PA Health Secretary “Toughens” Quarantine and Mask Wearing Orders, Recommendations for Colleges and Universities

As Pennsylvania experiences a resurgence of COVID-19 cases with significantly higher daily case counts than in the spring and hospitalizations on the rise, the state has identified four new mitigation efforts, which Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced today that include traveler testing orders, mask wearing indoors and recommendations for college and universities.

“It is our collective responsibility to protect our communities and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians from COVID-19.  These strategic and targeted actions are an important start to protecting our communities.  Each and everyone of us has an important job to do to make sure that schools and businesses can stay open”, said Dr. Levine.

Dr. Levine said there is no plan for the state to enforce these mandates nor is there a plan to shutdown the state at this point.

The efforts announced today include:

Strengthened Masking Order

The order signed today strengthens this initial order with these inclusions:

  • Masks are required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home.
  • When outdoors, a mask must be worn if you are not able to remain physically distant (at least 6 feet away) from someone not in your household the entire time you are outdoors.
  • When indoors, masks will now be required even if you are physically distant from members not in your household. This means that even if you are able to be 6 feet apart, you will need to wear a mask while inside if with people other than members of your household.
  • This order applies to every indoor facility, including homes, retail establishments, gyms, doctors’ offices, public transportation, and anywhere food is prepared, packaged or served.

Traveler Testing
Dr. Levine issued an order requiring anyone who visits from another state to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering the commonwealth.

If someone cannot get a test or chooses not to, they must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanians visiting other states are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to their return to the commonwealth or to quarantine for 14 days upon return to Pennsylvania.

This order, which takes effect on Friday, November 20, does not apply to people who commute to and from another state for work or medical treatment.

 Colleges and Universities

The departments of Health and Education issued recommendations for colleges and universities to implement a testing plan for when students return to campus following the holidays.

These recommendations include establishing routine protocols for testing.

Colleges and universities should have adequate capacity for isolation and quarantine and should be prepared to enforce violations of established policies such as mask wearing and physical distancing.

Every college and university should test all students at the beginning of each term, when returning to campus after a break and to have regular screening testing throughout the semester/term.

“We must remain united in stopping COVID-19,” Dr. Levine said. “Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay apart and download the COVID Alert PA app. If you test positive, please answer the call of the case reviewer and provide information that can help protect others. It’s the selfless, right thing to do.”

Protecting Our Health Care System
Dr. Levine issued a memorandum to acute care hospitals outlining expectations to care for Pennsylvanians who need care during the pandemic.

Hospitals are to work through the established health care coalitions and other partnerships to prepare for how they will support one another in the event that a hospital becomes overwhelmed during the pandemic. Hospitals should also be working to move up elective procedures necessary to protect a person’s health and prepare to suspend them if our health care system becomes strained.

Restrictions on elective surgeries put into effect in March and lifted in April were to help with both PPE and bed capacity and were considered successful.

Hospitalizations are increasing, as are ICU patients, and according to modeling from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which does not take into account hospitalizations from influenza, Pennsylvania will run out of intensive care beds in December if ICU admissions continue at the current rate.

The same modeling indicates we will have sufficient medical-surgical beds with some uncertainty as to capacity from region to region.