• Even with social distancing, masks are recommended indoors
  • State travel restrictions will go into effect on Friday
  • State levels of COVID-19 are double what they were at the start of the month

Pointing to the “unrelenting” spread of COVID-19 in the state, Pennsylvania’s top health official has expanded mask recommendations to include in-home use.

“There is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding, broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather further deterioration," Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said, as reported by state newspaper The Morning Call.

Levine was reading from a report sent to the state from the federal coronavirus task force. On Tuesday, she signed an order that strengthened mandates that had been in place since April 15. The order calls on residents to wear a face mask indoors and outdoors.

“When indoors, masks will now be required even if you are physically distant from members not in your household,” her order stated. “This means that even if you are able to be 6 feet apart, you will need to wear a mask while inside if with people other than members of your household.”

Pennsylvania has recorded more than 5,000 positive cases of COVID-19 in recent days. That figure is up more than 115% from early November, Fox News reports.

The order, which goes into effect on Friday, also limits travel to the state. Visitors coming from outside Pennsylvania will need to show a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival or quarantine for 14 days. That order does not apply to people who commute to another state for work or for medical treatment.

Levine added that compliance would be largely voluntary. On the travel restrictions, she said there would be no extraordinary monitoring at the border or airports.

“These measures are actually, in terms of traveling, extremely similar to what other states are doing," she was quoted as saying. “We really want people to stay at home and to stay within their household and not to travel, for example, to do a lot of traveling to see friends and family during the Thanksgiving holiday.”

The surge in new cases of COVID-19 comes as two clinical trials for a vaccine move forward. Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech claim 95% effectiveness in controlling the virus during testing of their drug. Moderna's vaccine boasts 94.5% effectiveness.

On Wednesday, Lonza, which would manufacture the vaccine for Moderna, acknowledged there were “big challenges” to overcome before the vaccination is made widely available.

face mask Some countries have made face masks required as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. Photo: AFP / Tolga AKMEN