All of the western Pennsylvania counties that border Mercer are in “substantial community spread” designations, which could send thousands of public school students into all-virtual education.

Mercer County is designated as having “moderate community spread,” but Crawford, Lawrence and Venango counties have all gone into the significant rating, which is based on metrics on Pennsylvania’s early warning monitoring system dashboard. Lawrence is in its second consecutive week on the significant level, while Crawford and Venango were in their first week under the significant designation.

Community spread refers to the number of additional people a person infects after testing positive for COVID-19.

The rating could affect school instruction. The state Department of Education recommends that schools in counties with significant community spread transition to full-online instruction if as few as one person, either student or staff, tests positive for the virus.

In counties with moderate community spread, the Department of Education recommends schools go to online instruction exclusively if between two and four people at a single school building test positive. West Middlesex Area and Grove City Area school districts moved to the virtual education after multiple people in their buildings tested positive.

The order affected Grove City Area High School and all of West Middlesex’s school buildings.

Ellwood City Area School District, in southern Lawrence County, informed parents that it would be going to online-only classes after Lawrence County had significant community spread for a second consecutive week, for the seven-day span that ended Thursday.

The state Department of Health uses six metrics — difference in new COVID-19 cases, number of cases per 100,000 people, percentage of positive tests, change in average daily COVID-19 hospitalizations, change in average daily demand for ventilators and percentage of COVID-related hospital emergency room visits — taken over a seven-day period.

Mercer County had 31 more new cases from Oct. 23 to 29 than it had Oct. 16 to 22, the same as Venango County. Crawford County had 52 additional cases and Lawrence County’s case count increased by three.

However, Mercer County had the lowest figure of new cases per 100,000 population, 94.0. The other three counties had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population.

Mercer County is among 36 counties in the moderate community spread designation, with 26 counties in the significant range. Five counties — Cameron, Forest, Sullivan, Warren and Wayne — have low community spread.

State reports highest daily totals of pandemic

In its daily report, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 2,060 new cases statewide on Saturday, and 1,909 on Sunday, for a two-day total of 3,969. Pennsylvania has had 211,996 cases since the pandemic arrived in the state March 6.

The Department of Health reported that the increases are the highest they have been since the pandemic began. The state had five new fatalities, bringing the state’s total to 8,823.

Mercer County reported 16 new cases Sunday and eight Saturday. However, those two days immediately followed the county’s two worst days — 27 cases Thursday and 34 Friday — of the pandemic. The county has had 27 fatalities, following one death on back-to-back days on Oct. 17 and 18.

To see Pennsylvania’s early warning data, go online to: www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Monitoring-Dashboard.aspx

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