COVID numbers remain steady even as health experts cast wary eye to new variants

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County's COVID-19 numbers remain steady — at least for now — despite concern about the spread of new variants and rising case counts elsewhere around the globe.

The county added 441 cases and four deaths over the past week, according to state Department of Health data, bringing its pandemic totals to 138,024 and 1,590 respectively. That reflects virtually no change from last week, when 475 new cases and four deaths were reported.

Dr. Raghav Tirupathi, a WellSpan Health infectious disease specialist, said the lower numbers were largely due to increased immunity due to the combination of the vaccine and people already having been infected.

But any optimism from the steady case counts is undercut by the rise of new, more transmissible variants. According to updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stats, variant BA.5 made up 62% of new cases last week, but variants BA.4.6 and BQ.1 combined for over 20% of cases during the same week.

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"Both of them are immune evading, which means that the effectiveness of antibodies formed from the vaccine may not be as good as preventing infection," Tirupathi said Thursday. "So it becomes all the more important for folks to follow mitigation measures and ideally mask when they're indoors in crowded settings, as well as following the respiratory etiquette, coughing etiquette and social distancing when appropriate."

In York County, hospitalizations so far remain relatively stable, with the county reporting 30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Four were in the ICU, with three on ventilators.

According to UPMC infectious disease specialist Dr. John Goldman, all of this should underscore the importance of vaccines.

"As more of us get vaccinated, the virus doesn't have the same chances of mutating like it did before," he said. "Wear the mask in risky settings or if you are at higher risk."

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Health experts say the disease is evolving at a rapid pace.

"This virus is getting a lot of lottery tickets, if you will. And it looks like, with these new variants, these new mutations are like the jackpot," Louisiana State University immunologist Jeremy Kamil told NPR.

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