Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Avoid large crowds.

Berks County officials warned at a press conference organized by community leader Hector Dorta on Aug. 10 that it is essential for residents to remain vigilant in these efforts so that the victories in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic are not lost.

"Everyone must understand that we all have a part to play in this fight," Dorta said.

Berks County, like many other counties in Pennsylvania, has seen a jump in the percentage of positive tests over the past several weeks, which has caused concern among officials at various levels of government that the county is headed in the wrong direction.

Berks added 26 positive coronavirus test results in state Department of Health reporting Monday, Aug. 10, raising the county outbreak total to 5,407 positives.

Reading Mayor Eddie Moran said the threat of the coronavirus hasn't disappeared. While the number of cases and deaths are down from what they were a few months ago, he stressed that they still show that there are people in the community testing positive for the disease.

"If we want to begin to return to some kind of normal, especially with the arrival of the flu season coming up, we all need to play a part," he said. "I would also emphasize the need for those visiting other states with a higher number of cases to quarantine when they arrive home."

Commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach said strong medical evidence proves that masks are a key part of the coronavirus battle.

He said two local health professionals during a recent roundtable discussion cited several studies showing that wearing masks is a safe and effective tool to prevent the transmission of the highly contagious disease.

Leinbach said they also addressed concerns some people have about whether wearing a mask is reducing their intake of oxygen by stating these worries are not supported by fact.

"This is not about my rights — this is about loving my neighbor," he said. "If we all do the right things as a community, we will get through this as a community."

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt acknowledged that wearing a mask can feel downright miserable as the temperatures outside continue to rise but stressed how important masks are in protecting others from infection.

He warned that the threat of the pandemic is still very real.

While hospitalizations have continued to fall, state health officials have sounded the alarm about the rising percentage of people testing positive in recent weeks.

The Berks coronavirus positivity rate has landed Beks County on the state Department of Health watch list. Barnhardt pointed to information gathered through contact-tracing programs that young people who are gathering in large crowds are at the top of contributing factors in the resurgence.

"The science is out there," he said. "We are pleading with you to wear your masks and avoid crowds."

State Sen. Judy Schwank acknowledged that despite what health experts may have learned about ways to reduce spread there's still a lot we don't know about the coronavirus. That means knowing when life will get back to normal is a big question mark.

"This is very difficult," she said. "I know this is about more than just wearing a mask. It's about all the restrictions that we're facing in life and it's seeing the businesses that we care about being closed. But I ask you to take heart and have patience."

Schwank said that, in the meantime, people should seek out information using credible sources rather than depending on social media for the latest coronavirus-related news.

"I don't know about you, but I've seen some messages on Facebook that just astound me," she said. "Where's this information coming from? It is not founded in science and it is not information that is trusted, so be careful of what you share."

Schwank also reminded the community that many people have been hurt by the pandemic in many different ways. Some have lost their lives, others have lost their livelihoods and many need a helping hand.

She encouraged those who can to find avenues to support those in need.

"While we all say that we are in this together, some of us are experiencing it in a very different way then some others," she said. "Take courage and be kind."

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