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COVID cases continue to rise in York County as experts urge vaccination

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County, like most of the country, is starting to see a surge of new COVID cases — leading public health officials to warn about increased spread.

"We're still seeing a lot of circulating virus right now," said Dr. Matt Howie, York City's medical director. "The idea of being aware of symptoms [and] not going out when you're not feeling well. If you're going to be in an enclosed space, consider masking. It's an important thing to protect you and protect others."

According to Department of Health data, York County added 835 new cases and four deaths last week, bringing its totals to 126,872 cases and 1,526 deaths since the pandemic began.

There's now a tangible uptick in COVID's spread. According to the New York Times' tracker, the 14-day rolling average of new cases have increased by 41% compared to the previous period. Deaths, meanwhile, increased 8%.

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Despite the higher case counts, hospitalizations are were relatively low, according to state data. Nine patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in York County over the last week, with one in the ICU.

Howie said the one thing he's trying to hammer home is still the need to get vaccinated.

"What we're seeing is a lot less hospitalizations, a lot less ventilations and a lot less deaths," Howie said. "That's a testament to the vaccination that we're seeing in the community, and that vaccination has held up even with the new variants."

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Omicron variant BA.5 is spreading significantly across the U.S. and has become the dominant variant, WellSpan infectious disease physician Dr. Raghav Tirupathi said. That's led to a spike in hospitalizations and infections across Pennsylvania.

"[The public will] need to start reinforcing their masking habits, social distancing and also ventilation filtration especially in indoor settings," Tirupathi said. "And it goes without saying: if you've not got your vaccine, get it."

COVID fatigue is understandable, but public health experts warn against apathy.

"I know people are getting tired of being told to get booster after booster," Tirupathi said, "but I think that's the best way to fend off serious disease, hospitalization and death, especially the vulnerable folks among us." 

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Howie said cases are higher among 20- to 40-year-olds right now. That's because generally they're more active in the community and the workforce. The new variants are very transmissible, and vaccines and immunity meaning those who are sick might not feel as ill as before, people may try to "tough it out," he said.

"That's not what we'd like to see you do," he said. "We're still trying to protect the most vulnerable population. Where we're seeing more severe illness and more deaths are older individuals. That is anybody over 65, those are high-risk for sure."

 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

Part of this is due to the increased ability for the recent variants to evade the immune response people have built up from vaccines and previous COVID-19 infections, reports say.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is working on expanding eligibility for a second booster vaccine to Americans without severely compromised immune systems under the age of 50.

On Saturday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the administration was working with the Food and Drug Administration to expand access to the boosters. Public health officials are also working to develop a booster to better address these new variants, he said.

"It is very likely we'll have an updated booster that will address better the circulating variant at that time," he told CNN.

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