Val Arkoosh

Montgomery County Board of Commissioners' Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh participates in a meeting.

NORRISTOWN — The number of positive coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rapidly increasing in Montgomery County as the fall surge of the virus continues to grip the region, according to the county’s latest data.

“We remain in a period of rapidly escalating cases and hospitalizations and sadly, we are beginning to see an increase in deaths,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said during a news briefing on Wednesday. “The cases are rising much more rapidly than we saw in the spring.”

The overall 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate for the county, as of Nov. 13, was 7.04% which was an increase from the 5.45% for the 14-day period ending Nov. 7, according to county statistics.

Health officials believe having a positivity rate less than 5% indicates the county is controlling the spread of the virus and keeping it suppressed.

A review of daily positivity rates from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13 showed the county was above 5% on 12 days.

“So this is certainly not the direction in which we want to be moving. Our hospitalizations continue to increase,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the news briefing by fellow Commissioner Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr.

On Wednesday, 221 individuals with COVID-19 were in county hospitals, which represented an increase of 120 individuals from two weeks ago. Thirteen-percent of the hospitalized individuals require a ventilator, officials said.

At the height of the pandemic in April there were several hundred hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“As a reminder, both hospitalizations and deaths do lag behind cases,” said Arkoosh, who as a physician has been at the forefront of the county’s efforts to combat COVID-19 and provide citizens with the latest information regarding the outbreak. “If case numbers continue to rise, we will continue to see an increase in hospitalizations and eventually an increase in deaths.”

On Wednesday, officials reported 225 new positive cases of the virus, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 17,355 since March 7, when the first two cases of the virus were identified in the county. Four of the new cases were individuals who resided in long-term care facilities.

The new positive individuals included 105 males and 118 females who ranged in age from 2 to 100 and resided in 43 municipalities. The genders of two of the positive individuals were not available.

Officials also reported three more deaths from the virus on Wednesday, bringing the county’s death toll to 857 since the pandemic began in March. The three people who died in local hospitals ranged in age from 80 to 91. Since the pandemic began, a total of 453 females and 404 males, who ranged in age from 36 to 104, have died from the virus.

“Private, social gatherings and sports and recreational activities continue to be our biggest centers of transmission. But we are now seeing viral spread throughout our community,” Arkoosh said.

Since September, officials said, 378 students have tested positive for COVID-19, 180 from religiously affiliated or independent schools and 198 from public schools. Additionally, 138 staff members at schools have tested positive for the virus.

“As of (Wednesday), we have five instances of linked transmission within schools. That means virus was spread within the school day and we have two more likely instances that are currently being investigated,” Arkoosh said. “Additionally, two school districts have significant outbreaks among their bus drivers.”

Last Friday, the five members of the county Board of Health voted unanimously to approve a two-week pause, from Nov. 23 to Dec. 6, on in-person instruction and extracurricular activities, including sports and sports practices, at all public and private schools in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus around the Thanksgiving holiday. The schools must move to all-virtual or remote learning models for the two week period.

“The order, as passed, allows schools to offer the educational method or methods they choose beginning on Monday, Dec. 7. Resuming in-person education does not require any vote or any other action by the Montgomery County Board of Health,” Arkoosh explained on Wednesday. “Should the board of health feel it is necessary to change this order, a special meeting will be called for this purpose.”

No special meeting has been scheduled and the issue is not on the agenda for the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 2

To flatten the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the county and to keep the positivity rate below 5%, Arkoosh has urged residents to wear a mask, to avoid social gatherings, to abide by handwashing recommendations, to fully cooperate if they receive a call from a contact tracer, and to download the free COVID Alert PA app onto their phone.

COVID Alert PA is a free mobile app, offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, that uses Bluetooth low energy technology and the Exposure Notification System, created jointly by Google and Apple, to notify and give public health guidance to anyone who may have been in close contact with a person who also has the app and has tested positive for COVID-19.

“By working together we have the power to suppress this virus. We did it in the spring and the impact of that shared sacrifice and personal responsibility got us through the summer and into the fall. Working together we have the collective power to keep this virus suppressed, protect our hospitals, enable our children to attend school and keep businesses open. If we do not work together, the outcome is clear, the virus will win,” Arkoosh said.

More people in the county do appear to be taking advantage of testing opportunities for the virus. Officials reported that for the 14-day period ending Nov. 13, there were 44,985 county residents who obtained tests for COVID-19, which was an increase of 5,423 compared with the 14-day period ending Nov. 7. Officials said more testing provides the county the opportunity to do more surveillance and learn how the virus is circulating in the county and suppress any outbreak that may surface.

Testing is available for all county residents and those who work in the county and want or need to be tested. The county has established outdoor walk-up testing sites in Pottstown, Norristown, Lansdale, Willow Grove, Ardmore and Green Lane to accommodate those who want to be tested.

The county-run sites provide self-administered tests at no cost, although insurance will be billed if you have it. The sites do require an appointment for testing.

To register for a test at any of the six sites, residents can visit www.montcopa.org/COVID-19 and click on the county testing information button. Residents can also register for a test at any of the six sites by calling 610-970-2937.

That phone number as well as the online registration will open at 8:30 a.m. daily.

In Pottstown, the testing site is located at the county’s Office of Public Health Pottstown Health Center at 364 King St. Testing is available by appointment Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 2 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

In Norristown, a testing site is located on the parking lot of the Delaware Valley Community Health Norristown Regional Health Center at 1401 DeKalb St. Testing is available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

In Lansdale, a testing site is located at 421 Main St. and is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m.

Another testing site is located at Deep Creek and Snyder roads in the Green Lane Park area, where tests are available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 2 p.m.

In Ardmore, a testing site is located at 114 W. Lancaster Avenue where testing is available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m.

In Willow Grove, a testing site is at First Baptist Church - Crestmont, 1678 Fairview Ave. Testing there is be available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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