COVID- 19 cases still on the rise

West­more­land County ranks sec­ond in Penn­syl­va­nia for pos­i­tive test rate

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Kris B. Ma­mula

A wide­spread out­break has turned West­more­land County into a Penn­syl­va­nia hot spot for COVID- 19, as the vi­ral disease has in­fected jail in­mates, ele­men­tary school stu­dents, nurs­ing home res­i­dents — and even a county com­mis­sioner.

A to­tal of 108 new cases were re­ported there Fri­day, down from a sin­gle- day record of 134 for the south­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia county on Thurs­day. The surg­ing num­ber re­flects both an in­crease in the quan­tity of tests ad­min­is­tered and the preva­lence of the virus in the county.

The county’s pos­i­tiv­ity rate of 8.9% — the per­cent­age of COVID19 tests that came back pos­i­tive for the week end­ing Thurs­day — is now the sec­ond high­est in Penn­syl­va­nia and rep­re­sents a near tripling of the rate in two weeks, ac­cord­ing to the Penn­syl­va­nia

Depart­ment of Health. For the week end­ing Oct. 1, the county had posted a pos­i­tiv­ity rate of 2.6%, the depart­ment said.

West­more­land County trailed only Cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia’s Hunt­ing­don County, which had a pos­i­tiv­ity rate of 9.9% for the week end­ing Oct. 15 — the high­est in the state, ac­cord­ing to the Health Depart­ment. Brad­ford

County, a ru­ral county with a pop­u­la­tion of 60,323 in the north­east part of the state, had the third- high­est COVID- 19 pos­i­tiv­ity test rate at 8.3%.

It’s not just pos­i­tive test re­sults that are climb­ing.

The av­er­age daily num­ber of COVID- 19 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions for the week end­ing Thurs­day in West­more­land County rose to 34.6 from 20.1 a week ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to state records.

By com­par­i­son, the test pos­i­tiv­ity rate in Al­legheny County was 3.5% — es­sen­tially flat since Oct. 1, with the av­er­age num­ber of daily hos­pi­tal­iza­tions for the disease reach­ing 85.4 for the week end­ing Oct. 15, up from 69.9 the pre­vi­ous week.

Doc­tors say the spread of COVID- 19 in ru­ral ar­eas like West­more­land County is hap­pen­ing as well in other parts of the coun­try, where many had grown to be­lieve the highly con­ta­gious disease was mainly an ur­ban prob­lem.

“It’s typ­i­cal of what’s hap­pen­ing in ru­ral coun­ties across the coun­try,” said Wil­liam Schaffner, pro­fes­sor of in­fec­tious dis­eases at the Van­der­bilt Univer­sity School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.

And it’s con­tribut­ing to a statewide and na­tional surge in cases. The Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Health Se­cu­rity re­ported 52,350 new COVID19 cases na­tion­wide Fri­day, the high­est per day count since Au­gust.

Un­like Al­legheny, West­more­land County doesn’t have a health depart­ment, so gran­u­lar de­tail about the out­break is not as read­ily avail­able as in many ur­ban ar­eas, said Amesh Adalja, a But­ler na­tive who is a se­nior scholar at the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Health Se­cu­rity in Bal­ti­more. Still, school dis­tricts will need to do more to de­ter­mine which af­ter- school ac­tiv­i­ties may be con­tribut­ing to the spread, he said.

“You need to drill down into the data to de­ter­mine ex­actly what’s go­ing on,” Dr. Adalja said. “Which ac­tiv­i­ties are driv­ing this? It’s kind of a warn­ing that an out­break can slip out of con­trol if they’re not vig­i­lant.”

Since Oct. 1, a half- dozen school dis­tricts in West­more­land County have re­ported COVID- 19 cases among stu­dents and staff, in­clud­ing Greens­burg Salem, where an ele­men­tary school was closed af­ter an out­break of three cases. Three dozen in­mates have been re­ported in­fected in the West­more­land County Prison along with four guards. County Com­mis­sioner Doug Chew is re­cov­er­ing from the disease.

Since the start of the month, West­more­land Manor, a county- owned nurs­ing home, has been bat­tling an out­break, with more than 100 res­i­dents in­fected. The Penn­syl­va­nia Na­tional Guard has been help­ing at the Hemp­field fa­cil­ity.

Rose Marie DiCriscio, owner of Al­lante Hair De­signs & Spa in Greens­burg, said she has been pre­par­ing for the uptick in cases — screen­ing cus­tomers be­fore they en­ter and re­quir­ing staff to wear masks and face shields.

“No one has been in­fected in the salon,” said Ms. DiCriscio, a hair­dresser for 40 years. “We just try our best to keep every­body aware and alert. We have ev­ery­thing in place.”

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