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Wolf: COVID-19 efforts failing, new restrictions possible

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to media at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday admitted that his administration's most recent attempts to tamp down a surge in COVID-19 cases have failed, and he floated the possibility of harsher mitigation efforts in the near future.

The "critical" announcement, where Wolf and top health officials begged Pennsylvanians to follow basic health procedures, came after the state saw record-breaking case increases and hospitalizations over the weekend. The influx of new cases came after Wolf issued new restrictions, including on schools, on Nov. 23.

York County alone has seen a string of record-breaking day-over-day increases of new cases. On Saturday, the county again shattered  a record for increases in cases with 792 new cases, which had been set only days prior.

"As the numbers show, those things have not worked," Wolf said of his restrictions on businesses and schools. "We are continuing to look at the numbers, and if we have to do more, we will."

Wolf's administration will "make decisions soon," he added.

More:As York County smashes COVID-19 records, Wolf implements new restrictions

More:WellSpan to redeploy staff, create acute care unit amid COVID-19 surge

Strain on hospitals: Wolf's concerns largely centered around how case increases are straining hospitals throughout the state, he said, a problem that health officials expect to worsen as flu season progresses.

Statewide, there were 5,300 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 as of noon Monday, 1,107 of whom were in an intensive care unit with COVID-19.

In York County, 202 were hospitalized. There were no pediatric ICU beds available, and ventilators were at less than half capacity.

Though hospitalizations and ventilator usage have increased over the last month, the availability of beds, such as adult ICU beds and surgical and medical beds, has fluctuated.

On Thursday, the increase in hospitalizations prompted WellSpan Health to redeploy staff, limit elective surgeries and create an acute care unit  because of staffing shortages.

In the announcement from the operator of York Hospital, officials said the health system would relocate staff from the Apple Hill Surgery Center in York Township to the converted acute care hospital at the WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital, also in York Township.

“Now is the time to slow the spread of the virus — before it overwhelms our health care heroes and we aren’t able to fulfill our mission to the community,” top WellSpan Health officials wrote in a subsequent op-ed published in The York Dispatch.

Restrictions: On Nov. 23, Wolf implemented new restrictions on gatherings and required schools to certify they would comply with safety guidelines if they intended to continue in-person instruction.

The restrictions were less severe than what he implemented in March, which included business shutdown orders that sparked significant backlash from Republicans and businesses.

 The updated restrictions did not put an end to the surge in cases, which has only worsened over the past two weeks, across  York County and the state as a whole

York County has seen an average of 940 cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days, a common metric to compare cases among municipalities. In the past seven days alone, there were 2,765 new cases. 

Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, York County had 14.8% infection rate, up 2.7 percentage points from the previous seven-day period. The local figure is 0.4 percentage points above the statewide average of 14.4%.

In December, the county has averaged 395 new cases per day, by far the highest on record.

ZIP code data provided by the state Health Department shows that the highest concentration of cases have occurred in York City and its adjoining municipalities.

In York City alone, there had been  1,482 cases and 17 virus-related deaths as of Monday. The hospitalization rate was 13.8%.

An outlier to that trend, though, was Hanover, specifically in the 17331 ZIP code, which had 1,353 cases.

“Unfortunately, try not to visit too many people right now,” said York City Mayor Michael Helfrich in a Facebook video on Monday. “It doesn’t look like this is going away anytime soon.”

As of Monday, there had been 13,967 cases of COVID-19 and 263 virus-related deaths in York County since the outbreak began. Statewide, there were 426,444 cases and 11,373 deaths.

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