PA health secretary institutes new COVID restrictions, but no enforcement mechanisms | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

PA health secretary institutes new COVID restrictions, but no enforcement mechanisms

click to enlarge Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine at a press conference on Nov. 2 - PHOTO: COMMONWEALTH MEDIA SERVICES
Photo: Commonwealth Media Services
Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine at a press conference on Nov. 2
New protocols have been announced for Pennsylvania to help mitigate the state's rapidly rising case numbers of COVID-19. The new protocols, announced today by state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine mostly reinforce already existing restrictions like mask mandates and travel requirements, but the Department of Health did not announce any sweeping changes such as business or school closures, or any enforcement mechanisms. 

The changes include an order mandating that travelers visiting Pennsylvania from another state, or Pennsylvanians visiting other states, must get a negative COVID test within 72 hours before entering the state, or otherwise quarantine for 14 days. A strengthened mask order requires people to wear a mask any time you are outside the home, including any time you are with people from outside of your household. This includes in restaurants, in retail stores, in parks, and everywhere else.

While they are mandated orders, Levine says there are no plans to track these protocols or punish people who do not follow the orders.

Secretary Levine began a press conference today about the new orders by quoting a report from the White House coronavirus task force that states the entire country is experiencing "aggressive, unrelenting, expanding, broad community spread across the country reaching most counties."

Levine noted that in Pennsylvania, cases, hospitalizations, and ICU patients are rising, and cited a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation which predicts the commonwealth will "run out of intensive care beds" by December.

Despite the rapidly rising numbers — Pennsylvania has broken its daily case record every day for the past week — Levine emphasized that the responsibility for mitigating the virus falls on individual people and businesses to get themselves tested and enforce mask mandates.

"I think it really comes down to each and every one of us, and what we choose to do," said Levine at the press conference. "What we are asking everyone is to stand united to stop the spread in Pennsylvania."

Levine said that while there is no enforcement in regards to traveling, the Pennsylvania government is asking people not to travel, especially out of state and especially for the holidays. Both Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf have repeatedly stated that they have no plans to go back to a color-coded restriction system, like the red, yellow, and green phases used at the beginning of the pandemic.

When asked during the press conference how bad the virus has to get before a shutdown is put in place, Levine said "it's impossible for me to predict the future in terms of exactly what conditions might exist."

Levine was also asked about the fact that the rising cases show that Pennsylvanians won't necessarily follow state orders if they're not enforced. "How Pennsylvania does in terms of this pandemic ... is actually going to come down to the actions of every Pennsylvanian."

The new set of orders also included recommendations for colleges and universities, including that schools should test students at the beginning of each term, and be prepared with a plan for when students come back to school after the holidays.

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