27 more cases as 9 people remain hospitalized

The latest COVID case surge is evident across Pennsylvania and especially in Philadelphia and the counties bordering that city in the latest weekly Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The dashboard compares the week ending Thursday with the week ending April 7.

Berks County is faring well, with a plus-39 cases for the week, a rate of 25.9 new cases per 100,000 population and a positivity rate of 3.9%.

Pennsylvania overall was plus 1,763 cases, 47.2 per 100,000 and a 5.8% positivity rate.

The report shows heavily populated counties are driving the state surge:

  • No. 1 Philadelphia: plus 333, 77.6 per 100,000 and 6.7% positivity.
  • No. 2 Allegheny: plus 305, 57.9 and 7.3%
  • No 3 Montgomery: plus 128, 61.5 and 6.7%
  • No. 5 Delaware: plus 113, 56.1 and 5.7%
  • No. 7 Chester: plus 97, 64.0 and 7.2%.

All the case rates and all but one positivity rate in the heavily populated counties listed are above the respective state averages. It is reminiscent of the start of the pandemic two years ago before the health departments in those counties got a handle on the situation.

Eventually those counties became models for controlling the spread, especially Chester, which was often an island in a sea of COVID with extremely low rates.

Cases had already begun turning up in the weekly Pennsylvania report that compared April 7 with the week ending March 31, after two months of declines.

Berks is the ninth-most-populous county in the state.

The national picture

In the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the son of omicron, known as BA.2, has finally become the dominant strain of COVID in the U.S.

It makes up about 86% of the cases nationally in it’s roughly 10-week lifespan.

The original omicron remains at about 13%, and a weak sibling to BA.2, formerly called stealth omicron, has nearly been squeezed out of existence.

For the mid-Atlantic region, BA.2 is at 92.5% of the cases.

The number of cases remain a fraction of the worst of the omicron surge.

The latest seven-day average is 31,391 cases, according to the CDC. That’s about a 30% increase from the low point following the omicron surge on March 29.

But it’s only 4% of the official cases at the height of the omicron surge at nearly 807,000 on Jan. 15.

Some researchers believe any surge will be short-lived because so many people already have had omicron recently or been vaccinated.

Visitor policy changes

Penn State Health is lifting many of its visitation restrictions for family, support people and others, the health system has said.

The guidelines take effect on April 18 at all the hospitals in the system, which includes St. Joseph hospital in Bern Township.

Under the revised guidance, the health system will allow visitors for all adult and pediatric inpatients and outpatients between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with some exceptions, including:

• Critical care patients may have only two visitors at a time.

• Visitation to critical care units for people under age 18 will be coordinated by care staff.

• Patients in Labor and Delivery units may have two family or support persons over age 18.

• Postpartum patients do not have a visitation restriction.

• Patients in adult and pediatric outpatient surgery and procedure departments, emergency departments and outpatient clinics may have two visitors at a time.

The revised guidance applies to patients without COVID. Inpatient units may restrict visitation for patients at any time to ensure safety and privacy at the discretion of the care team.

Penn State Health will no longer screen visitors for COVID-19 at entrances.Inpatient units with high-risk or immunocompromised patients at acute care facilities may screen visitors at their discretion.

Everyone entering the facilities will be required to wear a medical-grade mask — such as a surgical mask — at all times. Visitors may wear a cloth mask only if it is covered with a medical-grade mask. Penn State Health facilities will provide surgical masks to any patients or visitors who do not have one upon arrival.

Daily COVID statistics

Berks added 27 COVID cases and reinfections in the daily update Saturday of the state health department’s daily dashboard, with the pandemic total still moving up from 102,000.

Each day’s Pa. report is based on the previous day’s statistics, in this case Friday. Reports based on stats from Saturday and Sunday typically are lower because there is a dip in processing.

It was more of the same: case counts ticking up but still well below any alarming thresholds.

In Pennsylvania overall, the case counts have crossed the seven-day 1,000-per-day average for the first time in about six weeks.

Hospitalizations have increased in Berks to about nine on average for the past week, about double the low point three weeks ago. Overall in Pennsylvania, the number of hospitalizations are about 10% higher than the low point, stabilizing in the 440-450 range.

The Saturday report showed that the health department subtracted a COVID death among Berks residents. The circumstances are unclear.

The state tracks the deaths of Berks residents in the county and out. The most recent death appeared in the April 2 daily report.

Also, the CDC is not making a separate category for second boosters, instead just adding them to the current boosters total, similar to how reinfections are added to the cases total.

The health department discontinued its monitoring of the flu season, which had an unusual double peak.

COVID in Berks

The updates for Berks County on Saturday of the Pennsylvania Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention county tracker yielded the following statistics for Berks County:

27: new cases and reinfections

102,435: pandemic total

22: seven-day case average

21: 14-day case average

1,590: pandemic deaths, state

1,452: pandemic deaths, coroner

9: hospitalized

0: ICU count

5: COVID hospital admissions past week

254,366: fully vaccinated individuals; 64.0% of the population age 5 and older

110,506: boosters given

3.27%: Positivity rate

Low: Community risk level

429,000: Berks population

• The boosters count includes second boosters.