New numbers show increasing cause for concern about the coronavirus pandemic’s fall outlook as rates of new COVID-19 cases have trended upward locally and statewide.
State officials urged continued use of masks and social distancing even as they loosened some rules on crowd sizes at sporting events and other activities.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s 14-day rate of new cases was the highest it’s been since mid-May. Lancaster County’s rate was at its highest point since mid-August.
Hospitalizations have recently increased, too, though they remain far below their spring levels.
The rate of COVID-19 deaths, meanwhile, has not yet shown an autumn increase and continues to run far below its spring peak locally and statewide.
Here’s what the latest data say about where we’re at in the pandemic's eighth month.
New cases on rise
A frequently used tool for measuring case trends is the 14-day total of new cases per 100,000 population. In Lancaster County, that number peaked at 152 on April 20 and fell to a low of 80 on July 13 and 14. It fluctuated a bit over the summer and into September, then dipped to 91 on Sept. 21 and 22.
Since then, though, it has been creeping upward and reached 119 on Monday and Tuesday. The last two times it was that high was on Aug. 10 and back on May 31.
Cases have also been increasing statewide.
Pennsylvania’s rate of new cases per 100,000 population stood at 106 on Tuesday, the highest it’s been since May 15.
It had peaked at 165 on April 18 and dropped to a low of 48 on June 21. It had held below 100 since May 18.
In terms of monthly totals, September saw increases in both Pennsylvania and Lancaster County. The state recorded 24,172 new cases in September, up from 21,977 in August. Lancaster County logged 1,262 new cases, up from 1,206 in August and 1,083 in July.
As students returned to many of the state’s colleges and universities in August, campus outbreaks accounted for an increasing portion of new coronavirus cases. The average age of new patients declined, and most students with COVID-19 did not need to be hospitalized.
But hospitalizations are again on the increase, according to state and local data.
Statewide, average daily hospitalizations increased from 428 in the Sept. 18-24 period to 507 from Sept. 25 through Oct. 1, which is the latest update on the Department of Health’s website.
Local hospital numbers have recently gone up, too.
After briefly dipping into the single digits in mid-September, the daily number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at Lancaster General and WellSpan Ephrata hospitals has climbed back into the 20s — about where it was averaging in the second half of August.
On Saturday and Tuesday it stood at 25 — the highest daily counts here since Sept. 1. Daily patient counts averaged 50 in June, 31 in July, 26 in August and 16 in September. They dipped as low as 7 on Sept. 20, and held below 15 from Sept 16-28.
Deaths remain far below peak
While new cases and hospitalizations have increased, the rate of deaths has not yet show signs of an uptick.
The monthly death toll from COVID-19 fell consistently in Lancaster County after its peak of 183 here in April, and it dropped from 30 in August to only 13 in September, according to Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, the county’s coroner. Diamantoni has so far reported only two COVID-19 deaths here in the first six days of October.
Statewide, Pennsylvania’s worst month was May, when it averaged 105 deaths per day, but the rate has held fairly consistently at about 15 to 17 per day since July. There were 469 COVID-19 deaths in September and there were 85 in the first six days of October.