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2020 News

56 Bucks COVID Deaths Reported Last Week as New Cases Decline

December 21, 2020

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

The deaths of 56 Bucks County residents infected with COVID-19 were reported last week by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the largest weekly death count here since mid-May.

With almost two weeks remaining, December already is the third-deadliest month of the pandemic that began in March.

State records show that 116 Bucks residents with COVID have died during the first 18 days of the month. The county has had at least 10 COVID deaths on five of those days so far. 

This month’s partial total is exceeded only by the months of April (280 deaths) and May (253 deaths). It continues a trend of accelerating deaths that began in November, when 93 Bucks residents with COVID died.

A total of 838 infected Bucks County residents have died during the pandemic, most of them elderly, and 571 of whom were residents of long-term care facilities. Statewide, 13,981 Pennsylvanians have died in the pandemic, including 2,535 so far in December.

At the same time, an uncontrolled spike in new cases over the past several weeks began to decline over the past week. State statistics showed 2,645 new infections reported in Bucks County last week, down 22 percent from the previous week’s record high of 3,374.

The rolling seven-day average of new cases also has declined, from a record high of 520 two weeks ago to 377 as of Saturday. A total of 26,721 have been reported in Bucks during the pandemic.

Bucks County’s test positivity rate also declined to 16.4 percent last week after peaking at 17.7 percent the previous week. Statewide, the positivity rate fell from 16.2 percent to 15.8 percent.

“Our cases have now clearly stabilized, and even dropped, from the peak of the surge,” said Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker. “Usually deaths and hospitalizations follow the same trend soon after.”

At a news conference on Friday, Damsker said the recent surge in new cases began well ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, but was exacerbated by family gatherings and other unsafe practices.

“The surge didn’t start with Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving made the surge worse,” Damsker said.

Joining Damsker and the Bucks County Commissioners for the virtual news conference was Dr. Gerald Wydro, chair of emergency medicine for Jefferson Health – Northeast. He and the commissioners urged residents not to travel or gather together during the Christmas season.

“The best thing we can do for one another is to not spend time together,” said Commissioners’ Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia. “This is a year that we are going to be telling children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren about, and we should be able to point to what we did to make this a little bit easier for the doctors and the nurses, as well as for our neighbors.”

Commissioner’s Vice Chair Bob Harvie said his family’s tradition of large Christmas gatherings stocked with relatives visiting from out-of-town has been cancelled this year. That sacrifice “is a memory we will have that will make next Christmas even better,” he said.

Wydro told of encountering a family of five in which two members died and two more were hospitalized, one on a ventilator, after someone brought the coronavirus into their midst.

“I can tell you the stories of a multitude of grandparents who have died here by themselves because their families couldn’t come in,” he added. “Those aren’t stories meant to scare; they’re to educate.”

Wydro said hospitals and their staffs are stressed when large numbers of COVID patients add to the population of other patients who need treatment at this time of year.

A total of 176 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in Bucks County, 33 of them on ventilators. State officials reported that 22 percent of the county’s adult ICU beds, 37 percent of its medical surgical beds and 62 percent of its ventilators remain available.

“The bottom line is that the risk we all run is that one person has COVID, we don’t know they have it, and it gets spread through a large event, especially when a large family gathering happens,” Wydro said.

Continuing to practice masking and distancing will help buy time for what Wydro called “the light at the end of the tunnel” to appear – the rollout of two recently approved COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccines are in a weeks-long first stage in which medical personnel, EMS first responders and long-term care residents will be immunized first.

Ninety-seven hospitals across Pennsylvania received 97,500 doses of vaccine last week, of which 17,700 doses had been administered by Sunday, the state reported.

“There’s a vaccine at the end of the tunnel,” said Wydro, who received his first round of the vaccine last week. “It’s safe, it’s effective and, bottom line, I got it and I’m here talking to you.”

The county commissioners continue to urge the public to download the free COVID Alert PA app, which uses Bluetooth technology to let a person know that they have been exposed to COVID-19 without compromising the identity or location of either the person using the app, or of the person to whom they may have been exposed.

To see an interactive map showing Bucks County’s COVID testing locations, please click here.

To see an interactive map showing Bucks County’s active cases by municipality, please click here. 

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

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