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Coronavirus cases are falling in Pa., but experts say it's not from the COVID-19 vaccine yet

Sam Ruland
York Daily Record

Pennsylvania's daily number of coronavirus cases continue to decline, bolstering hopes that the number of new cases will wane as spring approaches and vaccinations ramp up.

The commonwealth on Tuesday reported 2,377 new coronavirus cases — its lowest daily count since November, according to the COVID tracking project — and seven related deaths, comparatively low numbers that may in part reflect weekend reporting delays. More than 899,235 cases have been reported statewide and over 23,120 deaths since the pandemic began, officials report.

Still, the daily case counts over the last week — an average of less than 3,200 new infections a day — show a dramatic decline since the peak of the pandemic in December, when the commonwealth once reported nearly 13,000 cases in a day.

The daily number of new infections, while trending downward, remained higher than they were in October, when the state reported just over 1,000 new cases per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The number of infections and related deaths spiked over the last three months, which officials attribute in large part to back-to-back holidays.

More:26 states have plans for teachers to get their COVID shots. Pa. isn’t one of them.

More:'We still think that’s a realistic goal': Pa. still hopes to vaccinate general public by summer

In another positive sign, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 is at the lowest level it has been in months, with 2,356 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Tuesday — about the level it was in early October.

But experts are keeping an eye on coronavirus variants that could signal increased trouble. As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified nearly 1,195 cases of COVID-19 involving three variants.

At least 26 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, also known as the "U.K." variant, have been confirmed in Pennsylvania, as health experts wait to see whether the more contagious variant will become the dominant strain in the state and potentially reverse weeks of declining case numbers. 

A coronavirus colony.

So why are things getting better now? Is it the recent restrictions? The vaccine? Have behaviors changed, or did much of Pennsylvania just get hit so hard by the virus in recent months, that many people who wouldn’t or couldn’t socially distance, have already contracted it? 

"I don’t think the vaccine is having much of an impact at all on case rates," Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN in an interview Sunday. "It’s what we’re doing right: staying apart, wearing masks, not traveling, not mixing with others indoors.

"Basically, we’re getting over a huge surge around the late-year holidays, starting with Thanksgiving and on to the December holidays. This, essentially, was an accelerator for the virus. And now cases are plummeting. They’re coming down, followed by decreasing hospitalization, followed by decreasing deaths. But they’re still high. Our case numbers are still higher than they were at higher peaks."

The number of people getting vaccinated each day far outstrips the number of new cases reported. In the past 24 hours, nearly 46,700 doses of vaccine have been doled out in the state, according to the vaccine dashboard.

And while the peak of the outbreak may have passed, Pennsylvania health officials have struggled recently to secure enough vaccine supplies to vaccinate eligible state residents.

More:This is how you can find out if it’s your turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Pa.

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Nearly 4 million Pennsylvanians are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as the state and 66 of its counties work through the first priority phase, vaccinating health care workers, long-term care facility residents, people 65 and older, and those with underlying health conditions. 

Although only about 9% of Pennsylvania's population has received doses of the coronavirus vaccine, health officials remain optimistic that more doses will make it into arms by the summer. 

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