COVID-19 cases increasing in the area; Penn Highlands addresses preparations

Dr Sheehan

The number of COVID-19 cases in Clearfield County now stands at four. Indiana County now has six confirmed cases while Clarion County has three. Centre County has 26.

One problem this area is facing is the lack of testing that’s available to know just how widespread the disease really is.

Dr Shaun Sheehan, the director of the COVID-19 task force at Penn Highlands Healthcare, said in a teleconference today that that problem will not go away anytime soon.

“There’s no indication that will happen [more tests becoming available] in the short time,” he said. He added it was dependent upon industries ramping up and making more tests.

When asked about the complacency about the virus in rural areas, Dr. Sheehan said the data shows the virus is “serious” and “life-threatening.”

“Even if it’s not life threatening [to some individuals], those who get the virus have something they describe as maybe the worst influenza of their life,” he said. “On average, it can take five to six days to become symptomatic. However, there are individuals that it can take up to 14 days to become symptomatic.” He added that many of us could be carriers of COVID-19 and not be aware and may not be symptomatic at all.

“If we’re carriers, and we bump into somebody who has a health condition, it can be deadly, so we have to take it very, very seriously.”

Penn Highlands is following CDC guidelines when it comes to testing. It takes a doctor’s order to receive a test, so the first step for someone showing symptoms is to call their primary care physician.

PAPR masks

Mark Norman, Penn Highlands Chief Operating Officer, said his facilities are preparing for the worst-case scenario. Right now, he described the personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies such as masks as adequate, but donations are still being sought and accepted. Last week, a large donation came in from this DuBois Area School District. This week, Norman said the local manufacturer Domtar donated power air-purifying respirator (PAPR) masks.

When asked, Norman said Penn Highlands has 30 ICU beds, with the capacity to go to 90. The same numbers were given for ventilators.

So far, no healthcare workers in the Penn Highland system have tested positive for COVID-19 and there is a protocol in place to check.

Norman reiterated the importance of following CDC guidelines when it comes to the virus, including social distancing, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequent hand washing. He also encouraged people in the area to give blood if possible.

Penn Highlands plans to hold weekly teleconferences to keep the people in the region informed about this crisis.

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