coronavirus_updates

At a glance

  • Covid-19 cases at LGH, Ephrata rise steeply, hit new high, but hospital capacity still adequate
  • Death toll up slightly
  • New cases highest in city and surrounding suburbs

Overview

The Covid-19 pandemic is on the rise again in Lancaster County, much as it is throughout Pennsylvania and the nation. Both hospitalizations and new cases are at their highest level since March.

But, unlike many areas, Lancaster County hospitals still have sufficient hospital bed capacity and the death toll has not increased sharply.

Deaths, the key index of virus impact

Fifteen county residents died from Covid-19 during the first 14 days of this month. That’s a higher rate than during the pandemic lull of September and October, when 13 and 21 persons died during the entire month.

But the current mortality rate – about one person per day – is well below the peak months of April, when 183 area residents died, a rate of about six per day.

As ever, the virus is striking the elderly most severely. Nine of those who died were age 80 and over. Five were in their 70s and one in her 40s.

Geographically, three victims lived in West Donegal Township and two in East Lampeter Township. There were one each in East Earl, West Earl, West Lampeter, Salisbury, Penn, Warwick, West Hempfield, Ephrata and Manheim townships, as well as one in Lititz borough.

It is important to note that there were no virus-related deaths in 48 (80%) of the county’s 60 municipalities.

Since the pandemic began here in late March, Covid-19 has taken the lives of 1.2% percent of the county’s population age 80 and above. It’s struck down 0.2% of those in their 70s and 0.1% of those in their 80s. The smaller fractions of younger age groups are shown on the attached chart. No one under age 25 has succumbed to the virus.

Covid-19 deaths in Lancaster County

Hospitalizations

The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients – the second most important index of the pandemic’s health impact –has nearly doubled in the first two weeks of November.

Between Nov. 1 and 14, the number of patients hospitalized at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and Wellspan Health Ephrata rose from 40 to 77. (As of Monday, Nov. 16, there were 80.)

The number of patients at LGH alone – 66 – is higher than at any time since March. The previous high was 56 hospitalizations on April 28.

According to state Health Department, the county has 80 medical beds, 18 intensive care unit beds and 11 airborne isolation, a total of 109 beds. If the health department’s report is accurate, county hospitals were at about 70% of capacity for COVID-19 patients on Saturday (73% on Monday).

Those numbers, however, appear to reflect the hospitals’ traditional, pre-pandemic capacity and do not include measures the facilities have taken since March to provide additional beds for COVID-19 patients.

Ryan Coyle, a spokesman for Wellspan Health, said Ephrata hospital in fact has 122 acute care beds, including 10 critical care (ICU) beds. If necessary, the hospital can expand those 10 ICU units to accommodate 20 critically ill patients. WellSpan Health has six hospitals, he added, and if one hospital reaches capacity, patients can receive care at any of the others.

John Lines, a LGH spokesman, was asked to confirm that facility’s capacity for COVID-19 patients. We will update this report if and when that information becomes available.

Whatever the LGH response, it appears clear that hospital capacity here is significantly above that reported by the Health Department.

New cases (Positive Covid-19 tests)

Lancaster County hospitals, clinics and doctors reported 2,164 positive COVID-19 tests during the first two weeks of November, more than the total in October (1,968) and September (1,279).

About one-third (32%) of those cases occurred among residents of Lancaster city and its suburbs. The western metro area (17603 ZIP code) had the highest case count at 253. The southeastern metro area (17602) had 239 cases, followed by the northern metro area (17601) with 194 cases.

Three borough-related ZIP code areas also had increased positive tests: Lititz (17543) 206 cases, Ephrata (17522) 167 cases and Elizabethtown (17022) 115 cases.

Shane Weaver, president of Lititz borough council, said he knows of no obvious reason for the rising number of cases in that town. People wear masks in the shopping district, he said, and there has been no report of an outbreak. One possibility, he said, might be cases at the five nursing homes that are within the Lititz postal area.

Nursing and personal care homes also may account for the rise in cases in other towns, but state Health Department reports on those facilities are incomplete, making such a determination impossible.

To complete the case rundown:

  • Five ZIP code areas – Manheim, Mount Joy, Denver, New Holland and Leola – had between 50 and 100 new cases in the past two weeks.
  • Ten ZIP code areas – Quarryville, Columbia, Mountville, Millersville, Willow Street, Marietta, Stevens, Narvon, Landisville and East Earl – had 20 to 49 cases.
  • The other 23 areas had fewer than 20 cases. Smoketown had none.

For perspective, in all these areas, about three to five residents out of every 1,000 (fewer than 1%) tested positive – during the past two weeks. And, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC’s top pandemic expert, has stated, about 80% of those who test positive do well without any specific medical treatment.

This report has been compiled from records of the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office and the state Health Department by researcher Erica Runkles, sociologist Mary Glazier and journalist Ernest Schreiber. The data chart maintained by Erica Runkles can be viewed here