York County COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations rise since restrictions loosened

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County's COVID-19 case rates are at their highest levels since early February, and its average hospitalizations in the past two weeks — during which residents enjoyed increased indoor dining capacities — are up 25%.

Meanwhile, York is one of 23 counties in the state that has an "extremely high" COVID-19 case rate, according to a New York Times analysis. 

The statistics could be at least in part driven by Gov. Tom Wolf's decision to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on April 4, said one local health official.

“You get permission for one thing — give an inch, and you’ll take a mile,” said Dr. Matthew Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau.

More:Monday update: 197 new COVID-19 cases in York County

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Wolf on April 4 permitted bar service to resume and increased the indoor capacity limit to 75% of the maximum if bars and restaurants certify with the state, meaning they agree to a variety of health guidelines.

Other businesses, such as gyms, casinos and theaters, also had their capacities raised to 75%.

The governor and state Health Department have made no indications they will revise those measures. Recently, they have instead focused on citing increases in vaccination rates as evidence the state is making progress in fighting the pandemic.

Other factors that are likely driving case increases are continued community spread,  fewer people adhering to safety guidelines such as mask wearing and the fact that many children are back in school, Howie said.

As of Monday, York County had 518 additional cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period, making its recent case increases the highest they've been since early February. 

York County averaged 120 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 on any given day during that time period, a 25% increase from the previous 14-day period, according to The New York Times.

The New York Times labels a county's risk extremely high if it reported an average daily rate of more than 45 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.

A county also falls into the category if its infection rate is greater than 10%. An infection rate shows what percentage of individuals who are tested receive positive results.

York County as of Monday had 40 average daily cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks, but its infection rate is 10.9%, according to state Health Department data.

The state Health Department on Monday acknowledged the recent increase in cases and hospitalizations, which officials also noted comes as warmer weather brings more residents outside. 

"As we continue to report thousands of cases a day and our statewide percent positivity rate increased this week compared to last, we know COVID-19 remains a threat in our communities," spokesperson Maggi Mumma said in a statement.

Pennsylvania is one of 33 states where COVID-19 cases are experiencing a spring surge. It also is one of 38 states where hospitalizations are on the rise, The Washington Post reported. 

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

Health experts have said ramping up vaccinations is the best way to combat the recent trends that some have also attributed to new COVID-19 variants.

"It’s keeping a lid on the really explosive growth we’ve seen," Howie said.

But in places such as York County, vaccination rates are lagging.

About 22% of York County residents are fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times analysis. That falls below the statewide average of 26% and ranks York 42nd among the state's 67 counties.

Howie has said that both vaccine supply and vaccine hesitancy play a role in why York is lagging behind. 

York's current numbers demonstrate the number of people ready to get vaccinated versus those who remain skeptical, he said.

"I think the folks who are ready to get the vaccine have been served," Howie said. "Now we're onto the folks in the 'hesitance' category. This isn't necessarily anti-vaccine people; they're just cautious."

As of noon Monday, 50,240 county residents had been partially vaccinated and 91,307 had been fully vaccinated.

The county has reported 42,532 total COVID-19 cases and 763 deaths linked to the disease.

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