Hospitals increase staffing amid massive surge in flu cases

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County reported a fivefold increase in flu cases over the last two weeks, with hospital systems adding staff to deal with an anticipated surge in demand in the weeks ahead.

"We foresee that our hospitals will be very full," said Dr. John Goldman, a UPMC infectious disease physician. The system has seen relatively few COVID-19 hospitalizations, he said, but anticipates increasing demand due to influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

According to state Department of Health data, seasonal flu cases saw a massive spike over the holiday. Two weeks ago, the last time state officials updated public data, the county had reported 479 flu cases. This week, that figure spiked to 2,391. Statewide, the number of flu cases is nearly 49,000.

Those are numbers normally seen during peak flu season in January, York City Bureau of Health director Dr. Matt Howie said Thursday. A graph of flu cases saw an exponential growth over the last month.

"This is earlier than other years," Howie said. "We are seeing a sizable increase in influenza infection."

York County — and Pennsylvania as a whole — is a grappling with an exponential surge in seasonal flu cases.

At this point, experts say it's difficult to predict where caseloads will go from here. The number of RSV cases experienced a similar rapid growth after the start of the K-12 school year only to plateau.

"It remains to be seen if it will continue at higher levels or will it peak and then decrease like RSV," Howie said of the flu.

Goldman said the surge is likely due to the fact that rates of flu vaccinations for both adults and children are much lower than in past years.

"Influenza and COVID vaccinations protect us from severe disease, hospitalization, and death," he said. "We still recommend wearing a mask in high-risk settings or if you yourself are at higher risk."

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The number of new COVID-19 cases in the county, meanwhile, saw a relatively minor increase.

York County reported 537 new COVID cases and one death in the past week to bring its pandemic totals to 140,370 and 1,612, respectively. Local hospitals reported 33 COVID-19 patients — five more than before the Thanksgiving weekend. Two of those patients were in the ICU.

Alejandro Pina of Red Lion gets a COVID-19 vaccination during UPMC's COVID-19 vaccination clinic at PeoplesBank Park Wednesday, April 14, 2021. It was the first vaccine for the York College student. UPMC, the Spanish American Multi-Cultural Resource Center and the York Revolution hosted the event. UPMC will host another clinic at the hospital on Sunday, April 18, from noon to 7 p.m., and on Wednesday, April 21, from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. To register for the clinics, go to vaccine.upmc.com or call 844-876-2822. Bill Kalina photo

Despite increasing staffing levels, Goldman said the hospital system is optimistic that it can manage any surge that comes from the three simultaneous waves of infection from COVID, the flu and RSV.

"We do not expect our hospitals to be overwhelmed," Goldman said. "We are optimistic that the situation will be manageable."

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Even though COVID hospitalizations aren't at the level of past years, there's still serious risk to the elderly and young children from the virus. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that infants younger than 6 months had the same rate of hospitalization as seniors age 65-74.

“Multiple factors likely contributed to high COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates among young infants during the omicron variant–predominant period,” the authors explained, “including the high infectivity and community transmission of the ... omicron variant and the relatively low threshold for hospitalizing infants for signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 relative to that in older children.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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