WEST CHESTER — Even as the numbers of new positive coronavirus cases increase across the Delaware Valley region and Chester County itself, the head of the county’s Health Department said Saturday that she remains optimistic that the county — and the nation — will weather the pandemic storm.
“What drives that for me is that even as this has evolved, the basic tenets of our response still remain consistent,” said Director Jeanne Casner.
“We are still seeing how they work,” she said of the individual and systemic practices — social distancing, wearing masks, proper hygiene, contact tracing and continued testing.
“But we have to remain consistent and persistent,” Casner said in an interview. “These are things that take time to sort themselves out. But the time is worth it, because the outcome is worth it.”
According to figures provided by the Health Department, there have been 860 positive cases of COVID-19 in the county in three weeks since July 10, when the county began to see an uptick in positive cases following the decision by the state to move the county to the “green” level of community restrictions. There were 240 new cases between July 10 and July 16; 316 new cases between July 17 and July 23; and 304 new cases between July 24 and July 30.
That is an average of about 40 new cases a day for those three weeks. Prior to the July 4 holiday weekend, the number of daily positives was far less than that, dipping into the teens and 20s. The county’s “Past 7-Day Percent Positivity” rate is between 5 and 6 percent.
The 20 to 29 age group now has the highest number of positive cases at 887, and the 20-39 age group now represents nearly 1/3 of the total number of positive cases in Chester County, according to county figures.
In acknowledging that the county was trending in increased COVID-19 positive cases, the county stressed that those new cases were still not at the level of increase experienced by other counties in the region. The county continues to have the fewest number of positive cases in suburban Philadelphia: Montgomery County had 9,761 on Friday, Delaware County 8,669, Bucks County had 6,902 cases and Chester County had 4,863, according to the state Health Department.
The number of deaths reported by the County Health Department on the same day is 349.
According to the county Health Department’s numbers, the two biggest factors that are contributing to the increase in unknown cause numbers are travel outside the state — most notably to beach locations in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and even through to the Carolinas — and a general lack of wearing masks.
Asked if the lack of proper facial protection cited dismayed her, Casner demurred. “I am not sure ‘dismay’ is the right word. I know that there is some fatigue about that, and I appreciate what people are having to do. But we are coming down to personal accountability, at the individual, household level.”
Casner stressed that the majority of positive cases have been seen in instances where there was a known contact between an uninfected person and a positive case. Instances could be a person in a work setting who unwittingly came in contact with a COVID-19 positive carrier — who might themselves have been unaware of their condition — or in a household setting.
“We know this because we are doing contact tracing, and we are doing it well,” she said.
Casner said she had no confirmed reports of people developing the virus after attending so-called “COVID parties,” where people actively put themselves at risk of infection, or purposefully large gatherings that violate the state “green” standards of fewer than 250 people. They are accidental contacts, she said. Not purposeful.
“This is not unanticipated,” she said of the increase in positive cases. “We expected it to trend as we moved forward in the year and people wanted to take advantage of the summer months.”
She also predicted that the county could see another uptick after Labor Day when residents begin back to school activities and settle back into routines that bring them indoors and in contact with others.
“Part of our plan to confidently move to 'green' back in June included preparation to handle inevitable increases in numbers and areas of outbreak as restrictions loosened,” Casner said in disputing a sense that the county might be regressing back towards the more restrictive “yellow” phase. “We remain focused on investigation of cases, contact tracing and testing, and the combination of these three has helped us adapt our approach to this pandemic as it changes — as it goes up and down.
“So it isn’t really a matter of going back to what we knew as 'yellow.' It is more about reading the data and making decisions as needed; standing alongside our schools, businesses and community groups – as well as our neighboring counties and the state — to enhance our guidance accordingly.”
“We cannot stress enough how important it is to keep socially distant, wear a mask when you leave your home, and wash or sanitize your hands regularly,” she emphasized. “This, and avoiding large gatherings, will help us all control the spread of this virus.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.