Pa. Health Department reports a ‘steep increase’ in COVID-19 cases

‘This should not be cause for panic, but it should be a call to immediate action,’ acting Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter said Tuesday

By: - January 4, 2022 4:38 pm

After a second dose of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, a swarm of antibodies attacks the virus. (Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library via Getty Images)

With COVID-19 again on the rise and an omicron surge nationwide, Pennsylvania reported an increase in daily average case numbers Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 2.1 million since the pandemic began.

As of Sunday, Pennsylvania’s daily average coronavirus case number for the last week was 18,344 — an 8,367 increase since the state Department of Health weekly COVID-19 update on Dec. 28.

Hospitalizations also increased 22.6 percent, with the number of available adult beds and pediatric intensive care beds falling to 16 percent and 11 percent, respectively. COVID-19 patients account for 28 percent of all staffed adult intensive care beds across the commonwealth, and 32 percent of ventilators are in use, according to the Health Department.

“Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, is experiencing a steep increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” acting Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter said in a statement. “This should not be cause for panic, but it should be a call to immediate action.”

Statewide, hospitals have struggled with capacity as cases continue to rise — urging those eligible to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.

Before the end of the year, Geisinger, one of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems, announced it ran out of beds, reporting that health care workers were practicing “waiting room medicine” on patients who waited up to 20 hours for care. After months of warning, Centre County’s only hospital, Mount Nittany Medical Center, turned away ambulances due to increased COVID-19 patients and cautioned possible service cuts. A UPMC spokesperson told the Capital-Star that every facility was operating near capacity.

The increased need prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to request federal assistance from strike teams deployed to medical facilities most affected by the recent COVID-19 surge. 

Last week, the Wolf administration announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency accepted his request and that plans for relief are being finalized. Pennsylvania also requested 1 million rapid, at-home COVID-19 testing kits and an increased allocation of monoclonal antibodies.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that as of Dec. 30, 74.1 percent of eligible adults in Pennsylvania are fully vaccinated, with 269,488 vaccines administered in the last week — including 131,793 boosters and 12,270 pediatric doses.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 37,000 Pennsylvanians have died from the coronavirus.

As part of efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and treat patients, Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson hosted a panel with infectious disease experts Dr. Ryan Bariola and Dr. Pablo Tebas.

The experts also reiterated that vaccinations and mitigation efforts, such as masking and social distancing, remain the most effective defense against the coronavirus.

“Don’t be discouraged when you see people have mild symptoms, especially with omicron, when they’ve been vaccinated and boosted,” Johnson said. “These vaccines are still working. They’re still preventing severe illness and hospitalizations from COVID. And we need our hospitals to not be overstressed with these cases, so they can care for the emergencies that come up for people who don’t have COVID.”

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