Commonwealth Media Services

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine in a file photo from September

More than 17,000 health care workers have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine since last week, and residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities across the state will be able to be vaccinated starting next week.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said at a Monday morning press conference that the vaccine, created by Pfizer, will be available at the facilities through a partnership between the federal government and the pharmacy store chains CVS and Walgreens. Getting the vaccines into nursing homes is considered particularly critical because, as of Monday, there have been 47,947 resident cases of COVID-19 in nursing and personal care homes since the beginning of the pandemic nine months ago, and 8,682 cases among employees.

There have been more than 17,000 cases among health care workers in the commonwealth.

With Christmas looming on Friday and the New Year’s holiday coming up next week, Levine strenuously urged Pennsylvanians to celebrate in their homes and “not travel outside Pennsylvania, not travel inside Pennsylvania, and stay the course right through this challenging winter.”

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she explained. “We need people to stay home. Next year at this time, things will look so much better.”

At the same time Levine was predicting that next year’s holiday season would not be as hobbled by COVID-19, the health department announced that 15,100 additional Pennsylvanians tested positive for the coronavirus since Saturday, bringing the cumulative total statewide to 563,589. There were 156 additional deaths in the commonwealth over the weekend, for a total of 13,981 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since March.

Washington County added 210 additional cases since Saturday, and added two new deaths. In the county, 112 people have now died due to COVID-19, and 7,681 have been infected. Greene County added 74 new cases, bringing its total to 1,385, and Fayette County reported 320 new cases since Saturday and two new deaths. Sixty people have died in Fayette County due to COVID-19.

In the last 48 hours, there have been 1,412 new cases in Allegheny County and three new deaths.

Also on Monday, the Department of Health unveiled a new digital case investigation tool for state residents who live in a community without its own municipal or county health department. Called the Connect & Protect Form, it is designed for residents between the ages of 19 and 64 who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The form will allow public health professionals to contact individuals who have been in close contact with someone who has become infected.

Throughout Pennsylvania, there are 230 case investigators who carry out contact tracing for those who have been infected who are younger than 19 and older than 64.

Staff Writer

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. He serves as editorial page editor, and has covered the arts and entertainment and worked as a municipal beat reporter.

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