LGH Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine's Lancaster General Hospital in Lancaster city.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is approaching 100 in Lancaster County as the fall coronavirus surge continues amid heated debates over masking and vaccinations.

There were 93 COVID-19 patients in the county’s three hospitals on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health, including 14 in intensive care and five on ventilators. Some 63 of the patients were at Lancaster General, the county's largest hospital.

The local COVID-19 patient count has more than doubled from four weeks ago and is at its highest level since late April, when the county was in the grips of a spring surge. Hospitalizations here peaked at 178 during the pandemic’s worst phase in December.

Meanwhile, the pace of new COVID-19 cases, which began rising in July, has continued to climb and the average has now surpassed 200 per day. Over the past week, the county has averaged 207 new cases per day, up from 174 a week ago, 171 two weeks ago and 98 four weeks ago.

COVID-19 deaths have also been substantially higher in the past month in Lancaster County, according to data from the county’s coroner, Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. After falling to a pandemic low of just six deaths in July, the number of deaths tripled to 18 in August and the county has been averaging about one COVID-19 death per day so far in September.

The worst month for COVID-19 deaths here was December, with 207.

Only about half of the county’s total population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and health officials continue to urge unprotected residents to get the shots. Vaccines are available to those 12 and older, and about 57% of county residents in that age group are now fully protected and another 5% have received one dose of a vaccine, according to state Health Department data.

“COVID-19 vaccines are the most valuable tool in our effort to stop the pandemic,” Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for LG Health in Lancaster, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Ripchinski joined Acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Alison Beam in releasing in a new state report illustrating the benefits of the vaccines. Fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians are seven times less likely to acquire COVID-19 and eight times less likely to die from the novel coronavirus, according to the report.

Since the start of the year, fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians accounted for only 6% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases, 5% of hospitalizations and 3% of deaths, according to the report.

Masks, like vaccinations, have also been controversial, and Gov. Tom Wolf has faced strong resistance to his administration's Aug. 31 order requiring masks in schools and day care centers statewide in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Since the pandemic's arrival here in March 2020, Lancaster County has recorded more than 62,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,100 deaths. That means that roughly one in every nine residents has had COVID-19, and one in every 500 residents has died from the virus.

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