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As COVID cases rise, WellSpan again requires masks inside all facilities

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and in response, WellSpan Health has gone back to requiring masks for both patients and visitors.

Starting last Wednesday, everyone is required to wear a medical mask inside WellSpan facilities. Those include surgical masks, N95 masks or KN95 masks. People without masks will have one provided by the WellSpan facility. 

Open visitation is still permitted according to WellSpan except for those who are COVID-19 positive or suspected of being positive pending test results. COVID positive or pending patients may designate two support persons for visitation, with one person at a time allowed to visit. 

Those who are sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should not visit patients, WellSpan said.

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According to WellSpan infectious disease physician Dr. Raghav Tirpuathi, new COVID-19 subvariant BA2.12.1 has been very infectious and is more transmissible than omicron.

"It has significant immunity escape with monoclonal antibodies and to a certain extent with vaccines, leading to decreased effectiveness," Tirpuathi said. "We are seeing an increase in the number of cases across the counties served by WellSpan, even though hospitalizations remain low."

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UPMC has limited access to its facilities to patients, identified and approved support persons, staff and essential vendors since March according to its website.

"You have to remember, we're taking care of sick people," UPMC infectious disease physician Dr. John Goldman said. 

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cate Parchinski, a registered nurse at Brooke Army Medical Center assigned to 959th Inpatient Squadron based out of Joint Base San Antonio, writes notes on patients while updating the physician on patient status in the emergency department at WellSpan York Hospital.

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UPMC personnel will go back to not wearing masks, Goldman said, when they feel comfortable that they're not going to infect already-vulnerable patients. 

As COVID-19 continues to mutate, variants have become much more infectious. Goldman estimated that COVID has gotten as infectious as diseases like measles.

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"What really ends up happening is that any variant that is more contagious than its predecessors rapidly takes over," he said. 

However, there's no evidence that it causes more severe infections, Goldman said. 

"Although we're actually getting an uptick in cases, we're seeing a much smaller uptick in hospitalizations," he said.

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According to Wednesday's COVID data, York County has 31 patients hospitalized with five in the ICU and one on a ventilator. The 14-day average of hospitalizations has been trending up since mid-April and stood at 23.4 on Wednesday.

The state Department of Health is now only updating its COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesdays with data from the previous seven days. On Wednesday, York County had had a total of 120,372 COVID-19 cases and 1,502 deaths since the pandemic began, with 634 cases and one death reported since May 4.

Vaccination is still the strongest and most reliable intervention to prevent bad outcomes from COVID-19, Tirpuathi said. In addition, people should use at-home test kits at the earliest sign of symptoms and stay away from the workplace and other people who are vulnerable when sick. Masking also is encouraged. 

"If people have not yet received their COVID-19 vaccination, we would strongly urge them to get this vaccine, given it is very effective and extremely safe at preventing severe COVID-19 progression to respiratory failure and death," he said.  

Less than 59% of York County residents have been fully vaccinated, and less than 28% have received a booster shot, according to the state.

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