Delta variant drives COVID-19 spike
Area sees uptick in coronavirus cases; officials urge vaccinations
About three weeks ago, UPMC hospitals in the region had zero COVID-19 inpatients.
Now UPMCs Altoona, Bedford, Somerset and Western Maryland have 21 coronavirus inpatients, reflecting a spike attributable to the highly transmissible delta variant.
The unvaccinated status of about 98 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 shows that the main antidote to the troubling trend is available to just about anyone, according to information provided Friday by UPMC regional Chief Quality Officer Dr. David Burwell.
“Consider getting vaccinated,” he said.
Vaccinations are easily available now.
People can make arrangements at vaccine.upmc.com or they can visit a local pharmacy, the doctor said.
“Our intention is just to keep the community safe,” he said.
The region had high COVID-19 rates earlier in the pandemic, and he doesn’t want to see a repeat.
While community vaccination levels have lagged, the recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations has boosted vaccinations this past week at UPMC’s regional facilities by 50 percent, which is “encouraging,” Burwell said.
Delta is responsible for the uptick in cases and hospitalizations largely because when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told vaccinated people in May they didn’t need to mask in public indoors, lots of unvaccinated people decided to drop the masking, too, according to Burwell.
He doesn’t blame the CDC, it was simply following the science, Burwell said.
It’s following the science again by calling for vaccinated people to mask indoors in public, in counties where there is “substantial” or “high” COVID-19 transmission, he said.
As of Friday, transmission in Blair, Centre and Huntingdon counties was “moderate,” while transmission in Bedford, Cambria and Clearfield counties was substantial.
Delta seems to be more transmissible because it leads to greater viral load in the nostrils, making it easier to spread by coughing, sneezing or exhaling, according to Burwell.
The viral load in vaccinated people “drops dramatically and rapidly,” the doctor said. “To the point the individual becomes asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.”
Nevertheless, the “early phase” of those breakthrough infections is a concern, Burwell said.
In addition to getting vaccinated, people should get tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms like cough, fever, chills or loss of taste and smell, Burwell said.
If they have COVID-19, they should consider treatments like monoclonal antibodies, he said.
Transmission levels in counties are based on “incidence” rate — the number of new cases in the past seven days per 100,000 residents — and on the test positivity rate over the past seven days.
County transmission levels become substantial if the incidence rate is 50 or higher or if the positivity rate is 8 percent or higher.
As of Friday, Blair County has moderate transmission with 34 new cases in the past week, up 30 percent; incidence, 28 new cases per 100,000 residents; positivity, 2.3 percent, up 0.02 percent; 47 percent of eligible people (12 and over) are fully vaccinated.
Bedford County has substantial transmission; 35 new cases in the past week, up 337 percent; incidence, 73 new cases per 100,000 residents; positivity, 9.4, up 7.3 percent; 35 percent of eligible people fully vaccinated.’
Cambria County has substantial transmission; 75 new cases in the past week, up 74 percent; incidence, 57 new cases per 100,000 residents; positivity, 7.4 percent, up 2.4 percent; 51 percent of eligible people fully vaccinated.
Centre County has moderate transmission; 81 new cases in the past week, up 44 percent; incidence, 50 new cases per 100,000 residents; positivity, 4.9 percent, up 0.95 percent; 54 percent of eligible people fully vaccinated.
Clearfield County has substantial transmission; 60 new cases in the past week, up 57 percent; incidence, 75 new cases per 100,000 residents; positivity, 4.6 percent, down 1.9 percent; 46 percent of eligible people fully vaccinated.
Huntingdon has moderate transmission; 21 new cases, up 110 percent; incidence 46 new cases per 100,000 residents; positivity, 3.8 percent, up 2.5 percent; 45 percent of eligible people fully vaccinated.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.