Gov. Wolf, Sec. of Health Sound Alarm on Urgency to Protect Health Care System, Workers as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Surge

As the fall surge of COVID-19 cases continues to surpass record highs nearly every day and the state’s health care systems move precariously close to being overwhelmed, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine today sounded the alarm to Pennsylvanians that mitigation efforts must be followed, or we risk tragic consequences.

“If we don’t slow the spread of this dangerous virus now, the reality is that COVID-19 will overwhelm our hospitals and our health care workers,” Gov Wolf said. ‘That’s dangerous for everyone who needs medical care in a hospital for any reason, because it stretches resources and staff to the breaking point.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania over the course of the pandemic has topped 400,000 – a total that was at 200,000 just six weeks ago. As of Thursday, December 3, the state has seen a seven-day case increase of 48,668 cases; the previous seven-day increase was 42,713 cases, indicating 5,955 more new cases across the state over the past week compared to the previous week.

The statewide percent-positivity went up to 14.4% from 11.7% last week. Every county in the state has a concerning percent positivity above 5%, considered a threshold for positivity being too high.

“This is a significant challenge for our health care system, one unlike our modern health system in Pennsylvania has ever faced,” Secretary of Health Dr. Levine said. “Sadly, we have now seen deaths from COVID-19 in every county in the state, and our hospitals in many locations are at or near capacity. The steps each of us take, as part of our collective responsibility, are essential to protect us from the spread of COVID-19.”

Crowded conditions and dwindling resources are a reality in hospitals across the commonwealth. And so are staffing shortages due to increased patient needs and medical workers falling ill themselves.

Dr. Levine announced last week that several hospitals in the southwest and southcentral regions of the state anticipated staffing shortages could occur within the next week.

While the Pennsylvania Department of Health and all of Pennsylvania’s health systems and hospitals collaborate regionally to share resources and to try to ensure the best possible care for every patient, this task is made immensely more difficult by the fact that COVID-19 is spreading dangerously everywhere in the commonwealth.

When every region in the state, every health system, and every hospital needs the same resources, the same number of staff, the same life-saving machines and medications, there is nothing left to share when things get worse.

Overwhelmed health care systems will affect everyone who needs emergency care, not just COVID-19 patients and that can lead to more people dying, including those who could have survived serious illnesses.

“This dangerous, disturbing scenario is not only possible, it becomes increasingly likely with every day that COVID continues to spread in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said. “It’s unimaginable and yet it is true. It is also unacceptable. We cannot allow our friends, neighbors, and family members to be struck down because of this virus, especially when a widely available vaccine is likely just months away.

“Right now, we all need to take a hard look at our choices and our actions and take every precaution to protect our neighbors, families, and friends, our doctors and our nurses, and every health care worker.

“We can stop the spread of COVID-19 if we work together. So please, stay home unless you need to go out, do not attend gatherings with people outside your household, and if you need to leave your home, wear a mask. We can prevent that worst-case scenario from becoming reality, but that means that all of us need to take this virus seriously because the virus is in control and we need to take back control.”