Hazleton and Luzerne County were mentioned many times in the Department of Health's COVID-19 Update earlier today, recognizing Hazleton's unique situation and quickly growing case numbers. Hazleton and Luzerne County were mentioned many times as "areas of concern."
Secretary Levine addressed Luzerne County as an area of concern during the press conference. "In addition to the Southeast, Philadelphia and the collar Counties, the Northeast, whether it's Luzerne County, Lehigh County, Monroe County, others... Have been an area of concern as well, so we have been looking to put in place a temporary medical facility in the northeast and we're also looking to put in a mass testing facility in the Northeast" Levine said.
Governor Wolf, when asked about assistance from the National Guard in Hazleton, stated that he has been working with local officials and has spoken with Congressman Matt Cartwright. "I had a call yesterday with Congressman Matt Cartwright to talk about some things we might do (in the Hazleton Area), none of those involved sending in the National Guard."
When asked about concerns about Philadelphia becoming one of the next hotspots, Secretary Levine confirmed that the Southeast remains an area of significant concern, called attention to Hazleton and Luzerne County. "Another area of concern for us is the Northeast. The Governor has mentioned the Hazleton area in Luzerne County, even also Lehigh Valley and Monroe County was discussed, so those are the areas that are of most concern."
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is projected to overtake Louisiana as the fifth highest state in the US with positive COVID-19 cases, behind only Louisiana, California, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. Pennsylvania is the 5th highest state in the country for new cases today, moving up from the 6th fasted growing state in the country yesterday.
In a press conference today, Mayor Cusat talked briefly about Hazleton's case numbers. "As our number of confirmed cases reaches around 1,000, the number doesn't mean anything, the testing sites can't keep up the demand of the people that need to be tested, therefore it's going to skew the numbers, that positive number doesn't matter. It's here, it's not going to get better until we follow the guidelines of the CDC,"
Luzerne County as a whole has 1134 cases, though not all of Hazleton's confirmed test results may be listed in Luzerne County due to the PA Department of Health counting cases by the patient's residence. Hazleton's numbers only reflect positive cases that were tested at one of the City's testing sites.
Luzerne County is currently 4th in the state. The top five Counties by total cases out of Pennsylvania's 67 Counties are:
Philadelphia - 4456
Montgomery - 1521
Lehigh - 1319
Luzerne - 1134
Delaware - 1034
In comparison, the entire country of New Zealand has a total of 1,210 cases. Iraq, Hungary, Kuwait, and dozens of other countries have fewer total cases than Luzerne County.
Many things add up to the "perfect storm" in the Hazleton area. One major issue is the direct lines of transport and travel to New York City and Patterson, New Jersey, Both locations are hotspots in their own state with New York City representing the epicenter of the virus in the United States.
Another issue within the Hazleton area is that a majority of the population is employed in one of many industrial parks in the area. Companies like Amazon, Mission Foods, Cargill, and many more where hundreds or even thousands of employees work in common environments with little to no protection. While some companies like Cargill are choosing to voluntarily close, other companies such as Hershey and American Eagle continue operations despite their questionable status as "essential" businesses.
Lastly, Hazleton City itself carries a reputation of Illegal activity in normal times. Lehigh Valley Health Network and Mayor Cusat's statistics of only 18% of residents in the Hazleton area practicing social distancing confirms that people in the Hazleton area just aren't listening.
If transportation to and from COVID-19 hotspots does not stop, if companies with thousands of employees continue to operate without providing PPE and without closing for cleaning, and most importantly if Hazleton area residents don't start listening to the warnings, the Hazleton area is at risk of becoming one of Pennsylvania's hardest-hit areas in the state.
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