As Pa. coronavirus cases decline, Berks is rising — and the state is taking notice

The state Department of Health has an eye on Berks County with its surging level of coronavirus cases in recent weeks compared with the rest of Pennsylvania.

Berks has raced past Lehigh County and into third place statewide in the rate of cases per 100,000 residents. The Berks rate was up to 1,451 on Tuesday, leaving Lehigh well in the rearview mirror at 1,416.

Early last week, Berks trailed Lehigh. Only Delaware and Philadelphia counties at rates of 1,847 and 1,843, respectively, are ahead of Berks.   

Berks added another 39 COVID-19 cases in department reporting Tuesday.

Fueling the concern in Harrisburg, according to department spokesman Nate Wardle: “As indicated on the early warning monitoring dashboard, Berks County has the sixth-highest incidence rate over the last seven days at 54.3 (cases per 100,000). The percent positivity is just below 5%, at 4.8%.

“All of this helps show that Berks County is certainly an area that we are watching and following from a state perspective.”

Five percent gets a county on a watch list.

The state’s goal is for a positivity rate below 5. Overall, Pennsylvania last week was at 3.2%. The rate takes into account all the positives and negatives in a week, even those people who are repeatedly tested for personal or employment reasons, such as nursing home or health care workers.

Bloomsburg outbreak 

The state has Columbia County in its sights this week, where an outbreak at Bloomsburg University has rung up about 170 cases in a little more than a week. The school hurriedly switched to online instruction last week after the severity of the outbreak was determined.

While Berks remains in a “moderate” risk area, Columbia County is the only county classified as a “substantial” risk.       

“The data continues to show that the mitigation efforts in place are so important to preventing the spread of this disease,” Wardle said. “Particularly as we see schools and colleges start, and have already seen some outbreaks in those spaces, we need people to wear a mask, to social distance, to wash their hands frequently, avoid large gatherings and if you are sick, to stay home.”

It is unclear how many students from Berks are enrolled at Bloomsburg.

The university provides a weekly update on Wednesday.

Last week, the university said 89 students tested positive, with 67 living off campus, 14 on campus and eight at their residences of record. 

Survey says

The department surveys those with COVID-19 about the they spent time at business  establishments — restaurants, bars, gym/fitness centers, salon/barbershops — and at mass gatherings 14 days before the onset of symptoms.

Of the 4,536 confirmed cases reported from Aug. 16 to  Aug. 22, slightly fewer than half responded.

Of those who provided an answer, 13%, said they had visited a business establishment 14 days before the onset of symptoms:

  • 50% said it was a restaurant; 25% reported going to some other business; 12% went to a bar; 12% went to a gym or fitness center; and 9% reported going to a salon or barbershop.
  • Nearly 13% said they attended a mass gathering or other large event.

The state’s analysis: Compared to previous data there were slight increases in people who reported going to some other business, going to a gym or fitness center and a mass gathering. Numbers went down for those going to a salon or barbershop and going to a bar. Numbers remained the same for those who reported visiting a restaurant.

Other items

The state recovery rate is up to 82%.

That rate takes into account all who have survived 30 days beyond a positive test result.

It somewhat shows the declining rate of cases being diagnosed, down again last week by a few hundred, and reflects the positivity rate, which has dropped to 3.2%.

All in all, there are more people coming out of the 30-day pipeline than positives going in, hence the uptick in the recovery rate.

That’s overall for the state, but Berks would be going in the other direction.

Also this week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a second renewal to the 90-day disaster declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic. He originally signed it March 6 following the announcement of the first two presumptive positive cases.

“As we approach the six-month mark of this crisis, I continue to be amazed at the resiliency and strength shown by Pennsylvanians during this pandemic,” Wolf said in a press release. “We are going to continue to combat the health and economic effects of COVID-19, and the renewal of my disaster declaration will provide us with resources and support needed for this effort.”

The emergency disaster declaration provides for increased support to state agencies involved in the continued response to the virus and recovery for the state during reopening. This includes expediting supply procurement and lifting certain regulations to allow for efficient and effective mitigation.

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