The latest weekly report from the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that the worst second omicron rise in Berks County and across Pennsylvania in terms of cases may be over, although hospitalizations continue to rise.
Weekly figures last available on May 29 showed the rate of increase had slowed, with mid-week statistics for this report illustrating a fall in the number of cases.
Berks had 734 cases for the week, compared to the second omicron peak of 913 reported on May 25 and even lower than the May 18 weekly total of 876.
Pennsylvania overall saw a significant drop to about 3,000 daily cases from more than 4,200 cases reported daily on May 25.
What causes some uncertainty is how much of the apparent drop in cases was due to the slowdown in test processing over the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The third Omicron derivative, BA.2.12.1, is responsible for the recent surge.
But like its parents and siblings, BA.2.12.1 is less deadly than previous Greek letter variants.
Even so, the surge in cases in this week’s update still accounted for the hospitalization of 42 people in Berks. That was the highest level since Feb. 16, when the original Omicron surge subsided.
Of those, two were in the intensive care units at Reading Hospital or Penn State Health St. Joseph. As the weekly update showed, no ventilators were being used on COVID patients at Berks.
Tower Health’s weekly dashboard update showed Reading Hospital admitted or observed 26 COVID patients, of whom 14 were deemed vaccinated and 12 were unvaccinated, with one each in intensive care.
In addition, there had been seven discharges in the previous 24 hours.
In contrast to the number of cases, the total number of hospital stays is not cumulative, but merely a snapshot of the last 24 hours. None of the dashboards provide the ups and downs between weekly updates.
The situation is further clouded by the fact that the state only counts those currently being treated in hospitals, while Tower includes those under surveillance.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only tracks hospital admissions, and that number was 36 for the week in Berks.
Among the vaccinated
The state health department issued somewhat updated statistics for COVID cases, hospitalizations and post-vaccination deaths.
The latest figures:
• 61% of April cases and reinfections were among those fully vaccinated. The May data was partial for the first 11 days, but at about the same rate.
• 37% of hospital admissions in April were among the fully vaccinated, rising to 41% for the May partial data.
• 39% of deaths in March were among those fully vaccinated, up from 47% in February.
To be considered fully vaccinated, a resident must have completed the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna, or a single vaccination from the Johnson & Johnson product, few of which are administered.
Statistics show that 65% of the 429,000 Berks population are skilled, and it’s a higher number statewide. Those numbers are up just a few points since the majority of vaccinations were administered, which is well reflected in the rearview mirror now in 2021.
About 44% of Berks residents received a half-dose booster shot or a third full dose for those considered immunocompromised.
The rate drops to single digits in Berks and statewide for those who received a second half dose or fourth shot for immunocompromised, which is the current recommendation.
BA.2.12.1 has shown to be slightly more resistant to the vaccines, and health officials fear social distancing has stopped and many people are not keeping up with vaccinations as vaccination effectiveness wanes.
And nobody who dies for any reason after vaccination will be removed from the vaccination lists. Months ago, the CDC decided to cap vaccination rates to 95% in any category that reaches that level.
For Pennsylvania as a whole, these categories are residents with a single shot aged 65 and older, 18 and older, and 12 and older. In addition, the category of fully vaccinated persons aged 65 and over is limited to 95%.
For Berks, only the over-65s group is capped at 95% on a single dose.
In 2021, there were several cleanup of vaccination statistics, but nothing significant happened in 2022.
The district coroner’s office reported eight COVID-related deaths this week, an unexpected number considering the office recently passed four weeks without a single death. The total number of COVID deaths in the county reached 1,465.
The weekly total for Berks, Pennsylvania residents was two, down from four the previous week, bringing the number of COVID deaths to 1,603.
The state reports on resident deaths wherever they occur, and the coroner reports deaths in Berks.
Hundreds of Berks residents have died outside of the borough, and smaller numbers of nonresidents have died within Berks.
Berks remains classified as moderately at risk for COVID, according to the CDC.
There are 27 counties in Pennsylvania that are considered high-risk, including those that border Berks on three sides.
To the west, Lancaster and Lebanon counties are among a handful of counties considered low-risk in Pennsylvania.
Much of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast is at medium or high risk. The regions see the highest percentage of BA.2.12.1 in the country.
More pa stats
• 1,329: Hospital admissions, up 43 in one week and more than triple the early April low.
• 193: COVID intakes last week, up slightly.
• 151: Number in ICU, flat.
• 57: deaths in a week, down 10 from the previous week after down from 13 in the previous week.
The downward trend in deaths in Pennsylvania contradicts the coroner’s recent Berks report. It’s unclear how many of Berks’ eight deaths are among the 57 statewide, or if some were among the 67 the week before.