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Masks can help stop COVID-19 spread, says Gov. Wolf and Sec. of Health, Dr. Levine. Source: governor.pa.gov

Harrisburg, Pa. -- Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine took to the podium Monday to address the current upward trend of COVID-19 cases in the state, specifically in the age group of 19- to 24-year-olds.  

The health secretary reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in the northcentral region of the state for individuals 19-24 was seven percent back in April 2020. Now in September in that same demographic, the percent positive rate has risen to 69%.

In the northeast, six percent of people in the 19-24 age range tested positive in April, compared to 40% now in September.

The significant difference, said Dr. Levine, is that colleges and universities are back in session. These institutions will have the ability to change the trajectory of the virus, noted Dr. Levine. 

Additionaly, the Dept. of Health reported rises in other regions of the state:

  • Southeast: nearly five percent of cases in April to nearly 33 percent of cases so far in September
  • Southwest: approximately five percent of cases in April to nearly 30 percent of cases so far in September
  • Northwest: nearly seven percent of cases in April to nearly 20 percent of cases so far in September
  • Southcentral: approximately seven percent of cases in April to nearly 18 percent of cases so far in September

Decisions for remaining open for in-person instruction continue to be at each institution's discretion, and the health secretary did not advocate immediately sending all students home, which could lead to further community spread, she said.

The Wolf Administration and Dept. of Health continue to assert that containment and mitigation efforts are key to containing the spread of COVID-19.

"We continue to work to contain the virus," said Dr. Levine, through increased testing, through having those who test positive quarantine, performing contact tracing, and having those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive quarantine.

Mitigation, the health secretary asserted, was another important element. "First globally," she said, as in March when the state moved toward total shut-down, "then targeted," with recent specific mitigation efforts on restaurants and bars, required to operate at 25% capacity, and on Sept. 21, moving to 50% capacity, but mandating the sale of alcohol end at 10 p.m.

Related reading: Gov. Wolf: Restaurants may increase indoor occupancy to 50 percent beginning Sept. 21

Those mandates are now in question as a federal judge ruled that Gov. Wolf's shutdown orders were unconstitutional. 

In May, when four Pennsylvania counties–Butler, Washington, Fayette, and Greene–were in the "red" phase of reopening, they joined forces with a group of Republican state legislators to file a lawsuit against Gov. Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine. 

The lawsuit alleged that restrictions placed on businesses violated and limits on large gatherings violated constitutional rights of individuals. 

The U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV, who was appointed by President Trump, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs deciding that the pandemic policies of Governor Wolf and his administration were an overreach of power and violated the constitutional rights of citizens. 

Related reading: Federal Judge rules Gov. Wolf's shutdown orders were unconstitutional

On Monday, Dr. Levine responded, saying, "I'm not an attorney, my opinion is not the issue. We have received the opinion, and our attorneys are reviewing the ruling." She further declined to comment about the ruling.

The Wolf Administration plans to seek a stay of the decision, according to a report by PennLive, and file an appeal. In the meantime, Gov. Wolf said he wants the coronavirus orders to remain in place during his appeal.