coronavirus_updates

The COVID-19 pandemic declined substantially here during July.

Three county residents died during the last seven days of the month, according to the county coroner’s office. That was the lowest weekly death toll since the virus began, a remarkable sign of progress in efforts to reduce the pandemic’s impact.

In contrast, during the first week of the pandemic here, March 26 to April 1, five people died. In the worst week, April 22 to 29, at the peak of the health crisis, 60 county residents died.

The death toll has ever so slowly declined since that April peak. In May, 30 to 35 county residents were falling victim to the virus weekly. By mid-June, the death toll was cut in half to about 10 to 15 victims a week. In the first three weeks of July, it was cut again almost in half to about 8 victims per week.

The exceptional last week of July – with three deaths – probably is just that, an exception. If the pandemic follows its pattern of slow decline, the death rate in August most likely will hover around four or five deaths a week. It would not be realistic to expect the virus to wholly disappear or deaths to end completely.

As throughout the pandemic, the predominant victims of the virus remain the elderly. The 34 deaths in July made no significant change in that overall pattern. Of the 384 county residents who have died:

  •  70% (269) were age 80 and over;
  •  17% (65) were in their 70s;
  •  9% (36) were in their 60s;
  •  3% (10) were in their 50s;
  •  1% (4) were between 25 and 49.

And, continuing another trend here, the virus did not take the lives of any race disproportionately:

Race % of total victims % of county pop.
White 91% 89%
Hispanic 6% 5%
Black 2% 4%
Asian 1% 2%

Hospitalizations also decline

The number of patients treated for COVID-19 at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health has followed a similar pattern of decrease. On the last day of July, 18 patients were in the COVID-19 ward, just a third of the peak number of 56 patients in April. While the number of patients fluctuated between 10 and 20 throughout July, the average for the month also was 18.

It is interesting to note that while the number of patients remains in double digits, the number of deaths has fallen steeply. Those trends indicate that more seriously ill COVID-19 patients are surviving, quite likely the result of hospital personnel learning ways to improve care.

WellSpan Health Ephrata also saw a decline in COVID-19 patients, from 23 on July 1 to five on July 31.

New cases draw attention

As the number of deaths and hospitalizations falls, media attention has focused increasingly on “new cases” – the number of people with positive COVID-19 tests.

Lancaster County officials have maintained that deaths and hospital cases are the best index of the severity of the pandemic. They have placed less importance on positive tests, since many of those cases are asymptomatic or mild.

Still, for the record, 1,083 county residents tested positive for COVID-19 in July. The state Health Department does not report how many of those cases were mild or without symptoms.

But, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC’s top pandemic expert, “The vast majority of people, about 80%, will do well without any specific intervention.” About 20 percent get seriously ill.

So, of those 1,083 new cases, slightly more than 800 county residents may have experienced symptoms similar to cold or flu, or had no symptoms at all. Slightly more than 200 would have required hospital care, and 34 died.

For perspective, those 1,083 cases amount to one-fifth of 1% of the county’s 545,700 population.
In simple terms, the odds for a county resident to test positive last month was about 1 in 500. The risk of hospitalization was about 1 in 2,725. The risk of death was about 1 in 16,500.

Where the new cases are

As can be expected, the highest number of new cases occurred in Lancaster and its suburbs, the population center of the county.

The three Lancaster ZIP code areas had a total of 447 new cases, about 45% of the total, according to the publicly available COVID-19 database of researcher Erica Runkles.

Four borough ZIP code areas – Ephrata, Lititz, Elizabethtown and Denver – were next highest with 244 cases among them. The other 392 cases were widely scattered among the county’s 41 other ZIP code areas.

The exact numbers for the highest areas of most new cases are:

  • Lancaster 17602: 192
  • Lancaster 17603:162
  • Lancaster 17601: 93
  • Ephrata 17522: 87
  • Lititz 17543: 81
  • Elizabethtown 17022: 40
  • Denver 17517: 36

On a pleasant note to end this update, one ZIP code area has escaped the pandemic so far. Smoketown, population 129, has recorded no cases from March through July.

Note: This summary of the pandemic in July was delayed four days to include the county coroner’s mortality report for the full month. That office’s results from COVID-19 tests typically are not available for two to four days.