.
"The confirmation of a case of coronavirus is not a surprise to us, and we’ve been working with the Department of Health since January to ensure that we’d be ready," Padfield said. "Earlier this week, we partially activated the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center here at PEMA in order to support their planning efforts."
According to a release from the governor’s office, to date, there are nearly 100,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including more than 3,300 deaths. There have been 233 cases and 12 deaths reported in the United States as of Friday, though the CDC expects an increase in cases.
"We are all prepared to deal with disease outbreaks, including this one," Levine said. "We expect more cases to be confirmed in the upcoming days and weeks, and we want everyone to take action to help prevent the spread of this novel coronavirus, COVID-19."
Wolf followed the meeting by signing an emergency disaster declaration in order to supply further support to state agencies working to stop the spread of the virus. The declaration authorizes Padfield, or his designee, to assume control of emergency operations and utilize all available resources and personnel to cope with the situation.
The declaration also transferred $5 million in unused funds to PEMA for Emergency Management Assistance Compact expenses, and another $20 million in unused funds for PEMA to utilize for expenses related to COVID-19.
"It is critical to prepare for and respond to suspected or confirmed cases in the commonwealth and to implement measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Wolf said in a statement. "The disaster declaration is an additional way we can be prepared, so I authorized the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director or his designee, to assume command and control of all statewide emergency operations and authorize and direct that all commonwealth departments and agencies use all available resources and personnel as is deemed necessary to cope with this emergency situation."
For the latest updates and information regarding the coronavirus in Pennsylvania, visit the Department of Health’s coronavirus page.