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York County COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise, but officials aren't panicking just yet

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

York County is experiencing its highest average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic — but officials said York's hospitals can handle any unexpected surges.

On Wednesday, an average of 71 patients have been hospitalized in York County over the past 14 days, according to data published by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Putting this into perspective, August and September saw 14-day average numbers of 47.8 and 56.4, respectively. These averages represent a 14-day moving average, meaning calculations are updated with the newest statistics daily.

"This is our ongoing challenge," said Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau. "We're going to have this challenge until we get a vaccine."

Since August, the average number of hospitalizations has increased. On Wednesday, an average of 71 patients have been hospitalized in York County, according to data published by the state Department of Health.

From Sept. 24 through Wednesday, there had been an average of 45.2 new cases daily in York County. In the same 14-day time period, there has been an average of 1.64 deaths, according to calculations based on data provided by the state.

Saying that new COVID-19 case numbers are "somewhat random," Howie attributed daily increases in cases and hospitalizations to a "tight" margin of error, causing numbers to "look more dramatic."

Howie added that a more effective and realistic measure is looking at weekly or biweekly averages, which York City's Health Bureau calculates and evaluates.

The state health department also has acknowledged the uptick, noting that overall hospitalizations generally increase during the traditional cold and flu season, according to Deputy Press Secretary Maggi Mumma.

"As hospitalizations increase, bed capacity inherently decreases," Mumma said via email. "Even after COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased in the late spring and summer, bed capacity did decrease as hospitals began admitting patients for other non-COVID procedures, both emergent and elective."

As of Wednesday, there had been an average of 24.7 intensive care unit beds available in York County over the past 14 days, according to state data.

Howie said the coming flu season could exacerbate the situation, but local hospitals are capable of handling any surges. 

Ryan Coyle, a spokesperson for WellSpan, said he's aware of an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks at most of the network's facilities, including York Hospital.

On Wednesday, WellSpan reported having 46 COVID-19 patients at York Hospital, located at 1001 S. George St. 

Even though officials acknowledged the growth in new cases and hospitalizations, Coyle said WellSpan has developed plans to be able to expand COVID-19 units and bed counts.

"The health system also has the flexibility to transfer patients among its eight hospitals across southcentral Pennsylvania," Coyle said via email. "To date, we have not transferred COVID-19 patients between facilities due to any space constraints."

UPMC, too, referenced a comprehensive plan to maximize the number of beds being used at its York County facility, UPMC Memorial Hospital, located at 1701 Innovation Drive in West Manchester Township.

"As a 40-hospital system with seven in central Pennsylvania, we have the flexibility to use our facilities to easily give us greater capacity," said Kelly McCall, a UPMC spokesperson. "We haven’t had to make any adjustments to inpatient services at this time."

While just speculation, officials are foreseeing both upticks and decreases in cases as fall progresses. 

Howie said that it's important to have a context for the days in which cases are surging and make necessary changes.  

"When we see a uptick in the number, we need to see what's driving that number on a local basis," Howie said. "Within that broader trend, we're going to see bumps and take a look at areas where things are heating up."

One place officials are keeping an eye on is York County Prison, which saw an outbreak last month. Since the pandemic began, York County Prison officials have performed 3,172 tests on inmates, resulting in 475 positive tests, county spokesperson Mark Walters said Monday.

Of those 475 positives, 440 had recovered, he said, and as of Monday, none were hospitalized.

Howie also noted that the Pennsylvania State Police temporarily closing its Loganville barracks Monday after a positive COVID-19 test result. 

Also on Monday, Dover Area School District announced that the high school would be closed for the rest of the week after three people tested positive for COVID-19. 

"We're seeing a modest increase in cases," Howie said. "I hesitate to use the word surge. I don't want to be an alarmist when it comes to this, but we are seeing an uptick in cases."

—  Reporter Lindsey O'Laughlin contributed to this report.  Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.