Unvaccinated people dominate COVID hospitalizations in central Pa.

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County reported low COVID-19 numbers during the first week of April as the U.S. moves closer to an end for the national public health emergency declaration.

The county added 175 cases and one death to its pandemic totals of 148,675 and 1,675 in the latest Department of Health data.

While hospitals recorded that nine people were hospitalized for COVID, none of those people were in the ICU or on a ventilator. That reflects on vaccination and herd immunity, which have made COVID less severe, UPMC infectious disease specialist Dr. John Goldman said Thursday via email.

"Across the UPMC hospitals here in central Pennsylvania, we are treating 18 inpatients who are positive for COVID-19," Goldman said. "None are on the ventilator, and only one is fully vaccinated."

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That doesn't mean, however, that people shouldn't still be careful, he said. That includes getting the latest vaccine and booster as well as recommending wearing a mask in high-risk settings.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is monitoring a new COVID variant that developed in India. Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, "Arcturus," has been on the radar since March 22, as reported by ABC.

"Most of the sequences are from India and XBB.1.16 has replaced the other variants that are in circulation, so this is one to watch," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for COVID-19 response, said during a virtual press briefing March 29.

According to a tracker run by Dr. Rajendram Rajnarayanan of the New York Institute of Technology, XBB.1.16 accounts for 3.2% of cases over the past 15 days in the U.S as of Thursday. The variant was responsible for 55 cases in 11 states, including one case in Maryland.

That being said, this new variant so far has not come with an increase in lethality; the WHO reported that the death count in southeast Asia has gone down by 6% in the past four weeks.

"So far reports do not indicate a rise in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, or deaths due to XBB.1.16," the WHO report stated. "Further, there are currently no reported laboratory studies on markers of disease severity for XBB.1.16."

That being said, Kerkhove said the world needs to remain vigilant about COVID.

"We have to have systems that are in place that have strong surveillance so that we can track variants, the known variants that are in circulation and detect new ones," Kerkhove said at the press briefing.

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And as the U.S. moves towards the end of the public health emergency, currently scheduled for May 11, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to remind states of legal obligations to civil rights protections.

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In a letter sent by the department's Office of Civil Rights to state health officials, director Melanie Fontes Rainier reminded officials that they have obligations to ensure individuals and families continue to have access to Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage upon the expiration of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act's continuous enrollment condition.

"This unwinding period requires careful attention to language access and effective communication obligations so that people of color and individuals with LEP or disabilities are not disenrolled because of ineffective communications," Rainier wrote.

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