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COVID-19: County seeks earlier reprieve from “red”

Commissions’ letter to Gov. Wolf asks for closer look at Bucks County
A push to reopen Bucks County against an extended stay-at-home order by Gov. Tom Wolf was supported by Director of the Bucks County Health Department Dr. David Damsker last week.
Damsker said that a closer look at the numbers argues for flexibility in the reopening guidelines set by the Wolf administration.
The criteria for reopening have been described in a three-phase color-coded plan. Bucks County remains red, which is the most restrictive phase. Red phase counties, which comprise 43 of the 67 in the state, have had their restrictive orders extended through June 4, while 24 counties were moved to yellow effective May 8.
Yellow phase guidelines lift stay-at-home orders and ease certain social and work restrictions. Schools, indoor physical activity centers, and salons will remain closed under the yellow phase. Most of the yellow phase counties are in the center of the state where population densities are lower. The greatest occurrence of the commonwealth’s Covid-19 infections is in the southeast region of the state, including Bucks County.
Damsker joined the County of Bucks Office of the Commissioners under Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia in an appeal to consider changing criteria from reliance on per capita infection rates to a measured decrease in “pure community spread,” which is defined as untraceable spread of the virus. The letter said that such spread currently attributes to no more than 10 percent of new cases.
Their letter took issue with the per capita goal of less than 50 cases per 100,000 over 14 days, arguing that it would have a “detrimental effect on our effort to maintain Bucks County’s infrastructure of business, tourism and community support.”
Damsker and the commissioners asserted that increased testing frequency and efficiency would artificially increase the per capita positives by increasing the rate of infection discovery rather than reflecting an actual increased rate of infection, stating that it could “permanently keep Bucks County in the ‘red zone.’”
Damsker stated he has not yet received a direct response.
“Bucks County, in my opinion, is ready to move to yellow right now,” Damsker told the Herald, contending that the data support such a move. He stated that hospitals are not overwhelmed, community spread is low, and that more than half the cases are in long-term care facilities, which have testing and tracing strategies in place.
“We’re just asking that a decision be made sooner than later,” Damsker said.
The efforts to reopen Bucks County come against a backdrop of efforts to reopen the country despite warnings by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci that measurable and consistent decreases in infection rates over a 14-day period – along with fortifying response capabilities – should determine when areas of the country open up.
Fauci stated Tuesday that there was a significant risk that an uncontrollable outbreak could be triggered by skipping past these checkpoints.
As of May 12, Pennsylvania had 57,991 cases statewide, including 2,187 hospitalized Covid-19 patients. And while Pennsylvania’s case numbers have increased about 13 percent from the prior week, confirmed infections in Bucks County are rising at a faster rate. They stand at 4,116 cases, up 20 percent from the 3,445 confirmed cases a week ago and over 50 percent from the 2,675 confirmed cases the week before that.
There have been 364 Covid-19 related deaths in the county, up nearly 30 percent from the week before (283 deaths) and 116 percent higher than two weeks ago. The COVID-19 death toll in the state on May 12 was 3,806.
The adjacent counties of Northampton, Lehigh, Montgomery and Philadelphia carry a combined total of 26,445 more cases including 1,689 deaths, helping to define the southeastern region as the hottest in the state. Bucks and adjacent counties comprise over half of both state cases and deaths.
In the larger picture, the United States far outpaces other countries in confirmed Covid-19 cases with 1,336,350. The next highest are Russia at 232,243, Spain at 228,030 and the United Kingdom at 227,740. The U.S. caseload is six times that of the next highest national caseload and equal to that of the next six highest countries combined.