LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Lancaster County is on watch. Hospitals are packed to the brim and now deaths are surging. The county is on pace to reach a pandemic high, with 85 deaths so far this month. 

“What we’re seeing is a strong increase in cases. We started having increases in the fall. We’re seeing those continue to the point where we are actually close to our peak from last winter,” said Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease specialist at UPMC.

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The number of deaths are far lower than 207 recorded deaths in December 2020 in Lancaster County but the latest numbers are concerning.

The increase in deaths follows a recent spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, which continue to hover near their highest levels of the pandemic.

Why is the death toll still rising at such alarming rates? Dr. Goldman says it’s the pandemic of the willing,

But, not so much that vaccines aren’t working.

“We have a much lower rate of vaccination among younger people and as a result we have many more younger people in the hospital,” said Dr. Goldman.

He also says this latest strain is so infectious, it should alarm everyone.

“The original strain of COVID probably infected two to three people for every person, the delta variant probably infected four to six people and the omicron variant probably infects eight to 12 people,” he added.

For now, Dr. Goldman says the safest bet is to get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t.