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2020 News

Officials Cite Long-Term Care Facility Outbreaks as Obstacle to Re-Opening

April 23, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

Ten new COVID-19-related deaths were announced today by the Bucks County Health Department, all of them among elderly residents of long-term care facilities.

Coupled with 130 new cases, the majority from the same population, officials said ongoing outbreaks in nursing homes and personal care facilities pose the biggest obstacle to the county’s ability to gradually re-open.

“If we weren’t in the situation we’re in with the nursing home facilities, I’d say we would be much closer” to re-opening certain businesses and activities, said Health Director Dr. David Damsker during an online news conference. “That’s sort of the hang-up right now as to why our cases are still higher than we’d like.”

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that he was prepared to start gradually allowing regions to re-open once they met certain criteria, including a relatively low level of new cases. Northwest and North Central Pennsylvania were considered the most likely to start that process on May 8.

Exactly what that level that needs to be in Bucks County remained unclear Thursday, as regional officials struggled to fully understand the governor’s metrics and whether they applied to entire regions or individual counties.

“I would not like to see us lumped together with Philadelphia and the surrounding counties and be in any way forced to do something that might not be in the best interests of Bucks County,” County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo said during the news conference. “While I think the plan is reasonable, I think Bucks County still needs the flexibility to do what’s best for our citizens.”

Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia agreed that Wolf’s plan requires further study, but said that whatever the bottom line turns out to be, “the likelihood of getting there is definitely increased by the amount of social distancing that is being done.”

Emergency Services Director Scott T. Forster said that as the pandemic wears on, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, first responders and others is becoming increasingly harder to obtain.

Disposable surgical gowns, in particular, “are almost nonexistent,” Forster said, prompting him to issue a call for any businesses having surgical or plastic gowns to consider donating them to the county’s Emergency Management Office. Anyone able to contribute can call 215-340-8700.

“It’s hard to buy them, it’s hard to acquire them from the Strategic National Stockpile,” Forster said. He said his workers “would be very happy to accept” any donations “and distribute them to our nursing homes, our personal care homes and our healthcare workers.”

Commissioner Bob Harvie said it’s not unusual for hospitals to go through 1,000 or more gowns per day. The demand for them, he said, has driven prices that once were as low as 30 cents per gown to as high as $12. And while protective masks can be cleaned and re-used if necessary, “you can’t do that with plastic gowns,” Harvie said.

A total of 128 Bucks County residents with COVID-19 have now died among the county’s 2,321 confirmed positive cases.

Another 196 patients remain hospitalized, 23 in critical condition, while 526 people are confirmed to have recovered and have been released from isolation.

Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com

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