Berks health expert urges caution as COVID-19 cases rise


READING, Pa. — COVID-19 numbers are on the rise in Pennsylvania.

"Especially in southeastern Pennsylvania," said Dr. Debra Powell, Reading Hospital's chief of infectious diseases, "so I still think we need to be cautious and not to let our guard down."

Powell's message comes after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), made an emotional plea Monday for Americans to not let their guards down as the U.S. sees a steady increase in cases.

"I'm going to pause here," Walensky said during the televised White House COVID-19 briefing. "I'm going to lose the script, and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now, I'm scared."

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that nearly 5 million vaccines have been administered across the commonwealth, and nearly 1.8 million Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated.

So why are case counts still rising despite progress with vaccinations?

"We haven't reached herd immunity yet, so we need more of our population to be vaccinated, and it'll be several months until we're there," Powell explained. "We're not there yet."

Earlier this month, the Wolf administration announced plans to relax some restrictions on Easter Sunday.

With case counts ticking up, however, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said it's closely monitoring a number of factors.

"The Department of Health, with close collaboration with the governor's office, is vigilantly monitoring our case counts, our deaths, our hospitalizations," said Alison Beam, the state's acting health secretary. "Also watching our vaccination rate to make sure that we can feel comfortable proceeding with this April 4th relaxation of mitigation measures. At this time, we have decided to proceed with that. Nothing's changed at this point."

Powell said she urges caution for those who plan to travel for the upcoming holiday weekend.

"I know that spring is here. We want it to be over because it's been a year," she said, "but we still kind of haven't been through this whole pandemic yet, and we don't want another wave."