COVID hospitalizations rise in York County as Pa. reaches new milestone

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

COVID hospitalizations are on the rise again in York County as the state hit a major milestone: 3 million total cases since the pandemic began.

"Although I hoped that we would never reach such a milestone, it is a heavy reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over," Dr. Eugene Curley, a WellSpan infectious disease physician, said via email.

According to state Department of Health data, York County reported 475 new cases since the last update on June 30. A New York Times analysis of the data shows a rolling daily average of 82 cases per day — an increase of 23% over the last 14 days.

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The number of cases may even be underestimated, Curley said. That's because of the rise in home testing, which does not need to be reported to the state. In addition, compounding factors like COVID-19 fatigue have stressed communities to the point where safety protocols are almost nonexistent in certain communities. 

Hospitalizations, a more accurate measure of disease spread, are also on the rise. Last week, the state reported 19 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in York County. As of Thursday, that figure was 31, with two people in the ICU.

The state reached 3 million total cases since the pandemic began as of June 30, and cases are continuing to rise. As of Wednesday, the state had reported 3,018,129 cases, with 45,821 deaths and 1,054 patients hospitalized.

Locally, York County has reported 126,037 total cases. The county's death toll now sits at 1,522, with the most recent death reported June 25.

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The increasing case counts and hospitalizations come at a time when new variants are spreading worldwide. BA.5 accounted for nearly 54% of the country's COVID-19 cases as of Saturday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another variant, BA.4, accounted for 16.5%.

These variants, according to doctors, are more adept at evading antibodies from vaccines and prior infections than any previous variants.

"At this stage now, I think all these variants actually are roughly equally transmissible, so there’s not a huge difference," Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, told NBCNews. "It’s just some are slightly better at infecting people who have been vaccinated or infected by previous variants."

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At this point, doctors are recommending what they have always recommended: Wear a mask, and get vaccinated.

"It protects us from serious illness," UPMC infectious disease specialist Dr. John Goldman said Thursday.  "As more of us get vaccinated, the virus doesn't have the same chances of mutating like it did before. Wear the mask in risky settings or if you are at higher risk."

York City medical director Dr. Matt Howie said that while the rise of at-home testing is a good thing, it means national and statewide data does not capture the full extent of COVID-19. While hospitalizations have risen slightly, the number of ventilated patients and deaths remain low.

Kelly Shifflet, left, a civilian nurse manager at WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital, and U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cassandra Dusseau, right, a clinical nurse assigned to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, review their patient’s medical chart while in support of COVID response operations at WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital in York, Pennsylvania, Jan. 3, 2022.

"This is critical to monitor as we watch new variants emerge in the setting of greater vaccination and natural immunity in our area," Howie said. 

People should continue to gather outside if possible, as well as mask to protect both themselves and the people around them. And it's important for people to continue limiting social interactions when not feeling well, Howie said.

Curley said WellSpan hasn't seen a significant increase in hospitalizations from COVID-19. However, people are still dying and developing long-term complications from the disease.

"I encourage everyone to continue to be safe, vigilant, and stay up to date with COVID," he said.

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