York County COVID-19 cases lowest since November, but vaccine rates worry officials

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County's daily COVID-19 cases are at the lowest they've been since a pre-winter surge, but local health officials say the county's declining vaccination rate could keep it from maintaining its trajectory.

As of Tuesday, York County had seen 253 cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days. That's the lowest the number has been since November, when the case rate per 100,000 people was 249 on Nov. 10, according to state Health Department data.

Because of the declining numbers, the state Education Department  determined the county has officially moved out of substantial spread and is now classified in the moderate level of transmission.

The number of York County residents receiving their first vaccinations over a seven-day period per 100,000 people, however, has plummeted about 72% in the past month.

Currently, only about 34% of York residents are fully vaccinated, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Statewide, about 39% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Paired with the fact that the percentage of patients who test positive hasn't reached low enough levels, future surges aren't out of the realm of possibility, said Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau.

“Pennsylvania really never got down to those really low transmission rates of 5% that really help us in terms of limiting any kind of resurgence,” Howie said.

Emergency medical technician Holly Pinamonti administers a Covid-19 vaccination to Monica Green of York City during UPMC's COVID-19 vaccination clinic at PeoplesBank Park Wednesday, April 14, 2021. It was Green's first vaccine. UPMC, the Spanish American Multi-Cultural Resource Center and the York Revolution hosted the event. UPMC will host another clinic at the hospital on Sunday, April 18, from noon to 7 p.m., and on Wednesday, April 21, from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. To register for the clinics, go to vaccine.upmc.com. Bill Kalina photo

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About 6.1% of patients in York County tested positive between May 7 and May 13, according to the most recent data available. But that number often fluctuates.

The decline in cases comes as Gov. Tom Wolf on May 31 will lift all COVID-19 restrictions except for his mask mandate. That will be in effect until 70% of the population is vaccinated.

Even so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that anyone who is fully vaccinated does not need a mask in any setting, and Pennsylvania automatically adopted the new guidelines.

Howie said he isn't so much concerned about the timing of the lifted restrictions because respiratory viruses don't transmit as broadly in the summer.

Rather, he said, he is worried about whether in the fall and winter enough people will be vaccinated to keep case counts low and prevent another surge.

During the winter surge, York County saw as many as 1,458 cases per 100,00 people in a 14-day period. That took place on Dec. 15.

“If you don’t get the vaccine rates up, when the environment changes, it’s going to really highlight where we got the vaccine effectively distributed and where we need to,” Howie said.

Health experts have said vaccine hesitancy is the biggest factor in slowing vaccination rates.

While those who wanted to get vaccinated have already largely been served, doctors  have said, the challenge is to convince those who are still undecided about the vaccine or outright oppose it.

Even though hesitancy remains an issue, though, the state contends it's still administering enough doses to maintain a decrease in caseloads.

"While the demand for vaccinations has decreased, providers are still administering over 60,000 vaccinations a day," said state Health Department spokesperson Maggi Mumma in a statement.

Vaccination rates are lagging most severely among minority groups.

While 46% of white York County residents have received at least one vaccine dose, only 29.3% of Black individuals and 30.4% of Hispanic individuals have been at least partially inoculated. 

Statewide, 48.2% of white individuals have received at least one dose. Meanwhile, the percentage of Blacks and Hispanics who have received their first dose is 20.5% and 30.5%, respectively. 

Those numbers could change, however, as 13.1% of patients did not report their race and 26.1% did not report their ethnicity statewide.

As of Tuesday, there had been 45,741 COVID-19 cases in York County and 803 deaths linked to the disease since the outbreak began.

Statewide, there were 1,188,845 cases and 26,871 deaths.

Moving out of substantial transmission has big implications for local schools, as all York County school districts agreed in November to comply with state COVID-19 regulations while the county had substantial spread.

Now that the county is classified in the moderate category, districts are no longer required to close schools when enough COVID-19 cases are recorded within a 14-day window. The regulation will remain a recommendation. 

State officials also recently announced that Pennsylvania would lift most COVID-19 requirements, including those for school closures, effective on May 31. 

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