'The vaccine is our strategy,' Gov. Tom Wolf says amid surge in COVID cases

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

Local school districts broke two grim records Tuesday — passing 4,000 total COVID-19 cases and recording the highest single-day increase in cases since the start of this school year. 

York County schools have recorded at least 4,084 cases during this school year, including 101 cases  since Monday.

This is the first time this school year that the daily case total has reached triple digits.

This milestone comes at a time when COVID-19 cases have been rising across local public schools. For the past 10 days, daily cases in schools have exceeded the seven-day rolling daily average. The spike is large enough that it increased the average from 48 cases to 53. 

York County schools have already surpassed last year's total case count by more than 1,000 cases. At this rate, local schools will nearly triple last year's total by the end of this school year. 

More:Pennsylvania high court throws out mask mandate for schools

Meanwhile, most York County school districts returned to making masks optional following the state Supreme Court's ruling last week that acting Health Secretary Alison Beam — who announced her resignation Monday — did not have the legal authority to impose a statewide mask order for K-12 schools, effectively removing the order.

In spite of the surge in York County and across the state, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that he had no intention of attempting to reinstate either a mask or vaccine mandate.

"The vaccine is our strategy," he said, in an interview on KDKA's "Morning News."

For now, the governor said COVID-19 responses will be left largely to the discretion of local authorities. “Different municipalities are going to handle it differently,” he said.

Masking in schools: As of Monday, 15 out of York County's 16 public school districts had made masks optional, with York City School District the sole outlier. 

It's been about six weeks since the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children ages 5 to 11, adding some confidence about school safety without mandatory masking.

At a Central York board meeting Monday, new board member Amy Milsten suggested the district extend its mask requirement until Christmas break to ensure that all students who want to get vaccinated have time to receive both doses. 

"It's fair for children to have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before we just have a complete lifting of the mask mandate," Milsten said. 

The board did not vote on Milsten's suggestion Monday night, so it is unclear whether this will be approved. Central York was one of three local school districts to support the lawsuit challenging the state mask order. 

Throughout York County, cases also are rising. The county has recorded 75,757 cases and 1,112 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. That includes 306 new cases and three new deaths logged since Monday.

York County has the highest daily cases per capita among its four neighboring counties, at 87 daily cases per 100,000 people, according to The New York Times. However, the rate of transmission is lower in York County compared with most of its neighbors. 

  • York County: 49% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Lancaster County: 71% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Adams County: 87% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Cumberland County: 37% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Dauphin County: 77% increase in cases over the last 14 days

Across all 67 counties, the state had recorded 1,850,578 cases as of Tuesday, including 34,731 deaths. In addition, there have been 5.9 million negative tests taken, with 200,396 of those coming from York County.  

Local hospitals had 213 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including eight new hospitalizations since Monday. Of those patients, 39 adults are in the ICU, and 32 patients are on ventilators. 

York County COVID-19 data as of Dec. 14, 2021

More:York County districts pass last year's COVID-19 total less than halfway through school year

More:COVID-19 reporting varies widely among York County schools

No two school districts are tracking COVID-19 cases in the same way. 

Five districts — Dallastown, Hanover, Northeastern, Southern and West Shore — are not posting their total cases for the school year. Instead, some of them are only publishing cases recorded during the previous 14 days, while others are only posting active cases. 

Among other districts, COVID-19 tracking varies. Some districts don't include cases that were contracted while the students or staff were off district property. Some combine probable and confirmed cases, while others keep the two separate. 

It's impossible to know the exact number of COVID-19 cases linked to every school district in the county. But The York Dispatch will continue to keep track of the number of cases in each district to the best of our knowledge.

You can keep track of your district's recorded cases for the 2021-2022 school year here. We will continue to update on a daily basis as numbers change.