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2020 News

Deaths Continue to Climb; 19 New COVID Fatalities Reported in Bucks

April 30, 2020

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

On the eve of Gov. Wolf’s expected announcement that he will ease the coronavirus shutdown in some areas of Pennsylvania, Bucks County endured another grim day on the COVID-19 front, reporting 19 new deaths and 168 new positive cases.

All of the new victims had underlying health issues, and all but two resided in long-term care facilities. The decedents, 12 women and seven men, ranged in age from 96 to 62, with more than half in their 80s and 90s.

“We care about every single one,” said Dr. David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department. “It’s upsetting to hear about the deaths; they’re not just numbers to the county.”

At a news conference this afternoon, Damsker said that as unsettling as the number of nursing home deaths has been, he believes it should factor little into state officials’ calculations when considering whether to start easing the shutdown in Bucks County.

“Our numbers of community cases and deaths are very low,” he said. “I do think we should separate the long-term care deaths and look to the other deaths, which are very few, with regard to re-opening.”

Wolf plans to make an announcement on Friday about loosening restrictions in certain areas of Pennsylvania where COVID-19 infections are less pervasive than in Southeast Pennsylvania, the state’s current epicenter of the pandemic. Northwest and North Central Pennsylvania have been mentioned as likely candidates to move from “red” to “yellow” status under Wolf’s three-tiered, red-to-green re-opening strategy.

“The deaths that we are seeing, we are not seeing them in normal community spread,” Damsker said. “While these numbers are horrific, they are very concentrated in certain facilities. Those cases aside, we are getting closer to opening society. But at the same time, we need to continue to do social distancing. That’s what we’re going to have to do on a long-term basis.”

Bucks County’s elderly population also figured prominently in the 168 new cases announced today. Of those, 102 cases were among residents of long-term care facilities and 14 were employees of those homes, some of which have begun to conduct mass testing.

Bucks County officials announced at the news briefing, which was held remotely via Zoom, that mass testing has begun at the county-owned Neshaminy Manor Nursing Home, where at least 20 of the county’s 217 COVID-related deaths have occurred.

Damsker said the county has conducted more than 11,000 coronavirus tests, with slightly less than 25 percent resulting in positive results. About half of those cases have been in healthcare workers, long-term care residents and long-term care workers.

He said a decision on whether to conduct mass testing at the Bucks County Correctional Facility, where 53 inmates and 22 staff members have tested positive, has not been made. For now, Damsker said, all new arrivals are being tested, along with workers and inmates involved in food service and other duties that bring them into frequent contact with others.

The county commissioners announced that county government, which has continued to function with many workers performing their jobs from home, will start opening to the public on a limited basis by May 18. Many workers will return to their offices, where masks will be required and staggered work hours encouraged to keep people as distant as possible from each other.

Public visits to government buildings will be made by appointment initially. “We think we can do it very safely and securely,” said Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo.

Commissioner Bob Harvie said that the county will launch an Economic Recovery Task Force next week to help outline steps the county can take to help local businesses recover from the shutdown. With members including business owners, people with finance and labor backgrounds, and Chambers of Commerce representatives, the group will seek ways of lowering initial predictions that as many as 30 percent of small businesses might not survive.

Among the group’s goals, Harvie said, will be forming a mechanism for determining how much CARES Act money might be available to small businesses, along with designing an application, evaluation and distribution system for any available funding.

County Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia said the pandemic is not expected to derail the June 2 primary election, but that polling places will be equipped with precautions such as Plexiglas shields, disposable pens, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment for poll workers.

Despite such measures, she encouraged voters to consider requesting mail-in ballots and casting their votes by mail. “We will be prepared to have a safe election, but we really do hope you’ll try the mail-in vote option,” she said.

Marseglia, whose mother lives at Neshaminy Manor, urged others with loved ones in nursing homes not to equate COVID-19 infections at a facility with poor conditions or shoddy care.

“This virus is getting into virtually everywhere,” she said. “It’s really important that we don’t … shame any long-term care facility for this. We are all in this together, but unfortunately it is with our most vulnerable population right now.”

A total of  226 patients are hospitalized in Bucks County, 23 of them in critical condition on ventilators. Seven hundred forty-four have recovered and been removed 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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