As Variant Spreads, Covid-19 Cases Rise Sharply in Pennsylvania

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in Pennsylvania as state officials warn of the effects of trends seen across the country: increased travel, easing restrictions, and the spread of more contagious virus variants.

Pennsylvania reports an average of 4,922 cases per day, up from approximately 2,515 a month ago, according to a New York Times database. The number of hospitalizations has also increased 16 percent in the past two weeks, and the state now has one of the highest daily per capita cases in the United States. The number of deaths, which typically lag behind infections for weeks, has picked up again after falling from the state high of 222 averaging in mid-January to now averaging 37 per day.

State and national health authorities are also concerned about the spread of contagious variants of the virus, particularly variant B.1.1.7, which is emerging in the UK for the first time. This variant is estimated to be 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original version.

B.1.1.7 is the number one source of new coronavirus infections in the US today. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 28 percent of cases in Pennsylvania involve this variant and spread to the vast majority of two dozen other high-case states. In Michigan, more than 57 percent of cases involve B.1.1.7; in Tennessee it’s over 60 percent.

New Jersey and New York, where the variant accounts for around 30 percent of cases, had a difficult start to spring, but case numbers are gradually falling.

Although almost all Pennsylvania counties have “high levels of risk transmission,” Alison Beam, Pennsylvania’s incumbent health secretary, said the state has no plans to impose new lockdowns. She urged people to keep wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated.

“At this point, our hospitals have not yet told us that they are overrun or that they will be overrun,” said Ms. Beam. “This will really be one of our key indicators of when further mitigation efforts should even be considered.”

James Garrow, communications director for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said the number of cases in the city appeared to have increased as restrictions gradually lifted. If the city continued down this path for another month, officials would “seriously discuss” enacting new regulations to keep hospital stays down, he said.

Dr. John Zurlo, the director of infectious diseases at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, said he has seen a steady increase in Covid-19 hospital stays over the past six weeks and that most patients are now in the younger age group, 45 to 64. A large majority of these patients have not been vaccinated, he said. Like most states, Pennsylvania prioritized vaccination for older age groups, but opened eligibility to all adults on Tuesday.

And Pennsylvania’s vaccination campaign is ahead of most states. About 43 percent of the state’s population received at least one shot, including about 26 percent who were fully vaccinated. According to the CDC National, 39 percent of the population received at least one shot and 25 percent were fully vaccinated.

However, many health officials have warned of the ongoing challenge of getting all eligible people to vaccinate. For example, in a county in Pennsylvania, a hospital set up a drive through a park filled with about 1,000 doses of vaccine. Only about 300 people showed up. In Iowa, a rural clinic called people who had volunteered to tell them not to come in because so few residents were showing up for appointments.

The New York Times examined survey and vaccine administration data for nearly every US state and found that both willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates in counties where a majority of residents voted for President Donald’s re-election , J. Trump was lower on average in 2020. The phenomenon has led to a lack of supply in some places and congestion in others.