Pennsylvania announces 2 presumptive cases of coronavirus, 1 in Delco; New Jersey announces 4th presumptive case

UPDATED: 9:50 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday morning that the state's first two presumptive cases of coronavirus have been identified: one in Delaware County and one in Wayne County.

Following the announcement at a news conference in Harrisburg, Wolf signed an emergency disaster declaration to increase support for state agencies involved in the response to the virus.

"They are both at home. They are in isolation, or quarantine. And at the same time, they are in good physical condition," Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said of the two patients.

The Delaware County case is a woman who recently traveled to an area of the United States where COVID-19 is present, officials said. She was treated at Crozer-Keystone and is quarantined in her home.

The Wayne County case is an adult who recently traveled to a country where the coronavirus is.

⏯ Watch @GovernorTomWolf’s press conference from earlier today confirming the first two presumptive positive cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania. https://t.co/HuuZSNX99w

— Office of the Governor (@GovernorsOffice) March 6, 2020

The cases are being called "presumptive," because the testing was done in Pennsylvania, but all cases need to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Levine said officials will be contacting those who have been in contact with the affected people, and they will be quarantined as well.

"We expect more cases to be confirmed in the coming days and weeks," Levine added.

Delaware County Council vice chair Monica Taylor said since the woman who contracted coronavirus didn’t catch it here, they are following guidelines from the state by not releasing any other details, including her current location.

“This individual had recently traveled to an area in the United States where COVID-19 is present. The female adult is currently in their home in isolation,” she reiterated. 

Delaware County medical adviser Dr. George Avetian said they’re keeping in touch with area school districts, but for now, they’ve been instructed by the state not to make any changes “to the academic environment at the present time.”

They will, however, limit visitation at Fair Acres Geriatric Center, the county retirement home, to only essential visits.

Since Delaware County is the second most densely populated county in the state, everyone across the county should be more aware of any symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath — and take steps to avoid direct contact, like washing your hands and not touching your face.

Separate investigation in Bucks County

Levine said the cases in Wayne and Delaware counties are not related to a case that closed schools in Bucks County on Friday. 

On Friday morning, the Central Bucks School District canceled classes Friday at five schools because some members of its school community were exposed to a separate confirmed case of COVID-19. The district said, according to county and state health officials, those unidentified people were exposed to someone whose confirmed case of the virus originated in another state. District officials did not say which state.

By Friday evening, county officials confirmed that all COVID-19 tests came back negative. The 14-day incubation period will not end until Monday, so officials will keep a close eye on the situtation throughout the weekend. 

District Superintendent John Kopicki said the decision to close the schools was made "out of an abundance of caution" after consultations with state and local health officials.

The district added, according to county officials, that the person who contracted coronavirus attended a private gathering in central Bucks County. That person is from another state. At the time of the gathering, no one knew that person had the virus, though it became known later. 

In attendance at that event were children and staff who attend or work at the five schools closed:

  • Butler
  • CB South
  • Titus
  • Tohickon
  • Tamanend

Students, faculty and staff were all ordered to stay home. Officials said they plan to deep-clean those buildings.

Presumptive cases continue in New Jersey

Meanwhile, on Thursday, New Jersey announced the state's second presumptive case of coronavirus. The two presumptive cases involve people who are now hospitalized, as health officials continue to follow official protocols. 

"When I say 'presumptive,' I mean the sample was tested in our state labs in West Trenton and is being submitted to the CDC for confirmatory testing," State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

By Friday afternoon, health officials in Camden County announced the county's first presumptive positive coronavirus case. The Camden County Department of Health said a man in his 60s — a Camden County resident — is currently hospitalized at Jefferson Health in Cherry Hill in stable condition.

Camden County Health and Human Services director Anne Walters says the state is investigating who the man came in contact with, where he's been, and if there are any other cases in the area.

And on Friday evening, state officials announced a fourth presumptive positive case. Gov. Phil Murphy said the man is in his 50s and has been hospitalized in Bergen County since March 5.

The presumptive positive result came from a sample tested at the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratories. The CDC is working on determining if both are confirmed cases.

More test kits are en route to the state, and they’ll be shared with independent labs — after they are certified by the health department — to speed up the process. 

Official out-of-state travel has been curtailed for New Jersey state workers as a precaution. International business travel has been canceled. Domestic out-of-state trips, even for a day, need approval from the governor's office. The attorney general is also warning retailers against price gouging or selling items that claim they can help against the virus, but don’t.

Camden County Health Officer Dr. Paschal Nwako stressed that the risk to the public is low and said that people should take precautions to help keep the virus from spreading.

"We are telling members of the public to also practice good handwashing," Nwako said, "to also go to their primary care physician if they're sick."

Philadelphia cases remain unconfirmed

Officials from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said on Thursday that two people are under investigation for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

A spokesperson from the department explained that there are three things that would lead to an investigation: The person must have been admitted to a hospital with severe respiratory symptoms and no other diagnosis to explain it; the person has traveled to areas where the virus is circulating and is showing flu-like symptoms; and, the person could have been exposed to someone who has been confirmed to have the virus.

Those two Philadelphia cases have not been confirmed by the CDC.

State Health Secretary Levine said the commonwealth has been preparing for a coronavirus outbreak for weeks. For example, 911 call centers are asking extra questions about symptoms, e.g., cough and fever, to protect emergency responders and so they have an idea of what they may be walking into.

But this is not unique. They did the same for the H1N1 flu in 2009, and more recently when there was an Ebola scare.

Pennsylvania health officials still believe the risk of infection to the average Philadelphian is very low.

City, transit officials are prepared 

Philadelphia health officials, as well as SEPTA and airport officials, reassured the public on Friday that the city is prepared for coronavirus. 

James Fox, SEPTA assistant general manager, said keeping vehicles and stations clean is nothing new to them.

“We deal with the management of the spreading of germs on a regular basis, but we now are also increasing that cleaning, as we now have to deal with the current situation,” he said.

Whether service will be reduced or eliminated in some capacity, that is still fluid, Fox said.

“But we have plans in place no different than what we do for weather events or special events on how we can manage and hold to our service depending on what's thrown at us,” he added.

Philadelphia International Airport CEO Chellie Cameron had a similar message: “We have stepped up our cleaning and disinfecting procedures to include the use of envirox critical care, which is a highly potent disinfectant formulated for critical disease transfer points.”

Although there are still no confirmed cases in Philadelphia, Health Commissioner Tom Farley said that is likely to change.

“There is a risk that more people will become sick and there is a risk of social disruption from the disease itself and from our response,” he said. “But if we respond quickly and work cooperatively, we can limit the spread and protect Philadelphia's residents.”

The best ways to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 are:-- Wash your hands-- Don’t touch your face-- Cover your cough or sneeze-- Stay away from sick people-- Stay home if you’re sickLearn more: https://t.co/cqvArud8Dh pic.twitter.com/FGPMQ333ip

— Philly Health Prepare (@PHLHlthPrepare) March 4, 2020

Dr. Kristen Feemster, a contagious diseases expert with the city's health department, recommends that people take the same precautions they would to avoid any other respiratory virus this time of year.

"Wash your hands. Have hand sanitizer with you. Avoid sick persons," Feemster said.

KYW Newsradio medical editor Dr. Brian McDonough said according to the CDC, coronavirus test kits will soon be much more widely available:

If someone is experiencing symptoms or believes he or she may have been exposed to the virus, they are advised to call 1-877-PA-HEALTH. The Pennsylvania Department of Health can answer questions and notify a hospital. If you plan on visiting your doctor regarding coronavirus, notify your physician ahead of time so that precautions can be made.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 14, with all but one victim in Washington state, while the number of infections increased to over 200 across 18 states.

The coronavirus has infected around 100,000 people worldwide and killed over 3,400, the vast majority of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those infected have recovered.

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KYW's Tim Jimenez, Jim Melwert, Jay Scott Smith and Pat Loeb, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this report.