COVID-19 fatigue? Fewer cases, but more deaths in York County

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Dr. Matthew Howie, executive director of the York Regional Opiate Collaborative, answers questions on addiction during an educational forum on heroin, Wednesday, March 22, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Health experts have noticed a new trend in York County: The average number of daily COVID cases is dropping, but the average number of daily deaths is increasing.

Aside from obvious explanations — such as lag time between when someone is diagnosed and when they die, as well as a lag between when someone dies and when their death is recorded — these experts point to another possibility 10 months into the pandemic:

COVID 19 fatigue.

Dr. Matt Howie, medical director for the York City Health Bureau, has a theory. Nearly a year into the pandemic, there are people who simply don't want to get tested to determine whether they're positive, he suggested.

“People are unfortunately getting more comfortable with (COVID-19), and they’re going to say ‘If I have COVID, I’ll just deal with it.,'" Howie said. "This is the manifestation of COVID fatigue."

Latest stats: As of Monday, York County averaged 911 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, a common metric used to track the virus' spread. 

That's a 53.5% decrease from 30 days ago, when the county saw its highest-ever average of 1,398 cases. It also comes after the Christmas season, which health experts expected to lead to a surge in both cases and deaths.

Meanwhile, the county reported 114 deaths in the latest 14-day period. That's a 22% increase over the previous two-week period, which saw 93 deaths.

Statewide data from the state Department of Health shows similar trends.

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

More:ANALYSIS: Hanover zip code has second-most new COVID-19 cases in region

Howie said the numbers aren't a sign of the disease becoming more deadly. Rather,  case counts might be lower because some individuals don't want to be tested even when they show symptoms.

Undercount suspected: York County Coroner Pam Gay said her office does test dead individuals if it's suspected they had COVID-19. But tests are limited and expensive, so not every body is tested.

In addition, coroners don't handle every death from COVID-19 or any other natural cause. Therefore, it's likely the numbers being reported are on the lower end.

“Many of us believe when all this pans out and they look back at this, we believe there’s going to be a significant undercount (for deaths and cases)," Gay said.

Gay added that she's noticed COVID-19 fatigue among families of those who have died, which seems to demonstrate a stigma surrounding the disease.

For example, she said, some families have "begged" her office not to include COVID-19 on death certificates.

State officials have also noted that daily death increases may be misleading because of occasional reporting lags.

"It is important to remember that these deaths that are reported to us may not have occurred in the 24 hours, but were reported to the registration system within the last 24 hours," said Health Department spokesperson Maggi Mumma.

Between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14, the most recent data made available by the department, York County did make progress in terms of its infection rate.

The county's infection rate was 16.8%, down 1.4 percentage points from the previous seven-day period. It ranked 18th among the state's 67 counties.

That number still was well above the statewide average of 12.7%.

As of noon Monday, there were 28,686 case of COVID-19 in York County and 549 deaths. Statewide, there were 771,845 cases and 19,390 deaths.

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