EAGLEVILLE — Montgomery County officials reported 23 new positive cases of coronavirus on Tuesday and announced relaxed criteria for those residents seeking a test at the county’s first mass testing site in Upper Dublin.

The 23 new cases of COVID-19 bring the county’s total number of cases to 159 since March 7.

“That doesn’t mean that we have 159 people that are still ill. It’s quite possible that in those early days some of those folks have recovered and are doing fine,” county Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said during a news briefing.

The new cases in the county included 11 men and 12 women whose ages ranged between 22 and 86. Two of the individuals are hospitalized, Arkoosh said.

The new reported positive cases of COVID-19 included individuals from 17 municipalities.

Officials previously reported one coronavirus death in the county, a 72-year-old Abington man, but Arkoosh said on Tuesday that she has not been notified of “any additional loss of life.”

Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were a total of 851 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of noon on Tuesday.

Neighboring Delaware County reported 84 cases and Chester County reported 40 positive cases while Bucks County reported 65 cases, according to state officials. Berks County reported 16 cases, Lehigh County reported 27 cases and Philadelphia had 177 cases by noon.

Officials said they anticipated seeing an increase in the number of individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus, given the fact the county is now testing more people.

Arkoosh continued to reinforce the “social distancing and mitigation measures” recommended by health officials to help prevent the spread of the virus. To emphasize the importance of those measures the commissioners shared a graphic that showed that without social distancing, one person with COVID-19 is estimated to infect 2.5 people.

“So over a 30-day period, that one person with no social distancing measures could potentially infect 406 people,” Arkoosh said. “If we can reduce that exposure by 50 percent, so now that one person infects 1.25 people, by 30 days there have only been a total of 15 people infected.”

And if officials can reduce exposure by 75 percent, then after 30 days less than two people would be infected, according to the research cited by Arkoosh.

“So you can see what a dramatic difference it can make right here in our community if we all just stay home, unless absolutely necessary,” Arkoosh said.

Officials said the county’s community-based COVID-19 testing site, which began operating last Friday at Temple University’s Ambler Campus in Upper Dublin, initially for first responders and healthcare workers and currently for members of the general public who meet specific criteria, has tested more than 1,100 people.

“Things are going very smoothly there,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the news conference by fellow commissioners Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. and Joseph C. Gale, and Dr. Alvin Wang, regional EMS medical director, and Dr. Brenda Weis, administrator of the Office of Public Health.

Arkoosh thanked Temple University and Upper Dublin officials for their support and the Pennsylvania National Guard’s medical unit, which is administering the tests.

National Guard officials said Tuesday that as many as 275 people have been tested each day. At the direction of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, approximately 80 members of the National Guard support the county’s operation of the first mass testing site.

“There has been a lot of limitations in terms of medical facilities so far being able to test for the coronavirus both in terms of testing and the proper personal protective equipment to make sure the healthcare personnel are not exposed,” said Lieutenant Col. Richard Lorraine, of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. “So, since we are trained in that environment, we have been asked to come here to support Montgomery County and to staff the testing area.”

The test site remains under the control of Montgomery County.

The site will provide testing by appointment only. There will not be any treatment conducted at the site, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily as testing supplies allow.

Officials announced that beginning Tuesday, they were able to relax testing criteria to now include people of any age who have symptoms of sudden illness, such as fever or cough or shortness of breath or loss of smell or taste or gastrointestinal symptoms, whether or not they have a fever.

Individuals meeting one or more of the following criteria also are eligible for testing: 1. If you are a first responder, a member of law enforcement, fire, EMS or a dispatcher and you have concern for exposure to a patient with suspected COVID-19 or have respiratory symptoms; 2. Healthcare workers providing direct patient care and who have concern that they were exposed to a patient with suspected COVID-19 or have symptoms of any acute illness with or without fever; 3. Anyone with known or suspected direct contact with someone who has COVID-19; or 4) Anyone whose doctor has recommended that they be tested.

“So, we welcome all of those individuals. Due to the still limited number of tests available, tests will be reserved for the higher risk individuals. Generally, healthy individuals who have mild symptoms and no underlying medical conditions should remain at home and continue self-isolation. You do not need to be tested at this time,” Arkoosh explained. “Criteria may be further relaxed or enhanced based on the future availability of tests.”

The link to register is available at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19 as well as at the county’s official social media accounts, officials said.

Individuals who do not have access to the Internet or do not have an email address can call 610-631-3000 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily to register for a testing appointment.

The commissioners reminded residents that Gov. Tom Wolf issued a two week, stay-at-home order for county residents that began on Monday.

“All individuals currently living within Montgomery County are ordered to stay at home. I believe that staying home, except for essential work or trips, is the most important thing that we can do as a county to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect those that are most vulnerable to this disease – the elderly, those with serious underlying medical conditions and those that are immunocompromised,” Arkoosh said.

Arkoosh said staying at home can protect first responders, hospitals, healthcare workers and other critical workforce from being overwhelmed by COVID-19.

“All life-sustaining businesses and operations are encouraged to remain open. Essential businesses and operations must comply with social distancing requirements,” said Arkoosh. “Non-essential businesses should be closed.”

Under the guidelines, residents can leave their homes to engage in activities or perform tasks essential to their “health and safety” or that of a family member, such as seeking emergency services, obtaining medical supplies or medications or visiting a healthcare professional.

Residents can leave their homes to obtain necessary supplies such as groceries and food, household consumer products and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operation of their residence.

Life-sustaining businesses include stores that sell groceries and medicines, organizations that provide charitable and social services such as food pantries, religious entities, media, gas stations, financial and insurance institutions, hardware and supply stores, mail and package delivery services, and restaurants for take-out services.

District Attorney Kevin R. Steele previously advised all residents and businesses to comply with the stay-at-home order restrictions and explained violators could face summary fines of $300 or other penalties, including misdemeanor charges of obstruction of the administration of justice or law or other government function, which could lead to jail time.

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