Pottstown Mercury: Montco officials see evidence of 'community spread' of coronavirus

EAGLEVILLE — As Montgomery County officials continue to see an increase in positive cases of coronavirus, including a second child, officials say they are moving to a “community spread model” for monitoring the outbreak.

“We continue to have a very rapidly evolving situation here in Montgomery County. At the direction of the Pennsylvania Department of Health we are moving to a community spread model in our case tracking,” county Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh revealed Wednesday during a daily news briefing, adding officials will no longer be reporting “contact tracing” or presumed route of exposure for those who test positive for COVID-19.

“I want to emphasize that this shift is not unexpected and is consistent with the progression of a highly communicable disease like COVID-19,” added Arkoosh, who was joined at the news conference by fellow commissioners Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. and Joseph C. Gale.

In the past, officials conducted contact tracing for those who tested positive, trying to determine who they previously had been in contact with and then called on those individuals who had direct contact with the positive person to go into quarantine.

“We will not be doing that contact tracing any longer because we’re at a point there’s enough positive cases in the community. We have enough people in quarantine and we have enough cases now, five or six, that we cannot trace back where they got their exposure to the coronavirus, that we are assuming that there is community spread, meaning they might get it just from normal activity,” Arkoosh explained.

That’s why, Arkoosh said, officials have been emphasizing critical mitigation measures like social distancing and “staying home.”

Montgomery County is believed to be the first county in the region to shift to the community spread model.

“We continue to be the place with the most cases and as far as I know the only place definitely seeing evidence of community spread, but I can’t speak for any of the other counties,” Arkoosh said.

County officials on Wednesday announced eight new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 42.

The county continued to outpace other counties in the state in the number of cases. Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were a total of 133 confirmed cases as of noon on Wednesday. The health department also reported on Wednesday the first death in Pennsylvania from COVID-19, a Northampton County adult.

Neighboring Delaware County reported 14 cases and Bucks and Chester counties each reported nine cases. For the first time, Berks County reported one case. Lehigh County previously reported one case and Philadelphia has reported 17 cases of COVID-19, according to state health officials.

State officials said as the volume of test results continue to increase their reporting has shifted to a daily update at noon based on results reported to the health department by midnight.

The new cases reported in Montgomery County on Wednesday include the county’s second positive pediatric case, a 1-year-old Royersford boy, who is hospitalized, officials said. Several days ago, officials said a 2-year-old New Hanover girl tested positive for COVID-19 and was at home being monitored.

Other new positive cases include a 51-year-old Lower Pottsgrove man and a 59-year-old Montgomery Township man who are currently hospitalized.

The remaining new cases include a 67-year-old Lower Providence man, a 46-year-old Lower Merion woman, a 44-year-old Perkiomen woman, a 57-year-old Lower Merion woman and a 35-year-old Springfield man whose symptoms do not require hospitalization and are currently at home being monitored, Arkoosh said.

Arkoosh continued to reinforce the “social distancing and mitigation measures” recommended by health officials to help prevent the spread of the virus. To emphasize the importance of those measures the commissioners pointed to statistics regarding the number of those who are quarantined as a result of the contact tracing that previously was conducted on those who tested positive.

According to Arkoosh, on March 13 there were 229 people in quarantine in the county. That number increased to 512 county residents in quarantine on Wednesday.

Because county officials have now changed to a community spread model, they drafted a new set of guidelines explaining how long people need to remain in isolation or in quarantine at home after they test positive for the virus. A graph outlining those new guidelines can be found at the county’s website.

“There’s not been widespread access to testing for COVID-19 in Montgomery County. We’ve been working closely with our local, state and federal partners to fill this gap and increase testing availability,” said Arkoosh, revealing the previously announced drive-thru testing site will be in Upper Dublin in coordination with Temple University’s Ambler campus. “We will be releasing additional details as soon as they are confirmed.”

Arkoosh emphasized “we have a list of critical workforce personnel, including first responders, that will be tested first” once the site opens.

“We will, with plenty of notice, get instructions out for what will come after that,” Arkoosh said.

The commissioners were joined at the news conference by Dr. Alvin Wang, regional EMS medical director, and Dr. Brenda Weis, administrator of the Office of Public Health.

“This is hard for all of us but we know that it’s harder for some than most. So we continue to have volunteer opportunities on our website for people who want to help out,” Lawrence said.

Additional information about the coronavirus outbreak and available services can be found at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19

Lawrence added county Voter Services is open but not for in-person visits.

“They will take phone calls and emails,” Lawrence said, adding online registration is in operation, and he encouraged all voters to register or to apply to vote by mail at www.votespa.com.

https://www.pottsmerc.com/news/montco-officials-see-evidence-of-community-spread-of-coronavirus/article_329b7058-695f-11ea-97ff-2771c3710aa1.html

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