COVID still a presence in York County — even after Biden's comments

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Joe Biden may have asserted that the COVID-19 pandemic was over on primetime TV, but York County continues to report significant case counts and deaths.

York County added 744 cases and three deaths over the last week, according to state Department of Health data, bringing its pandemic totals to 135,571 and 1,568 respectively. Hospitalizations also remain high, with 37 patients hospitalized. Four patients were in the ICU, and two were on ventilators.

Last week, hospitalizations countywide tripled in a single week — to 38 — but appeared to level off in data released Wednesday. According to a New York Times data analysis, new cases are also down slightly. The daily average of new cases declined 9% compared to two weeks ago.

UPMC infectious disease physician Dr. John Goldman said he disagreed with how Biden phrased his comments. But Goldman noted that we appear to be entering a new phase of the pandemic — namely that COVID is being endemic, more akin to seasonal flu.

"When a new virus appears on this earth, it tends to spread very quickly because people aren't immune to it, and because there's no preexisting immunity it tends to be much more severe," Goldman said. "But as the virus moves through the population, and we have developed things like vaccines and treatments, the virus becomes less severe."

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COVID is still much more contagious than the flu, Goldman said, but COVID cases are fewer than they have been and hospitalizations are less severe.

"If you have preexisting immunity, if you've been exposed before, if you've been vaccinated, [then] it's simply a much less severe disease," Goldman said.

Biden himself walked back his comments later this week, telling attendees at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser that what he had meant was that the pandemic was not where it was.

President Joe Biden takes off his mask as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on his way to his Rehoboth Beach, Del., home after his most recent COVID-19 isolation, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WellSpan Health declined to comment on Biden's remarks. The health system did, however, provide guidance on what people should know about the disease.

"Staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccination, including boosters, is the most important measure to mitigate the risk of acquiring COVID-19," said Dr. Raghav Tirupathi, an infectious disease specialist. "Testing is recommended soon as possible after symptoms begin. Home test kits should be kept handy for that reason. Avoid close contact with large groups, whenever possible, and practice hand hygiene."

But other national health officials say the president's comments could hinder the efforts to fight COVID-19.

"If we do nothing else to reduce the number of deaths from COVID, we need to make sure that people who are at the greatest risk of severe illness and death — and that's people over the age of 65 — that they get their booster," Brown University Pandemic Center director Jennifer Nuzzo told NPR. "I don't want to inadvertently send the signal that that's not something they need to do anymore."

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Goldman said we'll likely be living with COVID for the rest of our lives. He pointed to the frequent mutations of the virus into different variants and the break-through infections that people have, saying we'll likely never achieve herd immunity.

"It's much more mild, but those people can still spread the disease," Goldman said. "So I think it's going to be something that we're simply not going to get rid, that we're going to be with for the rest of our lives."

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