coronavirus_updates

Lancaster County saw a major reduction in the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout most of March. But a jump in cases that began at the end of the month has raised the prospect of a new surge in April.

First, a big-picture look at the positive trends of this year:

• Since December, the pandemic’s peak here, the number of people dying from COVID fell nearly 90%, from an average 6.7 per day to just one per day in March, according to the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office.

• The number of patients in COVID units at Lancaster General and Wellspan Ephrata hospitals dropped 76%, from a daily average of 131 in December to just 32 in March.

• The average of new cases here each day declined from 365 in December to 135 in March, a drop of 63%, state Health Department records show.

• In nursing homes, the center of the pandemic here, deaths plummeted from 72 in December to 13 in March, an 82% decline, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. New cases in these homes fell 97%, from 258 to just 8.

• In personal care homes, deaths decreased from 14 in December to 6 in March. COVID cases declined over that time from 163 to 19. `

It seems almost certain that this substantial decline in countywide deaths resulted from inoculation campaigns focused on the elderly, the primary victims of COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, about 95% of fatalities were county residents age 60 and older.

Now more than 70% of that age group – 70,464 of 100,346 county residents – have received full or partial vaccination, according to state Health Department and Census Bureau records. Even partial vaccination protects against severe symptoms and death.

Despite those positive trends, the virus is not yet wholly defeated.

In the first week of April, there was an average of 56 COVID patients at LGH and Ephrata each day, about 24 more each day than in March.

New cases, which had averaged 135 per day in March, are now averaging 183 per day. While that is only half the December peak (365 per day), the trend clearly is moving in an undesirable direction.

But significantly, the death toll has not increased. It has continued a modest decline, from the one-per-day rate of March to about one every two days in the first days of April.

It’s too soon to know if this two-week rise in new infections and hospitalizations is the beginning of a new surge, or just one more bump in a downward road.

But the decline in deaths does suggest that vaccination campaigns, as well as improving hospital care, are proving effective in reducing the deadly impact of the COVID virus.

For the record: The communities with the most new cases in the past two weeks are Lancaster and its suburbs, Lititz, Elizabethtown, Ephrata and Manheim.

This summary of pandemic deaths, hospitalizations and new infections has been compiled from records of the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office, the state Health Department, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and WellSpan Health Ephrata by researcher Erica Runkles, sociologist Dr. Mary Glazier and journalist Ernest Schreiber.

Ernie Schreiber