Aug 22, 2023 - News

COVID hospitalizations on the rise in Pennsylvania

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

COVID-19 hospitalizations across Pennsylvania are ticking up — a signal that a late summer wave is sweeping the country.

Why it matters: Our guard is down more than a year after the city ditched its mask mandate and other pandemic precautions.

Driving the news: Our state's average COVID hospitalization rate rose 17% between June and July, mirroring national figures, per the latest CDC data.

  • A new variant, EG.5, is now the dominant form in the U.S., according to CDC estimates — though it's unclear if it's directly responsible for the rising numbers, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

Reality check: State and national hospitalizations remain far below their pandemic-era peak.

  • Pennsylvania's are down 83% year-over-year.
  • Nationally, hospitalizations are down 82% compared to last year. The CDC reports 10,320 overall hospital admissions in the week between July 30-Aug. 5, compared to more than 150,000 in one week in January 2022.

Zoom in: In Philly, weekly hospital admissions have dropped to single digits from more than 120 at the start of the year, per the city's online database.

Be smart: The federal pandemic public health emergency ended in May, rolling back health care changes we grew used to, like free COVID tests.

  • With less testing happening these days, hospitalization rates are now one of the best proxies for estimating broader viral spread.

Yes, but: Hospitalizations aren't a perfect metric as they're a lagging indicator and likely to be higher in communities with older populations, plus the quality of reporting can vary.

What they're saying: Jim Garrow, a city health department spokesperson, tells Axios the EG.5 variant hasn't been detected in Philly since June. Garrow says wastewater testing has detected a slight rise in COVID concentrations but nothing like increases during previous waves.

  • Overall, the risk to Philadelphians remains extremely low, he adds.

What to watch: A newly updated booster is due out this fall, although it wasn't specifically designed with EG.5 in mind.

Meanwhile, it's unclear whether the School District of Philadelphia will impose a mask mandate or other COVID precautions for the first day of school on Sept. 5.

  • District spokesperson Christina Clark tells Axios school officials will release their COVID guidance this week.

Of note: The district imposed a mask mandate for students and staff for the start of the 2022-23 school year, as well as after breaks and when cases spiked.

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