Bright Side vaccines

A Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered at a pop-up vaccine clinic inside Bright Side Opportunity Center Friday, March 19, 2021. The Lancaster NAACP, Patients R Waiting, the South Asian Association of Lancaster, Bright Side Baptist Church and Bright Side Opportunities Center collaborated to provide COVID-19 vaccines for about 400 people inside the Bright Side Opportunities Center Friday, March 19, 2021.

As in many parts of the nation, the pace of new COVID-19 cases has recently ticked upward in Lancaster County, though it remains far below the levels seen in earlier stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Through Monday, the county logged a seven-day average of 14 new cases per day, up from a record low of only three to four new cases per day from July 7 to 12, according to daily data posted on the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard.

On Saturday, the department reported 20 new cases in Lancaster County. That was the highest daily number here since June 6, but is still a small fraction of the hundreds of daily cases being recorded at the pandemic’s December peak.

COVID-19 hospitalizations, like case numbers, remain at some of their lowest levels of the pandemic, and the average has been running in the single digits in Lancaster County since June 23, according to the state health department.

But the average has fluctuated a bit over that time. It stood at three from July 5 to 10, rose to seven last week and dipped to five on Monday.

On individual days this month, the number of COVID-19 inpatients in the county dropped to as low as one on July 5 and 6, and rose as high as nine last Wednesday. It stood at three on Monday.

By comparison, the county was averaging as many as 167 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals back in December.

LGH stops posting data

The recent hospitalization numbers have been so low, in fact, that the county’s largest hospital — Penn Medicine Lancaster General — says it has stopped posting them to its website due to privacy concerns.

“Given the consistently low number of COVID-19-infected inpatients at Lancaster General Hospital in recent weeks, the potential existed for such patients to be identified, placing their federally mandated patient confidentiality at risk,” spokesman John Lines said in an email Monday.

Lines added that the hospital began posting the daily data when numbers were high and other sources of information were more limited. Today, the state health department reports county-level numbers for new cases and hospitalizations, though not for individual hospitals.

Meanwhile, deaths from COVID-19 have slowed greatly, but they have not stopped.

The county’s coroner, Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, has reported four local COVID-19 deaths so far in July, bringing the pandemic’s total to 1,054. In June there were nine, which was the lowest full-month total of the pandemic.

‘Storm clouds’

Although most local indicators remain low, health officials have expressed concern that the highly contagious Delta variant could eventually spur sharper case increases in Lancaster County, where nearly half of the eligible population aged 12 and older remains unvaccinated.

While the recently low case and hospitalization numbers are “certainly great news, as an infectious diseases specialist, I cannot help but see storm clouds on the horizon,” Dr. Joseph M. Kontra of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital wrote in LNP on Sunday.

“The emergence of the Delta variant should provide additional encouragement to those who remain reluctant to get vaccinated,” added Kontra, the hospital’s chief of infectious diseases.

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