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'No surprise that deaths remain high': COVID omicron surge still taking its toll

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

While the rates of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have begun to plateau across York County, people are still succumbing to the illness at a steady pace.

"It is fortunate that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining in our region, but (it's) no surprise that deaths remain high," said Dr. Eugene Curley, an infectious disease physician with WellSpan Health.

What we're seeing now is a familiar pattern: New outbreaks are first seen in case-counts and then in hospital emergency rooms.

The final wave? Death.

Increasing death rates will lag even longer, Curley said, because COVID-19 deaths are typically preceded by lengthy hospital stays.

But there may be some reason for hope, even as the county reported eight additional COVID-related deaths on Tuesday.

"If this trend continues," Curley said, "deaths should start declining over the next several weeks."

More:Long COVID concerns grow as omicron continues to spread

More:Inmates allege York County Prison violating civil liberties amid COVID-19 lockdown

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cate Parchinski, a registered nurse at Brooke Army Medical Center assigned to 959th Inpatient Squadron based out of Joint Base San Antonio, writes notes on patients while updating the physician on patient status in the emergency department at WellSpan York Hospital.

The rising death toll in York County is reflected throughout the country.

An Associated Press report revealed that the seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been climbing since mid-November, reaching 2,267 last week and surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when delta was the dominant variant.

The county recorded 279 new COVID-19 cases  Tuesday, bringing its total for the pandemic to 114,183. York County's death toll is 1,374, according to the state Department of Health. 

Only about 53% of York County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state. That figure is 75% statewide.

York County is in the midst of recovering from a wave of omicron cases, which   typically added more than 1,000 new cases each day during its peak. During this time, however, the rate of new deaths remained fairly low in comparison. 

This was attributed to the less severe symptoms of omicron compared with other strains. However, because the variant was far more contagious, it still resulted in higher levels of severe illness and death among vulnerable populations. 

Across Pennsylvania, the state has recorded 2,667,166 total COVID-19 cases and 40,836 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health. 

Hospitalizations have also begun to drop across York County. According to the state Department of Health, county hospitals had a  total of 166 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, down 14 from Monday. Of those patients, 31 adults were in the ICU, and 23 were on ventilators.

As of Monday, WellSpan Health had 352 COVID-19 patients across all facilities, while York Hospital had 146 of those patients. The health system has seen COVID-19 hospitalizations drop dramatically over the last two weeks after peaking at more than 500 patients in mid-January.

York County has the second-highest daily cases per capita among its   neighboring counties, at 111 daily cases per 100,000 people, according to The New York Times. Adams County is slightly higher at 113 daily cases per capita. 

York County continues to see a decreasing rate of new cases, at a level on par with its immediate neighbors.

  • York County: 57% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • Lancaster County: 61% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • Adams County: 45% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • Cumberland County: 43% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • Dauphin County: 55% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • Philadelphia: 68% decrease in cases over the last 14 days
  • New York City: 80% decrease in cases over the last 14 days

Schools:  York County's 16 public school districts added 215 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total for the 2021-22 school year to 8,901.

Unlike the rest of the county, new cases in local schools have appeared to settle at a level higher than they've seen before in the pandemic. Prior to December — at which point York County schools were already considered at high transmission — schools never recorded more than 100 cases in a single day. Now it is a regular occurrence. 

Schools have already more than tripled the total number of cases recorded throughout all of the previous school year. With the potential for new variants   on the horizon, it is impossible to say how many cases York County schools will log by the end of the school year.

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.