Val Arkoosh

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

NORRISTOWN — As the latest surge of the coronavirus grips the region, there are currently more people hospitalized with the virus in Montgomery County than were hospitalized during the initial spring surge, county officials revealed on Wednesday.

“Our hospitalizations continue to increase. Our Montgomery County hospitals have more patients hospitalized with COVID-19 now than they did in the spring,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said during a weekly news briefing as the county entered the 40th week of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, 539 individuals with COVID-19 were in the county’s nine hospitals, which represented an increase of 177 individuals since Dec. 2.

“I believe this is the highest number of individuals that we have had hospitalized during this entire 40 weeks,” 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.

Ten-percent, or 53 of the hospitalized individuals, currently require a ventilator, officials said

“While the hospitals are better equipped with PPE, ventilators and medications that can ease the course of the disease, they are all facing critical limits in the number of staff they have available to care for patients. All of our hospitals have been impacted by staff who have been exposed or infected in the community due to the substantial amount of virus circulating right now,” Arkoosh said.

Because the virus is surging nationwide, medical personnel from other areas of the country are not currently available to assist locally.

Arkoosh said that some area hospitals have discussed a strategy of asking retired nurses to come out of retirement to assist locally.

Some of the county’s hospitals have had to divert patients from their emergency rooms. Arkoosh said that each day, since last Friday, between two and four of the county’s nine acute care hospitals have been “on divert” for four hours or longer.

When a hospital is on so-called “divert” it means if a person calls 911, no matter what their medical emergency, they may not be able to be taken to the closest emergency room. Going “on divert” sends a message to emergency medical responders about a hospital’s ability to accept patients.

Like hospitalizations, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate also continues to increase.

The overall 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate for the county, as of Dec. 4, was 9.73% which was an increase from the 7.95% positivity rate for the 14-day period ending Nov. 27, 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.

On Wednesday, officials reported 239 new positive cases of the virus, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 24,658 since March 7, when the first two cases of the virus were identified in the county. Six of the new cases were individuals who resided in long-term care facilities, officials said.

The new positive individuals included 108 males and 130 females who ranged in age from 5-months to 95 and resided in 53 municipalities. The gender of one of the positive individuals was unavailable.

Officials also reported 14 more deaths from the virus on Wednesday, bringing the county’s death toll to 908 since the pandemic began in March. Ten of the individuals died in a hospital, three died in a long-term care facility and one died at home. The 14 individuals ranged in age from 45 to 93.

Wednesday marked the first time that officials reported deaths numbering in the double digits since June 10.

Since March, a total of 478 females and 430 males, who ranged in age from 34 to 104, have died from the virus in the county.

Data also indicates that county residents appear to have a greater chance now than they did several months ago of encountering a positive individual.

According to county data, on June 26, the county recorded 443 positive COVID-19 cases over two weeks, meaning at that time, a county resident was likely to encounter one positive individual for every 1,875 people with whom they interacted.

Comparatively, on Dec. 9, the county recorded 5,359 positive cases over 14-days, meaning a county resident was likely to encounter a positive individual for every 155 people with whom they interacted.

“Each of us has the power to improve this situation by making choices that will reduce the spread of the coronavirus,” Arkoosh said.

To flatten the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the county and to keep the positivity rate below 5%, Arkoosh 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.

“The choices that each of us makes regarding our personal conduct…and how we plan to celebrate the upcoming holidays impact all of us,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the weekly news briefing by fellow Commissioner Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr.

“If you can work at home, please do. Avoid carpools if possible and if you can’t, each person should wear a mask and the windows should be open for the entire drive,” 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 Dec, 4, there were 57,705 county residents who obtained tests for COVID-19, which was an increase of 2,959 people tested compared with the 14-day period ending Nov. 27. 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.

The county recently expanded the operating hours at each of the six testing sites to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments can be made weekdays starting at 7 a.m. by visiting www.montcopa.org/COVID-19 and clicking on the county testing information button. Residents can also register for a test at any of the six sites by calling 610-970-2937 beginning 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. 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.

In Lansdale, a testing site is located at 421 Main St. Officials announced that the Lansdale site also will be open this Saturday, Dec. 12, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and online registration for Saturday’s tests will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Another testing site is located at Deep Creek and Snyder roads in the Green Lane Park area.

In Ardmore, a testing site is located at 114 W. Lancaster Avenue and in Willow Grove, a testing site is at First Baptist Church - Crestmont, 1678 Fairview Ave.

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