May 26, 2020
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 26
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf held a coronavirus press conference on Tuesday, May 26. Read his full news briefing speech here.
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Tom Wolf: (00:29)
Thank you all for joining me today. This Memorial Day was a very solemn day, solemn occasion. And the slowdown of our usual hectic lives caused by COVID-19 allowed me to spend yesterday really thinking about the women and men who gave their lives serving in our armed forces. While I know Memorial Day is truly about honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, I also want to take this opportunity to make note of the great work being done right now by our National Guard members. Right now we have women and men in our National Guard supporting us in our efforts to halt COVID-19. Some have assisted at testing sites. Some have provided support at longterm care facilities and some have served in other ways. So I personally want to thank our National Guard members and their families for their work especially during these trying times. Just like other families across the Commonwealth, military families are facing new challenges. Some of these military families are overcoming these challenges while coping with one parent being away from home due to a deployment to a COVID-19 site. That’s really showing the strength of these dedicated courageous Pennsylvanians. So if you know someone serving in the National Guard, whether they’re deployed right now or have served us in another way, please reach out to them and let them know how grateful you are for everything they’ve done. We meanwhile are continuing to make progress in our fight against COVID-19. Our case count continues to trend downwards. We’ve increased our testing capacity from just over 50,000 the last week of April to nearly 80,000 last week. And we now have testing at over 300 locations across the state in almost every County. We’ve increased our contact tracing capacity. We went from tracing 433 people on May 14th to tracing close to 1700 as of today. Those contact tracing amounts do not include the work being done by the County and Municipal Health Departments.
Tom Wolf: (02:34)
Because of our collective commitment to actions that reduce COVID-19 spread, several counties will be moving into the green phase on Friday. And every County, including those that saw the highest infection rates will soon be able to move into the yellow phase. And while we’re continuing to ramp up testing and contact tracing across the state to help ensure we can identify cases and eliminate outbreaks even as we reopen the economy, but we’re able to make this progress towards safely reopening our economy only because people like you are taking precautions and keeping yourselves and your community safe. Whether it’s a person wearing a mask or a business changing their operations to protect employees and customers. So I thank each and every one of you for doing your part. And on that note I’m going to turn things over to Secretary Dr. Levine for today’s update. Dr. Levine.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (03:34)
Thank you governor. Good morning. Here is our latest update on COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. As of 12:00 AM this morning we have 451 new cases of COVID-19. This now brings our statewide total to 68,637 Pennsylvanians who have tested positive for COVID-19 in all 67 counties. This includes 5,159 positive cases in healthcare workers, and 14,857 positive cases among residents of 594 longterm care living facilities which include nursing homes and personal care homes. It also includes 2,558 positive cases in the food industry at 177 facilities. Tragically 5,152 deaths have been attributed in Pennsylvania to COVID-19. We continue to see a decline in cases statewide as the governor said, which is very good news for Pennsylvania. Regionally, we are seeing some fluctuation of case counts but overall, they continue to trend downward. This is especially encouraging considering that we have increased our testing capabilities as the governor has mentioned. Statewide, we are now estimating that 61% of people with COVID-19 have recovered.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (05:12)
COVID-19 is a new virus. It is a novel or new coronavirus that we are learning more about every day. When the virus was first identified, reports from other countries demonstrated that COVID-19 did not seem to significantly impact children the way it impacted adults. In fact most of the cases in Pennsylvania are in adults 25 years or older. When we did see cases in children, most were mild, moderate or even asymptomatic. Even though this is still true, the CDC now is reporting that some children are developing a new serious condition as a complication of COVID-19. The CDC is calling this condition M-I-S-C or Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. This condition is very similar to a condition called Kawasaki’s disease, another inflammatory disease that can impact children. Symptoms of MISC include persistent fever, often a high fever, a rash or change in skin color, swollen lymph nodes, red eyes or conjunctivitis and abdominal pain.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (06:34)
I want to emphasize that there is rather limited information about this condition. We do not know if it is specific to children or if it could also occur in adults. We also do not know the specific risk factors or how it is transmitted. This is why it is important for parents to be aware of the symptoms of this condition. If you notice any symptoms in your child please contact your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider who will be able to guide you on what to do next. We are working with our great children’s hospitals and our major pediatric centers to gather case information using a standardized form that’s provided by the CDC.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (07:18)
Currently, we are aware of 17 reports of MISC in Pennsylvania. Nine of those are now confirmed. Two have been determined to actually not to be a case. And the remaining six are under investigation. There are developing treatment protocols being developed for those very ill children. It is important to remember that this is an evolving and changing situation. And as more information on this new condition becomes available, we will work to provide updates as that information comes in. We have done great work as a Commonwealth to combat this enemy COVID-19.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (08:02)
We still need to be very careful as we continue to go from the red zones to the yellow zones, and then to the green zones. As we come back together, we have to remain aware that COVID-19 is still a risk. We have done great work together under the governor’s leadership. And I know that we will continue to work together to combat COVID-19. Now, here are my daily reminders. Please wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbows, not with your hands. And try not to touch your face, especially after touching surfaces. Clean surfaces frequently. If you have to go out for activities, please wear a mask if you’re going to come into contact with others. If you have questions about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (09:04)
If you need mental health resources, because you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact the crisis text line by texting PA to 741-741, or call the statewide support and referral helpline at 1-855-284-2494. Again 1- 855-284-2494. If you or someone you care about needs help with a substance use disorder, please call the Department of Drug and Alcohol program’s Get Help Now hotline at 1-800-662-help. Again, 1-800-662-help. For the most reliable information related to Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19, please visit our website at health.pa.gov. And what is most important for Pennsylvanians to remember is please stay calm, stay home, and stay safe. And now the governor and I are pleased to answer questions.
Speaker 2: (10:14)
Thank you, Secretary. From WTAE and CBS, three questions about Memorial Day weekend and the large gatherings. What’s your reaction to the crowds of people gathering over the holiday weekend, not social distancing or wearing masks? And should those people self-quarantine for two weeks?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (10:31)
It would not be indicated to self-quarantine. There are different indications for that, but I would express concern about those individuals. As we’ve been saying, there is still community spread of COVID-19. And if people are in large gatherings that they’re not social distancing, staying six feet apart, not maybe perhaps washing their hands as much as they should or using hand sanitizer, and not wearing masks, then I would be concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in those individuals.
Speaker 2: (11:00)
And from Fox 56, cases arising in some states, do you expect to see a rise in Pennsylvania after Memorial Day weekend?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (11:09)
Well, so we have had the reports that you mentioned of people not practicing social distancing, but the governor has mentioned many times, and of course I agree, that the people in Pennsylvania want to do the right thing. And the right thing right now is that if you go out to wear a mask, to practice social distancing, to wash your hands, to use hand sanitizer. And I believe that most people in Pennsylvania did that. We will, of course, be very vigilant for any potential outbreaks in the commonwealth.
Speaker 2: (11:37)
From WTAE, on Friday, we’ll see the first counties in Pennsylvania moved to the green phase. Do you have any updated information or guidance for counties moving into that phase?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (11:47)
So there’s some broad guidance on the governor’s website, and there’ll be more specific guidance being put out early this week.
Speaker 2: (11:54)
And from WKOK, a listener asks why the numbers in Northumberland County have skyrocketed, and is it impossible to track cases online at the portal? For example, the numbers increased by 10 yesterday, and the listener sees one more in Sunbury and one more in Shamokin. Is it in redacted, but for probable cases?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (12:14)
I don’t have specific granular information about that, but our team can do a deep dive, and then get back to the reporter.
Speaker 2: (12:20)
And also from WKOK, the department told us that it was concerned about spikes in Union and Northumberland counties, which is why they aren’t going green this week. Any improvement so far?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (12:31)
Again, I don’t have those counties’ numbers in front of me today, but we are reporting that on our website, in terms of our daily reports. And our teams will be looking at all of those areas closely.
Speaker 2: (12:43)
From WTAE and WJAL, questions about large gatherings. In what phase will they be allowed, such as a weddings, and also, what do you expect those to look like?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (12:55)
Well, so again, there’ll be more guidance on the website this week, in terms of a life in the green zone, so to speak, and in terms of gatherings. We are not going to recommend very large gatherings, however. Certainly not gatherings at large events, such as something like a large concert or something like that. And we do want people to continue to practice social distancing as much as they possibly can. We want people to where masks, even in the green zone. We want people to be able to continue to wash their hands, continue to use hand sanitizer, and continue to be vigilant for the potential spread of COVID-19.
Speaker 2: (13:32)
From WKOK, what did you make of the letter that alleges hospitals are rationing N95 masks? What changes, if any, might the department make to guidelines that were given to hospitals about reusing masks? And is it true that the department, according to the Department of General Services, the state appropriated nearly 58 million in emergency spending for personal protective equipment, medical supplies and hand sanitizer since March 4th, mostly for distribution to health systems, first responders, and care facilities?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (14:03)
I don’t have specific information about the letter, but we certainly want the hospitals and health systems to follow our guidance regarding N95 masks. That includes guidance in terms of the availability of personal protective equipment, if they are doing elective procedures. And so we’ll be working closely with the hospitals and the health systems, as well as the hospital association to make sure that they are following our guidelines and rules.
Speaker 2: (14:32)
And then WKOK, just to follow up on the last part of that, is it true that according to the department of general services, the state approved nearly 58 million in emergency spending for personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and hand sanitizers since March 4th, mostly for distributions to health systems, first responders, and care facilities, and that it has secured only 14.5 million worth of the ordered supplies? Can you explain why much has not been secured?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (15:00)
Well, I don’t have specific information regarding the amounts. I know that the Department of General Services has been looking really everywhere in Pennsylvania, everywhere in the United States, and throughout the world, to be able to purchase personal protective equipment for use by healthcare personnel in Pennsylvania, in hospitals, in longterm care facilities. Much of that is very, very hard to find because it’s a global pandemic. And I know they’ll be continuing to work to be able to get whatever equipment we can to supplement what we get from the federal government.
Speaker 2: (15:34)
Thank you, Secretary. Our next questions are for the governor. Governor from PA Post, now that Dauphin County is scheduled to go to yellow on Friday, will state agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction begin processing Right-to-Know requests again? And will you host in-person news conferences?
Tom Wolf: (15:55)
Two questions. The first, the Right-to-Know, we are going to do whatever we can to-
Tom Wolf: (16:02)
…make sure that the right to know requests are acted upon. Again, as we move into the yellow, we have a lot of employees, state employees, who will continue to telework, which makes the right to know request somewhat more problematical, but we will work on that and do that. In terms of in person press conferences, this room we’ve already laid out. The hope is that our first press conference live with reporters in the room will be on Friday.
Speaker 4: (16:33)
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, Governor Phil Murphy today announced graduation ceremonies could be held starting July 6th, as long as they’re outdoors with social distancing in place. When can such ceremonies safely be held in Pennsylvania?
Tom Wolf: (16:47)
Yeah. Again, as Dr. Levine said, the guidelines as we become more specific, especially in the green areas, but also in the yellow, have certain numbers of people beyond which we don’t think it’s really safe. Social distancing is always going to be important. Wearing a mask is always going to be important, but I think there ought to be limits in terms of how many people actually come together in any one event. I don’t know what New Jersey is doing or what Governor Murphy has done in that regard, but in Pennsylvania, I think what we’re trying to do is say, this is not about the regulation. This is about staying safe. Whatever you do as a Pennsylvanian in whatever context, you want to do everything you can to avoid infecting somebody else with this disease.
Speaker 4: (17:35)
From Philly Sports Network, today New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that professional sports teams in New Jersey may return to training and even game action. Where do you stand on professional sports teams in the state of Pennsylvania?
Tom Wolf: (17:49)
Yeah. We have been working over the last few weeks with professional and amateur sports teams to try to figure out what the guidelines ought to be again to keep players and to keep citizens safe, and that’s what we are trying to do. We continue to work in a very, I think, constructive way with these sports organizations to figure out how we can do that.
Speaker 4: (18:11)
From ABC 27, Governor, it seems the budget will be broken into phases, a five month budget, then a seven month budget. Can you tell us how it’s going to work and why we need to do it that way?
Tom Wolf: (18:23)
Well, we are continuing to work and the hope is we are moving with the General Assembly in a fairly good order here to get to a budget. I think all of us are struggling to know exactly what the financial situation is going to look like over the course of the whole next fiscal year. We are going to do, I know, some unusual things. The budget isn’t finished yet. The General Assembly and my administration, we’re still working on it. I think we’re, as I say, doing that in a very constructive way. I hope that we get to a conclusion fairly quickly, but it will be a conclusion that takes into account the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in.
Speaker 4: (19:06)
And then from Penn Live on this topic, was your decision to go along with this tied to an agreement to guarantee education budget lines would not be cut in 2021?
Speaker 5: (19:16)
For budget year 2021.
Tom Wolf: (19:18)
No, that was not part of any deal. We were looking at, again, the constraints were all the General Assembly and the administration are operating under and trying to understand what the next fiscal year is going to look like given the uncertainties that we find ourselves in right now. We don’t even know what the federal government’s contribution is going to be to states, if any more beyond the Care Act. There’s just a lot of unknowns, and I think we’re all struggling to figure out what the best way for us to move forward in a budgeting sense.
Speaker 4: (19:50)
One more question on the budget from CBS 21. What do you want to see? I’m sorry. What do you want to see in an appropriation bill from the General Assembly?
Tom Wolf: (20:00)
Again, want to see what I think we’re seeing in that is working together in a cooperative way to get to a point where we do the best we can to support the services, the things we need to support as a government here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, recognize that all the uncertainties that are out there in this world, that we’re in right now.
Speaker 4: (20:20)
From Statecollege.com, the Center County Commissioners today agree to ask you to move Centre County to green on May 29th as you had originally planned, instead of delaying it by week as they have requested last week. Will you grant Centre County’s request to move to green this week?
Tom Wolf: (20:36)
Speaker 4: (20:39)
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, the state put out new information Friday on the green phase, restaurants, salons, and gyms, entertainment can only operate at 50% capacity. How and when did you decide on that number, and how will these limits be enforced?
Tom Wolf: (20:54)
Well, we’re working with say the American restaurant and lodging, Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association to establish guidelines, and we should have those in a clear format later this week. But again, in this, as in everything else, what we’re trying to do is lay out guidelines to keep people safe. Ultimately, what’s going to work is not enforcement. What’s going to work is each and every individual Pennsylvanian, each and every business owner doing everything they can to protect their employees and their customers and protect each other from this disease, which is an infectious disease that can be very, very deadly. We want to protect Pennsylvanians, and the best way to do that is to get Pennsylvanians to do that themselves.
Speaker 4: (21:42)
From Penn Live, have you given the green light for the Pocono Raceway to hold its races next month, or is that still a subject of negotiation?
Tom Wolf: (21:51)
Again, we’re not negotiating. We’re actually working with them and other sports organizations to make sure that the guidelines are there to keep their competitors, the people who work around the Pocono Raceway safe. That’s pure and simple what we’re trying to do. Every conversation we had is in that vein. It’s not a matter of who’s going to enforce what. It’s a matter of, what can we do to best protect the lives of Pennsylvanians.
Speaker 4: (22:22)
Our next set of questions is for a secretary.
Speaker 4: (22:28)
Secretary, from WTA, as more and more places, start to open up the WHO is already warning about a second peak for places that reopened too soon. How has this warning for a second wave being factored into the reopening plans?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (22:44)
Well, we will see in terms of how the counties go from red to yellow, which will be by the end of next week, and then counties go from yellow to green. We’ll be watching very carefully our numbers as we’ve been discussing during the day and each on a county level. We’ll be doing our increased testing. We’re going to be doing our contact tracing, and watching for any outbreaks. We’ll be placing people into isolation and quarantine when necessary, and we’ll do whatever we can to prevent any significant spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, as we do our phase reopening.
Speaker 4: (23:27)
From Public Source, is there a circumstance under which a longterm care facility is not listed?
Speaker 5: (23:34)
I believe this is in reference-
Speaker 4: (23:35)
Reference to the list that’s on the website of the data surrounding longterm care facility.
Dr. Rachel Levine: (23:41)
We have our nursing homes, we have personal care homes listed. We have others like assisted living facilities. I don’t believe so. If there is one, let us know and we’ll make sure it gets listed.
Speaker 4: (23:54)
From WQKY, do you have a timetable on when testing of staff and residents in longterm care facilities will begin?
Dr. Rachel Levine: (24:03)
That has begun. That began several weeks ago. We had done some pilot testing before we actually announced our testing plan. And that testing is going on as we speak. So we are looking and working towards testing every staff member and every patient in these facilities to be able to detect asymptomatic individuals and then place them in isolation and others into quarantine. So we can work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these vulnerable facilities.
Speaker 7: (24:33)
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, “On Friday, you said the 50 per 100,000 metric was no longer as important as it once was. Can you elaborate on how and when that metric became less important and any specific improvements in other metrics?”
Dr. Rachel Levine: (24:49)
So over the last week we have, as the governor has subscribed, we have significantly been able to increase our testing. And so as we increase our testing, we’re going to be picking up more and more people with COVID-19. That makes an incidence rate such as the metric of 50 per hundred thousand less useful to us as a measure of what counties can go from red to yellow, and then go from yellow to green. So it’s really been in the last week or so that we have said that that metric is not as relevant as it used to be. We are looking at many other models and we have the phased, the trajectory animations that are on our website. We have the Carnegie Mellon data and information on our website. We also have been looking at models, particularly from Children’s Hospital Philadelphia and their policy lab. A lot of different models and metrics that we’re looking at in order to make decisions. One, for counties now to go from yellow to green and inform the governor’s decision to announce that all counties could go to yellow by the end of next week.
Speaker 7: (25:57)
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, “What exact parameters does a yellow county have to meet before going green? And how specifically will they be closely monitored for the risk associated with transitioning to the green phase?”
Dr. Rachel Levine: (26:10)
So those counties need to have a continual decreasing rate of COVID-19 while they were yellow. And if that is continuing, it has to go on for at least two weeks could be longer, but at least two weeks since the incubation period is two weeks. And if they have continued decreasing rate of infection, then they’ll be considered to go to green. If there’s questions about that, then we’ll hold them at yellow and continue to watch those parameters.
Speaker 7: (26:39)
From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “What can you tell us about the state’s excess deaths so far this year? Do we have a sense yet of how many other possible COVID-19 deaths there have been that were not recorded because of the deceased was never tested for the virus?”
Dr. Rachel Levine: (26:55)
So we’re looking at the excess death rate. We have seen that in some other states. And so we’re looking at that metric and our data to see if that would be something useful for us to publish. So we’ll be considering that.
Speaker 7: (27:10)
Also from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Has the state found any evidence of problems that led to outbreaks in multiple homes owned by the same companies, anything that was being done across a network of nursing homes that played a role in outbreaks in those nursing homes?”
Dr. Rachel Levine: (27:25)
Not specifically, but we have put out on our website last week, the actions taken in terms of violations of our regulations in terms of nursing homes. We continue to work with nursing homes really closely, but we’ll hold them accountable for any infractions.
Speaker 7: (27:46)
And then from the Tribune Review, “Why is the state not including negative antibody tests in its reporting, even though it’s including the positive antibody results in the case count? Without knowing how many negatives were antibody tests, isn’t the state lacking transparency about its capacity to perform diagnostic testing for the virus, which is among the measures the state is looking for as we move towards reopening?”
Dr. Rachel Levine: (28:09)
Well, it’s important to remember that the antibody testing is not best used as a diagnostic test. We are placing the positive tests in a probable positive category. And again, none of the probable positives are considered when we make any decisions, only the confirmed cases. We are being as transparent as we possibly can. We’re continuing to add new data and new analysis to our website. That’s an interesting idea about including the negative antibody tests. We’ll discuss it.
Speaker 7: (28:39)
Thank you, secretary. Our next set of questions is for the governor. Governor, from WGAL, “Regarding elections, is Pennsylvania equipped to handle all the mail in ballot election officials are going to receive? Counties have expressed concerns about the new system, handling them all, particularly in the fall election.”
Tom Wolf: (29:01)
Yeah, I think that that’s a legitimate concern. So the state, we have gotten money together to make available to counties who are going to be counting these mail in ballots. Again, the hope is that, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, this is going to be a better, healthier way to actually exercise the vote than voting in person. But to the extent more people vote by mail that will also reduce the pressure and the financial cost of operating personal in-person voting location. So the hope is that that while there’s definitely going to be an increase in costs for a vote by mail over what it used to be vote by mail. Now there’ll be a reduced cost in in-person voting.
Speaker 7: (29:50)
And our last question is from WTAE. “The primary election is one week from today. Do you have a message voters who may be heading out to the polls next Tuesday?”
Tom Wolf: (30:01)
Yeah, actually just as important as today, which is the deadline for applying for, I think vote by mail. So please consider your health and consider the utility of actually applying for a vote by mail. Vote at home. And then when it comes in your ballot, vote from home.
Speaker 7: (30:25)
Thank you, governor that’s all the time we have today. For any reporters whose questions we were not able to get to, we will respond within 24 hours. Thank you so much. That concludes our briefing.