After back-to-back days setting single-day highs for new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases last week and a single-day total of 240 new cases Tuesday, Westmoreland County has set a new seven-day mark for new cases, as well as a new high for the seven-day average in new cases.

According to the county’s website, the county saw a record 1,465 new coronavirus cases in the seven-day stretch from Nov. 18-24, including a single-day record 259 positive coronavirus tests on Nov. 19. The average daily new cases during that seven-day period (209) sets a new high for the county.

The county’s case total since the start of the pandemic has grown to nearly 7,900 cases, according to the state health department. That figure includes 6,182 confirmed cases and 1,704 probable cases.

There had been 61,074 negative tests in the county as of Tuesday’s update.

According to Westmoreland County’s website, last updated at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the county had 7,886 total coronavirus cases, an increase of 240 cases from Monday. As of the update, there had been 61,074 negative COVID-19 tests in Westmoreland County (88.56%).

The daily coronavirus figures on the Westmoreland County website typically differ slightly from those on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated at noon each day. The county’s site is updated at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a weekend recap included with each Monday’s update.

There had been 172 deaths among Westmoreland County residents attributed to coronavirus as of Tuesday’s county update, as confirmed by the state health department through the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS). The Pennsylvania Department of Health as of its update Sunday listed 163 coronavirus deaths among Westmoreland County residents.

The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office on Tuesday increased its listed total of coronavirus deaths from 141 to 154 — 147 confirmed by testing and another seven presumed cases based on symptoms. The youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Westmoreland County was 36, according to the coroner’s office, and the oldest 109.

The coroner’s COVID-19 death total includes any individual whose death occurred in Westmoreland County, regardless of their county of residence. Of Westmoreland County’s coronavirus deaths, 97 were associated with long term care facilities, according to the state health department.

There were 82 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county as of Tuesday’s update, up from 75 as of Sunday, according to the state health department, 12 of them on intensive care units, and eight coronavirus patients on ventilators.

Statewide coronavirus numbers have also continued to surge with the state’s total cases now exceeding 321,000. That figure includes 299,068 confirmed cases in the state and 22,002 probable cases as of Tuesday’s update. Throughout Pennsylvania, 9,951 people have died of coronavirus, according to the state health department. Of those deaths, 6,292 are associated with long term care facilities.

There were 3,897 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide as of Tuesday’s update from the Department of Health, 826 on intensive care units and 405 on ventilators.

Long term care facilities have been coronavirus hot spots throughout the pandemic. Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 32,536 coronavirus cases among residents and 6,437 cases among staff members at 1,228 long term care facilities. There have been 6,292 coronavirus deaths in the state attributed to long term care facilities.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 36 long term care facilities have accounted for 1,014 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 131 cases among staff members and 97 coronavirus deaths as of Tuesday’s update. That’s an increase of eight deaths since Sunday’s update.

Westmoreland County school districts, like many across the state, must decide by 5 p.m. Monday whether to commit to a full-remote instructional model in response to rising coronavirus (COVID-19) case totals or sign off on their compliance with state pandemic safety protocols.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Monday announced all public schools in counties that have fallen within the “substantial” category of community coronavirus transmission for at least two consecutive weeks — 59 of the state’s 67 counties, as of Friday — fall under the new directive.

Cameron and Sullivan counties are the only counties in the state that have remained in the “low” category of community transmission every week since the metric was rolled out in late July, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. For the most recent week, Nov. 13-19, Cameron and Sullivan counties (both “low”), as well as Pike and Wayne counties (“moderate”) were the only counties not to fall within the “substantial” category. Other counties that don’t meet the criteria of two consecutive weeks within the “substantial” category include Forest County, which jumped from “low” to “substantial” for the most recent week, and Fayette, Susquehanna and Warren counties, which all moved from “moderate” to “substantial” for the most recent week.

The surge in cases in recent weeks has already pushed some local school districts to return to remote learning, as Westmoreland County has now spent two straight weeks in the “substantial” category of community transmission after a week where case totals had waned enough to drop the county into the “moderate” category.

The level of community transmission of COVID-19 factors in the incidence rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day span — and the positivity rate among those tested.

Westmoreland County had remained in the “moderate” level of community transmission since before the start of the 2020-21 school year, but for three weeks had fallen into the “substantial” category after weeks of surging coronavirus case totals. In order to fall into the “low” level of community transmission, the incidence rate over a seven-day stretch must be fewer than 10 residents per 100,000 and the positivity rate must be less than 5%.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Westmoreland County’s incidence rate for the seven-day period of Oct. 30 through Nov. 5 was just below the “substantial” threshold at 99.8 per 100,000 and the percent positivity rate fell to 6.7%. But the county’s incidence rate since then has spiked.

For the seven-day period of Nov. 6-12, the county’s incidence rate increased to 144.3 per 100,000 and the percent positivity rate increased to 8.2%, according to the state’s COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard. The incidence rate skyrocketed for the seven-day period from Nov. 13-19.

According to the state health department, Westmoreland County’s incidence rate for the period of Nov. 13-19 was 249.3 per 100,000 — an increase of 105 — and the percent positivity rate grew to 10.9%.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website provides recommendations to school districts on determining which instructional model to implement based on the level of community transmission. According to the state guidelines, districts in a county under the “substantial” category are recommended to implement a full-remote learning model. The state education department only recommends full-time in-person instruction in counties where the community transmission rate is “low,” with school districts in counties under the “moderate” category are recommended to utilize either full-remote or a blended learning model, also referred to by some districts as a hybrid model.

Ligonier Valley School District on Saturday announced it would be returning to a full-remote instructional model for at least two weeks, beginning Nov. 23 and extending until at least Friday, Dec. 4. The change comes a week after the district returned from two weeks of remote learning to its hybrid model of instruction — a portion of the district’s learners attending in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday while another portion attended on Thursday and Friday, with all learners participating remotely on Wednesday. Ligonier Valley has implemented either a hybrid or full-remote model for the entire 2020-21 school year so far, citing a lack of available floor space within the district’s schools to accommodate social distancing guidelines at full attendance levels.

Greater Latrobe School District, which returned to a blended model offering the option of either full-remote or full-time in-person instruction on Nov. 16, had not issued any announcement as of 5 a.m. Tuesday that the instructional model would be changing for the shortened week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday or when students return to classes on Dec. 1 following the break. Students are scheduled to attend classes Monday and Tuesday, with an early dismissal on Wednesday. The district had been operating under a full-remote instructional model from Nov. 2 through Nov. 13 before resuming in-person classes.

Derry Area School District on its website announced Friday a schedule change for the holiday week, but as of 5 a.m. Tuesday had not made an announcement regarding its instructional model when students resume classes following the break. The district on Nov. 16 returned to full-time in-person instruction for elementary students, while middle- and high-school students returned to a hybrid model similar to the one utilized at Ligonier Valley. Derry Area students had been in a full-remote instructional model since Oct. 13 after learning five staff members tested positive for the virus. According to the announcement on the district website, each of the two groups for hybrid learning will attend school in-person one day this week — either Monday or Tuesday — ahead of the early dismissal planned on Wednesday. The schedule revision doesn’t affect fully remote students or elementary students receiving full-time in-person instruction.

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