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PA Update 11.18.20: Concerning Trends and School Closures

Concerning Trends and School Closures

Pa Update 11.18.20: Concerning Trends and School Closures

Sigh. My kids’ school district just announced they plan to return to virtual this coming Monday, after several weeks of hybrid instruction.  As disappointed as I am to hear that news, I get it.  Based on the numbers in my area, it really is a smart decision. 

In fact, new cases and hospitalizations are dramatically increasing across the state.  That’s not to say that all schools should shut down or go virtual – that’s an extremely complex decision that’s based on several variables.  But if your school district does end up modifying its instructional model in the next few weeks, it’s likely because health officials and school administrators are concerned by the unprecedented trends briefly summarized below.

To see the stats for the zip codes in your district, check out: PA School District Reopening Dashboard

New cases

Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced 6,339 additional positive cases of COVID-19.  This is the highest one day increase reported in a press release to date.  

However, the totals reported through press releases are somewhat skewed as they often include cases from previous dates, in addition to the cases from the most recent 24-hr period.  When this happens, cases from previous days are backdated to the date they should have been reported to the state.  Backdating can provide more consistency when looking at day-to-day trends. The adjusted daily totals are reflected on the PA Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, as well as my PA COVID-19 Statistics & Visualizations.
 
I typically prefer looking at this date-adjusted data.  But lately, it seems more and more cases are being backdated.  For example, of the 6,339 new cases reported by the state today, only 5,479 were attributed to the most recent 24-hour period.  The other 860 cases were attributed to previous days.  This suggests that some counties may be struggling to keep up with reporting new positives to the state.  If this is the case, these date-adjusted numbers may be incomplete (how many of tomorrow’s cases will be attributed to today?), and therefore may not necessarily provide a reliable picture for trending purposes.
 
Regardless of the day-to-day fluctuations, though, it’s apparent that we are in the midst of a surge – something that our state has been fortunate to not experience until now.  In 6 of the last 7 days, the PA DOH recorded more than 5,000 daily new cases.  In fact, in this last week alone, PA has reported almost 38,000 new cases*.  In the 8 months that I’ve been following our state data, I’ve never seen us anywhere near these numbers.

*Updated to reflect the true most recent 7-day count, which includes 11/11-11/17.    This was previously reported using numbers from 11/12-11/18, but 11/18 case numbers will not be reported until tomorrow. As a result, only 6 days of data were included in the original 32,000 figure.

Hospitalizations

On October 18, there were 847 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania.  Today, just one month later, that number has risen more than 240% as 2,904 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID.  Ventilator use has also risen dramatically – from 93 a month ago to 310 COVID-19 patients currently on ventilators throughout the state today.  More detailed numbers, including county level breakdowns are available here.

Remember back in the spring when we had to stay home to “flatten the curve”?  It’s time for us to make this a main focus again.  At our current rate of increase, it won’t take long before our hospitals reach capacity.  In fact,  the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that Pennsylvania may have an ICU bed shortage by the middle of December, maybe sooner.

Deaths have also started to steadily increase.  However, because deaths are a lagging indicator – that is, they often don’t occur until several weeks after infection – we likely won’t see the deaths from this surge of new cases for some time.

Please mask up, practice social distancing, and do what you can to flatten the curve.

As always, stay well ~

Bridgid