UPMC- Altoona Hospital

UPMC Altoona Hospital in Altoona. Sept. 27, 2017.

Eight new Blair County COVID-19 cases are among 495 reported Wednesday across Pennsylvania in the Department of Health's daily update.

Bedford County has two new cases and Somerset County added one new case Wednesday, while Cambria County was unchanged.

The eight-case jump in Blair County comes as neighboring Bedford County's cases continue to rise. Bedford has seen a 65% increase since the region entered the green phase on June 5.

But a health department spokesman and an expert with UPMC Health System say the fluctuations are not alarming.

“We have also seen an increase in negative (COVID-19) test results, from 862 on the June 5 to 1,292 today (in Bedford County),” the health department's Nate Wardle said in an email. “That means that the (test) positivity rate would be somewhere close to 5.2% now, compared to 4.75% back at the beginning of the month. We do expect that, as more widespread testing is available, numbers will go up.”

Moreover, many of those who test positive now are younger and healthier individuals, who usually don't get as sick, Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC chairman of emergency medicine, said Wednesday during a press briefing.

“As we and others increase testing – looking for all types of people who might have the virus – we do expect to see increases in the numbers of people who have the virus,” he said. “It's more important now to change the mindset and focus on not just, or exclusively, on numbers of cases, but the severity of the illness.”

Across UPMC's system, fewer COVID-19 patients are being admitted and fewer are requiring intensive care, he said.

“This indicates that people in our communities who are most vulnerable to the disease are better protected now,” Yealy said. “Those getting it now tend to be the ones who recover well or have little signs of illness.”

Yealy and Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer, stressed the importance of wearing masks, washing hands and taking other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Minnier pointed to the decline in hospitalizations and increased testing.

“This is good news for sure,” she said. “However, it does not mean we are letting our guard down.”

Emphasizing that an increase in total cases is “not necessarily a harbinger of bad things,” Yealy noted that most young people don't get seriously ill with COVID-19.

It is especially important to reduce exposure when near the elderly individuals or others vulnerable to serious complications.

“We are not saying, 'Go out and do whatever you want.' Be smart about it,” he said. “Use the hand-washing advice. Wear the mask. Do the distancing. Those are still important. That's the smart public health that we still need to be vigilant about.”

With an additional 54 deaths reported Wednesday, the state totals are now 83,191 cases and 6,515 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

In surrounding counties, Indiana reported an additional death and Westmoreland County had 11 new cases. Clearfield, Indiana and Fayette counties had no additional cases.

Totals are now 62 cases and three deaths in Cambria County, 49 cases and one death in Somerset County, 71 cases and two deaths in Bedford County, 69 cases and one death in Blair County, 70 cases and no deaths in Clearfield County, 104 cases and four deaths in Fayette County, 98 cases and six deaths in Indiana County and 563 cases and 38 deaths in Westmoreland County.

In nursing and personal care homes, there have been 17,394 confirmed COVID-19 cases in residents and 3,103 cases among employees 671 long-term care living facilities in 49 counties. A total of 4,467 residents of the homes have died following a diagnosis of COVID-19 disease.

The health department estimates 6,303 health care workers have tested positive.

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