Coronavirus - COVID-19 surge

READING, Pa. – Faced with the reality of drastically rising cases of COVID-19, the Berks County commissioners and county officials offered an urgent call for residents to unite in efforts to mitigate the virus.

Brian Gottschall, the director of the Berks County Department of Emergency Services, in his weekly COVID-19 update at the commissioner's meeting on Thursday, reported positivity rates for COVID-19 tests in the county are now consistently reaching the 35% to 40% range.

The statistic Gottschall used did not include the serial testing being done in facilities, but only first-time tests.

"While we can debate what society is doing, one thing is irrefutable; the virus is killing people in large numbers in the county and in Pennsylvania," Gottschall said. "The human toll is undeniable. Excess deaths beyond the norm [in other years] are up 12% this year."

In addition, Gottschall said local hospitals are being affected and officials at those facilities are worried about the volume of cases coming into their facilities. 

"In the coming weeks, institutions may be faced with decisions of turning people away for non-critical conditions," he said. "The action we take today to mitigate to curve the spread are only going to be felt in two to three weeks. We can't make things better on a dime, but we have the ability as a community to flatten the curve." 

Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach said the information is sobering.

"There are a number of areas where people can disagree, but when we see factual data, it should cause us to say this is a serious issue," he said.

Commissioner Michael S. Rivera also said you can't argue with the facts. 

"I would urge that in this holiday season, when we like to be with friends and family, let’s be careful," said Rivera, who tested positive for the coronavirus in August.

Ronald R. Seaman, the county's chief administrative officer, said the Unites States needs to wake up as a country.

"No one has a right to inflict harm on someone else," Seaman said. "By not wearing a mask, you are doing just that." 

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt praised the COVID-19 contact tracing work being done by Co-County Wellness.

"We had $1 million budgeted based on what we saw in other counties," Barnhardt said. "To date, Co-County has billed us $51,000. This is an amazing achievement for a nonprofit organization that was ready to go and help us. Carolyn Bazik (executive director) and her team are doing are tremendous job." 

Barnhardt reported there were 374 new contacts this past week.

"The numbers are troubling," he said. "To put the numbers in perspective, from June 3 until Nov. 3, there were 2,806 contacts," Barnhardt said. "From November 5 through November 9, there were 1,661 contacts."

Co-County currently has 24 individuals working as contact tracers.

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