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78 more virus deaths set new single-day high in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania smashed its single-day high for reported coronavirus-related deaths, recording 78 more fatalities and nearly 1,600 more cases of COVID-19 as the state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that every county now has an infected resident.

The count more than doubled the previous single-day high of 34 deaths, and boosted the statewide death toll to 240, although the secretary of health, Dr. Rachel Levine, said at least some of the deaths occurred over the weekend and were delayed in being reported.

New cases — confirmed Monday through midnight and announced Tuesday — raised the statewide total to more than 14,550, according to the department. Monday’s total of new cases was close to Pennsylvania’s previous high.

Levine maintained Tuesday that the best way for people to protect themselves, their family and their community is to stay home.

Chester County launched a plan to test thousands of essential workers for coronavirus-fighting antibodies in their blood. In Harrisburg, a federal judge ordered the release of more immigration detainees and Pennsylvania’s highest court put county judges on notice to be prepared to release incarcerated juveniles.

More on those developments:

Releasing immigration detainees

A federal judge ordered the immediate release of 22 people who were being held in civil detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at county jails in Pennsylvania while they await final decisions of their immigration cases.

The 22 people held in prisons in York County and Pike County each suffer from chronic medical conditions and face “an imminent risk of death or serious injury if exposed to COVID-19,” Judge John E. Jones wrote in Tuesday’s decision.

Their release is effective for two weeks.

Jones wrote there is “clear evidence that the protective measures in place in the York and Pike County prisons are not working.” In a separate decision in recent days, Jones also ordered the release of 13 others.

The released detainees must self-quarantine for two weeks, Jones wrote. He gave ICE one week to argue why the detainees’ release shouldn’t last longer than that.

The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are held in open rooms, beds 3 feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protection.

Separately, two inmates at the Pike County lockup have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, the county said Tuesday. They were among seven inmates at the facility who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Blood antibody tests

To fight the spread of COVID-19, Chester County will start testing the blood of essential workers in an effort to determine who has developed coronavirus antibodies and can fight off the disease.

The tests will be administered to emergency responders, prison staff, health care workers and long-term care facility staff in Chester County, officials said.

County officials acknowledge the accuracy of such testing is unclear, and it is unclear how long immunity lasts for people who have had the virus.

The county has received a shipment of 10,000 blood test kits and expect a second shipment of 10,000 to arrive next week. With 335 confirmed cases, Chester County is in the middle of the pack of Pennsylvania’s counties in the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.

Juveniles in custody

Pennsylvania’s highest court is telling county judges to identify incarcerated juveniles who are good candidates to be released to help mitigate COVID-19.

The Supreme Court issued a 6-0 order Tuesday that told president judges in each county, or someone they designate, to check into how well their juvenile residential placement facilities can prevent the virus from spreading.

The high court declined to issue a blanket release order for juveniles in detention, correctional or other residential facilities. The justices said many counties already began looking into whether some juveniles should be released.

Judges also were told to try to limit how many juveniles are added to residential placement during the crisis.

Prisoners making masks

State prison inmates have manufactured more than 180,000 cloth masks for use by Corrections Department staff and prisoners.

The prison system said Tuesday that its garment factories began converting to mask production on March 17. Each employee has received three masks, each prisoner two.

The system’s manufacturing arm, Pennsylvania Correctional Industries, is also making gowns, anti-bacterial soap and disinfectant, the department said.

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