York County inching closer to health department proposal, waiting for study

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The COVID-19 pandemic might be the impetus for the establishment of a York County health department.

County officials are awaiting the completion of a study about the cost and scope of such an agency, which, until the outbreak, hadn't been on the radar of most elected officials.

But in recent weeks, the county board has taken steps toward creating systems that would ultimately fall under the purview of a York County health department.

This past week, the county board voted unanimously to fund the creation of a COVID-19 dashboard. It will be a clearinghouse of information about infections and the secondary effects of the pandemic, such as local unemployment rates and economic impact among demographic groups.

"This is the first step for us," said Commissioner Julie Wheeler.

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

The York County Planning Commission will spearhead the data dashboard and collect information from organizations and agencies across the county so the public can find all of the relevant information in one central hub, Wheeler said.

A countywide health department — which is relatively rare in Pennsylvania — hadn't been a serious consideration in the past, said Commissioner Doug Hoke, who is in his fourth term on the board.

Hoke said he's keeping an open mind about the health department and is looking forward to getting more information about how much it would cost and how it would function.

Statewide, six counties and four municipalities have their own health departments.

Those are Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, and the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, Wilkes-Barre and York.

"I’ll be giving them a call to see if they have some advice on their experience with their county health departments," Hoke said.

The results of the feasibility study will be available in a report within the next month or so, Hoke said.

Commissioner Ron Smith declined to comment pending the release of the report.

As of Tuesday, there had been 446 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in York County since the outbreak began, and a total of 24,608 positive cases of the virus, the state Health Department reported.

York County Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke 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

The debate at the county level about whether to create a new health agency follows several weeks of significant increases in York County in the number of new infections and deaths due to COVID-19. 

In an analysis of new case data recorded between Dec. 23 and Dec. 31, PennLive found the greatest one-week increases in cases in York County were in four ZIP codes:

In ZIP code 17404, which includes West York and portions of Manchester and West Manchester townships, there were 127 new cases.

In ZIP code 17403, which includes portions of York City, Spring Garden Township and York Township, there were 153 new cases.

In ZIP code 17331, which includes Hanover, Penn Township and West Manheim Township, as well as a portion of Adams County, there were 213 new cases.

And in ZIP code 17402, which includes portions of Springettsbury Township, York Township and Windsor Township, there were 272 new cases.

The case numbers are not per capita, or adjusted to reflect each area's population, so the higher number of cases in certain ZIP codes could reflect a larger concentration of residents in those areas rather than an increased rate of transmission for the virus. 

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