coronavirus covid-19 illustration file photo cdc dark background

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals the structure of the novel coronavirus. The illness caused by this virus is COVID-19.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Lancaster County reached their highest level Tuesday since last year’s winter wave, a possible sign that colder weather, new mutations of the virus and holiday gatherings are driving increased transmission among residents.

The 72 people hospitalized with the virus was the highest mark since February 15, 2022, when the county was emerging from the peak of infections caused by the omicron variant, according to data from the state Department of Health.

The figure is still well-off from Lancaster’s pandemic record of 233 hospitalizations in mid-January 2022, but is coinciding with a higher-than-average wave of flu cases in Pennsylvania for this time of year, placing increased pressure on hospitals treating both illnesses.

Of the total COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county, 40 are at Lancaster General, the county’s largest hospital. Of those 40, four COVID-19 patients are in the hospital’s ICU, according to hospital data.

Due to the increased proportion of people who test for COVID-19 at home, the number of reported cases is not as reliable of an indicator of how the virus is spreading as it was earlier in the pandemic. However, as of Wednesday, that figure has increased by 34% in the past month, suggesting increased transmission has coincided with the rise in hospitalizations.

The new omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which experts say may be more contagious than previous subvariants, is now the most prevalent in the United States, accounting for 40.5% of new cases from Dec. 25 through Dec. 31, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to the state, just 13.6% of eligible county residents have received the bivalent COVID-19 booster, which provides broad protection against COVID-19 and subvariants of the omicron strain of the virus.

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