Coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania increased by nearly 1,000 on Friday, fueled in part by a flood of new reports in Allegheny County.

The 970 new cases in the daily report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health have pushed the statewide total to 112,048. The deaths of 13 more residents put the Pa. COVID-19 death toll at 7,189.

(Can’t see the map? Click here.)

Locally, the Lehigh Valley has gone five straight days with no reported coronavirus-related deaths, a streak not matched here since the earliest days of the pandemic here, back in March.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is preparing to hire 1,000 more contact tracers to help control the COVID-19 outbreak. And Gov. Tom Wolf says that there will be no statewide order to close schools.

Here are your Pennsylvania coronavirus updates for July 31, 2020.

(Can’t see the chart? Click here.)

Coronavirus in Pa.

With 244 newly reported cases, Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County led the state’s daily update on Friday. Of those, the health department said, 30 were from tests taken more than two weeks ago and 77 are from residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Philadelphia had 130 new cases reported, while three of its suburbs – Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties – each had 50 new cases or more.

The health department estimates that 75% of infected Pennsylvanians have so far recovered.

The statewide case rate has been rising since June but has slowed its ascent in the last two days.

(Can’t see the chart? Click here.)

Pennsylvania has averaged 925 new cases a day over the last week, down from 975 as of Wednesday. It’s a slight improvement, but the case rate is still elevated – the last time it was in the 900s was in early May. Time (and social distancing) will tell if it develops into a downward trend.

At the same time, individual counties are seeing significant rates of COVID-19 tests come back positive. The World Health Organization recommends a rate of 5% or less when considering economic reopening. The lower the rate, the more likely that testing is capturing the full spread of the virus in a community; high positivity rates indicate that only the sickest people are being tested.

The Pennsylvania health department’s “early warning system,” an online dashboard updated every Friday, lists 12 counties above that threshold, including some Philadelphia suburbs and Reading’s Berks County:

  • Lawrence County (7.4%)
  • Franklin County (7.2%)
  • Indiana County (7.2%)
  • Fayette County (7.1%)
  • Armstrong County (7%)
  • Beaver County (6.5%)
  • Delaware County (6.5%)
  • Allegheny County (6.4%)
  • Lancaster County (5.8%)
  • Berks County (5.6%)
  • Philadelphia County (5.4%)
  • Chester County (5.3%)

The state measures positivity based on total tests, putting Pennsylvania’s statewide rate at 4.6% in the last seven days. When duplicate tests are removed, as calculated by Johns Hopkins University (and in the chart below), the state’s weekly positivity rate rises to 5.8%.

(Can’t see the chart? Click here.)

The rate of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania is about 13 a day over the last week. The rate of weekly hospitalizations rose this month from 611 a week to 729.

MORE: How to understand Pa. COVID-19 data with interactive charts

Coronavirus in the Lehigh Valley

No coronavirus-related deaths have been reported in either Lehigh County or Northampton County for the fifth straight day, according to state data.

That has not happened here since Pennsylvania’s first COVID-19 death, a Northampton County man, on March 18.

Twenty-six new cases were reported on Friday, bringing the Lehigh Valley to 8,637 total with 624 deaths. That breaks down to:

  • 4,810 cases and 334 deaths in Lehigh County, an increase of 15 new cases.
  • 3,827 cases and 290 deaths in Northampton County an increase of 11 new cases.

(Can’t see the chart? Click here.)

Both counties have seen increases in new confirmed cases and state-calculated positivity rates in the last week.

Lehigh had 106 new cases last week and 176 this week, with the positivity rate jumping from 3% to 4%. Northampton, where a new testing center was recently set up, went from 88 new confirmed cases the previous week to 123 this week, and the positivity rate went from 2.8% to 3.4%.

(Can’t see the table? Click here.)

Need a job? Pa. hiring contact tracers

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Friday said the state will hire 1,000 more contact tracers to help identify and notify people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The state currently has 654 contact tracers.

The department announced a $23 million federally funded contract with Insight Global to hire, train and support new workers. New contact tracers will earn $18 to $22 an hour, while supervisors and care resource managers can earn $22 to $24 hourly, according to the announcement.

Full- and part-time positions will be available and recruitment will be focused on those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

See more on contact tracing and the hiring process at health.pa.gov.

Wolf won’t close schools

Gov. Wolf on Friday took to Twitter to quash rumors of a statewide order to close schools this fall as the pandemic continues.

“I am not closing school buildings or canceling classes,” he tweeted. Any decision about reopening, in-person classes or virtual learning will be made by local school districts.

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Steve Novak may be reached at snovak@lehighvalleylive.com.

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