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Pa. Coronavirus Update: With Holidays Over, Vaccination Effort Expected To Ramp Up

Penn Medicine's frontline workers receive the first round of COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 16, 2020.
Penn Medicine
Penn Medicine's frontline workers receive the first round of COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 16, 2020.

After weeks of record high coronavirus case numbers, the pandemic in Pennsylvania is finally starting to ebb — but the commonwealth isn’t out of the woods yet.

Currently, there are 5,529 people hospitalized in Pennsylvania with COVID-19, nearly double the peak last spring. The statewide percent positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is 15%. But both of those numbers are now trending down, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced Monday.

“Our hospitals and health care systems continue to be significantly challenged,” Levine said. “But they are maintaining excellent services and care.”

The commonwealth is reporting 7,805 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. However, Levine said the database system used to register cases underwent maintenance on Sunday, and that might have artificially lowered the case count. Officials expect case counts to be higher than normal on Tuesday as a result.

The state is reporting 122 fatalities due to COVID-19 over the weekend. The reporting system for deaths was not affected by maintenance.

On Monday, Philadelphia reported 1,576 new cases, including test results reported since Thursday. The city announced 37 new fatalities during that period as well.

Despite the declining statewide numbers, Levine said she was concerned that cases may spike again as people start to get sick after traveling or gathering for the winter holidays.

“What we need to do now is to continue all the mitigation efforts … stay at home, do not participate in large or small gatherings,” Levine said. “We will be watching our numbers really closely to see if there is a holiday bump or not.”

Vaccine distribution expected to ramp up

So far Pennsylvania has vaccinated about 135,000 people against the coronavirus, Levine said.

In addition, a joint effort between the federal government, Walgreens, and CVS has vaccinated people at 115 skilled nursing facilities. It is unclear exactly how many people that effort has inoculated.

This week Pennsylvania is slated to receive 166,725 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. More than half of those doses are reserved as the second shot for frontline health care workers who have already received their first shot.

The commonwealth is also expecting to receive about 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.

Pennsylvania’s vaccination effort has proceeded at a much slower pace than officials originally hoped.

That’s due in part to the federal government providing far fewer vaccines than it promised to the hospitals, pharmacies, and long-term care facilities in charge of dispensing them. It’s also because the ultra-cold temperature required by the Pfizer vaccine has made administering it logistically difficult.

On Monday, Levine said the federal government’s initial estimates for vaccine distribution were overly optimistic. But she said she is confident the effort will speed up now that the holidays are over, and President Donald Trump has signed the stimulus bill, which includes billions in funding for states’ vaccination efforts.

But Levine said officials were still entirely focused on the “1A” phase of the vaccine plan, which calls for the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers. When pressed for details about how Pennsylvania will vaccinate people in the “1B” and “1C” categories, which include teachers, police officers, and older adults, Levine was not able to provide any details.

“I think what those individuals should do is protect themselves as much as possible,” Levine said. “Keep in contact with their doctor, and watch for our notifications.”