York County sees highest COVID death count since last February; flu cases steady

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

As January continues and the holiday season ends, York County continues to report steady cases of COVID-19 and flu.

The county added 637 COVID cases and eight deaths, bringing its pandemic totals to 144,673 and 1,631 respectively. York County last reported that many COVID deaths in a week in February 2022.

WellSpan Health spokesperson Ryan Coyle said the hospital system saw a spike in hospitalizations of both influenza and COVID-19 in late December and early January.

"Thankfully, these peaks were far below prior COVID-19 surges and our hospitals have been able to accommodate these patients without the need for any widespread delay or cancelation of procedures or staffing redeployments," Coyle said.

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The county also reported 49 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, with four in the ICU and one on a ventilator.

Coyle said it's not too late to get a flu vaccine or COVID-19 booster.

"The best protection from becoming ill is to practice good hand hygiene and to avoid contact with people if they are currently showing signs of an upper respiratory infection or if you are feeling ill," Coyle said. "If you are high risk for complications from COVID-19 or influenza, you should consider a home COVID-19 test and following up with your clinician if you test positive to see if you are a candidate for oral COVID-19 medication."

UPMC Health infectious disease specialist Dr. John Goldman said the hospital system wasn't seeing a high rate of hospitalizations for COVID or flu, with 51 patients across all of the hospital system's hospitals in central Pennsylvania.

"It should be noted that only six of those patients are fully vaccinated against COVID-19," Goldman said. "We strongly urge adults and children to get their flu shots and their COVID booster. Influenza and COVID vaccinations protect us from severe disease, hospitalization and death."

A submitted photo of Dr. Oluwatomi Uwazota, the new York City Bureau of Health medical director.

Dr. Oluwatomi Uwazota, medical director of the York City Bureau of Health, said the city has seen a sharp decline in confirmed positive cases of flu A, with the highest percentage of confirmed cases in 25- to 64-year-olds.

"Get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID or flu. If positive, stay home and follow CDC recommendations or discuss quarantine and isolation recommendations with your primary care provider based on your situation," Uwazota said. "This is especially important because most of our confirmed positive cases are in the working-age population."

The county added 520 cases of flu, bringing its flu season total to 9,797, part of Pennsylvania's total of 168,399. That's a steep drop from earlier in the flu season, where sharp increases led to concerns that a "tripledemic" of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, could overwhelm hospital systems.

Meanwhile, health experts are still monitoring the "kraken" variant that has become one of the fastest spreading variants of COVID recently.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the XBB.1.5 omicron accounted for 27.6% of COVID-19 cases spread across the U.S. last week. The variant most responsible for cases was BQ.1.1.

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"The mutations XBB.1.5 has acquired have made it more contagious," Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician, public health expert and professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. told CNN. "A more transmissible strain has the evolutionary advantage that it will spread faster than others, and therefore could displace other strains. This is a trend seen throughout the coronavirus pandemic — new, even more transmissible strains replacing their predecessors and becoming dominant."

The good news is, Wen said, the variant does not appear at this time to cause more severe disease.

Studies are underway to identify the degree of protection given by existing COVID-19 vaccines. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha tweeted last week that the variant is probably more evasive than other variants.

"Together, we can keep the disruption of XBB.1.5 to a minimum if more people get the updated vaccine and people who are at elevated risk get treated," Jha said in a Twitter thread, saying he was concerned about the variant but does not believe that it's a huge setback. "We can work together to manage the virus, and if we all do our part, we can reduce the impact it will have on our lives."

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