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Scientists believe they have developed potential COVID-19 vaccine

PITTSBURGH — UPMC physicians announced Thursday that the center has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that is on a fast-track for potential approval because of the pandemic.

Donald Yealy, chairman of emergency medicine at the Pittsburgh medical center, said the vaccine is a “groundbreaking achievement” and the first candidate to reach this milestone in preventing coronavirus.

“That’s what we are delivering,” Yealy said.

In a livestream news conference, Louis Falo, a UPMC professor of dermatology, said the University of Pittsburgh is the same place where Jonas Salk developed the first successful polio vaccine 65 years ago.

The COVID-19 vaccine, if approved, would be delivered in a patch containing micro-needles.

Falo said one person would have the ability to make hundreds of the patches in a single day.

“We hope to move this as quickly as possible,” Falo said.

UPMC also has stepped up testing of the virus.

Yealy said UPMC is not expecting to see widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 as have happened in other areas.

“Social distancing appears to be working,” he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed strict rules for the closings of nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania, and Wednesday he placed the entire state under a stay-home order to slow the spread of the virus.

UPMC did not have a timeline for when the vaccine could be administered to the public.

The state Health Department Thursday announced that 16 people died statewide from the virus a day earlier, bringing the total number of Pennsylvania victims to 90. There were 1,211 new positive cases and 7,016 since early March.

“The continued rise in cases combined with our increasing deaths from COVID-19 reflects the seriousness of this situation,” department Sec. Rachel Levine said.

Levine said health officials still expect a surge of new positive cases that could place burdens on hospitals. The increase in positive cases, while it results from increased testing, the community spread of the virus is also to blame, Levine said.

“Right now the hospitals are coping very well,” Levine said during a Friday livestream on the virus.

She said experts expect a surge in new cases to occur over the next several weeks or month.

The Allegheny County Health Department said increased testing for COVID-19 caused its number of new cases to double Thursday. The county had 63 new cases and 419 in all.

“We know there is community spread and expect to see the number of cases increase as more people are tested, the department stated. “We urge the public to help stop the spread by staying home, washing their hands often, and staying at least 6 feet away from others if they do have to go out.”

Two people have died from the virus in Allegheny County.

Washington County had 38 positive cases Wednesday, up three from the previous day. No one has died from the disease in the county.

Greene County had 11 cases, up two from Tuesday. Westmoreland County had 84 cases, up by a dozen. Fayette County, where one person has died from COVID-19, had 15 cases, one more than it had Tuesday.

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