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United Way of Lancaster County


By the numbers: Covid hospitalizations, deaths show no sign of fall surge

For the first time since the COVID pandemic began, no increase in hospitalizations or deaths has occurred here during the early fall months.

In October, just seven county residents died from the virus, half the 14 who died in September, according to the Lancaster County coroner’s office. It was the third lowest number of COVID fatalities this year.

A year ago, 134 people here succumbed to COVID in September and October combined. That surge continued through December, peaking at 160 deaths this past January.

While the numbers are encouraging, they are no guarantee that a surge will not occur later in the year, Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, the county coroner, said.

“I hope it will remain low,” he said of the trend. “But it’s been warm. When it gets cold, things may change.”

During cold weather, people are more apt to stay inside, closer to one another, and the chances of spreading the virus increase, he said.
In October, the daily average of hospitalized COVID patients was 35. A year ago, there were three times as many COVID patients in the county’s hospitals – a daily average of 111.
One new factor contributing to the reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, Diamantoni said, is increased use of Paxlovid, an antiviral tablet that reduces the severity of COVID.
“We use that frequently,” he said. “When it was in limited supply, it was for people over 65 with chronic conditions. Now, increasingly, it is being used for people who are a little less sick.”

(Pfizer clinical trials shows that unvaccinated individuals with COVID who took Paxlovid were 89% less likely to develop severe symptoms or die, compared to those not getting the drug.)

While the number of deaths remains relatively low compared to past months of the pandemic, COVID still is taking the lives of many more people than flu, the other seasonal infectious disease here.

“Traditionally, we have 10 to 12 flu deaths a year,” the coroner said.

There have been 301 COVID deaths here since January. Most of them – 223 – occurred in January and February, the peak of the 2021 winter surge. Since then, about 10 county residents have died each month from COVID.

As in recent months, the county’s personal care homes continued to report a decline in cases in October. There was only one resident case and 11 staff cases among the county’s personal care homes, the Health Department reported. There were no COVID-related deaths in those homes.

The county’s nursing homes also reported no deaths. But they did experience 71 cases of COVID among residents and 125 cases among staff.

During October, there were no significant changes in the number of vaccinated individuals, according to state figures.

The Health Department says 67% of county residents have at least one COVID vaccination and 60% are fully vaccinated. About 7% have received the bivalent vaccine.

“I think there is pandemic fatigue,” Dr. Diamantoni said. “People don’t wear masks. “They are not big on the boosters.”

This report was compiled by Erica Runkles, Dr. Mary Glazier, Penn Glazier, and former LNP Executive Editor Ernie Schreiber using records from the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office, the state Health Department, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.