If Reopening Is ‘Weeks Away,' What Will Pa. Need to Happen First?

Besides a lower number of new cases, officials will need more testing and a stable situation in hospitals.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Officials made it clear this week that the coronavirus stay-at-home orders will remain in effect for a while longer in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs.

Philly's Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said reopening here is "weeks away." Gov. Tom Wolf said our area will be "among the last" to reopen.

There's a three-phase reopening plan in place that will begin May 8 in other regions of the state. Construction can resume sooner, by May 1, with safety changes in place like masks and distancing.

Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University is helping the state by building a data model that will help show which regions are ready to reopen.

But what criteria are being considered to move our area from the "red" of lockdown to the "yellow" that gives increased freedom?

Many fewer new cases

State and county officials have said one criteria is that each county reduce the rate of newly diagnosed infections to no more than 50 new cases each day per 100,000 residents.

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, also a doctor, said it means over a 14-day period, the number of new cases is tallied up and then divided by 14. The county, which has more than 800,000 people, is averaging 187 cases per day in that period. That average needs to be 30 per day, she said in a news conference Friday.

More testing for the virus

Officials have said they also need to see more testing before reopening can take place. Only 2% of Montgomery County residents have been tested, which is about on par with Philadelphia. Many counties are testing at even lower percentages, Arkoosh said.

The state will require some minimum level of tests, she added, but it wasn't clear what that level was.

Wolf said he recently had a conference call with other governors and Vice President Mike Pence. Among the things discussed was a need to have the federal government increase testing capacity in the states.

Hospital capacity

Across the state, 2,746 people were hospitalized with the virus as of noon Friday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said at a news conference.

And 40% of intensive care beds and 70% of ventilators were still available statewide.

Levine said one of the factors being considered in reopening is the stability of the hospital system, and if spots are doing well in terms of their capacity.

The goal to "flatten the curve" was to avoid a crush on the health care system that would prevent everyone from getting the care they need.

Contact tracing

A report summarized by NBC News said to track the virus, the U.S. could need as many as 100,000 contact tracers, a group of workers who call people who test positive and ask about their past travel and interactions with other people.

In Pennsylvania, that work was done by community health nurses, whose ranks have thinned in recent years, according to Spotlight PA.

Levine said in the daily state press conference Friday that Pennsylvania will need to hire more community health nurses to do contact tracing, and will also add technology that could help with that task. She did not give specifics on the number of hires or what technologies might be used.

Some experts have suggested using smartphone data to assist with contact tracing.

Cities including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia will also need resources for contact tracing, she added.

Contact Us