COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are on the rise as Pa. prepares to loosen rules

Written by on April 1, 2021

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are on the rise as Pa. prepares to loosen rules

Beginning April 4, businesses such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues will be able to ease some COVID-19 restrictions.

By Brett Sholtis / Transforming Health / WITF

April 1, 2021

Dil Tulloch stands for a portrait outside Broad Street Market Friday, March 26, 2021. Tulloch had COVID-19 last summer. Though he has been vaccinated, he remains cautious about the risks of the virus. Photo | Provided by WITF

As Pennsylvania businesses are set to loosen public health measures, an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has some public health officials concerned.

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The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania and the number of people in the hospital with the virus are both on the rise.

The increase in these two key markers of how well public health efforts are working come after three months of declining new illnesses and hospitalizations in the commonwealth.

Daily case counts began inching upward in March. The state has seen an average of 3,626 new cases each day over the past week, state data show. That’s up 53% from the first week of the month, when Pennsylvania had an average of 2,370 new cases each day.

The commonwealth is not alone. The U.S. is seeing a 12% increase in COVID-19 cases compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC report. Daily cases are growing by at least 5% in 27 states. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of the potential for a “fourth surge” of cases.

The trend comes less than a week before Pennsylvania bars, restaurants and businesses are permitted to relax guidelines designed to prevent the spread of the virus. Businesses such as gyms and entertainment venues are also allowed to increase the number of people who can be gathered at one time.

The state is closely watching the numbers but still supports the plan to ease restrictions April 4, said Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam. “It heightens our vigilance, in making sure as cases increase, we’re always watching our hospitalization rate,” she said.

That rate is also up, state data show. As of Monday, 1,640 people were in hospitals in Pa. due to COVID-19. That’s up slightly from 1,495 on March 21 — the last day of a nearly three-month long decline in hospitalizations.

In the midstate, WellSpan Health, Geisinger, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Penn State Health all reported recent increases in people hospitalized with the virus.

Geisinger hospitals have gone from about 50 COVID-19 patients to more than 70 in the past two weeks, said Dr. Stanley Martin, an infectious disease specialist. That’s nowhere close to where its hospitals were in December and January, but still signals a concerning trend.

One reason for this is what you’d expect, Martin said. People are tired of the restrictions. Warmer weather has people wanting to go out. And with the perception that many vulnerable people have been vaccinated, people feel like there is less risk of getting sick.

He said people are right to be hopeful about the vaccine’s ability to help end the pandemic, “but we have to have enough people become immune to the virus in order to curb its spread. We still have a very large majority, if you will, not immune to the virus.”

Additionally, more infectious variants of the virus, such as the so-called “U.K.” strain also known as “B117” have been identified in Pennsylvania, Martin noted.

All this adds up to the need for people to keep following the guidelines, Martin said.

Outside Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market, Dil and Dothlyn Tulloch have their own reasons to be cautious.

Dil, 61, had COVID-19 last June and said he wouldn’t wish it upon his worst enemy. “I could hardly breathe. I could hardly eat. And I was just tired and exhausted.”

He and 57-year-old Dothlyn have both been vaccinated — but they are still following guidelines, such as wearing face coverings, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Dothlyn said she understands that people want to get back to normal. She wants to see her children back in school. However, people need to be patient for a bit longer.

As a nursing home worker, Dothlyn has seen the situation improve in long term care facilities. However, the virus still poses a serious threat, and she knows what it can do.

“A lot of death — I’ve seen it. A lot of death. We are smack in the middle of it. And we are the ones that watch them die.”

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