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Pennsylvania records 1,295 additional positive coronavirus cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported Sunday that an additional 19 people had died in the state due to the coronavirus.

It brings the statewide death toll to 3,707. Across the United States, the toll stands close to 80,000. Pennsylvania also reported an additional 1,295 positive cases, bringing the statewide number to 56,611.

There was no increase in the number of confirmed cases or deaths in Washington or Greene counties.

Behind the Mask: Washington anesthesiologist is thrill seeker

Editor’s note: Behind the Mask is a series intended to offer a glimpse at area medical professionals who are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mark Backeris is an anesthesiologist and Medical Director of Surgical Services for Washington Health System. He is a graduate of North Allegheny Senior High School, Duquesne University, St. Joseph’s University and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his anesthesia residency at University of Pittsburgh. His hobbies include high performance driving, gravel and mountain biking, downhill skiing and cooking.

Backeris and his wife, Caitlin, have two daughters, Marika, 2 ½, and Iliana, who is five weeks old.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

One of my mentors in residency, Dr. Patrick Forte, told our new anesthesia class, “the people that have had the most success around here didn’t spend time worrying about what everybody else was up to.” He had seen all too many get caught up in the little things, like who got the chance to do the most exciting cases, who got to go home first, or who ended up having to work what holiday, to their detriment. His point was that if you spend too much time focusing on the good hands that others are being dealt, you could lose sight of your own blessings and end up not being able to make the most of them.

Q. What would be your ideal way to spend a weekend?

As much as I love spending time with our children, I would gladly send them off to have a fun-filled weekend with their grandparents for a chance to spend one-on-one time with my amazing wife, Caitlin. Where we go or what we do isn’t as important as just being able to be with her, just her. Although, chances are good that a live show of one of our favorite bands would be included.

Q. Why did you decide to do the work you do now?

I inherited my interest in anesthesia from my mother, Karen. Initially, it was probably the draw of her awesome neon yellow markers. From time to time, I’d creep out of bed at night, and she’d let me sit by her side and highlight with those markers while she studied to become a nurse anesthetist. It wasn’t really just the markers, though. My mom has always been one to care for and help others, and I was definitely fortunate enough to take after her in that regard. After I grew up, and fostered my interests in people, physiology and medicine, I found myself with the desire to shepherd people through stressful and vulnerable times as only anesthesia could.

I was also heavily influenced by my father, Van, who had his own successful sales and consulting business. He taught me to find ways to offer more, the importance of strong communication and always showed me what it meant to be a leader. It was from this example that I pursued my MBA during medical school. As a result, I found myself prepared enough to become the medical director of surgical services at Washington Health System a couple of years into practice. Now I am fortunate enough to work with an amazing team of administrators, directors and managers, all striving together to find ways for WHS to offer more to the community.

Q. What could you give a half-hour presentation on without any preparation?

Well I suppose I could bore any number of people with numerous medical, nutritional, or anesthesia related topics, but I’m tired of watching people fall asleep when I talk to them. So instead, let me tell you all of the exciting details about driving a car fast around a race track. First, what you have to do is make sure you have your brake fluid flushed. As you are well aware, brake fluid is hygroscopic, making its boiling temperature … 3 hours later … so, finally you can carefully tighten back the bleeder valves and, oh no, I’ve done it again. Terribly sorry.

Q. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Nothing makes me more proud than being able to call Caitlin Rae Backeris my wife. She’s incredible in every way – loving, warm, beautiful, talented and most of all, driven. We balance each other out and I know we’d be lost without each other. If there is one thing that I can teach my girls, it will be that the most important decision you can make is who you choose to spend your time with. I couldn’t imagine spending my time with anyone else.

Q. What do you want people to know about the COVID-19 pandemic.

I want people to know that we will get past it. It might be hard to believe that right now as we lose loved ones, our health, our jobs and even just some of our favorite things to do. However, we are strong and our world has faced greater threats than this, even if it’s hard to see that right now. We must stand together to get through this. That means listening to our medical professionals, as well as state and local governments. Follow the social distancing guidelines set for us and patiently wait for when it is safe for us to begin to get back the pieces of our lives that we miss so much right now. We are only as strong as the weakest among us. I have faith that makes us very strong indeed.

Pence self-isolating after exposure to aide with virus

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence was self-isolating Sunday after an aide tested positive for the coronavirus last week, joining three of the nation’s top scientists in taking protective steps after possible exposure.

An administration official said Pence was voluntarily keeping his distance from other people in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19 since his exposure but was following the advice of medical officials.

“Vice President Pence will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said Sunday. “Additionally, Vice President Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”

Pence has been at home since returning to Washington from a day trip to Iowa on Friday and did not appear at President Donald Trump’s meeting with military leaders Saturday at the White House. Pence was informed of the aide’s positive test shortly before departing for that trip.

An official initially said Pence planned to continue working from home, before Pence’s office clarified that he planned to work from the White House today. It was not immediately clear how Pence’s steps to self-isolate would impact his professional or public engagements.

Pence has led the White House coronavirus task force for more than two months. Top officials who have gone into quarantine because of exposure to a person at the White House who tested positive for the virus are Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC; and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn.

Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, making her the second person who works at the White House complex known to test positive for the virus this week.

A military service member who acts as a valet to the president tested positive on Thursday, the first known instance where a person in close proximity to the president at the White House had tested positive.

After Miller was identified as having tested positive, Trump said he was “not worried” about the virus spreading in the White House. Nonetheless, officials said they were stepping up safety protocols for the complex.

The three other task force members have indicated varying plans for dealing with their exposure. None has announced testing positive for the virus and, taking into account what has been described as limited exposure to the infected person, are considered at relatively low risk for infection.

Fauci’s institute said he was “taking appropriate precautions” to mitigate the risk to others while still carrying out his duties, teleworking from home but willing to go to the White House if called. Officials said both Redfield and Hahn will be self-quarantining for two weeks.

The three officials were expected to testify by videoconference before a Senate health committee on Tuesday. On Sunday night, the office of the chairman of the committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced that the senator would be self-quarantining in Tennessee for two weeks after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Alexander too will participate in the hearing by videoconference.

Leaders balance optimism with threat of second virus wave

HOUSTON – Trump administration officials spoke optimistically about a relatively quick rebound from the coronavirus Sunday as life within the White House reflected the stark challenges still posed by the pandemic, with Vice President Mike Pence “self-isolating” after one of his aides tested positive.

A balancing act was playing out the world over, with leaders starting to loosen lockdowns that have left millions unemployed while also warning of the threat of a second wave of infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the American economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.

“I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint,” said Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.”

But the director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said the moves by states to re-open businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.

A reminder of the continued threat, Pence’s move came after three members of the White House’s coronavirus task force placed themselves in quarantine after coming into contact with the aide. An administration official said Pence was voluntarily keeping his distance from other people and has repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19 since his exposure. He plans to be at the White House today.

Families, meanwhile, marked Mother’s Day in a time of social distancing. For many, it was their first without loved ones lost in the pandemic. Others sent good wishes from a safe distance or through phone and video calls.

The virus has caused particular suffering for the elderly, with more than 26,000 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the United States, according to an Associated Press tally.

At a senior center in Smyrna, Georgia, 73-year-old Mary Washington spoke to her daughter Courtney Crosby and grandchild Sydney Crosby through a window.

In Germany, which was also celebrating mothers, officials made an exception to allow children who live outside the country to enter for a Mother’s Day visit. Germany’s restrictions currently forbid entry except for “compelling reasons,” such as work.

In Grafton, West Virginia, where the tradition of Mother’s Day began 112 years ago, the brick building now known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine held its first online-only audience. Anna Jarvis first held a memorial service for her mother and all mothers on the second Sunday of May in 1908.

“Sheltered safely at home with the family together would be viewed by Anna Jarvis as exactly the way she wanted Mother’s Day to be observed,” said Marvin Gelhausen, chairman of the shrine’s board of trustees, in an address on YouTube.

Matilda Cuomo, the mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called into her son’s daily briefing so he and his three daughters could wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

“I am so blessed as many mothers today are,” she said.

The governor announced two policy reversals a day after an Associated Press report in which residents’ relatives, watchdog groups and politicians from both parties alleged he was not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died. Nursing home staff in New York will now have to undergo COVID-19 tests twice a week and facilities will no longer be required to take in hospital patients who were infected.

The United States has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths, the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and more than 280,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress already made.

Those in the construction or manufacturing industries or other jobs that can’t be done at home “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week, he said. Johnson, who has taken a tougher line after falling ill himself with what he called “this devilish illness,” set a goal of June 1 to begin re-opening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the transmission rate of each infected person.

“We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” he said. “We’re going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health.”

Germany, which managed to push new infections below 1,000 daily before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes.

France is letting some younger students go back to school Monday after almost two months out. Attendance won’t be compulsory right away. Residents of some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places Monday, but Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.

China, where the virus was first detected, reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days. Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, prompting authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.

Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, three sisters and other relatives.

South Korea reported 34 more cases as new infections linked to nightclubs threaten its hard-won gains against the virus. It was the first time that South Korea’s daily infections were above 30 in about a month.


Jordans reported from Berlin. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed.


Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak