Pa. official: Amid COVID-19 surge, Thanksgiving effect still unclear

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Digital billboards in downtown York City encourage residents to wear a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19.

It's not yet clear whether the Thanksgiving holiday will exacerbate the ongoing surge of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, but officials say health care systems are already reaching their limits.

Pennsylvania on Wednesday saw 8,291 new cases of COVID-19, reported the state Department of Health, continuing increases that have broken previous records one after another. Now, officials are waiting to see if individuals ignoring recommendations to stay at home for the holidays could further worsen the surge that is already outpacing testing capabilities.

"Typically, it would be about a week until we would start to see cases, as people would have been potentially exposed on Thanksgiving or around there, experienced symptoms two to seven days later, and then once tested, would have awaited test results," said Health Department spokesperson Nate Wardle.

Given that the fall resurgence is also bringing record case numbers, it could be difficult to tell if Thanksgiving travel specifically made a difference, he said.

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The state's health care system has already been stretched thin with surges in cases throughout the state, including in York County.

For example, Wardle said, "many" locations are only testing symptomatic individuals and results are being delayed because of backlogs at some national laboratories.

Some locations that hold appointment-only testing, such as CVS and Rite-Aid, have had their appointment schedules booked out for several days.

"The demand for COVID-19 testing certainly has increased over the last several weeks, which goes hand in hand with the resurgence in cases," Wardle said. "We are actively working to help all testing partners to ensure they have what they need."

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday announced the state would be sending out additional "strike teams" to conduct regional testing free of cost in 61 counties, including York.

The first testing clinics became available in Bedford, Mifflin, Tioga and Northampton counties on Wednesday. It is unclear when a clinic will open in York County.

“Every day, COVID continues to spread in the commonwealth, every day our numbers continue to rise, and that puts our health care system and our health care workers at greater risk," Wolf said.

As of Tuesday, York County was averaging 644 cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days, ranking 45th in the state, according to a Spotlight PA analysis.

By that same metric, which is commonly used to compare cases among municipalities, York County's average increased to 688 on Wednesday. Spotlight PA had not yet updated data for other counties.

York County's infection rate has also recently broken a record, with the state reporting that between Nov. 13 and Nov. 19, the most recent data available, that 12.2% of patients tested had positive results.

That is up 1.3 percentage points since the previous seven-day period. It is above the state's 11.7% average, and it ranks 35th among the state's other 66 counties.

The majority of York County's worst-off municipalities are in its central region, which includes York City.

City officials have already doubled down on mitigation efforts, with 1,333 cases since the pandemic began and a hospitalization rate of 14.9% being reported as of Wednesday.

City officials on Tuesday announced all employees who are able to work remotely must work from home indefinitely and that desk landline phones will be rerouted to assigned city cell phones.

The treasurer's office at City Hall, however, will remain open.

Meanwhile, officials at all levels of government are warning that hospitals could be pushed to their limits if the current path continues.

York County hospitalization data.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned on MSNBC on Wednesday that the impact over the next few months could be historic.

"I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that's going to put on our health care system," Redfield said.

Locally, ventilator usage and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are already on the rise amid the fall resurgence, according to the state Health Department.

There were 49 ventilators in use Wednesday, more than half of the total 94 ventilators in the county. A total of 174 patients were hospitalized.

The following percentage of beds were available: 22% of adult ICU beds; 5.9% of medical and surgical beds; 52.6% of pediatric beds; and 30.6% of airborne isolation beds.

No pediatric ICU beds were available.

Some local hospitals, such as WellSpan York Hospital, have indicated that they are capable of sharing resources and expanding their bed counts if necessary.

As of Tuesday, there were 161 patients with COVID-19 at York Hospital, which has a capacity of about 600 beds, said spokesperson Ryan Coyle.

As of noon Wednesday, York County had had 11,711 COVID-19 cases and 258 deaths linked to the disease since the outbreak began. Statewide, there were 375,431 cases and 10,757 deaths.

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