June 18 Pennsylvania COVID-19 Update


  • Wednesday’s COVID-19 numbers and links
  • Wolf and Levine answer questions
  • Supreme Court to decide emergency disaster declaration suits
  • Health Department sues to block Spring Carlisle auto show

Wednesday’s Department of Health Data Report
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed that as of 12:00 a.m. June 15 there were 335 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 79,818. Approximately 6,060 of our total cases are in health care workers. County specific information is available here.  DoH estimates that 75% of all Pennsylvania positives have recovered.

In nursing and personal care homes, there are 16,774 resident cases of COVID-19, and 2,966 cases among employees, for a total of 19,740 at 649 distinct facilities in 47 counties.

There have been 6,319 total deaths of Pennsylvanians attributed to COVID-19, an increase of 43 new deaths over the last 24 hours. County-specific information and a statewide map are available here.  Out of the state’s total deaths, 4,331 (69%) have occurred among residents from nursing or personal care facilities. A county breakdown can be found here.

There are 533,013 patients who have tested negative to date, with 629 patients who have a positive serology test and either COVID-19 symptoms or a high-risk exposure, which are considered probable cases and not confirmed cases. Of the patients who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows:

  • Nearly 1% are ages 0-4;
  • 1% are ages 5-12;
  • 2% are ages 13-18;
  • 6% are ages 19-24;
  • Nearly 37% are ages 25-49;
  • Nearly 25% are ages 50-64; and
  • 28% are ages 65 or older.

Most of the patients hospitalized are ages 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older. More data is available here.

Currently, all 67 counties are in the yellow or green phase of reopening.

Statewide – The Wolf Administration has since noon, June 15:

Questions with Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine
What’s next with Spring Carlisle?  Do you plan to shut it down?  Levine: We’re trying to keep people safe, and we are very concerned about keeping people safe.  Sometimes this show has 30,000 a day or up to 100,000 from all over.  It presents a significant threat to the public and could itself lead to significant outbreaks in PA and across the country, so we have a petition in the court right now.

Is that going to be your strategy in the future? Levine: We have put out guidance, on the 250 person limit.  If they don’t comply, we’ll have to see what legal options are necessary.  Wolf: We are talking with professional sports teams and the PIAA.  No one is saying I don’t want to keep my people safe.  The enemy out there is the virus.  I don’t see shows like that as a good strategy.

Several lawmakers released a letter about that this morning, noting that malls are allowed to be open inside, and this is outside, and you participated in a march yourself. Any comment?  Wolf: I thought that was important for me to take that risk. We’re all about keeping people safe. You can pick apart everything I’ve done – maybe we just disagree – but we should all be trying to keep that virus from affecting us.

Are there any areas where you are seeing a spike now? Wolf: Very few. Levine: We are watching really all areas of the state, and that data drives our decisions.  Tomorrow we will come up with our recommendations and those will be announced Friday after the governor makes his decisions. Wolf: With very few exceptions, we are seeing a consistent decline about the commonwealth.

Do  you have any comment on the Supreme Court taking up the Concurrent Resolution issue?  Wolf: I applaud that.

What about Erie County?  Will it finally go green? Levine:  Any announcement on that will come out Friday.

The State Senate passed a proposed Constitutional amendment last week. Do you have a comment on that?  Wolf:  That is not a constitutional amendment. Unless you are talking about something I’m confused about.  The amendment would limit a governor’s ability to extend emergency declarations without the approval of the General Assembly.  Would that hamstring you?  Wolf: Yeah, I think in every democracy, leadership needs the ability in a democracy to effectively deal with a crisis, to tightly constrain it, and the legislatures have the ability to terminate it, in due course.  They can pass a bill, and if it’s vetoed, they can override it.  I’ve been trying to do the right thing making quick decisions, this is what other democratic institutions and states have done.  Constrain that and you constrain the ability of the democracy to survive.

What are you looking at with Erie County?  Levine:  We are looking at testing capacity, contact tracing, hospital beds, increases in cases.  We haven’t seen reductions, but there have been recent plateaus.  We will look at the data tomorrow, and will inform the governor for a decision on Friday.

It seems as if Erie County is being punished for not having a lot of cases, where the 10% metrics compared to Dauphin County gives Dauphin a window bigger than them.  Levine:  They are not the same.  If a county had a lot of cases in April, that doesn’t impact our metrics now.  What it has done since going yellow, does.  The metrics are associated with that. None of this is personal.  We’re just trying to keep people safe.

Do you think we will ever get much lower than the current rate? And what does that mean for the state going forward? Are you concerned about complacency about this?  Levine:  We will remain positive and the virus has not gone.  People can’t get complacent because the virus is not gone.  Most people remain susceptible.  We have to remain alert and vigilant.  We will continue to expand testing, and contact  tracing and continue to encourage use of masks, social distancing, hand washing and so forth.

We’ve noticed that if you go out in green phase counties, there’s very much a sense that we’re over this if you look around at a mall, etc.  What about the messaging?  Levine:  We will continue to do that messaging.  We will highlight our process and success, but masks and social distancing, handwashing is the new normal.

Do you expect any counties moving beyond green in the coming months?  Levine: We are discussing that internally.  Wolf: After green there is “new normal.”  That’s what we’re working on.

If there’s a new outbreak, what’s the threshold for putting a county back to yellow or red? Levine: We are going to concentrate on containment as we’ve discussed.  Wolf: The way we tried to fight this the first three months was dictated by what we had which was a lot of questions and concerns.  Now we have testing capacity, contact tracing capacity, hospital space, we’re in a different place than we had been before.  We will have a lot of things we didn’t have.  Earlier, we were worried about having ventilators, now we have very few in use.  We have millions of N95 masks, we will address that very differently than before.  I’m not sure the red yellow green thing makes sense now.  It’s not a matter of a policy, each of us has to internalize the struggle.  Masks actually work – that’s not a political statement.  Complacency is the new real enemy.

Pro Football Hall of Fame game will be played without an audience. Are we looking in Pennsylvania at a future of pro sports without fans in attendance?  Wolf:  with the NHL and MLB, probably, the NBA starts further out.  The NFL is in a middle spot, and when I last spoke with the Commissioner, the teams are selling tickets but will refund them if they are not playing in front of spectators.  The NFL plans to make those decisions on a game to game basis.

Filling a stadium is more than 250 persons.  How can that work?  Wolf:  Well, we can go beyond green to the “new normal.”  Our capacity, skills, knowledge of the virus, etc. will continue to change.

Today, a State Senate committee started hearing on policing reforms – what do you support?  I’d like to see them go further, but this is a good first step. I expect a really good first step, yet there’s still work to do.  But we should do more.

Supreme Court to decide emergency disaster declaration suits
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court on Wednesday granted the Democratic governor’s request and took over a lawsuit by legislative Republicans that could end his pandemic shutdown order, less than a day after the Commonwealth Court had set June 29 for oral arguments on the case brought by Senate Republicans.

The Court announced it will decide the case that seeks to enforce a resolution that both chambers of the General Assembly passed last week to end the state of disaster emergency imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in March.

The case had been filed in Commonwealth Court, where Republicans hold a majority of the seats, but Democrats have a 5-2 edge on the Supreme Court.  Asked about the Supreme Court taking up the matter, Wolf said at a news conference later Wednesday: “I applaud that.”

The order said justices will decide the case based on filings that have been made in both courts and that they will “address the merits of the petitioner’s application in due course.”

Republican majorities in both chambers, along with a dozen Democrats in the House, voted to end the emergency disaster declaration that has led to closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, bans on large gatherings and orders that people stay at home.

The sides are in dispute over whether the legislative resolution has any legal weight without the governor’s approval. The state constitution grants governors the right to approve or veto concurrent resolutions, but the emergency services law includes a provision that gives the Legislature power to end disaster proclamations “at any time.”

The state attorney general’s office made a filing last week that said legislative Republicans were trying to “upend the commonwealth’s carefully planned reopening process.”

Senate Republican leaders say the need for drastic action to cut infection rates has passed, and the shutdown order is needlessly harming the state economically.

A Senate Republican spokeswoman said Wednesday they were happy the justices acted quickly.

Health Department sues to block Spring Carlisle Auto Show
The state Department of Health, citing COVID-19 concerns, sued the Carlisle Events company to try to stop it from holding its Spring Carlisle car show that is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the show “presents a significant threat to the public and could itself lead to significant outbreaks in PA and across the country.”

The firm was declining comment on the suit filed in Commonwealth Court while awaiting advice from its lawyer.

Meanwhile, the show, a huge automotive flea market that draws visitors and vendors nationwide, was still scheduled to run Wednesday through Saturday at the Carlisle Fairgrounds. It had already been delayed by two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Staging the show could be disastrous, the Health Department claims.

“When individuals choose to ignore those safeguards—such as by holding an event anticipating 100,000 attendees—they put the lives of Pennsylvanians at risk and threaten to reverse the significant progress that has been made to resolve this crisis,” its petition to Commonwealth Court states. “That dangerous conduct must be stopped before it can occur.”

That cease and desist petition was filed Wednesday, a day after the Health Department sent Carlisle Events an email warning the firm it would be violating the 250-person attendance limit set under the emergency orders Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine has issued in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has been blamed for more than 6,200 deaths in Pennsylvania.

The warning came as Cumberland County eased into the “green” phase of reopening after three-month state-ordered lockdown. That is the least restrictive recovery phase and retailers and restaurants, small and large, are reopening with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

The Health Department says it went to court after receiving no response to its email to Carlisle Events. It is asking the court to issue an injunction requiring Carlisle Events to adhere to the 250-person attendance cap.

Carlisle Events has set COVID-19 rules for the show, including requiring attendees and vendors to wear face masks and maintain social distancing and beefed-up disinfecting measures.

Some local lawmakers were critical of the health department’s action.

In a joint statement, Sens. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland County, and Judy Ward, R-Blair County, along with Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland County, said, “The lack of clear and consistent guidance for employers and residents as we move through the governor’s reopening process has led to frustration and anger. Common sense would suggest that – like outdoor recreation – outdoor sales and other events should be held to a different safety standard.

“The governor sent a clear message about the ability to ignore his orders and safety precautions when he marched through the streets of Harrisburg. Instead of working with an employer to further implement precautions and allow for this event to move forward in a county that is in the ‘green phase,’ the Wolf administration instead turns to the court to shut this employer down.”

Wolf defended his decision to protest. His spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said, “This was not something the governor would prefer or recommend, but he thought it was necessary to help the commonwealth. Throughout the pandemic the governor has made limited allowances for constitutionally protected speech including protests and religious services.”