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Health officials: COVID-19 cases increasing, tests decreasing in Pennsylvania

PA Dept. of Health partnered with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare to test for COVID-19. Week 1, they conducted more than 7,000 tests. Week 12, less than 300 got tested.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Pennsylvania even as state health officials say the number of COVID-19 tests conducted across the Commonwealth has decreased.

The decrease in testing comes as the state is expected to receive its highest number of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

"It's a good sign that demand for the vaccine remains high here in Pennsylvania because the more people who are vaccinated the faster we can stop the virus," said Lindsey Mauldin, COVID-19 senior advisor for the PA Dept. of Health.

This week, Pennsylvania is receiving 442,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Mauldin says it's the highest weekly allocation since vaccine distribution began in December.

"That's also a far cry from January when Pennsylvania was receiving 125,000 doses of vaccine per week for more than 4 million eligible residents," added Mauldin.

Health officials want to remind people: Vaccination is not the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"We need people to continue to be vigilant with mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and seeking a test if they are exposed or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms," warned Mauldin.

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the DOH focused on the last point.

"Testing is so important to understand what's out there and where the virus exists," she said.

Back in December, the DOH extended its partnership AMI Expeditionary Healthcare to test people in counties without a health department. Over the course of 12 weeks, they set up popup COVID-19 testing sites in 5 regions across the state. 

To demonstrate the decrease, FOX43 examined the numbers from weeks 1 and 12. Over the course of week 1 in the northwest region, 5,256 patients got tested. In the northeast, 9,941 patients tested for COVID-19. Flash forward to week 12: officials tested just 24 patients in the northwest region and 34 in the northeast.

"We know that the number of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania and across the country has been on the rise. That's proof the virus is still present in our communities," said Mauldin.

The DOH identifies counties of concern as those with percent positives above 5%. According to data from the DOH, 57 counties fall into that category currently.

It is extending the contract with AMI to test for COVID-19 in vulnerable areas and to help contain the spread of the virus in places that see outbreaks.

"We thank you for what you have done so far to fight COVID-19 and ask you to keep up the work during this critical turning point," added Mauldin.

Despite the decrease, Mauldin told FOX43 she believes those who experience COVID-19 symptoms are being tested. 

You can read more about PA's testing strategy below.

Increased testing capacity is a critical aspect to successfully reopen Pennsylvania; especially as certain regions move from aggressive mitigation to containment strategies. There are varied approaches to COVID-19 testing that include differences among test type, criteria for testing and measures for success.

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