All three Bucks County Commissioners have a straightforward message for residents – wear a mask.
After the county reported its highest number of COVID-19 infections – 826 new cases from Nov. 1-7, an average of about 118 daily and a 79 percent increase over the previous week – Diane Ellis-Marseglia, Bob Harvie and Gene DiGirolamo held a news conference on Nov. 10 outside the Emergency Services Warehouse in Doylestown. Here, they highlighted steps the local government is taking to flatten this second curve, and more importantly, what the public must do to help.
“Last time, long-term care facilities were our problem. This time, they’re doing very well. It’s the general public who’s having trouble,” said Marseglia. “They’re probably tired of all this and they’re having private events, private parties, after-school parties, and those events are where we’re seeing the bulk of the increase from. Our major message today is that we’ve got to hunker down, and put our masks back on until we can get through this part of the COVID epidemic.”
According to Harvie, despite these record numbers due to what he called “COVID fatigue,” rates of local hospitalizations and deaths are not going up. Additionally, there’s been no spread within schools that have reopened (outbreaks occurred at after-school gatherings), nor at businesses and restaurants, which Harvie said have been following health and safety guidelines.
“Business owners are completely within their right to refuse service to somebody who’s coming in without a mask. They have to protect themselves, they have to protect their employees, they need to protect other patrons of the establishment,” he explained.
Marseglia added that a second round of business closures and stay-at-home orders are not being considered at this time. This, she said, can be avoided if people take the virus seriously, wear masks and practice social distancing if they must attend a wedding or other event.
“Even in the first wave, we had some people believing this is not real,” she reflected. “It’s almost like we have to start all over again. We have to re-educate all those people who were resistant to believing that this was a real disease and they should wear masks.”
DiGirolamo urged locals to use common sense because, “The virus is still out there.” If someone feels sick, even if they’re not COVID-positive yet, they should refrain from attending gatherings with family and friends, especially where those with pre-existing health conditions are present.
Although hospitalization and death rates remain low (three deaths were reported Nov. 1-7, two men ages 54 and 71, and a 91-year-old woman, all of whom had underlying medical conditions; 16 county residents were hospitalized, with one in critical condition and on a ventilator), the county is preparing its frontline workers in case those numbers suddenly rise.
“We have ordered hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment that range from N95 masks and surgical masks, gloves, face shields, disposable gowns, all of the things that would protect our emergency responders and healthcare workers to take care of folks,” said Emergency Services Director Scott Forster.
Behind Forster, truckloads of PPE were being loaded and dispatched to hospitals, first responders, long-term care facilities and other destinations throughout the county.
“We can provide all the PPE, but the general public still has to wear their masks,” Forster said. “We have to make sure that we are not contributing to those cases that end up overwhelming hospitals and getting into those personal care and nursing homes.”
With Thanksgiving and the holiday season quickly approaching, Marseglia said residents shouldn’t cancel plans, just “trim them back,” don’t attend if sick, and take precautions.
“It isn’t so awful to be around your family and wear a mask,” she said. “This is actually an act of love.”
Regarding the county’s contact tracing efforts, Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker said COVID cases are growing too exponentially for his staff to call everybody. Cases are being prioritized, with the elderly and school districts at the top of the list. In the spring, when most of society was under lockdown, the process of determining individuals’ whereabouts while contagious was easier.
“Now that people are up and about and doing their basic, normal thing, and schools are now back in session full-time, it makes everything more difficult to do,” he said.
In hospitals, Damsker said the severity of COVID cases is much less than what was devastatingly seen in the spring. This is due to more younger, healthier people contracting the virus rather than nursing home residents, and healthcare workers having almost a year’s worth of knowledge to treat patients better and earlier.
“The vast majority of people with COVID do really, really well and I think it’s important for the public to hear that. Despite the number of cases that we have, almost everybody’s doing great,” said Damsker, who stressed that some populations, including the morbidly obese, are still susceptible to getting very sick from it. “It’s not a death sentence for everybody. I want people to take a deep breath.”
Visit covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com/ for updates and more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org