Pa. uncertain if it will follow Philly in extending some COVID-19 restrictions

Health secretary encourages hospitals to vaccinate front-line EMS workers

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said it’s too early to say for certain if they will extend the state’s current COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining, entertainment and gyms.

The restrictions are currently set to expire on Jan. 4 — everywhere except Philadelphia, where the indoor dining ban has been extended to at least Jan. 15.

Philadelphia health officials anticipate Christmas- and New Year’s-related surges in COVID-19 cases, which would likely swell beyond the Jan. 4 expiration date. As a result, the city won’t lift restrictions on what officials believe are the riskiest activities.

Less-risky activities, like gyms and some entertainment venues, can resume on Jan. 4 in Philadelphia.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all indoor dining, entertainment facilities and gyms in Pennsylvania to close from Dec. 12 through Jan. 4.

On Wednesday, Levine said state officials will “have to watch our numbers very carefully.” Based on the 14-day average, cases may appear to be plateauing, but any decision on extending restrictions would be based on post-Christmas numbers.

“I don’t have a specific cutoff for you,” she said, “but if there’s an enormous spike in cases, that would be very challenging. If the cases remain plateaued or even go down, then that would be a very positive finding that would influence our decisions about the mitigation.”

Meanwhile, Levine is urging everyone to follow their recommendations on avoiding gatherings over the holidays.

As for vaccine distribution, Levine said the rollout is going smoothly overall. She said every health care worker who wants the vaccine will get it, whether they are affiliated with a hospital or not, but she also singled out emergency medical services workers.

“They are walking into unknown situations and really are front-line first responders,” she said.

She’s calling on hospitals to reach out to EMS providers — those affiliated with a hospital and those that aren’t — to arrange immunizations for them.

Pennsylvania is following the CDC’s recommended phases: Front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents get the vaccine in what’s called Phase 1a, then everyone over 75 years old and non-health care essential workers in Phase 1b.

That’s followed by 1c, which includes everyone over 65, people 16 to 64 with medical conditions, and another tier of essential workers. Then comes the general public in Phase 2.

Levine noted there is no timeline for the phases, as there is no way to forecast how many doses of the vaccine will be available each week.