COVID numbers decline despite early signs of new fall wave

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

For the first time in months, York County saw its number of new weekly COVID cases dip below 500, although health officials are stressing the need for continued masking and boosters.

"It's reassuring to see our collective response including vaccination, appropriate masking and being mindful of illness holding up to the initial period of respiratory virus season," York City Health Bureau director Dr. Matt Howie said Thursday.

But Howie also noted that the fall typically marks the begin of cold and flu season, with the added uncertainty that comes with new variants circulating worldwide.

"It is still very early," he said.

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According to CDC data, BF.7 — short for BA. — made up 3.4% of sequenced infections nationwide. Another variant, BA.2.75 — dubbed Centaurus — comprised 1.4% of the infections studied. BA.5 remains the dominant strain, however, accounting for 81% of new cases.

Those variants could gather steam as time goes on. Imperial College London virologist Tom Peacock told STAT News that these new variants are evolutions of omicron and that cases are rising in Europe. Scientists are still studying how well the currently available vaccines hold up against a flurry of new variants.

“It’s a little bit like what we would expect to see over a couple years of flu but crammed into about three months with SARS-CoV-2,” Peacock said.

The recent rise in hospitalizations in Europe presents some cause for concern because it's historically proven to be a bellwether for the United States, according to University of California San Francisco infectious disease expert Peter Chin-Hong.

“The question is not whether we will see an increase in cases and hospitalizations — we will — but by how much,” Chin-Hong told the San Francisco Chronicle.

For now, York County reported 475 new cases and one death in the last week, according to the state Department of Health, bringing its pandemic totals to 136,641 and 1,575 respectively. Hospitalizations, meanwhile, have reversed the recent surge — down to 33 patients compared to 45 last week.

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According to a New York Times data analysis, the daily average of reported cases is 68, a 36% decrease from the average two weeks ago, and the county remains at a low community level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means residents should stay up to date on vaccinations and get tested if they have symptoms.

"For those who are eligible, please get boosted with the new bivalent vaccine," Howie said.

Howie also encouraged residents to wear masks in areas where social distancing is not possible and to stay home and test themselves if they're feeling sick.

"It is how we care for our community," he said.

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