HARRISBURG – Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced that Pennsylvania now can test potential cases of COVID-19 in the state public health laboratory in Exton and has increased its capacity to test approximately 25 specimens a day.
“The ability to test for potential cases of COVID-19 at our state lab allows us to better protect Pennsylvanians,” said Levine. “This is a very important step for us as we continue to work to provide timely updates.
“This testing now will allow us to receive results more quickly rather than waiting for the samples to be shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.”
According to the DOH, testing of potential cases involves being seen by a clinician and have specimens taken and then sent to the state lab for testing. These tests are not the same as rapid tests that are done for health conditions such as strep throat.
Soon, officials say it is expected that private and commercial laboratories will also have the ability to test, which will increase the ability for testing to be done in Pennsylvania.
However, officials say that at this time, all positive cases will be reported as presumptive positives, and will be sent to the CDC for confirmation.
According to the DOH, as of March 4, there are more than 94,000 cases worldwide, including more than 3,200 deaths. One hundred-and-twenty-eight of those cases are in the United States, including nine deaths. All nine deaths have occurred in Washington state.
Officials say community spread of COVID-19 is occurring in several states, which includes Washington, Oregon and California.
The CDC expects cases to continue to be confirmed in the upcoming days and weeks but wants everyone to take action to help prevent the spread of the virus.
The CDC has emphasized that due to the rapidly changing nature of the spread of COVID-19 around the world, it is important for families to be prepared.
“Since the start of this outbreak, we’ve taken a proactive approach to prepare and carefully monitor potential cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania,” Levine said.
“As the CDC has said, we need to be prepared for community spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. We are working to make sure our health systems, first responders and county and municipal health departments have the resources they need to respond.”
To date, the Wolf Administration has:
- activated the Department of Health’s Emergency Operations Center to allow for enhanced response coordination;
- maintained communication and outreach with federal, state and local partners;
- provided symptom monitoring for residents returning to Pennsylvania from China;
- provided information to health care professionals, businesses and educational settings; and
- been reviewing and adapting current pandemic flu plans for COVID-19.
“As this situation evolves, we will continually update Pennsylvanians through our Web site, health.pa.gov, our Facebook page and our Twitter account,” Levine said.
“It’s important to remember that the most accurate and timely information regarding this outbreak is available through the Department of Health, as well as the CDC’s Web site and social media channels.”
Pennsylvanians are encouraged to help stop the spread of viruses by:
- washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- cleaning surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones and other frequently touched items.
- If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others.
Symptoms of the COVID-19 in people who have been exposed can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying.