HARRISBURG — The Wolf administration is focusing on getting people vaccinated to slow the spread of the COVID virus and doesn’t have any plans to reinstate mask mandates.
This comes after the CDC announced people who live in areas of substantial or high levels of community transmission of COVID-19 should resume wearing masks indoors. Only six of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have significant or high levels of transmission, but Acting Physician General Denise Johnson said that the state is starting to see a resurgence of cases because too many people have refused to get vaccinated.
“People have the ability, each individual to make the decision to get a vaccine,” Wolf said. “If they do, that’s the protection.”
Wolf’s comments came just before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course last week on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in areas of substantial or high levels of transmission.
In Pennsylvania, Cameron County has a high level of community transmission of coronavirus and Adams, Crawford, Lawrence, Northampton and Wyoming counties have substantial community transmission according to data from the week of July 21-27.
Nationally, just under 50 percent of counties have high levels of community transmission based on CDC standards and 16.7 percent of counties across the country have substantial spread.
“Substantial” transmission is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between 8 percent and 10 percent, and “high” transmission is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10 percent or higher.
Statewide, the percent positivity for the week of July 16 – July 22 stood at 2.8 percent.
In Cameron County, the percent positivity rate was 10.71 percent. Cameron County only had 28 people tested for COVID, meaning that the positivity rate was the result of three positive tests, according to the CDC data.
Among the counties with substantial community transmission — Adams County had 52.4 cases per 100,000 people; Crawford County’s percent positivity was 9.32 percent; Lawrence County had 59.64 cases per 100,000 residents; Northampton County had 55 cases of COVID per 100,000 residents; and Wyoming County had substantial transmission based on both measures with 67.18 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 8.48 percent.
The Department of Health reported 1,088 new COVID cases on Thursday, the highest single day total in two months.
That resurgence of the virus is emerging because “we have a reservoir of people who are not vaccinated,” Johnson said.
Maggi Barton, a Department of Health spokeswoman, said that public health data shows that areas with higher vaccination rates are seeing lower new COVID case counts.
“We cannot stress enough the importance of eligible Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated to stop the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
Earlier this month, the CDC had also called for universal masking in schools in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The state Department of Education and Department of Health have left it up to local school officials to decide whether to require masks or not.
Thursday, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said state officials are “strongly urging” people to follow the CDC guidelines. Beam said earlier this week that state officials are encouraging all students to 12-and-over to get vaccinated.
“There are safe and effective vaccines available to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As students look forward to returning to classes, getting a vaccine should be considered an essential back-to-school item on this year’s list,” Beam said.
In March, the state offered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine to school staff, immunizing almost 112,000 school workers.
Even so, the Pennsylvania State Education Association has been urging local school districts to require universal masking to slow the spread of the virus, said Chris Lilienthal, a PSEA spokesman.
“Masking up at school is essential in the face of the surging Delta variant that affects young people more aggressively than the original strain of the virus. It is also essential to keeping in-person learning going all year,” he said.
Asked if the union disagreed with the Wolf Administration’s move to leave the decision on masking policies up to local school districts, he said: “Pennsylvania is a local control state. That’s the position the governor and the Department of Education have taken and we respect that,” he said. With the decision being left in the hands of local officials, the teachers union is now seeking to get as many school districts as possible to require mask-wearing, he said.
“We know that safe in-person instruction is the best setting for students to learn. For that reason, PSEA wants to see every school in the state start the school year in person, continue in person, and finish in person. That will be impossible if schools have to close their doors because of a rapid spread of this virus,” Lilienthal said.