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Wolf extends stay-at-home order to more counties; Levine gives update on ICU beds, ventilators

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Gov. Tom Wolf extended his stay-at-home order to two more counties on Wednesday, adding Lehigh and Northampton to the list.

“People in these counties and should not leave their residences unless they absolutely must,” he said.

Monday, he put in place a stay-at-home order for Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe and Montgomery counties. Residents must stay in their homes “unless not leaving your home endangers a life,” Wolf said Monday, adding buying food or medication are valid reasons to leave the home. 

The mayor of Philadelphia already had issued such an order. Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper issued a stay-at-home order Tuesday for Erie County residents and recommended that anyone returning to the county quarantine themselves for 14 days, according to goerie.com.

“If our number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase at its current rate, our hospitals will soon be overwhelmed. So we need to buy time … time to allow hospitals to gather materials, and time to allow people who are sick now to get better and be discharged from the hospital, freeing up much needed space and equipment,” Wolf said.

Pennsylvania Department of Heath Secretary Rachel Levine said of the 1,127 confirmed cases in the state announced Wednesday, about 120 have required hospitalization — about 10 percent, a number that has remained steady as the number of cases has grown. About 38 have required treatment in intensive care, and about 18 have required the use of ventilators or breathing machines, she said.

Levine said there are about 3,400 licensed intensive care beds in Pennsylvania, and 40 percent were open as of Wednesday afternoon. There are about 3,000 ventilators available across Pennsylvania, and about 75 percent were available Wednesday afternoon, but she cautioned that those numbers continually change.

In other comments by Wolf and Levine on Wednesday:

• Wolf commented on the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses: “The employees of these businesses have lost their income, and many business owners are wondering if they are going to be able to survive. That’s not just bad for the owners and their staff, it’s bad for all Pennsylvanians. We need places to eat and to shop. When we get through this crisis, we are going to want to get out of our houses and go to restaurants and bars and stores, and we’re going to need places for people to earn a living so they can afford to go restaurants and bars and stores and support other workers. In each of us doing our part, we need to work together to preserve our businesses. I vow to save Pennsylvanians’ lives, and then save their livelihoods.”

• Wolf announced the new COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program will provide loans of up to $100,000 to for-profit businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees.

• There is no evidence that animals can transmit COVID-19 and there is no reason to drop off animals at rescue agencies, Levine said.

• Allergy symptoms are different from coronavirus symptoms, Levine said. Allergies usually include a stuffy or runny nose, scratchy throat and eye irritation. COVID-19 is a lower respiratory infection which includes a deep or heavy cough and a fever. Fever is rare with allergies. Coronavirus symptoms also can include shortness of breath and in serious cases difficulty breathing.

• Wolf said he will sign a bill that moves Pennsylvania’s primary election from April 28 to June 2.

• Levine said the state is trying to ensure coronavirus test results are returned as quickly as possible. There are a number of ways testing is occurring. For priority groups such as health care personnel and vulnerable populations, testing is done at the state lab. Hospitals and health systems are doing testing, and many of them now have their own laboratories, Levine said. Many tests are done by commercial labs, and there are mass testing sites in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties. She said she has heard that commercial labs have had delays.

• Wolf said he is doing what he can to get unemployment benefits moving along, and he is working with other governors at the federal level. “What we’re trying to do is to make sure we’re doing everything we can, and we have to do a better job, of making sure that we make it as easy as possible to get in to the system, to get the checks coming out,” he said. More than half a million Pennsylvanians have filed new unemployment claims during the past week, according to media reports.