Val Arkoosh at press briefing in Eagleville

Montgomery County Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh answers a question during a recent COVID-19 press briefing at the county's Emergency Operation Center in Eagleville.

EAGLEVILLE — Montgomery County officials reported 14 more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday and provided new statistics that showed many in middle and younger age brackets are testing positive for the virus.

The 14 latest COVID-19 deaths included individuals who ranged in age from 47 to 97 and the deaths bring the county’s death toll to 443 since March 7, when the first two cases of the virus were identified in the county, Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said Wednesday during a daily news briefing to update the community about the pandemic.

Wednesday’s briefing was the 50th briefing that county officials have held since the virus was first identified in the county. The commissioners held their daily briefing virtually, each speaking from their homes or offices.

To date, 246 females and 197 males have died from the virus in the county. Officials said the racial breakdown for those that have died included: 12 Asian; three Asian Indian; three Asian Korean; 42 African American; and 111 white. Information about the ethnicity of the remaining 272 individuals was unavailable.

The 443 total deaths were “confirmed positive” COVID-19 cases through the use of lab tests.

Earlier this week, officials reported that 203 other deaths in the county have been listed as “probable” COVID-19 deaths. Those are deaths that list COVID-19 as a cause of death on a death certificate but in which there was no laboratory confirmation of the virus.

Additionally, officials reported a total of 106 new positive cases of the virus on Wednesday, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 5,380 since March 7. Thirty-seven of the latest individuals to test positive resided in long-term care facilities in the county, 18 were from the Norristown State Hospital and the remaining 51 were other residents in the community, according to officials.

The new positive cases included at least 48 males and 57 females who ranged in age from 12 to 99. Five of the individuals are known to be hospitalized.

“I think that there’s a misunderstanding among some members of our community about who is getting COVID-19 in our county,” Arkoosh said while discussing data compiled about COVID-19 infections.

According to data regarding the age distribution of those who have tested positive, the most frequent age bracket is 50-to-59-years old, followed by those who are 60-to-69-years-old. The third group with the most reported positive cases was the 30-to-39-year-old age bracket, according to the data.

“When added together, we have more individuals in the 20- and 30-year-old brackets, which adds up to 1,271, than we do when you add together the individuals in the 70- and 80-year-old brackets, they total 1,243,” explained Arkoosh, referring to the statistics.

“It is correct, however, that older individuals are much more likely to die from COVID-19,” added Arkoosh, explaining the largest number of deaths in the county occurred among those 80 to 89 years old.

Arkoosh said the statistics emphasize the importance of social distancing and other mitigation measures meant to prevent the spread of the virus.

“This underscores our message about how important it is for all of us to be responsible in our actions. Any of us could be positive and not know it. Infecting an older individual could have very serious consequences. So, please join in our shared obligation to every member of our community…keep your trips to essential errands or essential work and when you are out, wear a mask to protect those around you and follow the social distancing guidelines in any establishment that you enter,” Arkoosh said. “Please be part of the collective solution for Montgomery County.”

Arkoosh reminded municipalities that Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order has been extended to June 4 for counties that remain in the “red-phase” of the governor’s color-coded plan to reopen the state, which includes Montgomery County. Arkoosh believes relaxing current mitigation measures, such as social distancing, too soon could have devastating consequences and cause a surge in positive cases in the county and overwhelm hospitals and first responders.

“I just want to remind everybody that it’s only been for about a week or so that we have started to see our numbers come down in measurable ways and it would be a shame if some individuals decided to kind of go it on their own and make it more difficult for the entire rest of this county,” Arkoosh said.

Meanwhile, Arkoosh reported the county continues to have beds available at the county’s nine hospitals.

“Our hospital bed situation continues to improve. We are continuing to see a slow but steady reduction in hospitalizations,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the Wednesday news briefing by fellow commissioners Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. and Joseph C. Gale. “Today, the numbers are in the high 200s, which is fantastic news as we were sitting pretty solidly in the 400s just about two weeks ago.”

However, Arkoosh said, about 33 percent of the patients still require ventilators.

“So what we are seeing is that those that are severely ill are being hospitalized for long periods of time. But happily there are people being discharged from the hospital,” Arkoosh said.

Officials said they continue to monitor coronavirus data from the 75 long-term care facilities in the county that are licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as well as from “other congregate care settings” in the county, for a total of about 620 facilities.

As of Wednesday, 93 of the facilities reported positive COVID-19 cases among residents and staff. Specifically, officials reported there are 1,575 cases among residents of the facilities and 590 cases among staff at the facilities, for a total of 2,165 positive individuals.

Officials said testing opportunities continue to be available in Lansdale, Whitpain and Norristown.

The drive-thru site at central campus of the Montgomery County Community College in Whitpain is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily as testing supplies allow. Registration for each day’s appointments will open at 8 a.m. daily and will remain open until all available spots are filled. Individuals can register online at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19

The drive-thru site will be open Thursday and Friday but will be closed on Saturday. The site will reopen for testing on Sunday.

Individuals who do not have access to the internet or do not have an email address can call 610-631-3000 to register for a testing appointment.

Between April 16 and May 8, the drive-thru site tested 4,643 individuals. To date, officials have received results for 4,494 individuals, 637 of whom tested positive for the virus. Officials said that comes out to about a 14.5 percent positive rate, which is a reduction from the highest positive rate of 24 percent that was recorded during the first week of April.

A walk-up community-based testing site for Norristown residents is located on the parking lot of the Delaware Valley Community Health Norristown Regional Health Center, 1401 DeKalb St. The free testing is provided by appointment only from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Norristown residents can register for testing by calling 610-592-0680 starting at 8:30 a.m. daily.

The Rite Aid Pharmacy located at 1856 N. Broad St. in Lansdale also is offering no-cost testing for anyone over 18. Officials said appointments for the tests may be scheduled online by visiting www.riteaid.com/pharmacy/services/COVID-19-testing

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