IVYLAND >> Bucks County officials on March 19 disclosed that residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are distributed among eight municipalities in the county.
Buckingham, Doylestown, Lower Makefield, Northampton, Upper Makefield, Upper Southampton, Warminster and Warrington townships have had at least one resident counted among the 14 coronavirus cases. A map showing the municipalities on the county’s data portal https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com/ will be updated as new cases arise.
Anyone living in a municipality with a COVID-19 case shouldn’t panic, said Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker, while those in municipalities showing no positive cases yet “shouldn’t be celebrating that there’s no cases in your municipality, because that’s probably not true.”
With signs of community spread beginning to appear in Bucks County, Damsker said, the map will “show, with community spread, how it slowly will affect all municipalities. So as long as everyone looks at it with an understanding of why we’re doing it, it can be a successful tool.”
The county’s current total reflected two new confirmed cases of COVID-19, Damsker said at a briefing on Thursday afternoon. The two new cases involve the first child known to be infected in the county, and an adult who works out of state.
Only one of Bucks County’s cases has required the patient to be hospitalized; the others have been isolated at their homes.
“We are starting to see potentially our first indications of some community spread,” Damsker said. “We know that Montgomery County has declared community spread there, and so we know it’s just a matter of time before we start to have it here.”
Investigation into a couple of recent cases announced before March 19 has failed so far to determine the source of infection.
“We’re still looking, but our initial indications are that we may not find any,” Damsker said.
Damsker said that in a case confirmed on Wednesday (March 18), a thorough contact trace was conducted, and there was no sign that the patient had traveled outside of the county or had contact with another person who was infected.
“Given what’s been going on in [Montgomery] County … we are definitely moving our way there,” Damsker said of community spread. “I think anyone would be silly to think it’s not going to happen in Bucks County also.”
Damsker said that only one person in the county’s 14 cases has experienced serious symptoms, and that some of the earlier patients are already well and out of isolation. “They’re doing just fine,” he said.
Multiple commercial labs are expected to offer expanded testing in the near future, Damsker said, and with more testing will come more cases. He predicted that most of the new cases resulting from additional private testing would be people with mild symptoms who recover quickly.
He urged healthy residents to limit their social interaction within reason, and warned anyone who is sick to stay away from other people. He said the people who are testing positive now were infected before current social distancing precautions began.
“We’re not going to see the effects of what we’re doing now for a week or two,” he said. “What we’re doing has never been done before. What we’re doing is going to work to a large degree because people are staying home. People still go out to do some things, but it’s still different from the normal functioning of our society.”
Emergency Services Director Scott T. Forster said he continues to monitor and discuss staffing plans and to help obtain necessary supplies for hospitals, other healthcare facilities, public health workers and public safety employees, among others.
“We are working well on how we are going to handle an influx of patients, if need be, to those care facilities,” Forster said. “Those plans are well under way and those actions are well under way.”
Montgomery County announced on Wednesday that it is discontinuing most contact tracing efforts as it moves into a community spread model of isolating confirmed cases and quarantining those with whom they live.
County Commissioners’ Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia urged residents to go to the county’s COVID-19 data portal for information about how to talk to children about the crisis and where to seek help for emotional stress, mental health issues, or addiction issues. The county government is “technically open,” she added, but is requiring members of the public to make appointments before coming to county buildings for necessary business, to help maintain social distancing.
Commissioner Bob Harvie said state and federal officials are weighing steps to ease the suffering of business owners and workers whose livelihoods are grinding to a temporary halt. He said local agencies that deal with economic and workforce development have been discussing ways of helping both groups get through the crisis.
Harvie said Bucks County has roughly 28,000 jobs tied to hospitality services – among the hardest-hit industries – while other companies such as supermarkets are seeking additional workers to help them stay open. The county’s consumer protection department is investigating reports of price gouging for possible referral to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
“Hopefully we are past the stage where people are hoarding,” Harvie said. “We had a wave of that, and are hoping that people now are beginning to settle in a little bit and resist that.”
Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo said his 92-year-old mother, while in relatively good health, “has not gone out of the house for two weeks,” and is allowed very few visitors for fear of infection. He called on residents to be similarly vigilant in protecting the elderly, who are most vulnerable to severe symptoms and death from COVID-19.
DiGirolamo also cautioned against panic and irrational responses to the coronavirus threat. “There’s no need to go out and … take all your money out of the bank or buy 50 cases of toilet paper,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Pennsylvania currently has 206 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in one death to date.