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COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: Gov. Wolf Paints Bleak Picture Of Overwhelmed Hospitals But Avoids Restrictions For Now

By: KDKA-TV News Staff

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - Gov. Tom Wolf held a press conference Monday with a message for the state: "Pennsylvania, we have a problem."

The governor painted a bleak picture of hospitals and healthcare systems overwhelmed, ICU beds full up and the public being turned away for necessary treatments. He said the continued rise in the virus makes this grim scenario not only possible, but likely.

"If we don't slow the spread of this dangerous virus now, if we don't do this, the reality is that COVID-19 will overwhelm our hospitals, will overwhelm our healthcare systems," Gov. Wolf said.

He urged Pennsylvanians to stay home, not to attend gatherings and to wear a mask when they have to leave the house.

"What happens if there's simply no more beds? No more ventilators available?" Gov. Wolf said. "If the worst happens, hospitals will not be able to treat all sick Pennsylvanians. They'll be forced to turn away people who need treatment and that means more Pennsylvanians will die."

When it comes to new mitigation measures, he said he thought restrictions from a few weeks ago would have worked and stopped the numbers from becoming as "alarming" as they are now.

"We are looking at all sorts of issues right now, and very shortly we'll come back with more recommendations," he said.

The message the governor said he wanted to emphasize is that people need to take the virus seriously, and he said the state will be looking at what it can do.

"All of us are in this together, and the state needs to do whatever it can and we will continue to do that, and if we need to do more, we will, and we will be making that decision very shortly," he said.

The warning from the governor comes as the statewide percent positivity for Nov. 27 through Dec. 3 jumped to 14.4% compared to 11.7% the week before. There are nine counties -- including Somerset and Lawrence in our area -- experiencing percent positivity at or above 20%.

Last week, there was a seven-day increase of more than 48,000 cases and 66 out of the state's 67 counties have "substantial" transmission of the virus.

While healthcare systems in southwestern Pennsylvania say there's sufficient capacity for the foreseeable future, some rural and independent hospitals are already at their limit.

Last week, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said southwestern Pennsylvania is struggling with staffing and a third or more of the hospitals in our region will soon experience staffing shortages.

State Sen. Jay Costa says if those numbers continue to grow, restrictions and shutdowns will be coming.

"It's the last thing we want to do, but it may be the only choice we have unless folks get serious about following and adhering to the guidelines," Sen. Costa said.

Under current restrictions and guidelines, Totin's Diner In Wexford has lost a half-million dollars, employees are down 50 percent in tips and layoffs loom. If further restrictions are coming, owner Jim Totin says he'll need assistance.

"I think the government -- the state, the federal, somebody -- has to help us out. Employees, business owners, we need help. Step in, lead, bail us out basically. Another PPP round," said Totin.

Gov. Wolf held off for now in imposing new restrictions or shutdowns but instead asked the public to take responsibility to contain the spread.

"Right now we all need to take a hard look at our choices and our actions and take every precaution to protect our neighbors, our families and our friends. This is really up to each and every one of us," he said.

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