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York County breaks record with 55 new COVID-19 cases; testing blamed

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County on Monday reported 55 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest day-over-day increase since the outbreak began — and a jump the state Health Department partially attributed to widespread testing in nursing homes.

The new figures come as the county continued to operate under limited COVID-19 mitigation restrictions, classified as the green phase of reopening, and nursing homes continue to report surges in cases.

"I think that it may be part of the work on universal testing that is occurring across the state," Health Department spokesperson Nate Wardle said. "If you look, 49 of those 55 new cases are in long-term care facilities across the county."

On Sunday, the state reported 41 new cases in York County, a notable uptick from a week prior when day-over-day increases were regularly in the single digits. 

As of Monday, there had been 1,351 cases in York County since the beginning of the outbreak. Along with breaking a record in sheer numbers, Monday also marked the highest percentage day-over-day increase since April 21, coming in at 4.2%.

York City, however, reported no additional cases on Monday, Mayor Michael Helfrich said.

At least two nursing homes in York County have begun to see surges in COVID-19 cases as the state continues its universal testing program that began earlier this month.

On Saturday, ManorCare South in York Township announced 18 patients and 36 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak began. One death has also been linked to the virus.

Spokesperson Julie Beckert was unable to give a time frame of when cases first began to be reported, though she said widespread testing has unveiled cases at a faster rate, particularly for those who are asymptomatic.

Pleasant Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Springettsbury Township, on the other hand, said its cases have surged since May 25.

The facility has reported 72 COVID-19 resident cases — 39 of which are active — and four deaths since that date. Fourteen staff members have also tested positive.

About 10%, or 113, of all of the county's COVID-19 cases have been  in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Half of the county's deaths have been in those facilities.

That's lower than the statewide average. 

About 25% of the state's 82,186 cases  have been reported in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and 68% of the state's 6,426 deaths are in those facilities.

Dr. Matthew Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau, said it seemed reasonable that  Monday's increase could be due to a large batch of tests from nursing homes.

But it's also at times hard to tell, he said, as new cases can be batched together, causing "lumpy" data because the state's reporting system relies on human processing of data, posting and vetting.

"Other things we monitor are hospitalizations and deaths for COVID-19," Howie said. "And we've not seen those take a significant jump, although they could in the future, because those are late indicators."

However, discrepancies between state data and nursing homes' own data also have arisen. 

For example, the state's website as of Monday had not recorded any cases or deaths at either ManorCare South or Pleasant Acres, despite the facilities' own findings.

"We file daily statistics as mandated by the Department of Health. We do not know why state health officials have struggled with publishing correct figures," said Pleasant Acres administrator Tamatha Hetrick.

 Wardle has said that many facilities are self-reporting data, and "We need them to report complete and accurate data."

When reached Monday, Wardle also noted that the state updates the nursing home data on a weekly basis, so there can be lags for recent surges. The last update came  June 10.

Pleasant Acres Nursing Home. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

The state's data missteps have been widely used by Republican state lawmakers' when condemning Wolf's handling of the pandemic.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, have  called for an investigation into how Wolf has handled nursing homes.

Most recently, though, state lawmakers are going straight for Wolf's emergency declaration and reopening plan itself.

The state Supreme Court could rule this week on whether the GOP-controlled Legislature can kill Wolf's emergency declaration through a concurrent resolution passed in both chambers earlier this month.

If the high court sides with the GOP, finding that the resolution doesn't require Wolf's signature, the governor's ability to suspend regulations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 would take a major blow.

There is ongoing debate, though, over whether the resolution could put an end to business closures.

Two York County Republicans, Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg,  are cosponsors of the bill.

State officials, and health experts alike, have warned against preemptive opening measures.

And although cases in Pennsylvania overall aren't spiking, other states haven't been so lucky, particularly in the Sun Belt and West, The New York Times reported.

For example, Florida on Saturday saw its largest single-day increase in cases, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has had to slam the brakes on the state's gradual reopening process.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.