The Gardens at Stevens

Thirty-five residents have died of COVID-19 since Nov. 20, 2020, at the Gardens at Stevens, 400 Lancaster Ave., Denver. The nursing home is seen on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

COVID-related deaths in Lancaster County are rapidly accelerating, with 60 fatalities so far in December.

There were 62 COVID deaths in the county all of November.

A single nursing home — the Gardens at Stevens in Denver — accounts for the majority of the most recent deaths, Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni told LNP | LancasterOnline on Wednesday.

Thirty-five residents at the home have died since Nov. 20, just three days after it reported its first cases. Sixty-seven of the home’s 68 residents along with 38 of its employees were infected as of Dec. 8, according to self-reported data to the state.

George Stauffer, the home’s administrator, did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

To date, the deadliest month in the county was April, when the virus killed 183 people. The county’s death toll from the virus was 570 Wednesday night.

“Before this, the majority of deaths either occurred at the hospital or were people who died in their homes,” Diamantoni said Wednesday. “Now there are more extended-care facility deaths than in November.”

COVID cases, hospitalizations, deaths

The number of dead in Pennsylvania climbed to 11,762 Wednesday after the state health department reported 220 fatalities, the single-highest recorded over a 24-hour reporting period since the novel coronavirus first emerged 10 months ago.

“We have noted on numerous occasions that we often see an increase in cases, then hospitalizations lag a week or two later, and deaths a week or two after that,” Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the state health department, said in an email. “This appears to be occurring yet again, which is concerning.”

Between Dec. 1 and 7, the county averaged seven deaths a day, a pace at which, if sustained, could result in 217 COVID fatalities for the month.

COVID deaths are confirmed through testing, according to Diamantoni. When present, the virus is cited as the cause, even when there is a diagnosis of another life-threatening disease.

“If they would be alive if not for the COVID infection, then the COVID infection caused the death,” Diamantoni said.

'You never want to say never'

Despite the sharp increase in COVID fatalities, Lancaster County mortuaries aren’t likely to experience the issues that plagued funeral homes other states, local funeral home owners said.

Chief among the reasons is the county coroner’s office has significantly sped up the turnaround time on cremation requests, meaning funeral homes can respond to an uptick in services more quickly.

And while he county’s morgue can accommodate roughly three dozen bodies, Diamantoni estimates fewer than 5% of COVID fatalities are actually transferred there.

“You never want to say never,” said Ted Beck, who owns Buch Family of Funeral Homes, which operates three mortuaries. “I really think the funeral homes and the county coroner’s office (are) prepared.”

Kevin Kraft, owner of Clyde W. Kraft Funeral Home, agreed.

Since March 26, when the county had its first COVID fatality, Kraft has handled roughly 24 coronavirus-related deaths.

“I don’t think we’d get to the point where we’d be so overwhelmed,” Kraft said. “The only problem is, if we get staff that get sick.”

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