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Pennsylvania health officials urge residents ‘to break the cycle’ of COVID-19 spread

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference March 4, 2020, as Gov. Tom Wolf (left) looks on.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania health officials urged residents Monday to help break the cycle of COVID-19’s pattern of infection after recording 7,000 new cases last week.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said just about half of new cases have been diagnosed in adults aged 18-49, repeating a trend seen early in the pandemic that saw infections spike in younger patients before spreading to older, more vulnerable populations with disastrous consequences.

“There are things we can do now to break the cycle,” she said. “First, wear a mask.”

Levine also encouraged residents to “make a choice” and leave situations where others are not following social distancing guidelines. She said the state supports targeted measures – like the one-week bar and restaurant shut down in Allegheny County – over reimplementing sweeping statewide closures.

“As much as our efforts are about laws, mandates and requirements, they are actually mostly about your choices,” she said.

The department alerted hospitals statewide last week to the changing demographics of patients, with all regions seeing cases among adults ages 19-24 double or triple between April and July. In the southwest, the number of infections for this age group increased fivefold, from 5 percent to 27 percent as of Friday.

Deaths and hospitalization rates have remained flat despite the rise in cases, so far. April Hutcheson, a DOH spokesperson, said rising positivity testing rates is one of the first indicators of a resurgence. Pennsylvania’s rate hovers around 4.4 percent – still below the 5 percent threshold Levine calls worrisome and well behind the double digit rates recorded in virus hot spots like Florida or Arizona.

As of Monday, the department has recorded 98,000 cases of COVID-19 since March 6. Three-quarters of patients have recovered from the virus and just under 7,000 have died.

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