Penn State Health St. Joseph

BERN TWP., Pa. - The coronavirus outbreak is prompting Penn State Health to suspend non-essential, elective surgeries at its two hospitals, including St. Joseph Medical Center in Berks County, effective Thursday.

The health system said Wednesday that it is communicating directly with affected patients about any changes to their surgical care.

On Monday, Penn State Health said it asked all of its surgeons to start conducting a case-by-case review of their operating room schedules with the intent of canceling all non-essential, elective procedures.

"It is important to note that the term 'elective' when used to describe surgical care is extremely broad in scope," said Dr. Peter Dillon, Penn State Health's executive vice president and chief clinical officer. "There are some procedures we perform that may appear to be routine but that, if canceled, could result in significant negative impact on a patient's health. This is why case-by-case reviews are vital."

The health system said the move is part of its extensive plans to respond to the COVID-19 issue, and precautions designed to protect patients, physicians and staff.

Penn State Health said cancelling the surgeries will help it preserve medical supplies and personal protective equipment that may be needed to care for patients during the pandemic.

The move comes as Pennsylvania health officials announced Wednesday the first positive case of coronavirus in Berks County, bringing the statewide total to 133.

Penn State Health also includes the Hershey Medical Center in Dauphin County.