Log In

Reset Password

Rural areas question state on opening date Surgeries now allowed in some hospitals

State health officials continue to face questions about the plan to reopen the rest of the state.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine faced questions from several rural counties where there is growing frustration over the regional approach to reopening the state.

The state will consider moving some states from “red” to “yellow” on May 8, allowing some businesses to reopen.

The state has set the goal of having fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over a period of 14 days in a region before it reopens. Some counties are concerned that their opening will be delayed because they’re in a region where the virus is more widespread.

Levine said the state would consider requests from areas like Beaver County to be considered separate from their region. Beaver is in the same region as Allegheny County but has seen a lower number of cases per 100,000 people.

Carbon County is in the Northeast Region which includes Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe and Northampton counties - which have all seen much higher case counts.

Carbon County continues to be the lowest in the Times News region, with 164 cases reported as of midnight Sunday. There are 12 deaths reported.

Schuylkill County is located in the Southeast Region, which includes the suburban Philadelphia counties which have been called the “epicenter” of the virus in Pennsylvania.

Schuylkill County added 12 new cases as of midnight Sunday for a total of 324. There are five deaths.

Lehigh County leads the region with 2,636 cases, an increase from 2,551 cases reported Sunday. Deaths have increased by 6 to a total of 56.

Monroe County has picked up nearly 30 cases for a total of 1,083. Two more deaths were reported for a total of 56.

Northampton County reported 54 more cases for a total of 1,834. No new deaths were reported. The county stands at 49.

Asked whether prisons could be excluded from the county population because they are not in contact with the public, Levine said they should be part of the equation.

“That is part of those counties. Those facilities have staff that live in those areas or nearby, and that is involved with the burden of illness of COVID-19,” she said.

Levine said there are other factors like the ability to do testing, hospital capacity and the predictive model developed by Carnegie Mellon University.

“Many things will be under investigation this week as we decide which counties go from red to yellow,” Levine said.

Testing availability in the Northeast Region has improved thanks to the new mass testing site at Mohegan Sun Arena. Levine said the state has been receiving more materials to conduct tests. As a result, the Mohegan Sun site is now allowing anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms to get a test.

Testing is available by registering online, or by phone at 877-PA-HEALTH.

“We have the ability to test anyone now, and we would encourage people to take advantage of that site,” Levine said.

Surgery protocols

Elective surgeries and procedures which were delayed by the COVID-19 virus will resume this week with the blessing of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Meanwhile the department continues to face questions about how the state’s reopening will take place.

Levine said on Monday that hospitals and surgery centers will be allowed to resume elective procedures, as long as it doesn’t affect their ability to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

We know many Pennsylvanians have had to delay important procedures. It was necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Levine said.

When Gov. Tom Wolf declared the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses last month, he said that elective surgeries would be prohibited.

Under the updated guidance issued on Monday, hospitals and ambulatory surgery facilities don’t have to ask the state for permission to resume elective procedures.

They do have to follow a “Roadmap for Resuming Elective Surgery after COVID-19 Pandemic” which was written by four medical institutions: the American College of Surgeons, American Society of Anesthesiologists, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, and American Hospital Association.

The road map advises that the area where the hospital is located should have a sustained reduction in the rate of new COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days. It also advises that hospitals have enough ICU and non-ICU beds, as well as enough personal protective equipment and trained staff to treat all nonelective patients.