Outbreak at York County prison helped boost COVID-19 totals

After the most significant day-over-day increase of new COVID-19 cases in York County on Saturday, the number of new infections appeared to drop Monday. But there is still “significant” community spread, said state Department of Health spokesperson Nate Wardle.

The county had 92 new  cases Sunday and Monday combined, boosting the total to 4,112 confirmed and 104 probable cases since the pandemic hit in March. Two new virus-related deaths were reported since Sunday, for a total of 134.

But a record-breaking 129 new cases were reported Saturday, breaking a record of 128 set Sept. 3.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, front, speaks while City of York Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie looks on at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 testing, specifically at York County Prison, was addressed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Wardle said there are known outbreaks but also significant community spread throughout York County.

York County Prison: As of Monday, there had been 315 positive cases at the prison since the outbreak began, York County spokesperson Mark Walters said in a news release. That marked a substantial uptick since Sept. 12, when county officials reported 222 confirmed cases.

Walters said the majority of inmates have been asymptomatic and only 238 reached the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threshold for active infection.

All 238 have recovered, and there were no current hospitalizations, the release stated. More than 2,100 tests have been administered at the prison.

“We do know that that’s been one of the known outbreaks in York County,” Wardle said.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, when reached Monday evening, said for several weeks — since the county recognized an uptick — inmates have been cohorted according to positive cases, negative cases and those in close contact.

"While it’s disappointing, it’s not unexpected," she said of the increase, noting similarities to spread in long-term care facilities.

If cases were to continue increasing, she said the prison would have to further collaborate with the state Department of Health, but she is confident in the facility's current mitigation efforts.

College campuses: The county’s rate of spread is not too different from other counties in the state, with an uptick from college students returning to campuses statewide resulting in an increase in cases, Wardle said.

 City of York Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie speaks at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 testing, specifically at York County Prison, was addressed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Statewide, a recent jump in the number of cases in the 19-24 age bracket is of particular note, he said. The health department on Monday reported nearly 12% of cases statewide to date were in that group, compared with 7% under 18. 

Several campuses, including Temple University in Philadelphia, have moved classes online after hundreds of cases emerged on campus by Sept. 1. Harrisburg Area Community College last week announced its classes would be online for the rest of the year.

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Penn State University has had 708 cases to date university-wide through Sept. 10.

Penn State York, which does not have residence halls, still has zero cases, and York College has not reported any more positive cases since it reported two on Aug. 31.

York City Bureau of Health Medical Director Matthew Howie said despite concerns about recent K-12 building reopenings, they do not account for the recent spikes.

"I would consider what we’re seeing not consistent with sporadic community transmission," he said, meaning there haven't been spikes from in-building spread.

At least 10 schools from five different districts reported cases over Labor Day weekend.

Students walk on the York College campus Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Enrollment decline has been a reality for colleges and universitiesÊacross the nation, including those in York County. Bill Kalina photo

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“I think it’s important that everyone takes a step,” Wardle said, noting those who are vulnerable or concerned with getting sick should not be the only people taking measures to mitigate.

Case numbers for ages 25 through 49 have surpassed older age brackets for weeks statewide, with nearly 37% of cases to date coming from the younger group as of Monday. Only 22% each were from ages 50-64 and 65 and older.

However, hospitalizations and deaths are still most prevalent in ages 65 and older. 

County is a hub: York County is seeing more spread than surrounding counties such as Adams, Cumberland and Dauphin. Another contributing factor to rising cases in York is its proximity to two major cities, Wardle said.

York is a hub for those traveling between both Baltimore and Harrisburg. Cumberland and Dauphin counties are only dealing with traffic from the latter.

A county in a similar boat to York is Lancaster County, which sees traffic from both Harrisburg and Philadelphia — but despite a higher case total has not reached day-to-day increases in the hundreds.

The Pennsylvania National Electronic Disease Surveillance System's most recent numbers by county show 7,173 confirmed cases in Lancaster compared with York's 4,112 through Sept. 14.