The most recent seven-day coronavirus data report, which includes data collected from Sept. 11 — 17, puts Bedford County’s testing positivity at 5.3%, up from 3.6% the week before, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. With that, comes a spot on Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus watch list. So what exactly does that mean?
Not a whole lot, said Nate Wardle, press secretary for the state Department of Health. Particularly for Bedford, which has not spent a lot of time above that 5% testing positivity threshold, this is not a cause for concern, he said.
“What really becomes concerning is those counties that are on the list for a few weeks in a row,” Wardle said.
But, he said it means that the PA Department of Health is paying more attention to the numbers in Bedford County and how they progress moving forward.
“It’s nothing to worry about in that aspect,” Wardle said. “But it means it’s a county we’re looking at.”
As of Thursday, Bedford County has reported 235 total cases of the coronavirus, which ranks 23rd out of 67 counties in terms of lowest total reported COVID-19 cases.
Dr. David Burwell, chief quality officer for UPMC Altoona, Bedford, Somerset and Western Maryland, said that relatively low total could contribute to the increase in percentage of positive test results.
“It’s really quite a small number overall,” Burwell said. “If you’re dealing with smaller numbers, percentages might increase more significantly.”
As for what the numbers could mean for schools, Wardle said the above-5% testing positivity rate puts Bedford in the “moderate level of community transmission.” The Department of Health recommends schools in the “moderate” level to use a blended or fully remote institutional model, which most Bedford County school have already implemented.
The Department of Health recommends schools in counties with a 10% testing positivity rate or higher to implement a fully remote model.
Although Wardle said the testing positivity rate in Bedford is not a cause for concern right now, he stressed the importance of staying up to date with the numbers and continuing to do your part in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
“There needs to be awareness that the virus is not gone,” he said. “If we want to keep our kids in school, people need to be aware.”
MORE TESTING IN
On Wednesday, UPMC Bedford opened its new coronavirus collection site, giving people in Bedford County a more convenient way to get tested for COVID-19. The new collection site saw 13 patients on Wednesday and has another 13 scheduled for Thursday and 7 on Friday. This increase of testing in Bedford County could mean a few different things in terms of the numbers, Wardle said.
“It may mean they incidence rate goes up, but percent positivity could go down,” Wardle said. In other words, the total number of positive test results may go up in Bedford County, but the percentage of tests that come back positive might go down.
But Wardle and Burwell both made it clear that more testing is always a positive and gives a more accurate picture of the coronavirus in society.
“From our standpoint it’s all positive,” Wardle said. “Any time you have more testing, it’s a positive. The more testing that occurs, the more we can tell how serious this virus is.”
“By increasing the availability of testing, we believe we’ll have a better picture of the severity of the virus in the community,” Burwell said, echoing Wardle’s emphasis on continuing mitigation efforts.
“Our main focus is to care for our patients and our community,” Burwell added.
With the upcoming flu season, Burwell and Wardle both emphasized the importance of wearing a mask and adhering to proper hygiene and keeping up to date with the coronavirus data.
“(The percent positivity rate) is nothing alarming, but something to be aware of,” Wardle said. “As we go towards fall, it’s important for people to know what’s going on.”
“During this pandemic, we know the influenza and this virus will be in our community at the same time,” Burwell said. “We highly recommend people get their flu shot.”