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COVID: York County average cases more than double since Thanksgiving

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
From left to right: Todd Fry, director of WellSpan Pharmacies, Amanda Nonemaker, pharmacies buyer, and Brent Carpenter, manager of procurement, unbox WellSpan York Hospital's first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 case increases in York County more than doubled following the Thanksgiving holiday, an infection rate that exceeds the state's and has health officials fearing a similar Christmas surge.

The concerns come as York County, as of noon Monday, had seen an average of 1,376 cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days, a common metric to compare cases among municipalities. In total, there were 2,606 new cases in the past seven days alone.

The 14-day average is a nearly 129% increase over numbers seen on Thanksgiving Day, when there were 602 cases per 100,000 people.

Barbara Kovacs, director of the York City Health Bureau, said she hopes Christmas won't be as bad as Thanksgiving, "but there’s still a lot of people traveling and getting together with their families.” 

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

More:WellSpan York Hospital, UPMC Memorial receive first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine

Surges in local COVID-19 cases have also been met with increases in infection rates, death rates and hospitalization rates that have completely drained the county's adult intensive care unit beds. 

Between Dec. 11 and Dec. 17, the most recent data made available by the state Health Department, the county's infection rate was 19.9%, meaning that nearly one in five COVID-19 tests came back positive

That's up 1.9 percentage points since the previous seven-day period.

Meanwhile, the statewide infection rate decreased by 0.3 percentage points during that same time period, coming in at 15.8%.

As of Monday, there were also 46 deaths linked to COVID-19 in York County in the past seven days, more than in the entire month of November, which saw 38 deaths.

The rising numbers prompted York City officials on Monday morning to launch an ad campaign on Facebook urging residents not to travel over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. 

In the 337-second video, representing the 337 York County residents who had died from COVID-19 as of Saturday, health bureau employees urged residents to only spend in-person time with members of their immediate household.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Monday echoed the calls from city officials, saying that another surge could very well follow Christmas if residents don't heed the department's warnings.

"If people travel, if they have large and small gatherings, we'll be more challenged. So we'll see how things go," Levine said during a news conference.

Most of the concerns surrounding case surges have stemmed from the possibility of hospitals becoming overwhelmed if the increases continue.

As of Monday, 6,090 COVID-19 patients in Pennsylvania were hospitalized, 1,217 of them in intensive care units.

In York County, 242 were hospitalized — 174 of them in WellSpan York Hospital — and 53 individuals were in intensive care units.

No adult ICU beds were available in the county, while the percentage of other beds in use continued to fluctuate. Ventilators were at less than half capacity, with 59 of 98 ventilators in use.

Hospitals throughout the state, including WellSpan facilities, have resorted to a variety of measures to avoid being overwhelmed by the rise in COVID-19 patients.

On Dec. 3, WellSpan officials announced they would redeploy staff and convert WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital into an acute care hospital because of staffing shortages.

WellSpan spokesperson Ryan Coyle on Monday said that although cases continue to increase, as do hospitalizations, the steps taken have helped offset recent surges.

"We continue to look for innovative ways to manage capacity across our health systems so that we may avoid postponements of elective procedures and surgery as much as possible," Coyle said.

State and local officials are hoping that hospitals see relief as the first COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed jointly by Pfizer and German-based BioNTech and separately by Moderna, begin to roll out.

A vaccine first hit Pennsylvania last week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use in the U.S. for individuals who are at least 16 years old.

Hospitals statewide were slated to receive 97,500 doses directly from Pfizer. Philadelphia alone is expected to receive 13,650 doses, The Associated Press has reported.

WellSpan York Hospital and UPMC Memorial Hospital received 975 doses each.

In total, Pfizer shipped nearly 3 million doses to 636 sites across the country. The vaccine requires two doses per person a few weeks apart.

The state is now anticipating an additional vaccine developed by the Massachusetts-based company Moderna as early as this week, but it was not clear how many doses would be supplied, according to state health officials.

But even with vaccines on the way, only frontline hospital staff are receiving the first rounds. Health officials are anticipating the next step will be vaccinating seniors.

Because of uncertainty over when the general public will be vaccinated, Kovacs said, it's more important than ever for residents to continue to abide by safety precautions.

"I would think that maybe, when we get the vaccine in people’s arms, we’ll start to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, people are going to be indoors," Kovacs said.

As of noon Monday, York County had 20,128 cases and 342 deaths linked to COVID-19. Statewide, there were 563,589 cases and 15,100 deaths.

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