Unvaccinated patients make up the bulk of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations in Valley hospitals.

“Despite having effective COVID-19 vaccines widely available, this has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for Geisinger system hospitals. “We are seeing the number of COVID cases climb both nationally and locally and it is largely due to a slowdown in vaccinations.”

Inpatient counts for COVID-19 cases are low at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg and Geisinger hospitals in Danville and Coal Township when compared to last winter’s peak patient loads. In the past week, however, hospitalizations jumped.

“I think that younger people are not taking it seriously enough. You can get hammered by this no matter your age. It’s just so frustrating,” said Kendra Aucker, Evangelical president and CEO.

Geisinger Medical Center had as many as 21 such inpatients around the July 4th holiday, far lower than wintertime highs. The daily count gradually dropped over the summer, reaching 6 as recently as Aug. 9. In the days since, inpatients rose to 10, then 14 and now 19 as of Aug. 13, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Maloney said that since May 1, when vaccines were widely available locally, 95 percent of positive COVID tests at Geisinger were from unvaccinated individuals. Of the few cases of vaccinated people who became infected, less than 1 percent were hospitalized with COVID-19, and all of those vaccinated individuals were discharged and returned home without treatment with ventilators, Maloney said.

“The people in our hospitals’ intensive care units and requiring ventilators are not vaccinated. Even when a vaccinated individual is testing positive for COVID, they typically require less care,” Maloney said.

Both Maloney and Aucker said the average ages of COVID-19 patients are trending younger.

Cases, inpatients rising

Across Pennsylvania, the average total of hospitalizations for COVID-19 was 834.7.

During the week of Aug. 8, it was 556.4, according to data from the state Department of Health.

As of Aug. 11, Becker’s Hospital Review found that the nation’s seven-day average of daily new cases was 113,357, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a 24 percent increase from the week prior and an 876 percent jump from the lowest case average in June, Becker’s reported.

At Evangelical, the number of hospitalizations ranged from 4 to 1 for the bulk of the summer. There was a 9-day stretch without a COVID hospitalization ending Aug. 4, state data shows.

Evangelical’s count of COVID inpatients grew to 7 by Aug. 11, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data. Evangelical’s own dashboard showed it had 8 such hospitalizations on Aug. 13. State data usually lags behind local counts

Of the 7 patients admitted to Evangelical on Aug. 12, Aucker said all but 1 patient was unvaccinated. An 8th patient awaiting admission from the Emergency Department was vaccinated, she said.

Should a local surge of COVID-19 cases occur — weekly admissions averaged in the 40s and 50s across several weeks last winter — it could overwhelm Evangelical not only with a glut of patients but also likely staffing shortages, Aucker said.

“The hospital right now is really full. We had 80 patients in this morning,” Aucker said of the entire patient population at the 132-bed facility. “The critical care unit is full. We’re taking care of other really sick people.”

There aren’t commercially available laboratory tests to determine COVID-19 variants, Aucker said, so the hospital doesn’t definitely know if its patients were infected with the delta variant. Citing CDC data, Aucker said more than 90% of current cases nationally involve the delta variant.

Vax rates

On Aug. 13, Union County was in CDC’s moderate level of community transmission of COVID-19.

The agency showed 48.2 percent of county residents were fully vaccinated. Northumberland County reached substantial transmission, as did Snyder County. The federal data showed 48.1 percent of Northumberland County residents as fully vaccinated compared to 36.9 percent in Snyder County. Montour County had moderate transmission, and 64.7 percent of that county’s residents were fully vaccinated.

An analysis of the vaccination rates showed much higher acceptance among people age 65 and older, Aucker said. The rate in that age group in Union County was 84.6%; Snyder, 74.6%; Northumberland, 82.3%.

Aucker said the U.S. Food and Drug Administraton’s emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine is approaching expiration and she anticipates the federal agency to give formal approval to the vaccine. Such approval could inspire more people to receive the vaccine, she said.

“The COVID vaccine is the most important tool we have to end this pandemic and protect ourselves, family, friends and neighbors. The vaccine is how we will stop the spread of COVID in our communities and avoid further impact on our local businesses, schools and health care workers,” Maloney said.

Trending Video