Virus testing ‘strike teams’ to fan out across Pennsylvania

"Our goal is to ensure that everyone who needs a test in Pennsylvania can get one"

  • The Associated Press

(Harrisburg) — Regional “strike teams” will fan out across Pennsylvania over the next 12 weeks in a bid to improve the state’s coronavirus testing efforts, the governor announced Tuesday, as health officials anticipated a post-Thanksgiving surge in new cases.

The Department of Health is expanding an existing contract with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, which will dedicate five virus testing teams to the new effort. Each week, the teams will operate temporary testing sites in counties identified as virus hot spots, eventually making it to every Pennsylvania county that doesn’t have its own health department.

“Our goal is to ensure that everyone who needs a test in Pennsylvania can get one,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at a news conference Tuesday.

Temporary sites are scheduled to open Wednesday in Bedford, Mifflin, Tioga and Northampton counties, with another one opening Friday in Butler County. All five counties have seen rapid transmission of the virus.

Pennsylvania is reporting an average of 6,700 new confirmed infections and 73 deaths per day, both up sharply over the past two weeks, according to AP analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. Statewide hospitalizations have more than tripled since the beginning of November, according to Department of Health data.

Michael Huff, the state’s director of testing and contact tracing, said the new testing sites will help health officials track the virus’ prevalence. He predicted “even greater spikes” in new cases in a week to 10 days, when the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings will begin to be felt.

The testing sites will be open to anyone who wants a test. The testing is free and no appointment is necessary. Each site will be able to test 450 people per day.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Tuesday:

Small business relief

Philadelphia’s Department of Revenue announced three measures aimed at providing some relief for small businesses that have been economically crippled by the city’s recent COVID-19 closures.

The measures include a temporary reduction in the city’s use and occupancy tax for bars and restaurants while indoor dining is off limits, an extended due date for annual fees for businesses that use city trash services, and a means for business owners who pay estimated taxes to claim refunds for overpayments.

“I recognize that none of these changes will be enough to fully overcome the impact of an economic downturn that has hit certain sectors — including restaurants — tremendously,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in written statement, adding that city officials are working on other relief measures as well as asking for state and federal help.

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