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2020 News

COVID Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths Continue to Climb in Bucks

November 23, 2020

Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

By every measure, the COVID landscape in Bucks County continues to worsen rapidly.

An unprecedented average of 296 new cases per day was reported last week – more than four times the rate of a month ago.

Seventeen more Bucks County COVID deaths were reported from Nov. 15 – 21. That brought the total deaths for the first three weeks of November to 32 – more than five times the deaths reported in all of October.

Hospitalizations also rose rapidly, with 46 Bucks residents being treated in hospitals as of Saturday – more than double the number of the week before. Three are on ventilators.

So great has the increase in new COVID cases been in Bucks that it has exceeded the county health department staff’s ability to investigate all of them.

Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker announced today that the county will be shifting to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s case reporting system, reducing some of its overall contact tracing and focusing attention primarily on high-priority cases such as elderly and school-age patients. State COVID graph2

No county health department, or the state Department of Health, is currently doing full contact tracing. But Damsker said that cases involving patients over the age of 60, particularly those in long-term care facilities, will be prioritized because of the increased vulnerability of the elderly to COVID.

In addition, infections among those under the age of 20 – the likeliest to be enrolled in Bucks County schools – will also be given closer scrutiny to help keep students and school staff safe.

“We are now moving to a more targeted response phase, focusing our efforts on schools and the elderly – areas where we can make the most difference in the community,” Damsker said.

At the outset of the pandemic, Bucks County was the only county in Pennsylvania to focus intensely on contact tracing.

For many months after the pandemic hit here in March, the health department successfully investigated more than 95 percent of its local cases. From this came a wealth of knowledge about how the virus incubated and spread, and the most effective means of prevention. It helped identify COVID-exposed people who needed to quarantine, thereby keeping community spread of the virus to a minimum.

Bucks health officials were also the first to identify loss of taste and smell as hallmarks of the virus and, in time, determined that masking and social distancing were the most effective means of limiting its spread.

“As the only health department in Pennsylvania to collect all of that data from day one, the effort to continue that intense level of inquiry when the caseloads are this high has now become overwhelming and, more importantly, impractical,” Damsker said. “We know the epidemiology of COVID and we know how it spreads.”

It also became apparent that younger people were at far less risk of hospitalization or death from the virus than are older people, emboldening many in younger age groups to let down their guard and socialize more.

State infection numbers, he said, will be as much as 10 to 15 percent higher than what the county would have reported. County health department workers no longer will be able to correct the data by eliminating duplicate cases, patients who are found not to be county residents, or laboratory errors.  

Death numbers for Bucks County will be similarly inflated in the state’s reporting system, Damsker said. “We were able to reduce the COVID death numbers by removing cases in which the decedent was infected at the time of death, but whose death was not significantly caused by the virus.”

Of the 17 deaths reported last week, nine were residents of long-term care facilities. Six were in their 90s, two were in their 80s, five in their 70s, two in their 60s and two – a man and a woman – were age 33.

A total of 2,074 new COVID cases from Bucks were reported to state health officials last week.

Among the new cases were 110 school-age children and nine school staff members. Of the students, only 13 were receiving in-class instruction on a daily basis. About one-third are taking classes virtually at home and more than half are enrolled in hybrid programs. Of the infected staff members, only four were working in schools on a daily basis.

Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.