Federal 'strike team' en route to York amid spiking COVID death toll

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

WellSpan York Hospital is one of two hospitals statewide that will receive a federal COVID-19 "strike team" of medical staff to bolster the local response amid a surge in cases and deaths, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday.

“This federal support will help alleviate pressure felt throughout the health system so there is more capacity to treat people who need hospital care,” said Randy Padfield, director of the state Emergency Management Agency.

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Overall, York County has logged 84,121 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 647 cases since Tuesday. Additionally, there have been 1,188 local deaths, an increase of 14 since Tuesday.

That daily death toll matches the county's previous single-day record set in December 2020.

Padfield, in announcing the teams, said key supports include increasing general medical and surgical beds for COVID-19 patients and additional staff to work alongside hospital staff. The exact number of individuals to be deployed is still to be determined; however, all strike team members will be deployed to Pennsylvania for 30 days starting on or about Jan. 3.

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York County hospitals had 244 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, an increase of four since Tuesday. Of those patients, 50 adults are in the ICU and 47 are on ventilators.

WellSpan York Hospital, meanwhile, reported 179 COVID-positive patients Tuesday. That's not far from the number — 203 — recorded at the pandemic's peak in December 2020. The seven WellSpan hospitals combined reported 432 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday.

The Wolf administration said it asked the federal government for help on Dec. 15, seeking health care workers to help at hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and ambulance companies in the hardest-hit areas of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania also asked FEMA for a million rapid at-home coronavirus tests and for an increase in the state's allocation of monoclonal antibody treatments.

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Hospitals and nursing homes statewide have been sounding the alarm in recent weeks as largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients fill hospital beds, sending some acute-care facilities over capacity.

They are reporting very long emergency-room wait times, while staffing shortages in nursing homes are forcing some to stop accepting new residents.

Pennsylvania is reporting an average of almost 9,000 new, confirmed infections per day over the last two weeks, up 50% since the second half of November. The number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospital care has increased by 80% since last month, at more than 4,500 per day.

York County has been experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases since the start of December. Last week, the county recorded more than 1,200 cases in just one day, nearly double the county's previous record for highest daily cases. 

York County COVID-19 data as of Dec. 29, 2021

York City Medical Director Dr. Matthew Howie, who predicted the surge of COVID-19 coinciding with winter, said the county is moving into a "new stage" of the pandemic because of the omicron variant, which he said is the main version of the virus now affecting York County. 

Nationwide, the new omicron variant accounted for nearly 59% of all coronavirus cases, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. It surpassed the delta variant, which accounted for 41%.

Howie encouraged York residents to get vaccinated, limit social gatherings and wear a mask while indoors in public spaces regardless of their vaccination status.

"This surge will eventually pass, but our efforts now will reduce severe infections and save lives," Howie said.

York County has the second highest daily cases per capita among its four neighboring counties, at 152 daily cases per 100,000 people, behind Adams County at 208 daily cases per capita, according to The New York Times.

Aside from Adams County, the rate of COVID-19 spread is rising faster in York County than in nearby counties: 

  • York County: 75% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Lancaster County: 24% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Adams County: 202% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Cumberland County: 21% increase in cases over the last 14 days
  • Dauphin County: 10% increase in cases over the last 14 days

Across Pennsylvania, the case total increased to 1,993,720. The state reported a new death total of 36,504 since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health. 

The state reported a total of 6,061,758 negative COVID-19 tests as of Wednesday, including 201,693 in York County.

—Reach Erin Bamer at ebamer@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @ErinBamer.