COVID surge grows in York County as a new disease, monkeypox, begins spread

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

For the first time in months, York County added over 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in a single week — a sign of a larger surge due to more transmissible omicron variants.

"All of us are in uncharted waters in terms of the persistence of this particular summer surge and then also understanding what it may mean for the fall," York City Bureau of Health Director Dr. Matt Howie said Tuesday. 

According to the state Department of Health, York County added 1,007 cases and five deaths over the last week. That brings countywide totals to 130,606 and 1,544, respectively, since the pandemic began.

It's noteworthy, however, that the county has not seen a sharp increase in hospitalizations, with nine people hospitalized. Five of them were in the ICU and four were on ventilators.

More:CDC raises York County to medium community level for COVID-19

More:York County Prison contractor paid $200,000 settlement to family of dead inmate

More:Trump pleads the Fifth, refuses to answer questions about businesses

"We're not seeing hospital resources overwhelmed yet or overly stressed yet, and that's an important thing to keep an eye on," Howie said.

But Howie warned that there are no signs that the surge is abating.

"It's probably a safe assumption to say that we're not going to see a huge decrease," he said, "but it would be nice to see it taper off a little bit before the fall where historically we've seen an increase."

The surge led to the upgrading of York County's community level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to medium. That means those at high risk for severe illness should talk to their medical provider about whether they need to wear a mask and take other precautions.

As children prepare to go back to school, Howie said the rules from last year on how to handle a seasonal respiratory illness still apply: early identification of those with symptoms and separation.

FILE - Respiratory therapist Frans Oudenaar, left, and registered nurse Bryan Hofilena cover a body of a COVID-19 patient with a sheet at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Dec. 14, 2021. The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

"Whether it's in schools, whether it's in the workplace or extracurricular activities, if you're not feeling well, do not go to school, do not go to work," he said. "Notify them what's going on and if you're able to, get tested so we can identify what's going on in that space and protect others around you." 

Distancing and masking still work, Howie said. The community needs to look out for those around them who are at higher risk: those who are young, those who are old and those who have conditions that make them susceptible to bad outcomes from COVID.

Meanwhile, another communicable disease has begun to spread.

According to CDC data, there are 251 monkeypox cases in Pennsylvania as of Tuesday. So far, the data hasn't broken down those figures by county.

Howie said when cases are that low, health authorities typically don't disclose individual cases.

"This is something from a medical standpoint within our health systems as well as from a public health standpoint we're all aware of and are paying attention to," he said. 

>> Please consider subscribing to support local journalism. 

Many of the same precautions that people take for COVID can be adapted to avoid monkeypox, Howie said. That includes washing hands and surfaces, and if someone has lesions, they shouldn't be out in social situations

The disease has been stereotyped by some as a disease that primarily affects LGBTQ people. In Washington D.C., a potential hate crime is being investigated after two men allege they were attacked by people who shouted anti-gay slurs and referenced monkeypox.

FILE - A man holds a sign urging increased access to the monkeypox vaccine during a protest in San Francisco, July 18, 2022. U.S. health officials on Tuesday, August 9, 2022, authorized a new monkeypox vaccination strategy designed to stretch limited supplies by allowing health professionals to vaccinate up to five people — instead of one — with each vial. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Howie said there's a risk of it being stigmatized toward that population. The disease can be spread through sexual activity, but Howie added that it's not a sexually transmitted disease — it's a disease that can spread through any close contact for a prolonged period of time.

That means it's foolhardy to assume only LGBTQ people should be concerned about monkeypox.

"Anyone who has that close proximity in terms of a close contact for prolonged periods of time can spread that infection," Howie said. "It doesn't affect one community because of a predisposition in that community."

On Tuesday, U.S. health officials announced a plan to increase the nation's limited supply of monkeypox vaccine by giving people just one-fifth the usual dose, citing research suggesting that the reduced amount is about as effective.

White House officials said the new policy would immediately multiply the 440,000 currently available as full doses into more than 2 million smaller doses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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