The peak of Erie County’s latest, and perhaps mildest, COVID-19 surge appears to have passed, though local hospital and public health officials are reluctant to declare this omicron-fueled spike finished.
Erie County’s number of confirmed new cases declined for the second straight week, while COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped in the past week. COVID-19 hospitalization trends usually follow new case trends by a couple of weeks.
“I’m encouraged, especially when we see a decline at all 42 (UPMC) hospitals, but we have had multiple occasions during these spikes when there is a temporary downturn,” said Emily Shears, vice president for quality for UPMC in northwestern Pennsylvania and New York. “Because we are entering summer, and people gather more outside, hopefully we will see lower numbers.”
The county’s weekly number of confirmed cases has dropped by 32% over the past two weeks, from 552 to 375, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Health officials cautioned that they believe many more people have been infected with COVID-19 in recent weeks but their symptoms are mild enough that they either don’t test or use at-home tests, so their cases are never reported.
“The confirmed cases are not the true number of cases out there,” said Charlitte Berringer, R.N., director of community health services for the Erie County Department of Health. “A lot of people are coming down with COVID and they just think it’s allergy season.”
Berringer referred to the county’s COVID-19 test positivity rate as an indicator of how much virus remains in the community. The county’s positivity rate remains high, though it declined slightly from 23.3% the week of May 25-31 to 18.9% the week of June 1-7, the state health department reported.
She also pointed out that the latest samples taken from the Erie Wastewater Treatment Plant showed a slight increase in the amount of virus.
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“What we know is that COVID comes in cycles,” Berringer said. “I’m not surprised case numbers are coming down, but they are still high right now.”
Perhaps the most encouraging news with this latest COVID-19 surge is that these omicron subvariants are not making many people critically ill.
The county’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 88%, from 19.1 patients the week ending April 21 to 35.9 patients the week ending May 24. It has since dropped to 29.9 patients the week ending Tuesday, according to the state health department.
By comparison, the county’s weekly number of confirmed cases rose during that time by 658%, from 118 to 777.
Even the patients who need to be hospitalized are not, on average, as severely ill as those admitted during previous surges, said Christopher Clark, D.O., Saint Vincent Hospital president. A majority of those at Saint Vincent are in the hospital for other reasons and test positive after showing mild COVID-19 symptoms.
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“During the delta surge, more patients were severely ill with COVID complications, like COVID pneumonia and COVID blood clots,” Clark said. “This time, we do see occasional bacterial pneumonia cases, like we do with any respiratory viral illness, but not like what we saw during delta.”
This latest surge also has not caused as many COVID-19 deaths as have been reported during previous surges. Six county residents died from COVID-19 complications in May, three in April and eight in March.
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The county reported 68 deaths in November, 75 in December and 62 in January, when delta was the primary COVID-19 variant.
“While we still see some patients who require critical care, omicron is not having the effect on a person’s body that we saw with delta cases,” Shears said.
“With omicron, the severity of a patient’s particular case has more to do with their age and what chronic illnesses they have,” Clark said. “Delta often caused a distinct inflammatory reaction on the body that we aren’t seeing right now with omicron.”
Here is a look at the county’s other COVID-19 measurements between May 25-31 and June 1-7, according to the state health department:
The weekly number of newly confirmed cases declined from 467 to 375.
The rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents dropped from 173.1 to 139.
The average daily number of COVID-19 patients requiring ventilators decreased from 1.4 to 1.3.
The percentage of emergency department visits due to COVID-19 symptoms dropped from 1.2% to 0.9%.
Contact David Bruce at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie’s latest COVID-19 surge might have peaked