Dec 7, 2020
PA Governor Tom Wolf Press Conference Transcript December 7
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf gave an update on COVID-19 on December 7. Read the full news conference transcript here.
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Governor Wolf: (00:00)
So it was two weeks ago that Dr. Levine and I stood at this podium and we both warned all of us, all of us, the people of Pennsylvania and everybody about the seriousness once again of the COVID 19 epidemic, the surge that we’re all experiencing right now in Pennsylvania. We warned at that point that the Commonwealth is in a precarious place. The numbers of cases rising, hospitalizations rising, deaths rising and we warned that substantial community spread was already at that point affecting Pennsylvanians, most of the counties actually, all across Pennsylvania. And that if Pennsylvanians, if we did not act immediately to change our behavior, things would get dramatically worse in the coming weeks. And that’s why we put into place back then the additional mitigation measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Wolf: (00:56)
Well, over the course of the past two weeks, unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s situation has become even more dire. And I find myself here saying things I really, really wish I didn’t have to say. If we don’t slow the spread of this dangerous virus now, if we don’t do this, the reality is that COVID-19 will overwhelm our hospitals, will overwhelm our healthcare systems. And that’s dangerous. As I said before, that is dangerous for everyone who needs medical care in a hospital for any reason because it stretches our resources and it stretches the staffs of these institutions to the breaking point.
Governor Wolf: (01:40)
And that’s dangerous for everyone who needs medical care. Whether you’re in the hospital for COVID-19 or for any other reason. Staff who have already experienced the daily exhaustion of caring for critically ill patients while also worrying about their own healthcare and the health of their families, this is just taking everything that we have in our healthcare system and stretching it to the limits.
Governor Wolf: (02:03)
Several counties in the Northern part of the state have reported already that they have very few ICU beds, intensive care unit beds, that remain open. The Tribune Review reported on Saturday that a nurse at UPMC Altoona described the atmosphere in the intensive care unit there and throughout the southwest by saying, and this is a quote, “It’s like you step onto a treadmill and you’re going. You’re going the whole time you’re there. Basically 13 hours you’re on fast-forward.”
Governor Wolf: (02:36)
Crowded conditions and dwindling resources are a reality in hospitals all across the Commonwealth. And so are staffing shortages due to increased patient needs and medical workers who are falling ill themselves. Dr. Levine announced last week that several hospitals in the Southwest and the South Central region of the state anticipated staffing shortages that could occur within this week. An emergency physician in Philadelphia recently wrote for the Inquirer about the fact that this pandemic has put a strain on both the physical and emotional wellbeing of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. And doctors and nurses who treat COVID patients are also at increased risk of contracting the virus itself. The International Council of Nurses recently announced the sad news that more nurses have died from COVID-19 than died during World War I.
Governor Wolf: (03:34)
As cases and hospitalizations continue to rise the strain on hospital resources and hospital staff increases exponentially, as does the risk of overburdening and overwhelming the people and institutions on the frontline in this fight against the pandemic. 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, their task is made immeasurably more difficult by the fact that COVID-19 is spreading dangerously everywhere in the Commonwealth.
Governor Wolf: (04:13)
When every region in the state and every health system, every hospital, and they all need the same resources, the same number of staff, the same life-saving machines, medications, there’s really nothing left to share when things get worse. And things are getting worse right now. Collaboration between hospitals and doctors does save lives, but it’s getting harder and harder right now because of the overwhelming number of patients who need treatment for severe cases of COVID-19 to make this collaboration working together possible. The point is when patients need more specialized treatment than one facility can offer, they often need to be transferred to a larger facility with more capacity to handle complex cases. Now that’s true for COVID-19, but it’s also true for patients in other critical conditions, including heart failure, influenza, stroke, pneumonia, sepsis, and a whole host of other serious medical elements.
Governor Wolf: (05:11)
Pennsylvania’s hospitals are already running low on ICU beds due to COVID-19. What that means is that there are fewer resources to go around for the sickest Pennsylvanians, whatever the sickness that you’re suffering. Already we’re hearing stories about hospitals forced to divert patients to other treatment facilities because of full emergency rooms and overwhelming needs. If COVID cases continue to grow at the same rate they’re growing now, demand for hospital beds and resources will continue to grow and could overwhelm our hospitals and our healthcare workers. If that happens, it will affect everyone who needs emergency care. And again, not just the COVID patients. It will affect all aspects of emergency care and all aspects of our healthcare systems ability to respond.
Governor Wolf: (06:02)
So if you, and this is my fellow Pennsylvanians, if you or a loved one need emergency care for a heart attack or other unexpected emergency, it could take much longer than usual for emergency response personnel to get to you. And then you could be turned away from the hospital closest to your home if your hospital, your local hospital, is out of beds. And what happens if there’s simply no more beds, no more ventilators available. If the worst happens, hospitals will not be able to treat all sick Pennsylvanians. There’ll be forced to turn away people who need treatment. That means more Pennsylvanians will die. Pennsylvania’s who would not have died if they had been able to get the care and need, they deserve. If our hospitals are overwhelmed, people who might have survived, serious illnesses, they’ll die. This dangerous and disturbing scenario is not only possible, it becomes increasingly likely with every day that COVID continues to spread in Pennsylvania. It’s hard to believe that it’s true and that is simply unacceptable.
Governor Wolf: (07:11)
All year long we had been trying to prevent our hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. And that’s the reason why we cannot allow our friends, our neighbors and family members to be struck down because of this virus, especially when a widely available vaccine is just likely 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, our families, and our friends. This is really up to each and every one of us.
Governor Wolf: (07:42)
Doctors and nurses are frightened right now. And they’re asking the public for help. They’re asking all of us for help to stop this spread of COVID. We cannot continue to take our medical workers for granted. The staff at hospitals and medical facilities have been doing everything in their power to protect us from COVID-19. We need to do the same for them. We can stop the spread of COVID-19 if we work together.
Governor Wolf: (08:09)
So please, stay home. If you don’t, unless you need to go out, stay home. Second, do not attend gatherings with people outside your household. And third, if you need to leave home, please wear a mask. We can prevent that worst case scenario from becoming reality, but that means all of us, all 13 million Pennsylvanians have to take this virus seriously. We have to commit to protecting one another until the vaccine becomes widely available. If you didn’t know before how urgent the situation is, please pay attention now. We must stop the spread of COVID-19 and to do that, we have to all act now.
Governor Wolf: (08:50)
Now I’m going to turn this over to nurse Maureen Casey, Hershey Health Center. Maureen.
Maureen Casey: (09:09)
Apologies. Thank you, Governor Wolf. I cannot stress how exhausting it is taking care of the COVID patients that we have at Hershey Medical Center. Nurses are tired. Pennsylvanians did a fabulous job in the spring of flattening the curve and what we feared then did not occur, but it is occurring now and like waves on the shore it just keeps coming. Nurses go home, cry in the shower, cry in their car alone because of the desperation and exhaustion they feel. As a nurse we just have one simple ask. Please wear a mask. It’s a simple thing, but it gets the job done. We are taking care of patients. We are quickly becoming overrun. Our hospital is at capacity already. Flu season, truly hasn’t even started yet and the COVID patients just keep coming. We just need people to wear a mask and help us control and flatten the curve again, the way we did in the spring. Together is the only way we can get through this, by wearing masks is the big that we have as a nurse. Thank you, Governor Wolf.
Governor Wolf: (10:39)
Thank you, Maureen. Again, as Maureen said, we all have a basic role to play in keeping this virus from overwhelming our healthcare system, each and every one of us. Now I’d like to turn this over to our Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine. Dr. Levine.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (11:01)
Thank you, Governor. As the Governor has highlighted, we remain extremely concerned about the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19. 5,421 individuals are hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, as of noon today. 1,115 of those patients are in the intensive care unit and 614 of those patients are on a ventilator or breathing machine. The trend in the 14 day moving average of the number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by 4,000 since the end of September. Many hospitals across the state, either have few ICU beds, or in some cases, no ICU beds. This is a significant challenge for our healthcare system in Pennsylvania and one that actually our healthcare system has never faced before. Today we are reporting 6,000 …
Dr. Rachel Levine: (12:03)
Before. Today, we are reporting 6,330 new cases of COVID-19, and there were 8,630 new cases on Sunday. These numbers bring the total number of COVID-19 patients in Pennsylvania, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 426,444. Of our total cases, the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 has decreased to now 58%. 42 new deaths were reported today, and 69 new deaths were reported on Sunday. Our total number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 is 11,373 individuals. In the last week alone, we have reported close to 1,000 new deaths across Pennsylvania due to COVID-19. Now, sadly, we have seen deaths from COVID-19 in every county in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (13:04)
We also watched the statewide percent positivity rate on the early warning monitoring dashboard. That is nearly at 14.5% statewide. Every single county in Pennsylvania now has a percent positivity above that cutoff of 5%, and nine counties have a percent positivity above 20%. Throughout the pandemic, there now have been 32,350 cases of COVID-19 in school aged children, ages five to 18. More than 8,600 of those have been in the last two weeks alone. In a moment, you will hear from Deputy Secretary, Ray Barishansky, regarding our efforts to respond to influenza as well as COVID-19. We are fortunate that we have not seen many flu cases this season so far. However, when someone is hospitalized for influenza, for the flu, they need much of the same resources that are needed to treat patients with COVID-19. There are both very contagious respiratory viruses. That is why we all need to take a look and to analyze what we are doing and how our actions impact the entire community.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (14:25)
What this virus has taught us is that we are all interconnected and there are some activities that are just not safe now because of this global pandemic. Activities like spending time indoors with people who are not masked, spending long periods of time indoors with people who do not live in your household even if they are wearing a mask. We all need to answer the call to wear a mask, stay home, wash our hands, and social distance. We all need to literally answer the call and answer the phone if someone calls us who’s a contact tracer that’s reaching out to you. Please, be honest, answer the questions, you might save a life of someone you know, or maybe someone that you don’t know.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (15:12)
As our community joins forces to fight COVID-19, we must stand United, and please remember always, stay calm, stay alert, and stay safe. Now I would like to introduce Ray Barishansky, Deputy Secretary for Health Preparedness and Community Protection within the Department of Health, to talk about influenza, Deputy Secretary.
Ray Barishansky: (15:47)
Thank you for that introduction, secretary Levine. As Dr. Levine just said, we have a thorough update now of our substantial COVID-19 data increases. COVID 19 cases are at an all time high, and we cannot afford to have a flu epidemic in Pennsylvania in the middle of this global pandemic. The best way we can protect each other is by working together.
Ray Barishansky: (16:13)
The 2020, 2021 flu season is underway across Pennsylvania and across the United States. At this time, flu activity is low across the Commonwealth. Influenza A and B have both been identified as strains of the virus circulating in Pennsylvania through laboratory testing. As of Tuesday, November 28th, there have been 480 laboratory confirmed flu cases and one flu associated death statewide. To date, the department has not reported county case counts for flu. If cases increased to a level that protects patient privacy, then county level data will be updated on the website.
Ray Barishansky: (16:57)
The first death that we reported was during our update of data on November 10th, and this individual was in the 50 to 64 year old age group. The percent of outpatient hospital visits associated with influenza like illness has been low and is still below the state epidemic threshold. To date, a total of 12 influenza associated hospitalizations have been reported in PA during our current flu season. We update our flu data on health.pa. gov every Tuesday throughout the flu season. These data updates provide a summary on when and where flu activity is occurring, current trends in flu as compared to previous seasons, what types and subtypes of influenza viruses are currently circulating.
Ray Barishansky: (17:48)
Please also know that our departments epidemiologists continue to monitor flu activity. We are prepared to stand up a multi-disciplinary working group, comprised both internal and external partners, to quickly respond to any increases in flu activity over the coming winter months. Internally, this working group in the past has seen people from our Bureau of Epidemiology, our State Laboratory, our Bureau of Communicable Diseases, our Bureau of Public Health Preparedness, and our Office of Communications, all coming together to work as a team.
Ray Barishansky: (18:21)
Externally, we have had members of the hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, or HAP, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians. This working group is prepared to discuss flu trends as well as what we are seeing specifically here in Pennsylvania and any relevant guidance from the federal government.
Ray Barishansky: (18:46)
You can work with us as well. If you have not already done so, please, get your flu vaccine today. It is safe to go to your doctor’s office, pharmacy, local walk-in clinic, or grocery store to get your flu vaccine in the form of a shot or nasal spray. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see which flu vaccine is best for you. There are also seasonal flu clinics, distributing the flu shot to anyone aged three or older to protect against the flu. Actually tomorrow, December 8th, there’s a drive-through clinic being held in Bethlehem City at the Lehigh River Port Garage from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM.
Ray Barishansky: (19:25)
A full list of our upcoming flu clinics can be found at health.pa. gov. We recommend you getting your vaccine now before the flu activity peaks in your community and certainly before the end of the year. If you have already gotten your flu vaccine this year, thank you for helping Pennsylvanians stay protected together. Remember, getting a flu vaccine will not only just help keep you from getting severely ill, but it also protects your family, friends, healthcare providers, and others who are already strained and exhausted from carrying from our record numbers of COVID-19 patients. Ultimately, getting a flu vaccine will protect all those you may come in contact with this season.
Ray Barishansky: (20:10)
Additional ways to work with us include following mitigation orders and guidance from Secretary Levine and Governor Wolf. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow, and please continue to wear a mask, clean surfaces frequently, particularly those that are touched frequently, such as door knobs, countertops, remote controls, or even your phone. Contain viruses by staying home if you’re sick, and please continue wearing a mask and social distancing. Lastly, please download the COVID Alert PA app to your phone to assist us in our collective fight against COVID-19. The safety and health of Pennsylvanians remains our number one concern. Let’s stay protected together.
Ray Barishansky: (20:57)
With that, I’d like to welcome Governor Wolf back up to the podium to open up for questions. Governor.
Governor Wolf: (21:06)
Thank you, Ray. Again, the point all of us were making is, Pennsylvania, we have a problem. We have to work together to address this pandemic. So, thank you both. Let me open up to questions.
Speaker 1: (21:17)
Thank you, Governor. Our first question is from Daveen Kurutz from the Beaver County Times. Go ahead, Daveen.
Daveen Kurutz: (21:30)
All right, can you hear me now? Hello?
Governor Wolf: (21:34)
Daveen Kurutz: (21:37)
Thank you so much. My first question is for you, governor. We heard that over the weekend, Dr. Burts had asked states to increase mitigation because this week and next are going to be so concerning for a surge because of Thanksgiving with hospitals seeing more and more patients. Why is the state not following that advice, or are you intending to sometime soon?
Governor Wolf: (21:59)
Well, two things. First of all, a week and a half ago, we actually did step up our mitigation efforts. But this is something we look at every day, and over the weekend, the numbers really did rise alarmingly. Whatever we end up doing, and we will make decisions soon, but whatever we do, all 13 million Pennsylvanians, we all have a shared responsibility to make this work, and whatever the state does or whatever municipality does, pales in comparison with what each of us can do by simply wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and making sure that we are not gathering together with other people when we don’t have to. So, these are the kinds of things that I think were important a week and a half, two weeks ago. They continue to be important now. As the numbers show, those things have not worked. We are continuing to look at the numbers and if we have to do more, we will.
Daveen Kurutz: (22:58)
I guess this may be better for Dr. Levine. I had a followup about the elective procedure dashboard.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (23:09)
Yes, please proceed.
Daveen Kurutz: (23:12)
Last week when we first saw this, we saw that the Keystone and the Southwest HCC, is we’re seeing some concerns with staffing and it looks like that’s getting better now. Has there been additional staffing brought in? What are we seeing that are while we’re seeing so many cases and hospitalizations going up that’s causing some of these numbers to stabilize now?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (23:33)
So, that’s the important thing about the dashboard, is that it’s supposed to trigger a response by the hospitals on a regional basis. They can get more staff, they can share staff, and so they can adapt to the number of patients that are increasing. You’re correct, last week they had both triggered that metric and this week that metric is better. But we do get reports from the hospitals on a much more granular basis, on a much more detailed basis, about all the different activities they have to do to take care of-
Dr. Levine: (24:03)
… basis about all the different activities they have to do to take care of patients in terms of having patients potentially in the hallway, about patients that have to wait in the emergency department and we get those every day. And so we can see on that report that the hospitals are strained, but they are coping. They’re doing what we asked them to do is that they are coping themselves and they’re collaborating on a regional basis to make sure that they can take care of the COVID-19 patients and the other patients. The concern is that as numbers go up, as the governor has been discussing that it could be overwhelmed anyway, and the dashboard is a way for us to monitor that.
Speaker 2: (24:41)
Next up is Katelyn Sykes from WTAE. Go ahead, Katelyn.
Katelyn Sykes: (24:46)
Hi. I also had a question about possible mitigation efforts in the state, as the cases continue to rise and hospitalizations increase, is there any talk or consideration of putting more restrictions on restaurants or any kind of business as the holiday shopping season is here or even possibly a shutdown in the state?
Governor Wolf: (25:07)
So, as I said, just a minute ago, we are looking at all kinds of things. The hope was that what we did a week and a half, two weeks ago was going to work and the numbers would not rise to the alarming levels that they’ve risen to. And so we are looking at all sorts of issues right now, and very shortly we’ll come back with more recommendations.
Katelyn Sykes: (25:32)
Speaker 2: (25:35)
Next up is Tyler Pratt from WLVR. Tyler, give me one second to unmute you and go ahead.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (25:46)
Good afternoon. My question is for Health Secretary Levine. Hi, Dr. Levine. Nice to see you. We are getting reports of family members in a household that, where someone has tested positive for COVID-19 are told to assume that they have the virus and stay in. How is the state accounting for those potential COVID numbers for people that may not be getting tested?
Dr. Levine: (26:18)
So if someone is in a household with someone who has documented COVID-19 and they are symptomatic, with symptoms of COVID-19, that’s an important distinction, then they can be considered probable cases and they don’t have to be tested. If they’re not symptomatic, they’re not, absolutely not considered, but if they have exactly the same symptoms and they’re in the same household, as someone that has COVID-19, then we can consider them probable cases. Now, remember in terms of making any specific decisions, we’re really concentrating on confirmed cases, but we do have probable cases as well.
Speaker 2: (26:56)
Next up is Mike Rubinkam from the Associated Press. Go ahead, Mike.
Mike Rubinkam: (27:07)
Hi, this question is for the governor. Governor, you painted a very dire picture of what Pennsylvania’s healthcare system is already facing and what it might be about to face. But as you said, you might be announcing new mitigation measures, but none today. So what gives you any confidence that your words today are going to move the needle in any way at all when they did not two weeks ago?
Governor Wolf: (27:36)
Actually, as I said, we’re still looking at things that we can do in addition to what we’ve already done and very shortly we’ll come up with those things. But I wanted to reemphasize today that the problem hasn’t gone away. I want to make sure that I’m as transparent as open as I can. But I also want to bring us back to the fundamental issue here, which is that each and every one of us has to take this seriously.
Governor Wolf: (28:02)
This is not going to go away no matter what the state does. It’s not going to go away if we rely solely on what municipalities do. All of us are in this together and the state needs to do whatever it can. And we will continue to do that. And if we need to do more, we will, and we’ll be making that decision very shortly. Municipalities, some have already announced, some are also considering further measures, but whatever, all of us do, municipalities, state, counties, whatever any of us do, it still comes back down to each and every one of the 13 million Pennsylvanians taking this seriously and taking every measure they can, every step they can to keep us all safe.
Speaker 2: (28:45)
Next up is Bill O’Boyle from the Wilkesboro Times Leader. Go ahead, Bill. Okay. Moving on. Jamie Bittner from Fox 43. Go ahead, Jamie.
Jamie Bittner: (29:06)
Hi. I have a two-fold question for you and I’m not sure if it’s the governor or the health secretary who might be better to answer this. But number one, I know that you said the hospitals are running low on ICU beds. Can you give us an update on ventilators and other PPE? And also number two, can you give us a little bit of an update on exactly what the data is showing as far as where people are contracting this, and if it’s happening on holiday gatherings or more businesses or gyms, sorts of businesses like that?
Governor Wolf: (29:34)
Let me turn that over to Dr. Levine.
Dr. Levine: (29:39)
Well, thank you for those questions. In terms of ventilators, the state does have a very good supply of ventilators. Our hospitals and health systems have about 4,000 or more ventilators, and then we have 1,000 or more ventilators in storage and some other types of breathing machines called BiPAP machines that we actually purchased in the spring. So we, between their stores and our stores, we’re really quite comfortable in terms of ventilator support. We are also quite comfortable at this time, at this time, in terms of personal protective equipment. Hospitals and health systems have their own stores, long-term care facilities have their stores, and we have quite robust stores in the government for Pennsylvania as the governor has alluded to before, but it’s not infinite. And if the number of hospitalizations went up high enough and lasted long enough, then there could be challenges. But right now we’re okay. And your second question again, please?
Jamie Bittner: (30:49)
I’m sorry. I needed to unmute myself there. My second question was, what is the data showing you at this point on where people are contracting it the most?
Dr. Levine: (30:59)
There is widespread community transmission throughout Pennsylvania. And so, we’ve mentioned this before that when we had 12,700 cases, new cases, on Saturday, it is impossible to do case investigations and contact tracing for that amount of people. And so we have to prioritize and we do prioritize to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. We prioritize for correctional institutions. We prioritize in schools and for seniors, but we’re not able to really get too much of the general population. So really it is everywhere. So any time that you are outside your home, there is a potential to contract COVID-19, which is why we issued a stay at home advisory approximately two weeks ago.
Dr. Levine: (31:48)
Now that risk is lessened if you wear a mask. It’s lessened if you wash your hands. It’s lessened if you social distance, but that is why we’re really asking people to avoid large gatherings, to avoid small gatherings and to do everything possible, to stay at home. Now, that’s going to mean for the holidays that are upcoming, for Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and New Year’s, that we do not want people to go out and celebrate. We do not want people to invite their friends and neighbors over to their home and have parties. And I know that that’s a sacrifice, but that’s what we have to do to stop the spread.
Speaker 2: (32:25)
Next up is Jim Melwert from KYWNewsradio. Go ahead, Jim.
Jim Melwert: (32:31)
This question, I guess, is for both of you, Governor, primarily. I don’t mean to sound like a cynic, but we’ve kind of been hearing the same message, asking people to answer the call, do the right thing, but you lay out the hospitalization rates, positivity rates, the deaths, and we see contact tracing’s lagging, only 665,000 have downloaded the app as you’re asking them to do the right thing. So the question, are we as a Commonwealth, just banging our head against the wall, hoping to get rid of a headache? Is it time to try something new or something more?
Governor Wolf: (33:03)
Yeah, well, again, we are doing all these things. And I think as I said, a week and a half, two weeks ago, we actually did announce measures. We have measures that had been in place before that. Your point is a good one, as to whether we need to do more and we’ll be making that decision in the next few days. So I think we are trying things all the time, but again, as I said, it comes back to, in addition to all those things that we can do, in addition to all those things that that municipalities can do, each and every one of us has a responsibility.
Governor Wolf: (33:43)
I don’t think it’s banging our heads against the wall. I think it’s saying, let’s recognize maybe in a way that we didn’t, that we are all in this together and we are all sharing in the responsibility. This is not just one institution or one person. So no, it’s not banging our head against the wall. I think it’s recognizing that, that maybe the understanding of this doesn’t occur all at once and everybody, we have to keep preaching this gospel, but I think it’s important that whatever solution we come up with, whatever we do here at the state, it has to be accompanied by a recognition that we are all shared, we all share responsibility for making this work.
Speaker 2: (34:29)
Next up is Flora Posteraro from PennWatch. Go ahead, Flora.
Daveen Kurutz: (34:37)
Hi, Governor. This question is for you. Restaurants and the whole hospitality industry has already been struggling and here we are in the holiday season and they’re missing out on a great deal of revenue with parties. Companies and businesses aren’t able to have their holiday parties. Is there anything that you can do or will you do on a statewide level to support these restaurants and the hospitality industry? Are there any resources available to help them survive since we’re seeing so many of them closing?
Governor Wolf: (35:10)
Yeah, well, Flora, that’s a really important point. As you know, back in, I think August, back in the summer, I was already urging the general assembly to use some of the unutilized CARES Act money that now no longer exists to actually target these businesses. The point you make is a good one. This virus really does discriminate. It hits restaurants and the hospitality industry and other businesses who catered to folks who gathered together for whatever reason. It is hardest on them. And it’s not the fault of the owners of these businesses, that it’s not their fault, that the virus actually likes the environment that these businesses create, but that does create financial issues. And I think we do, to the extent we can, I would like to find other means to help-
Governor Wolf: (36:03)
I would like to find other means to help and support, financially, the businesses that have been hit so hard by this virus. And there’s no question, as you point out, they have been hit hard. And as we move into the holiday season, that really hard hit is going to be even harder. The issue I think we all have to think about is that’s the reality. The virus is out there, whether we like it and who does like this? We all hate it, we’re all frustrated by it and fatigued by it. But this is the way the virus is. And we need to recognize that the places where that virus can do its worst damage, we’ve got to figure out a way to shut those places down, to keep them from actually allowing that virus to do what it’s doing. At the same time, we’ve got to recognize the financial burden this places on businesses and individuals who have to face this. So, your question’s a good one. And I am already working on trying to find alternative ways to find financial support. And I will continue to do that.
Speaker 2: (37:08)
Next up is Paul Gough from Pittsburgh Business Times. Go ahead, Paul.
Mike Rubinkam: (37:15)
Governor and Secretary Levine, thank you for the time. I’m wanting to talk to you, with these restrictions, if you do decide to make them, would they be regional or statewide and what’s the rationale for looking at the data in the next couple of days to decide to do so?
Governor Wolf: (37:35)
Well, as you know Paul, Rachel talked about this too, but as you know, the statistics change from day to day, that’s why we have the 14 day, seven day moving average. And you can’t make decisions based on one day or even two day, three days results. We have expected an upsurge. We, I think, had been surprised in the last few days as to the rate of increase that we’ve seen. If this continues, that’s going to call for one set of actions. If the data changes, in the next couple of days, we might have a different set of decisions to make.
Governor Wolf: (38:14)
But I’m concerned and I think all Pennsylvania should be concerned about what this means for the healthcare system. Again, I keep saying is we’re in a different situation now than we were back in the spring. Our hospitals and healthcare systems are in a much better place in terms of having an understanding of the disease. They have equipment, they have some stockpiles they didn’t have before. I think they’re doing a better job of collaborating with each other. But there’s no question that they are in dire need of some assistance from Pennsylvanians, from all of us. And if we can’t change the curve fairly quickly, then our healthcare system is going to be overwhelmed and that’s going to be bad for everybody. Secretary Levine.
Dr. Levine: (38:59)
Well, thank you governor. I would agree completely. The numbers that we were seeing at the end of last week were quite significantly increased. We were seeing at first 10,000 and then 11,000 new cases a day. And then by Saturday, almost 13,000 new cases a day. Now Sunday, Monday are always our lower days. So we’re going to see what happens over the next number of days. I think that this is due to two things. One is that the Midwest and the mountain west had seen great increases that has spread East and West. And so really where you’re seeing increases now are Michigan, Ohio, and unfortunately Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, et cetera. In addition, it’s been just about 10 days since Thanksgiving. And it looks like people certainly did travel over Thanksgiving and that there were probably more receptions and parties and dinners than we had recommended. And so we’re seeing those increases. So, we always see a decrease on Sunday, Monday, just because of the weekend. We’re going to see what the numbers are going forward this week.
Mike Rubinkam: (40:09)
One follow up, and thank you both for that, is given, in terms of the environment as it were and then the district court ruling that’s in the court of appeals from here in Pittsburgh. Does any of that have any bearing on the decisions that you make?
Dr. Levine: (40:30)
No. No. I think that we will make decisions based upon the needs of public health in Pennsylvania. And I think that certainly the law is on our side.
Speaker 2: (40:43)
Next up is Bill Kibler from Altoona Mira. Go ahead, Bill. Bill, go ahead and unmute yourself.
Bill Kibler: (40:59)
Thank you. Sorry, I didn’t realize I had to unmute myself. Are flu cases low during this flu season because of the precautions like mask wearing and social distancing for COVID-19?
Dr. Levine: (41:12)
Well, so this is really the beginning of the flu season. So, flu season starts in maybe October but primarily November into December. And then we see our peak in January and February, and then gradually it goes down in the spring. So we have not nearly seen our peak of influenza. However, the same measures that will protect you from COVID-19; wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands, avoiding gatherings will also protect you from influenza. They are different viruses, but they are both respiratory viruses and they’re spread in the same way. So, if people take the precautions that we’re talking about, it’ll protect them from the flu as well. However, as Deputy Secretary [inaudible 00:41:56] said, the best way to protect yourself from the flu is, we have a safe and effective vaccine, a flu shot that you can get almost anywhere. You can go to a pharmacy. You can go to probably a grocery store and be able to get a flu shot and you can be protected against the flu.
Speaker 2: (42:18)
Our last question is from Sam Ruland from the York Daily Record. Sam, go ahead and unmute yourself.
Sam Ruland: (42:29)
Hello. My question is, and this might be for Governor Wolf and Dr. Levine, is just as Governor Wolf said today, how the situation is much dire than two weeks ago. I know Dr. Levine, you’ve been saying how there are no plans to go back to this red, yellow, green way of closing and opening things down. But as we see other states implementing lockdowns, and since we are saying that it is more dire now, is there any reconsiderations for that? And what are those benchmarks where it would reach a point, what would be the benchmark to have to go back to that sort of thing? Is there such that exist?
Governor Wolf: (43:10)
Let me answer then I’ll turn it over to Dr. Levine. What I’ve been saying all along is we are doing everything in our power to avoid going back to where we were in March and April. I think the red, yellow, green, it was a blunt instrument and it was something we had to do back then because we needed to buy time to make sure that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed. There was no vaccine on the horizon at that point. We didn’t know much at all about COVID-19. We didn’t know what we needed to do to treat it. And we really were not even clear on things as fundamental as masking, at that point. We know a lot more about the disease and the virus, the vaccine is on the horizon. So the time is different right now.
Governor Wolf: (43:55)
And the blunt instruments that we had to use to buy time back in March and April, we don’t need anymore. We can be much more targeted. So I don’t see the red, yellow, green as even being appropriate at this point. What other States are doing are targeted and focused mitigation efforts that are very decisive. We’ve done some of those things. And if we have to do more again, we’ll be considering those things over the coming days. But right now, I think we have in place the key things we need to do. We’ll be continuing to look at this and in the next few days have something to share with you. Dr. Levine.
Dr. Levine: (44:42)
Thank you, governor. I don’t have that much more to add, except it to contrast with the spring. At our highest, we had approximately 2000 cases, just under 2000 cases a day. And on Saturday we 12,700 new cases a day. This is the fall resurgence and now going into winter that we had discussed, and a lot of this is due to the change in the weather. As we’ve noticed, the weather is getting colder and darker and people are more inside and that always spreads respiratory viruses more completely.
Sam Ruland: (45:15)
Speaker 2: (45:19)
Thank you, secretary, governor, and Deputy Secretary [inaudible 00:09:21]. A recording of this press conference will be available on PAcast.com. Thank you very much.