Mifflin, Juniata — Midstate’s lowest-population counties — lead state in COVID-19 cases per capita; state hospitalization rate soars

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — One piece of decent news, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said week after week, in her COVID-19 media briefings, despite the other ominous data: The state’s hospitalization rate remained far lower than during the early-pandemic peak of that metric, when more than 3,000 people were hospitalized simultaneously because of the virus.

Monday, that changed.

The Department of Health reported 2,374 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, still less than at some points in April, but no longer a third and then a half, as had been the case in recent weeks. Of those 2,374 people, 510 are in intensive care units; 258 are on ventilators. The 2,374 current hospitalizations were up from 1,735 hospitalizations the previous week.

Notably, Levine led the briefing with those figures rather than metrics often more widely reported by media, such as new diagnoses and test positivity rates, although she reported those too.

Asked by ABC27 last month which metrics she considers best for gauging comparable trends among counties, she named active COVID-19 cases per capita. By that metric, the two Midstate counties with the smallest populations, Mifflin and Juniata, are now, in that order, No. 1 and No. 2 not only in the Midstate, but in all of Pennsylvania.

Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents for Midstate counties (Nov. 6-12)

CountyCurrent cases per 100,000 residentsCountyCurrent cases per 100,000 residents
Mifflin*556Dauphin198
Juniata*485Cumberland185
Lebanon287Adams170
Franklin282York165
Lancaster204Perry132
(*Also No. 1 and No. 2 in Pennsylvania; statewide average: 205)

All 10 Midstate counties had more confirmed cases than they had the week prior, as did all but six of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Officials in the most-affected counties repeated their same pleas to residents.

“Right here, we’re encouraging people to wear these,” said Commissioner Kevin Kodish (D-Mifflin County), pointing to his mask. “It’s a small thing. It’s really important though. It’s been shown to help slow [the spread of the virus] down.”

In all of Pennsylvania, the five counties with the highest numbers of current cases per 100,000 residents — Mifflin, Juniata, Tioga, Blair and Bedford — are all rural counties. However, the five lowest (i.e., least affected this week) in that regard — Warren, Cameron, Forest Wayne and Susquehanna — are also all rural.

Another key comparable metric, according to Levine? COVID-19 test positivity rate.

COVID-19 test positivity rate for Midstate counties (Nov. 6-12)

CountyPositivity rateCountyPositivity rate
Juniata21.1%York9.5%
Mifflin17.7%Dauphin9.4%
Franklin15.1%Cumberland9.2%
Lebanon12.6%Lancaster9.1%
Perry10.0%Adams7.0%
(Statewide average: 9.6%)

Juniata also led all of Pennsylvania by that metric.

“Of course we’re disappointed and alarmed that our percentage has increased,” Commission Chairperson Alice Gray (R-Juniata) said.

Gray said the county’s wide open spaces, although an asset in other ways, can cause people to let down their guard. “We do know that there are clusters around the county of folks that aren’t vigilant,” she said, adding that (as in other counties) cases in long-term care facilities have contributed to the rising numbers.

Allen Weaver, Juniata County’s 911 center director, said anecdotal evidence corroborates the data.

“We originally were seeing one or two COVID calls a week. Now we’re seeing [them] pretty much on a daily basis,” Weaver said, adding that a healthcare system in a rural county can quickly become strained.

In addition to clusters of cases at long-term care facilities and “family clusters,” Weaver noted “faith-based” clusters, such as at churches.

Kodish, of neighboring Mifflin County, noted a similar trend there. He said he has chosen to attend services personally and encouraged people who attend in person to take extreme care to protect themselves and other members of their communities.

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