Call it a Christmas miracle.
An analysis of COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations and deaths for the two-week period following Christmas has shown a surprising trend.
Contrary to widespread projections, all three measures of the pandemic’s harm have fallen when compared to the two-week period before the holiday.
In the 14 days after Christmas, compared to the same period before the holiday:
- 626 fewer county residents tested positive for COVID-19.
- 210 fewer patients were admitted to the county’s two major hospitals.
- 17 fewer residents died from the virus.
The data was collected by researcher Erica Runkles and analyzed by Dr. Mary Glazier, retired professor of sociology at Millersville University. This graph shows the full details of the study:
While the falling numbers are no guarantee of what the COVID-19 virus will do in coming weeks, they are an encouraging indicator that the post-holiday surge may not be as severe as forecast. The downward trend seen in the two-week post-Christmas period (Dec. 26 to Jan. 8) has continued after the study period.
Interestingly, the measures of virus harm here did not decline after the Thanksgiving holiday. There were 1,359 more cases, 616 more hospitalizations and 55 more deaths in the two weeks after Thanksgiving than in the two weeks before the holiday.
The reasons for an increase after Thanksgiving and a decrease after Christmas must be categorized as speculation. But there are at least three possibilities that medical statisticians can explore:
- Many college students returned home at Thanksgiving and some could have introduced the virus at family gatherings. Young people often may be infected but show no symptoms. Since students did not return to college after Thanksgiving, there was no similar introduction over the Christmas holiday.
- Restaurants, which multiple studies show are a site for virus spread, were open throughout Thanksgiving but closed throughout the Christmas holiday.
- Thanksgiving occurred after several months when the virus spread was reduced, and a relaxation of precautions may have occurred. The sudden rise in cases and deaths after Thanksgiving may have encouraged more limited social behavior during the Christmas holiday season.
As welcome as the declining cases and deaths may be, there should be no mistake: The number of illnesses and deaths in Lancaster County remains high:
- So far in January, there have been an average of 124 COVID-19 patients hospitalized here daily, four times the number throughout July through September.
- Thirty-five county residents have succumbed to the virus in the first 10 days of this month, more than all who died (34) in the months of September and October.
- Today the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients jumped from 123 Sunday to 137, the highest number in three weeks.
In addition, the impact of New Year celebrations has yet to be felt.
Simply put, while there is good reason for hope, there also is good reason for continued caution.
Note: Those seeking information on the possible linkage of restaurant dining and community spread can find a summary of three studies in a Nov. 15, 2020, Forbes Magazine article titled “There’s no denying the evidence: Restaurants and bars are helping spread COVID-19.”
This information and analysis have been prepared by researcher Erica Runkles, Dr. Mary Glazier and journalist Ernest Schreiber, using data from the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office, the state Health Department, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and WellSpan Health Ephrata Community Hospital.