COVID on the rise again in York County: What you need to know

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

As the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic — and the circulation of new variants — York County has seen new cases rise steadily since last month.

York County reported 79 additional cases over the weekend, bringing the total to 119,110 since the pandemic began, according to state Department of Health data. It also added one new death, bringing the total to 1,496.

While that's a far cry from the worst period of the pandemic this winter, the rolling 7-day average crept upward from 13 cases per day in mid-March to 37 per day as of Sunday, which is up 70% in the previous 14 days, according to a New York Times analysis.

And the numbers themselves may not reflect the reality on the ground.

York City Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie said that with the increase of at-home testing, the full number of cases is not being captured.

"Use of at-home test kits is largely a good thing," Howie said. "It does mean we follow the hospitalization [and] death numbers even more closely." 

 City of York Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie speaks at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 testing, specifically at York County Prison, was addressed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Across Pennsylvania, 504 patients were hospitalized with COVID on Sunday, and 36 of those people are on ventilators. York County had 13 people hospitalized and one on a ventillator.

"As the weather improves, please use the opportunity to be outdoors! If distancing is not possible, please know masking is a way of protecting your loved ones and yourself," Howie said. "We are seeing some family clusters of cases, so please be careful with distancing, hand washing and limiting social interactions when you do not feel well."

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Nationwide, a judicial ruling striking down a public transit mask mandate and mixed messages — even among public health officials — has led to confusion over what mitigation strategies ordinary people should be following.

Just days after reinstating a mask mandate, Philadelphia ended it, citing decreasing hospitalizations.

“I had said when I announced this that if we didn't see hospitalizations rising, that we needed to rethink this and that we shouldn't have a mandate. So that's what we're doing today,” the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, said at a virtual news conference Friday.

Hospitalizations peaked at 82 on April 17 and had drifted down to 74 on Sunday, according to the Department of Public Health. New confirmed infections reached a peak of 385 on April 18 but have since leveled off, with 54 reported on Saturday. Philadelphia health officials said that was enough to convince them that mandatory masking was no longer needed.

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Philadelphia's health department, in a follow-up tweet, said it strongly recommends residents and visitors get vaccinated or boosted, if eligible. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County announced it would continue to require masks on public transit and in taxis and rideshares.

Virus numbers change fast enough that mask guidance could be altered in a matter of days, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“We’ve been doing this for two years, and over three days you can get some pretty nice trends,” he said.

Benjamin said pandemic guidance has become so politicized that any changing guidance “is synonymous with mistrust instead of synonymous with ‘these folks are protecting me and they’re on top of it each day.’”

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He said changing mask rules should not be seen as wishy-washy or arbitrary, but instead regarded as a data-driven response to shifting health conditions, akin to air-pollution action days or swimming advisories.

Some public health experts said the general public should consider still wearing masks — even as airlines and other authorities drop mandates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, continues to recommend masks on airplanes as the Biden administration seeks to appeal the Florida judge's decision.

"This is not the right time to get rid of masks," Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University, told Bloomberg News. Making individuals responsible for mitigating risks, he said, is "not how to stop a pandemic."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.