People gather June 28, 2020, at the Porch restaurant in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
(The Center Square) – Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 surpassed 100,000 this weekend in Pennsylvania, keeping the state firmly in the top 10 of infections and deaths nationwide.
The Department of Health reports just under 102,000 residents have tested positive for the virus since March 6, with more than 7,000 deaths and 76,000 recoveries.
The grim milestone comes as bars and restaurants face a new round of restrictions after public health officials noted an alarming rise in cases for residents younger than 50. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the data suggests a familiar pattern is repeating – a wave of infection that sweeps across the young before decimating elderly and vulnerable populations later.
“As the state has put in place new mitigation efforts to offset recent case increases, we must renew our commitment to protecting against COVID-19 by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and following the requirements set forth in the orders for bars and restaurants, gatherings and telework,” she said.
Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered bars and nightclubs to shut down and told restaurants to cut their seating capacity down to 25 percent and only serve alcohol alongside food. The new rule prompted some establishments – particularly craft breweries and others that collect the majority of their revenues from alcohol sales alone – to throw together impromptu food offerings that include snacks and appetizers like pickles, hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Testing positivity rates statewide hover around 4.4 percent, though the department cautions that several counties – including the Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg metro regions – have surpassed the 5 percent threshold that Levine describes as concerning.
“Pennsylvania has been a model for the country on how to reopen effectively using a careful, measured approach,” she said. “However, we know the virus has not gone away as we see cases rise, so we must work together to stop another surge.”
Wolf said last week unrestricted travel from surrounding states where outbreaks rage and complacency about social distancing have reversed some of the gains the state made early on in the pandemic to control infections.
An analysis from TOP data shows a 50 percent increase in human interaction and travel – measured by cellphone data – over the past four months correlates with a 276 percent increase in COVID-19 cases diagnosed nationwide. At the state level, the rise in cases as compared to loosening economic and travel restrictions has been less dramatic.
The Department of Health also dispelled rumors circulating on social media over the weekend that suggested the state would place counties with positivity rates above 5 percent back into the red phase of economic restrictions.
Nate Wardle, a department spokesperson, told Abc27 it “was just a bad rumor.”
“It is blatantly false,” he said. “If we have to use more restricting mitigation efforts than what are already in place, they will be surgical and targeted to reduce the spread.”