COVID- 19 cases still on the rise
Westmoreland County ranks second in Pennsylvania for positive test rate
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.”