Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging in Pennsylvania, as state officials warn of trends seen across the country: increased travel levels, relaxing restrictions and the spread of more contagious virus variants.
Pennsylvania is reporting an average of 4,922 cases a day, up from roughly 2,515 a month ago, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations have also climbed about 16 percent in the past two weeks, and the state now has one of the highest per capita daily case counts in the country. Deaths, which tend to lag behind infections by weeks, have started to slightly increase again after plunging from the state’s high of an average of 222 in mid-January. Deaths now average about 37 a day.
State and national health officials are also worried about the spread of more contagious virus variants, particularly the B.1.1.7 variant first found in Britain. That variant is currently estimated to be about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original version.
B.1.1.7 is now the most common source of new coronavirus infections in the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 28 percent of Pennsylvania’s cases involve that variant, and it is spreading in a vast majority of two dozen other states with high caseloads. In Michigan, more than 57 percent of cases involve B.1.1.7; in Tennessee, the figure is over 60 percent.
New Jersey and New York, where the variant accounts for roughly 30 percent of cases, endured difficult starts to the spring, but are starting to see case counts drop.
Although nearly all of Pennsylvania’s counties are “at a high level of risk transmission,” Alison Beam, Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary, said the state did not have plans to impose new lockdowns. She urged people to continue wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
“At this stage, our hospitals have not indicated to us that they are overrun or that they foresee being overrun,” Ms. Beam said. “That will be truly one of our key gauges of when any further mitigation effort would need to be even contemplated.”
James Garrow, the communications director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said the number of cases in the city appeared to be growing as restrictions gradually lift. If the city continues on this path for another month, officials would “seriously discuss” imposing fresh regulations to keep hospitalizations down, he said.
Dr. John Zurlo, the division director of infectious disease at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, said he had seen a steady increase Covid-19 hospitalizations in the past six weeks, and that most patients were now in the younger 45 to 64 age group. A vast majority of those patients had not been vaccinated, he said. Like most states, Pennsylvania prioritized vaccinating older age groups, but opened up eligibility to all adults on Tuesday.
And Pennsylvania’s vaccination campaign is ahead of most states. About 43 percent of the state’s population has received at least one shot, including roughly 26 percent who have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the C.D.C. Nationally, 39 percent of the population has received at least one shot, and 25 percent have been fully vaccinated.
But many health officials have warned about the lingering challenge of persuading all eligible people to get vaccinated. For instance, in one Pennsylvania county, a hospital set up a drive-through in a park stocked with roughly 1,000 vaccine doses. Only about 300 people showed up. In Iowa, a rural clinic called people who had volunteered to give shots to tell them not to come in because so few residents had signed up for appointments.
The New York Times examined survey and vaccine administration data for nearly every U.S. county and found that both willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect President Donald J. Trump in 2020. The phenomenon has left some places with a shortage of supply and others with a glut.