Bedford County’s Director of Emergency Services is urging residents to continue wearing face masks in public as the number of coronavirus cases rises in the county.
The third death attributed to COVID-19 was reported in Bedford County on Wednesday, while the number of cases increased to 72.
“There is a reason Bedford and surrounding counties are seeing an increase in positive cases of COVID-19, most people have stopped wearing masks in public gatherings and when entering businesses,” Dave Cubbison, Emergency Services Director, said on Thursday.
There have been 31 cases reported since the county moved into Gov. Tom Wolf’s “green phase” on June 5, more than the number of cases in April during the peak in case numbers across Pennsylvania.
Cubbison said the state’s red-yellow-green phase system caused people to misunderstand the status of the pandemic and the need for preventative guidelines.
“Green indicates go,” he said. “People thought this was done and over, that we’re past it. That’s just not correct. It’s the wrong color to use.”
Under the green phase, face coverings are still required for people entering businesses. But Cubbison said many people and businesses stopped following the mask order and other guidelines when the county went green.
“I saw residents — friends and neighbors — drop their masks,” he said.
Cubbison said increased testing will lead to more positive tests, but said he believes people not following social distancing guidelines is the main reason for the local spike.
Bedford County is one of 17 counties in the state with a rise in the rate of new cases over the past two weeks, while 11 were falling and 39 were statistically unchanged or had an unclear trend, according to data from Spotlight PA.
Blair and Somerset counties are among those that also have “rising” trends.
“It’s not a political statement,” Cubbison said about deciding to wear a mask. “Please be compassionate for your friends, family and neighbors. It’s an inconvenience, but do it for the people around you, if not for yourself.”
In addition to stores and other businesses, Cubbison said he believes the guidelines should be followed in churches and other houses of worship.
He noted that 80% of people with the virus have only mild symptoms and can unknowingly spread the virus to others, including those most at risk of developing severe symptoms.
Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
While nationally many of the virus cases have been reported in longterm care facilities, that hasn’t been the case in Bedford County, where there has been one reported case.
Cubbison said Donahoe Manor and Pennknoll Village were proactive in preventing the virus from entering their facilities.
“They were on top of it,” he said. “They really did everything they could.”
Another concern for officials has been the threat of the virus at the jail.
Four employees at the Bedford County Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus, but Cubbison said it does not appear, at this time, it had spread to the inmate population.
Warden Troy Nelson last week said the employees who tested positive have been quarantined at their residences and that sanitation measures were “enhanced.”
County officials were in contact with those from Huntingdon County, where the state Correctional Institution had a widespread outbreak earlier this spring.
“Huntingdon has shared quite a bit of information,” Cubbison said.
Cubbison said UPMC Bedford Memorial and other agencies, like the Center for Community Action and the Southern Alleghenies EMS Council, have been working together to continue to plan and prepare for the virus. He said the main objective now is planning for the fall, when he expects cases to increase.
“I can say with 100% certainty there will be a surge in the fall,” he said.
If there is an increase in cases in the fall, it will likely converge with regular seasonal flu. Cubbison said that one of the biggest threats of the virus is that it can overwhelm hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
“When the fall surge occurs, our greatest efforts will be to protect the workers in healthcare facilities and our first responders,” he said. “If this system is to remain viable, then it is up to us to be responsible, now.”
Cubbison added that a date for a vaccine is unknown and that even with widespread testing, tracing and vaccination, herd immunity will take an extended period.
A news release issued by Cubbison on Thursday stated the Bedford County commissioners are kept informed of the data on a regular basis and “feel it is imperative for the residents of Bedford County to have a clear understanding of how to keep Bedford County in the green.” For additional information on county operations and links to other COVID-19 resources, visit www.bedfordcountypa.org.