COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing to increase in Lancaster County and statewide, even as vaccinations accelerate and the pool of vulnerable people shrinks.
The county hit a 2021 high of 75 patients on Wednesday, which is three times the 25 patients hospitalized at the new year’s low point a month ago, on March 6, according to the state Department of Health.
Over the past seven days, the county has averaged 64 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals. That’s up from 47 in the prior week and 34 two weeks ago.
In fact, the number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals on Wednesday was higher than during the pandemic’s initial surge last spring, though it remains well below December’s peak of 178.
Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said the increase in cases and hospitalizations is likely resulting from a combination of factors, including the spread of the virus’ UK variant, reduced compliance with masking and social distancing, and more group gatherings.
He urged the public to remain vigilant in following safety precautions, and to pursue vaccination.
“Being outdoors alone without social distancing and masking, does not dramatically reduce the risk of spread,” Ripchinski said in an email. “I am hopeful we will not see a surge as we did in the winter. But even in the short run, for the next three to four weeks, I am a little concerned where we are going right now.”
The increasing patient load follows a recent rise in new COVID-19 cases, and it comes as the county races to ramp up vaccinations against the highly contagious coronavirus.
As of Wednesday, more than 159,000 county residents were partially or fully protected by vaccines. But that still leaves more than two-thirds of the county’s population unvaccinated, and at least several more weeks of effort needed to provide shots to as many of the rest as possible.
“The rising number of hospitalized COVID patients is a blunt reminder of the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing and now, getting vaccinated,” Ripchinski said. “All COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been shown to be highly effective at preventing infection.”
He added that experts believe that even if a vaccinated person does get COVID-19, they may be less likely to get seriously ill from the virus.
Statewide, there were 2,425 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, up from a 2021 low of 1,433 patients on March 14.
Deaths, fortunately, have so far remained much lower than earlier in the pandemic.
In Lancaster County, there were 30 COVID-19 deaths in March, and there have been three so far in April, according to the county’s coroner, Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. That’s down from 90 deaths in February, 143 in January and 207 in December. The total for the pandemic stands at 979 here.
Statewide, Pennsylvania has been averaging about 30 deaths per day over the past two weeks, according to Department of Health data.