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Commissioners Urge Wolf to be Flexible on Metrics in Reopening Strategy

May 4, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

The Bucks County Commissioners today released a letter sent last week to Gov. Tom Wolf, urging flexibility in the reduced COVID-19 infection rate he will require before the county can reopen.

“(W)e are submitting this letter as one of appeal as we endeavor to decrease the specific reliance on the incidence rate of COVID-19, per capita, as a major contributing factor to reopening,” said the letter, dated April 29. It requests a dialogue on the subject with Wolf, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine or a member of Wolf’s staff as soon as possible.

No one has responded, Commissioners Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia said this morning during a virtual town hall she conducted with fellow commissioners Bob Harvie and Gene DiGirolamo. All three signed the letter, along with county Chief Operating Officer Margaret McKevitt, Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker and Emergency Management Director Scott T. Forster.

Wolf has set out a three-tiered strategy for Pennsylvania regions and counties to reopen, in which they move from a shut-down “red” status to a partially open “yellow” stage and, ultimately, to an unfettered “green” status. He announced on Friday that 24 counties, mostly in low-population areas with relatively few COVID-19 cases, will be moving to “yellow” status this week.

Among the standards he seeks for such counties, Wolf has said, is a consistently decreasing number of new positive cases, with a countywide goal of averaging less than 50 cases per 100,000 persons over the course of 14 days.

For Bucks County, that would amount to 320 cases over a two-week span, or an average of 23 per day. The county has not had that few cases since March 26, when there were 18, and has exceeded 100 new cases per day on more than half of the days over the past three weeks.

Strict adherence to the governor’s standard, the letter said, “will have a detrimental effect on our effort to maintain Bucks County’s infrastructure of business, tourism and community support. In our efforts to increase access to testing in the community and long-term care facilities, we will see an uptick in cases, possibly in those who are mildly symptomatic, asymptomatic, or untested who were sick in the recent past but continue to test positive. That could easily drive up the numbers well beyond the threshold without actually increasing community risk, and permanently keep Bucks County in the ‘red zone.’”

The letter noted that Bucks County, which has conducted aggressive contact tracing of new cases, has reduced community spread to no more than 10 percent of those cases in recent weeks, and urged Wolf  “to see and analyze the kinds of positives we are getting, more so than simply the numbers themselves.”

The full letter can be viewed here: https://tinyurl.com/y9y5lbqn

The Bucks County Health Department announced today the deaths of 20 more people who had tested positive for COVID-19. That equaled the total of 20 fatalities on April 29, which until today had been the county’s single-highest daily death report.

All of the decedents had underlying health issues, and all but two were residents of long-term care facilities. Sixteen were over age 70, one was a 64-year-old woman, and three were men under 60 – ages 58, 50 and 42.

The county also reported 110 new positive cases today. Forty-seven were residents or workers at long-term care facilities, while 12 were attributed to community spread.

On Saturday, the county had reported 100 new cases and two deaths, while Sunday’s totals were 50 new cases and five deaths. All of the deceased were residents of long-term care facilities.

Last week was the county’s deadliest of the pandemic, with 92 deaths reported, up from 61 the week before.

Elderly residents of long-term care facilities continue to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19. Of the county’s 258 deaths, 81 percent have been residents of long-term care facilities. The median age of those who have died is 82.

Forty-one percent of the county’s 3,429 confirmed coronavirus cases have occurred among residents or staff at long-term care facilities, compared to 15 percent community spread since the pandemic’s inception.

During this morning’s virtual town hall, which was streamed on Facebook live, Marseglia said that while nursing homes should not be blamed for the high death rate in their facilities, she would like to see their statistics separated from those of the general population so that the county might be able to reopen sooner.

But she rejected the suggestion that poor care or conditions in the county’s long-term care facilities are responsible for their high infection and death numbers.

“Our nursing home staffs, all of the nursing homes, are doing everything they can do at a time when the virus is just out of control, and in the nursing homes it is just a breeding ground because people are so vulnerable there,” Marseglia said. “We are hoping to separate out the numbers so that we can open sooner, but it is not the nursing homes’ fault.”

At an afternoon news briefing, Levine again rejected the idea of separating a county’s nursing home COVID-19 statistics from the rest of the county’s numbers.

“We’re not going to separate nursing home cases from other cases in a county,” Levine said. “We are all interconnected. One section of a community, such as a nursing home, or personal care home, impacts the general community. And the community impacts that facility. The staff go back and forth….It’s very important to include those type of facilities, among other congregate settings, in the total counts for a county.”

Two hundred fifty-three COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Bucks County, 28 of them in critical condition on ventilators, while 882 patients have recovered and have been released from isolation. 

Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.  An interactive Bucks County map showing numbers of infections by municipality can be found here.

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