Printed: May 23, 2022

UPMC: Strain may not be as virulent

BY DAVID TEMPLETON AND HALLIE LAUER PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

UPMC physicians said Thursday the higher levels of COVID-19 infections in recent weeks are not resulting in notably higher levels of hospitalizations or deaths.

One key reason is that those becoming infected are younger people, with contact tracing showing many of them had patronized bars or restaurants without protective gear such as face masks or have recently returned from vacations out of state.

But another possible factor is that UPMC more recently has been seeing a mutated SARS-CoV-2 strain that seems to be more infectious but less virulent than the original strain that triggered the pandemic, said Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology.

Only 2% of recent infections are causing severe enough illness to result in hospitalizations, with only one-tenth of those hospitalizations (or 0.2% of all positive cases) resulting in death.

In addition, data gathered during the recent resurgence of the pandemic “is showing that we have been doing a good job in protecting those most vulnerable” from severe infection, including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, Dr. Snyder said.

Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, warned that everyone should expect “the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future.”

“But we are not seeing the same pattern of severeness as we did before,” he noted.

For the 10th day in a row, Allegheny County reported a triple-digit increase in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. With 158 more people testing positive for the coronavirus, the county total now stands at 4,367 cases.

Health officials said these new infections come from 1,632 tests that were administered between June 25 and Tuesday. The ages of the new positive cases range from 5 months to 90 years old. The median age is 29.

Western Pennsylvania saw an increase of 240 new cases. Allegheny had the highest number of new cases, and Westmoreland County had the second highest with 21.

Allegheny County reported no new deaths Thursday, keeping the total at 196. The state is reporting 193 deaths for the county.

Hospitalizations increased by 12, bringing the total to 443 past or present hospitalizations since the first case was diagnosed in March. Of those hospitalizations, 168 were admitted to intensive care units and 79 required mechanical ventilation. As of Thursday, there were 96 COVID-19 patients on ventilators statewide, according to the state health department.

Starting Friday, Allegheny County is relaxing some of the dining and alcohol sales bans it had put in place to combat the recent spike.

The counties surrounding Allegheny — Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland — are still waiting to hear if the state will place restrictions on them, as they have all seen a recent increase in cases. Early this week, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine had alerted them about the possibility, but none were forthcoming Wednesday or Thursday.

“We are continually monitoring what is happening in southwest Pennsylvania and are in communication with local officials to keep them up to date as to changes happening in their areas,” said Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson Maggi Mumma on Thursday afternoon. “Even small case increases are concerning and are being watched very carefully.

“We are prepared to take action as necessary to protect residents from the spread of COVID-19 and prevent people from getting sick,” she said.

Statewide, there was an increase of 719 new cases, bringing the total for Pennsylvania to 92,867. The state also saw an increase of 36 COVID-19-related deaths, none of which were in Western Pennsylvania. The current death toll for the state is 6,848, state officials reported Thursday.

Here are the total number of positive cases reported Thursday in Western Pennsylvania:

• Allegheny: 4,367 (up 158 from Wednesday)

• Armstrong: 80 (up 1)

• Beaver: 796 (up 11)

• Butler: 396 (up 6)

• Cambria: 113 (up 3)

• Clarion: 49 (no change)

• Clearfield: 82 (no change)

• Crawford: 76 (up 2)

• Erie: 699 (up 8)

• Fayette: 163 (up 3)

• Forest: 7 (no change)

• Greene: 56 (up 4)

• Indiana: 121 (up 2)

• Jefferson: 34 (up 1)

• Lawrence: 146 (up 5)

• Mercer: 161 (up 2)

• Somerset: 69 (up 2)

• Venango: 35 (up 1)

• Washington: 366 (up 10)

• Westmoreland: 917 (up 21)

Here are the total number of deaths reported Thursday in Western Pennsylvania:

• Allegheny: 196 (no change from Wednesday; the state is reporting 193)

• Armstrong: 6 (no change)

• Beaver: 79 (no change)

• Butler: 13 (no change)

• Cambria: 3 (no change)

• Clarion: 2 (no change)

• Clearfield: 0 (no change)

• Crawford: 1 (no change)

• Erie: 12 (no change)

• Fayette: 4 (no change)

• Forest: 0 (no change)

• Greene: 0 (no change)

• Indiana: 6 (no change)

• Jefferson: 1 (no change)

• Lawrence: 9 (no change)

• Mercer: 6 (no change)

• Somerset: 1 (no change)

• Venango: 0 (no change)

• Washington: 6 (no change)

• Westmoreland: 39 (no change)

Nursing and personal care homes

The state has released data — organized by county — about cases and deaths at nursing and personal care homes. Here’s information about Western Pennsylvania, based on Thursday’s figures, with changes in deaths noted in parentheses:

• Allegheny: 51 facilities, 571 cases among residents, 168 cases among employees, 153 deaths (no change)

• Armstrong: 2 facilities, 8 cases among residents, 7 cases among employees, 5 deaths (no change)

• Beaver: 6 facilities, 395 cases among residents, 45 cases among employees, 82 deaths (no change)

• Butler: 10 facilities, 19 cases among residents, 13 cases among employees, 2 deaths (no change)

• Cambria: 3 facilities, 5 cases among residents, 4 cases among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Clarion: 1 facility, 5 cases among residents, 3 cases among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Clearfield: 2 facilities, 2 cases among residents, 1 case among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Crawford: 2 facilities, 1 case among residents, 2 cases among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Erie: 16 facilities, 54 cases among residents, 54 cases among employees, 10 deaths (up 1)

• Fayette: 4 facilities, 7 cases among residents, 6 cases among employees, 1 death (no change)

• Greene: 1 facility, 2 cases among residents, 1 case among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Indiana: 6 facilities, 17 cases among residents, 6 cases among employees, 4 deaths (no change)

• Jefferson: 1 facility, 4 cases among residents, 4 case among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Lawrence: 5 facilities, 2 cases among residents, 3 cases among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Mercer: 4 facilities, 1 case among residents, 3 cases among employees, 0 deaths (no change)

• Washington: 8 facilities, 9 cases among residents, 4 cases among employees, 2 deaths (no change)

• Westmoreland: 18 facilities, 151 cases among residents, 46 cases among employees, 29 deaths (no change)

• Pennsylvania: 732 facilities, 18,092 cases among residents, 3,396 cases among employees, 4,667 deaths (up 4).