Northumberland County leaders sworn in, Schiccatano named chairman

Northumberland County Commissioners Kymberley Best, Joe Klebon and Sam Schiccatano conducted the reorganization meeting on Monday. Also pictured is county Solicitor Frank Garrigan.

SUNBURY — Northumberland County Commissioner Chairman Sam Schiccatano said the county is reaching out to the state Department of Health for guidance after 34 patients and five employees at ManorCare-Sunbury tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

County officials on Tuesday met with Centers for Independent Living, an organization that would help with relocation if needed, said Schiccatano. According to its latest data HCR ManorCare, the Sunbury facility's Ohio-based parent company, is awaiting test results on 112 employees at 901 Court St., Sunbury.

"We are keeping in contact with the state and our state representatives," said Schiccatano. "We're going to keep trying to monitor the situation and get as much help to them as we can. The county has no expertise in nursing facilities, we do not have the funds to help — that is a state obligation. We have no control over private businesses."

Schiccatano said the county recommended the CIL work closely with the state.

"These are Northumberland County residents, and we are trying to reach out to whoever we have to to get them the help they need," said Schiccatano.

A representative of ManorCare has not returned requests for comments.

Karen Anne Wolf, an adjunct professor teaching remotely in Pennsylvania at the Samuel Merritt University in Oakland and who specializes in adult geriatrics, said it is likely that an employee showing no symptoms brought the disease into ManorCare.

"I don't know their situation, but if you're talking about the fuel or other communicable diseases, it's most likely introduced by an employee coming in," said Wolf. "All it takes is one person to be exposes and it moves rapidly."

The state is recommending monitoring employees twice a day at nursing facilities, but someone could have shown no symptoms in the morning but could have gotten sick by the afternoon, she said.

"It's not an easy thing to detect with the current screening mechanisms," said Wolf.

New cases

There was just one new COVID-19 case in the Valley on Tuesday — in Northumberland County — in the latest data release from the state Department of Health.

State health officials announced 510 additional cases, increasing the state total to 82,696 since tracking began in March. Tuesday marked the 17th day in a row with fewer than 550 new cases.

The state estimates that 78 percent of patients who have tested positive — approximately 64,500 residents — have already recovered.

There were another 38 deaths statewide related to the novel coronavirus, pushing the total to 6,464. There were no new deaths announced locally. Of the state's total deaths, 4,410 have been residents of long-term care facilities.

In Tuesday's data release, the state confirmed 44 cases in long-term care facilities in Northumberland County — 39 residents and five workers — and one fatality. There were no new cases on Tuesday. The state has not updated its facility case database since June 10.

In nursing and personal care homes statewide there are 17,294 resident cases of COVID-19, and 3,082 cases among employees, for a total of 20,376 at 669 distinct facilities in 49 counties.

Approximately 6,260 of Pennsylvania's total cases are in health care workers.

To date, there have been 498 cases in the Valley: 280 in Northumberland County, 89 in Union, 68 in Montour and 61 in Snyder.

Statewide, there are 743 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, down a dozen from Monday, including 146 on ventilators.

Grant funding

Two Bucknell University professors received a $200,000 grant to analyze bat tissue samples to learn how bats have become so tolerant to coronaviruses, findings may contribute to a more effective human treatment for coronavirus infections in the future.

Biology professors Ken Field and DeeAnn Reeder will use the $200,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Field and Reeder plan to study bat tissue samples archived at Bucknell.

Field and Reeder responded to an NSF request for rapid grant proposals for research “that can be used immediately to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19, to inform and educate about the science of virus transmission and prevention.” They were quickly approved for the $200,000 funds.

Bucknell researchers, including at least two Bucknell undergraduate students, will use genomic sequencing on 240 existing bat tissue samples from the African little epauletted fruit bat and the North American little brown bat collected through Bucknell research efforts over the past 10 years. They’ll compare how the bats respond to different types of CoV infections, comparing the bat responses to those in humans and other novel hosts.

Reeder emphasizes that they are not bringing COVID-19 to their campus lab.

The Bucknell professors are optimistic that they can complete their research by next summer.

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