Holiday COVID surge is here — and it comes amid unprecedented flu season

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The COVID surge health experts feared following Thanksgiving gatherings has arrived.

York County reported 1,480 cases this Wednesday, its largest single week number in months and double the number reported last week. That brings its pandemic total for local positive cases to 141,850.

The county also saw 49 patients hospitalized for the virus — eight more than last week — as well as two additional deaths, bringing its local pandemic toll to 1,614. Of the patients hospitalized, seven were in the ICU and three were on ventilators.

"Demand for health care is higher now than it was a few months ago," UPMC infectious disease physician Dr. John Goldman said Wednesday. "Much (but not all) of the demand is related to COVID-19 and respiratory illness like flu and RSV." 

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Goldman said UPMC is seeing an average of 40 flu hospitalizations daily in central Pennsylvania. He encouraged patients who have minor symptoms not to come to the emergency department.

"If you’re worried about the presence of COVID-19, call your primary care provider, use urgent care or seek a primary call/visit or a virtual appointment," Goldman said. "Unless other factors like severe breathing problems, dizziness, or other concerns exist, other care options may be more convenient and efficient."

David Tran, an emergency department technician, left, prepares to put a cardiac monitor on a patient as he has his blood drawn by Jessica Smith, a registered nurse, at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas on Nov. 11, 2022, in Encinitas, California. Scripps recently opened an overflow tent outside of the hospital after an increase of flu patients. (Ana Ramirez/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

York County also reported another spike in flu cases, continuing what has been called the worst flu season in decades. The county added 1,630 new cases over the past week, bringing its total to 5,401.

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Dr. Matt Howie, director of the York County Bureau of Health, said hospitals have been seeing increased hospitalizations for influenza A, which are approaching and, in some cases, surpassing COVID hospitalizations.

"Remember, for influenza and COVID-19, we have effective and safe vaccines available," he said. "If you have not had a COVID-19 booster in the past six months, please make an appointment for the updated booster to keep your protection robust."

The increased numbers come the week before Christmas and a couple of weeks before New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. As people begin to gather, Howie said, they need to be cautious of gathering if they're not feeling well.

 City of York Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie speaks at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 testing, specifically at York County Prison, was addressed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Based on the amount of circulating virus, please be mindful of your own symptoms and do not attend events if you are not feeling well," he said. "Masking is always a good idea in closed spaces where distancing is not an option."

That advice was echoed by Goldman.

"For the best protection against COVID-19 and flu, we urge everyone eligible for a vaccine to make the choice to get one, and strongly urge all to mask indoors or when in a crowd."

The surge in COVID comes as more studies are being done on "long COVID," where those who have had COVID suffer long-term effects from the disease.

If there's one piece of good — or at least cautiously optimistic — news, it's that Pennsylvania could be nearing the peak of this unprecedented flu season.

While York County reported more flu cases this week compared to last week, statewide spread appears to be slowing down slightly. Nonetheless, this flu season is at levels not seen in at least a decade.

The explosive growth in new flu cases may be starting to level off, according to state Department of Health data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that indicates at least 3,544 deaths in the first 30 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, at least one medical expert says that number is likely underreporting the amount of deaths that long COVID contributed to.

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“This is very clearly data from folks who got very sick, ended up at the hospital with sustained organ damage,” Dr. David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation for Mount Sinai Health System, told CNN.

The report, Putrino said, does not include people who may not have been hospitalized for an initial infection but go one to develop heart problems among others.

“We read every single day about people who have previously been healthy, get COVID, recover and then have a heart attack or stroke or pulmonary embolism,” Putrino said.

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