HARRISBURG, PA — Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine is highlighting the work underway to prepare Pennsylvania for a fall resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and to make sure all Pennsylvanians are as protected as possible from both COVID-19 and influenza.
“We have seen more than 1,000 cases a day for the past nine days, which shows that we are at the start of a fall resurgence of COVID-19,” Dr. Levine said. “While we are working to expand testing, prepare for a vaccine and prevent outbreaks, Pennsylvanians have an important role to play. We must be united by wearing a mask, washing our hands, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, downloading the COVID Alert PA mobile app and getting a flu vaccine.”
The department announced that the first allotment of rapid antigen test cards are being distributed to several counties that are seeing increased cases of COVID-19 across the state. These test cards, provided by the federal government to the state, will be distributed to certified institutions, including long-term care facilities, personal care homes, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, higher education institutions, drug and alcohol and behavioral treatment centers, correctional facilities and other health care providers in these counties to assist in rapid testing in these communities.
“With the increase in testing and cases, the department is continuing efforts to conduct case investigations and contact tracing,” Dr. Levine said. “However, for these efforts to be successful, it is important for Pennsylvanians to participate in the process. If you are contacted by a case investigator or contact tracer, it is essential that you answer the phone and participate in the interview.”
As cases have increased, a team of staff is working to assess where outbreaks are occurring. This includes close surveillance of congregate care facilities, like long-term care facilities, college and university campuses and prisons and jails. The department also has been working to assist in areas where there are outbreaks and to provide resources. These resources may include infection control expertise, connection to testing resources, and working to assist stakeholders with questions.
The department also is preparing for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, once a safe and effective vaccine is developed and approved. The department has been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to plan for the distribution of the vaccine when it becomes available. Early on there may be limited supply of vaccine distributed in a phased approach. The department plans to ensure the limited vaccine is distributed to the highest priority populations in a timely manner. The department has been working with a number of stakeholders within and outside the Wolf Administration, including county and municipal health departments, federally qualified health centers, educators, pharmacists, physicians and the Veterans Administration in preparation for vaccine distribution.
A vaccine that it is important to get every year, but particularly this year, is the seasonal flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is available now and is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Getting the flu vaccine, even if you do get the flu, will reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Reducing the severity of the flu is very important as the commonwealth works to ensure the state’s health care system is not overwhelmed as flu and COVID-19 cases occur at the same time.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Pennsylvanians are encouraged to practice healthy habits like covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, frequently washing your hands and remembering to disinfect commonly touched objects, such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, cell phones and computers.
So far this flu season, which began on September 26, 17 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases have been reported to the department. Those cases have occurred in 10 counties across the state. Flu activity and hospitalizations for influenza-like illness both continue to be low.
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