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 13 more deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday and released data that indicated people under 50 years of age appeared to get infected at a rate higher than the overall average rate of infection during a recent two-week period.

The 13 COVID-19 deaths included individuals who ranged in age from 69 to 100 and the deaths bring the county’s death toll to 675 since March 7, when the first two cases of the virus were identified in the county, Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said Thursday during a daily news briefing to update the community about the pandemic.

To date, 365 females and 310 males have died from the virus in the county. Officials said the racial breakdown for those that have died included: 16 Asian; three Asian Indian; two Asian Korean; 83 African American; and 227 white. Information about the ethnicity of the remaining 344 individuals was unavailable.

Arkoosh said 566 of the total 675 COVID-19 deaths were county residents who lived in long-term care facilities, representing about 84 percent of the total deaths.

The 675 total deaths were “confirmed positive” COVID-19 cases through the use of lab tests.

Officials reported that as of Thursday 125 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 92 new positive cases of the virus on Thursday, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 6,779 since March 7. Twenty-three of the latest positive individuals were residents of long-term care facilities, nine were inmates at the county jail in Lower Providence and 60 were other members of the community.

The new positive individuals included 52 males and 40 females who ranged in age from 11 to 100 and were residents of 26 different municipalities. Six of the individuals are known to be hospitalized.

Referring to new data compiled by the county, officials determined that people under 50 years old are getting infected at a rate higher than the overall average rate of infection.

For the period May 13 to May 28, the overall percent increase in COVID-19 cases was 26 percent. But there was a 34.7 percent increase in positive cases among those ages 20 to 29 and only a 17.4 percent increase among those 70 to 79.

Also as of Thursday, 748 people ages 20 to 29 tested positive for COVID-19 and 932 people ages 30 to 39 tested positive since March 7. Comparatively, 720 people ages 70 to 79 had tested positive for the virus.

“Just trying to remind everyone that we are all at risk,” Arkoosh said. “As we move into the yellow phase, we have to keep in mind…that the coronavirus is still in our midst.”

Last Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf said the county can move from the “red phase” to the “yellow phase” of his color-coded reopening plan, a phase that will loosen some restrictions, including the stay-at-home order, on June 5.

However, Arkoosh pointed out that even in the yellow phase, telework should continue where feasible and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited. Visitor restrictions will remain in place at congregate care settings and at the jail. In-person retail operations are allowable but curbside and delivery, if possible, are recommended.

“I believe that we’ve put the infrastructure in place to move into the yellow phase safely. But the success of this next step will depend on (county residents). We must each take responsibility for our actions and any one of us could have the virus and be contagious even if we don’t have any symptoms,” said Arkoosh, continuing to stress the importance of recommended mitigation measures to slow the spread of the virus. “We want to open responsibly.”

Once the county moves into the yellow phase, officials will be watching for surges in positive cases, or “hotspots,” and will monitor how much hospital space is available and measure testing and contact tracing capabilities in the county.

“It’s because we put very robust infrastructure in place around each of those things that (state officials) are comfortable, as am I, with us moving to the yellow phase. But the yellow phase is a soft opening and people will need to continue to practice social distancing, be mindful of their hand hygiene and wear a mask to protect others,” Arkoosh said.

“If we do that and we do that well, then I’m hoping that we will not be in the yellow phase nearly as long as we’ve been in the red phase,” Arkoosh added.

On Thursday, officials did report a slight increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“We had been seeing a slow but steady reduction in hospitalizations. However, today the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is approximately 250, which is an uptick of about 40 patients compared to three days ago,” Arkoosh said on Thursday. “Again, this is just a reminder that this virus is still out there and it is still causing people to become sick enough that they do require hospitalization.”

Officials 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 Thursday, 94 of the facilities reported positive COVID-19 cases among residents and staff. Specifically, officials reported there are 1,862 cases among residents of the facilities and 686 cases among staff at the facilities, for a total of 2,548 positive individuals.

Meanwhile, officials said community-based testing opportunities continue to be available in Pottstown, Whitpain and Norristown.

A walkup testing site is available at the county’s Office of Public Health Pottstown Health Center at 364 King St. Testing is available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. by appointment only. To make an appointment, residents should call 610-970-2937 beginning at 8:30 a.m. daily.

A drive-thru site at the 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 or can call 610-631-3000 to register for a testing appointment. The drive-thru site will be closed on Sunday.

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.

In addition to being available to test Norristown residents, the site also offers tests to all established patients of the Delaware Valley Community Health Center regardless of where they reside, officials said. Residents can register for testing by calling 610-592-0680 starting at 8:30 a.m. daily.

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