More Lancaster County residents have died from COVID-19 in December than any month since the pandemic took hold in March.
There were 192 COVID-19 deaths in the county so far this month as of Tuesday, bringing the total for deaths in the county to 703 and surpassing the previous peak set with 183 deaths in all of April. In November, 62 deaths were reported in the county.
“Certainly, the virus is more widespread than it has ever been,” said Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, county coroner. “There are many who gathered together with people outside their home for Thanksgiving and for the holidays and I think that all has contributed to that number, as well.”
And with the weather getting colder, gatherings are being moved indoors, adding to the transmission of the virus, Dimantoni said.
Many people have also developed COVID-19 fatigue as the pandemic moves into its 11th month, he said. Some individuals are letting their guard down and opting to visit family, putting themselves, their relatives and the general community at risk, Dimantoni said.
“I think the ideal circumstance this holiday, as hard as it can be, is to stay at home and be with your immediate family and celebrate in a much quieter fashion than many are accustomed to doing,” he said.
However, with a lag between when people are infected and when they present symptoms, Diamantoni said he does not expect to see the impact from Christmas or New Year’s for several more weeks.
Between Dec. 1 and 28, the county averaged close to seven deaths a day, peaking with 14 deaths reported Dec. 6, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The majority of deaths reported in the county have been individuals over the age of 70 who have multiple comorbidities, Dimantoni said — a fact that has held steady since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, as the fatalities have increased in recent months, deaths are spreading more broadly beyond nursing homes, he said. According to county data, 52% of deaths occurred in long-term and skilled care facilities as of Tuesday, falling from 85% in April.
Despite the increase in deaths in December, the county’s morgue has not experienced any issues with capacity because the coroner’s office has been able to rapidly test decedents and release remains, Diamantoni said.
“We have definitely experienced a dramatic increase and our staff is working around the clock for the community,” said Charles “Chad” F. Snyder, III, owner of Snyder Funeral homes, which operates five mortuaries. "It's been very sad and we are trying to provide as much hope as possible to families during this time because traditional rituals, religious rituals and non-religious rituals have been altered.”
Philip Furman, owner of Furman Home for Funerals in Leola, said he’s seen an increase in deaths all year.
“We’ve been busier, of course, we’ve had several COVID deaths in the month,” Furman said. “But it’s not like we’ve been overwhelmed.”