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August could smash record as York County COVID-19 cases spike

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County is on track to see a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases in August, with the average number of daily cases up 54% since July, according to an analysis by The York Dispatch.

The rising number of daily infections within the county also shatter daily averages dating back to March and are joined by a "significant" increase in cases among those ages 19 to 24, the state Health Department reports.

“We’re definitely seeing an upward trend," said Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau. "We never really got to the level of transmission rates where we said, ‘Gosh, we turned the corner on it.' Instead of having it under control, it was a stalemate for a period of time. Now it’s flipping."

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

More:York County has 3 new deaths linked to COVID-19

As of Tuesday, York County's average single-day increase in COVID-19 cases throughout August was 37 — a 54% increase over July's average, when York County averaged 24 cases per day and ended the month with 745 total cases.

With a total of 660 cases this month already, August is well on track to surpassing July's numbers as well every other month on record.

Case numbers, in fact, are on track to more than double the averages seen in June, May and March, and nearly double April's average of 19, according to state data.

State health officials have partially attributed greater single-day increases to increased testing. But at a news conference last week, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said it is clear other factors are at play.

Principal Michael Snedden welcomes students to York Suburban Middle School as they return for the first time in six months following the COVID-19 shutdown, Wednesday, August 19, 2020. Sixth and ninth grade students started a day earlier than the rest of the district due to moving up to bigger schools.
John A. Pavoncello photo

"There is no specific outbreak in York that is responsible (for the increase)," Levine said. "It would be particularly community spread."

The increase of cases isn't the only statistic that has become problematic for local and state officials, as cases among those ages 19 to 24 are also increasing.

In the south-central region of the state, that demographic makes up 12% of all cases, according to the state Health Department.

County-level data is not available, but the regional figure is up from 7% in April and is also higher than the statewide figure for that age group, which as of Tuesday was 10%.

"Qualitative data has revealed they are traveling to states with outbreaks, not social distancing, not always wearing masks, and participating in large events, which can all lead to the spread of the virus," said state Health Department spokesperson Nate Wardle.

Howie agreed with Wardle's observation, adding that college gatherings will pose a serious risk of transmission.

Public school districts throughout the county have wrestled with reopening strategies for months. This week, a few reopened their doors for classes. Many others are scheduled to reopen — at least partially — in the coming week.

Earlier this week, superintendents in Northeastern and Central school districts warned that closures, triggered by COVID-19 outbreaks, may be inevitable. 

Some universities are already struggling. Notre Dame, for example, has reported 58 cases of COVID-19 since opening on Aug. 3, Forbes reported. Notre Dame on Tuesday suspended in-person classes for two weeks, according to The Associated Press. Michigan State University also announced it was sending students home.  

Up to 22% of U.S. college students intend to defer their enrollments this fall, according to a poll released Wednesday by Axios, and 85% of those surveyed believed they're likely to be exposed to the coronavirus on campus . Twenty percent of incoming freshmen at Harvard University, which is already fully online, have deferred. 

College students in York County are slated to resume classes next week.

At York College, some on-campus instruction will begin Monday and end Nov. 24 — at which point students will move out of residence halls and the remainder of the semester will be online. 

“I am concerned that, because of ongoing background transmission that is occurring in the community, this could be an opportunity for the virus to get the upper hand again," Howie said.

York College has taken multiple precautions ahead of the semester, according to the college. In public spaces and classrooms, everyone must wear masks. Classrooms will also have limited capacities. But concerns remain among health professionals.

College officials did not respond to requests for comment.

As of Tuesday, York County has had 2,929 cases of COVID-19 and 108 deaths linked to the disease.

Statewide, there have been 125,579 cases and 7,499 deaths.

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