Surging numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths at Berks Heim prompted the Berks County commissioners on Wednesday to call in the state Department of Health, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Guard to the Bern Township facility.

“This assistance is available to nursing homes and long-term-care facilities throughout the commonwealth and Berks County is taking advantage of this support,” commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach stated in an emailed statement. “We need to do everything we can to protect our residents and our staff.”

The number of deaths was up to 28 residents, with cases rising to 59 on Wednesday, and another resident hospitalized, officials said.

The commissioners are asking for a “top to bottom assessment and potential recommendations for the Berks Heim” from the agencies, according to the county’s statement.

The statement continued: “The PA National Guard will also be assisting with testing of all Berks Heim staff. The testing of residents will also occur with their approval and or the approval of the resident’s family member or responsible party.”

The work starts Thursday and the testing next week, the statement said.

Earlier Wednesday, the county confirmed the coronavirus death and case numbers at the Heim, which were more than double what the state reported on Tuesday.

Heim Administrator Terence J. Brennan said that 60 staff members had been tested with 40 negatives and 20 positives. The state had listed 13 deaths for the Heim.

The information on the DOH (Department of Health) website yesterday was not accurate to the date,” Brennan said Wednesday.

Brennan said there are 525 employees and contracted personnel.

“We anticipate all staff will be tested,” Brennan said. 

Berks Heim is by far the largest such facility in the county with 420 beds, almost double the next biggest, ManorCare Sinking Spring at 214, according to available statistics.

ManorCare Sinking Spring has seen the most COVID-19 deaths in Berks at 44. It was unclear if ManorCare sought the same help.

Coroner report

Meanwhile, the county coroner’s office reported five coronavirus deaths Wednesday, all confirmed by testing.

The county outbreak total is up to 259 test-confirmed deaths and 22 probables for a total of 281. The probables are cases in which no test was ordered but because of the symptoms and the decedent’s association with other victims, COVID-19 is presumed.

Four of the five were Berks residents — the fifth was from Lebanon County — and the youngest was 53 years old, according to the coroner.

The outbreak total for deaths in county long-term-care facilities was up to 210, according to the coroner, with two of the five on Wednesday.

The state had listed 156 such deaths on Tuesday.

The state changed its reporting procedures Monday for deaths at long-term-care facilities, crediting them to a county different than where the death occurred if the deceased had previously resided in a second county. It’s unclear how that might be affecting individual counts.

Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle said this Wednesday to the Reading Eagle in an emailed statement: “The nursing home data presented publicly was meant to be reported by the facilities. However, they did not report completely, or in some cases at all, and so the data had to be reported through another method. We are constantly working to make sure the data we provide is accurate.”

Wardle also said that the state was back to counting probable deaths. More than a month ago the health department began to count them, then did an about-face a couple days later, taking hundreds of deaths statewide off the table.

The daily briefing Wednesday by Dr. Rachel Levine, state secretary of health was canceled due to technical difficulties with data collection, the department of health said.

Wardle said the technical difficulties extended to the reports on long-term-care facilities as well and there were no changes in those stats. 

Other matters

In state reporting Wednesday, Berks had 28 new coronavirus positives for an outbreak total of 3,763.

Statewide, 746 more positives were reported for an outbreak total of 64,412.

The state added 143 deaths of which 11 more were added to Berks for a total of 273. There are 12 deaths of people not from Berks County, according to the coroner, which the state doesn’t count against Berks. So that nearly equalizes the state and county counts.

The state has said it is looking for a 14-day count of new positives near a total of 210 as part of the criteria to ease restrictions in Berks. The count of the previous 14 days was about 700 through Wednesday.

Berks remains in the “red” stay-at-home order until June 4, though many businesses have opened and cellphone data show residents are much more mobile than earlier in the outbreak.

Also Wednesday, state police reported that they have cited Alpha Fitness, 100 W. Sunset Blvd., Franklin County, for failure to abide by Gov. Tom Wolf’s business closure order after previously being warned by troopers. Troopers found the business open on May 13, they said.

It was the second business cited in the state. The first was a roofer near Newmanstown, Lebanon County, a few miles from Berks line. The roofer did not want to comment to the Reading Eagle.

Reading Hospital listed 70 patients Wednesday with about 10 on a ventilator or breathing tube, down from an outbreak high of 83 last week.

Penn State Health St. Joseph listed 16 patients with 10 on a ventilator or breathing tube.

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