Is Pennsylvania ready for coronavirus?

Public health experts are busy planning

  • Russ Walker/PA Post

To Mother Nature and Punxsutawney Phil, a sincere thank you. This is my first winter in central Pennsylvania, and it’s been a relatively mild one. According to PennLive, this winter is the sixth-warmest on record in the state, with almost no snow at all. I’m a winter weather grouch, so part of me is very happy. But in all seriousness, I’d prefer a return to historically average levels of cold and amounts of snow, if only to demonstrate progress in the fight against climate change. How about you? —Russ Walker, PA Post editor[\box]

Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, speaks about the coronavirus during a news conference in the press briefing room at the White House, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Coronavirus is in the United States. Infectious disease experts say it’s likely it will spread across the country in the coming weeks, and the news from Seattle suggests they are right.

So what’s happening in Pennsylvania? Are we ready? How deadly is this virus, also known as COVID-19? And what can you do to protect yourself?

  • WHYY’s Liz Tung looked into how prepared Philadelphia is. The city, her story notes, is vulnerable in part because it sits on the widely traveled I-95 corridor and is a major hub for international and domestic travel. But public health experts got a head start last year with the creation of the Philadelphia Pandemic Preparedness Project, which has been working to coordinate government and private agencies. Similar efforts are underway in Pittsburgh, WESA’s Kathleen J. Davis reports. In Central Pa., the Penn State Hospital in Hershey is ready, thanks the certification is earned a few years back when there was concern Ebola would spread to the United States, PennLive reports. “We’ve had plans in place for a long time. We are revising some of those specific to this virus,” Penn State Health’s Dr. Catherine Paules told PennLive. “We’re working around the clock on these issues.”

  • Over in the Lehigh Valley, the virus’s effects are starting to be felt in the manufacturing and travel planning worlds. “The ripple effects in the Lehigh Valley have yet to be felt in a great way, but health care professionals are urging people to take precautions, travel agencies are seeing a drop-off over fears or cancellations, pharmacies are selling out of masks and businesses that rely on goods from China are nervous,” The Morning Call reports. The economy could take a heavy hit, The Wall Street Journal says: “The widespread nature of the epidemic and related uncertainty will put a hold on large corporate investments, mergers and hiring, said Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom, who has researched the impact of uncertainty on business cycles.”

  • The Washington Post produced a useful guide to coronavirus, answering common questions about what it is and how you can protect yourself.

  • There are simple things you can do to protect yourself and others, according to experts interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Infectious disease specialists say the front line in preventing the spread of any virus is simple: frequent handwashing, using hand sanitizer, cover your cough with your arm (‘cough etiquette’), staying home from work or school if you get sick. Disinfecting surfaces in the kitchen, bathroom and other parts of the home is another option.” A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial warns readers to ignore social media posts like ones suggesting people drink bleach to cure the disease. Here’s more information about the virus from’s coronavirus information center.

  • Some people infected with COVID-19 weather it fairly well. The Washington Post published a first-person account from a California man who is being treated in a hospital after being infected on the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship. “I am in my late 60s, and the sickest I’ve ever been was when I had bronchitis several years ago. That laid me out on my back for a few days,” the man wrote. “This has been much easier: no chills, no body aches. I breathe easily, and I don’t have a stuffy nose. My chest feels tight, and I have coughing spells. If I were at home with similar symptoms, I probably would have gone to work as usual.”

  • Dr. Kristen J. Mertz, the Allegheny County Health Department’s medical epidemiologist, said one good thing about COVID-19 is that it “does seem to be less deadly than SARS even though it’s more transmittable.” She told “I think the concern is mainly older people and people with underlying conditions, because those are the ones who are having the most severe and sometimes fatal outcomes.”

  • A Dillsburg couple that was vacationing on the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship is expected to be released from quarantine today, according to this FOX 43 story. Wilkes-Barre native Dan Fisher is reported to be infected with the virus and being treated in a hospital in Japan, WNEP reports.

  • Frank Wucinski and his three-year-old daughter Annabel are in Harrisburg after leaving their home in China and then being quarantined in the U.S., ABC27 reports. Wucinski’s wife, back in China, got the virus and recovered, but her father passed away. Now Wucinski has to worry about money: He and his daughter “are among what could become a growing number of families hit with surprise medical bills related to government-mandated actions,” The New York Times reports.

  • It was 100 years ago that the world dealt with the “Spanish flu” pandemic, a particularly vicious virus that claimed an estimated 50 million lives around the world between 1918 and 1922 According to the University of Pennsylvania’s archives, the commonwealth was hit bad by the strain of the H1N1 virus, with 60,000 deaths statewide. Some 12,000 Philadelphians died over the course of just 2 months in the fall of 1918. Nearly 20 years after the Spanish flu epidemic, a Philadelphia physician helped stop an emerging measles epidemic in the city; The Inquirer has that story today.

Best of the rest

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group’s top political leader shack hands after signing a peace agreement between Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. The United States is poised to sign a peace agreement with Taliban militants on Saturday aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing U.S. troops to return home from America’s longest war. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

  • Lost in news of new coronavirus cases, plunging stock markets, and Joe Biden’s win in the South Carolina primary was President Trump’s announcement that the United States and the Taliban have reached an agreement to end the 18-and-a-half-year conflict in Afghanistan. Both sides have to fulfill promises on reducing violence, releasing prisoners and negotiating political power sharing in Kabul. But it’s an amazing thing — the American and NATO troops could be out of Afghanistan within 14 months.

  • More than 2,000 American service members have died fighting in Afghanistan, including nearly 100 from Pennsylvania. Among Pa.’s killed in action is Army Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins from Carlisle. Another is Staff Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines from York County.

  • There may be a deal in place for peace in Afghanistan, but men and women from Pennsylvania continue to be dispatched there. Army Reserve soldiers from the 420th Engineer Company deployed in January for an expected one-year tour.

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