Jeffrey Lees is not having a big family gathering for Thanksgiving.

The Cambria County coroner has seen the grim toll of surging COVID-19 deaths since Nov. 1, with 16 new deaths reported over the past two days in Cambria and Somerset counties. He’s urging county residents to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s exploding with deaths since the beginning of the month,” Lees said on Wednesday.

His office investigated 43 COVID-19 deaths in November alone, including three on Wednesday.

“You can see the urgency,” Lees said. 

“Not to cause panic, but we need to be vigilant in following the guidelines – not only for ourselves but for our loved ones – family and friends who may be more vulnerable.”

Cambria County added six new deaths Wednesday after having four new deaths in Tuesday’s data. Somerset added five deaths Wednesday and one on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s report brings the county totals to 51 deaths in Cambria County and 15 deaths in Somerset County since the pandemic hit the area in March. On Nov. 1, there had been just nine deaths in Cambria and three in Somerset.

The local fatalities were among 144 additional COVID-19 deaths statewide, the Department of Health reported. That’s the largest number of deaths for one day since April 30, pushing the state’s total above 10,000 deaths.

There were 6,759 new cases statewide on Wednesday, bringing the state to 327,829 cases and 10,095 deaths.

Blair County added three deaths to reach 59 total, Indiana County added one to reach 35, Centre County added three to reach 38 and Westmoreland County added seven to reach 179 deaths.

Cambria County had 96 additional cases, Somerset County had 44, Bedford County had 38, Blair County had 102, Indiana County had 71, Clearfield County had 67, Centre County had 93 and Westmoreland County added 273 new cases.

Many many of those recorded as COVID-19 deaths were older men and women with other health issues, Lees said. He stressed, however, that the deaths represent more than individuals who reached the end of their life expectancy. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and congestive heart failure are among the chronic conditions that lead to complications in those infected with coronavirus,

“This is throwing their bodies over the edge,” Lees said.

The loss is not lessened by knowledge the underlying conditions could eventually become fatal.

“Maybe they would have lived a few more years,” Lees said. “The bottom line is: Nobody wants their life cut short, nobody wants their loved one’s life cut short.

“That’s a harsh reality. These are human lives that have been lost. These are families that have lost loved ones.”

The pandemic’s shadow covers the entire community, with hospital workers, emergency responders and nursing home staff working at their limits while trying to protect themselves and their families from infection.

“Unfortunately, I have witnessed first-hand the job our health care workers – doctors, nurses, technicians and first responders – are doing a phenomenal job in trying to keep up with this pandemic.”

Lees called on the public to be vigilant in following public health guidance to limit the spread.

“Everybody needs to step up their game,” he said.

The Hospital and Healthsystems Association of Pennsylvania echoed the coroner’s suggestions in a press release Wednesday.

“The hospital community stands together committed to protecting and caring for Pennsylvanians, especially as we face the convergence of a second wave of COVID-19 and flu season,” the statement signed by more than 400 hospital leaders said.

“It is imperative that every Pennsylvanian join us in taking important steps to stay safe and healthy during the months ahead, and prevent the spread of both influenza and COVID-19.”

Hospitals are working together to respond to the increasing number of ill patients, using technology and therapeutic drugs developed following the initial wave last spring, the association noted.

“We will get through this together,” the association said. “But our success depends on our individual decisions and actions to help prevent more illness and hospitalization, and to support our dedicated health care staff as they continue to treat every patient who needs their care. One person’s actions make a small difference; many people together can make a huge impact. Please help us protect each other, our families, neighbors, and communities. Stay safe.”  

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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