The deadliest month yet of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. drew to a close with certain signs of progress: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are plummeting, while vaccinations are picking up speed.
Locally and across Pennsylvania, there were somewhat fewer deaths in January, following a brutal December. New cases and hospitalizations have been on the decline for more than a week.
The U.S. death toll has climbed past 440,000, with over 95,000 lives lost in January alone, the Associated Press reported. Deaths are running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly, by about 200, from their peak in mid-January.
But as the calendar turned to February on Monday, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 fell below 100,000 for the first time in two months. New cases of infection are averaging about 148,000 a day, down from almost a quarter-million in mid-January.
And cases are trending downward in all 50 states.
Westmoreland County’s single COVID-19 death was the region’s only fatality reported Monday by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
There were no triple-digit increases in COVID-19 cases among the region’s counties, with Bedford and Indiana counties’ reports in the single digits.
Across Pennsylvania, there were 2,854 new cases and 26 additional deaths attributed to COVID-19 reported Monday.
The health department’s midday update reflects new-case and death reports received on Sunday. Although fewer tests are completed on Sundays and death reports are often delayed on weekends, Monday’s report shows the fewest positive tests since Nov. 8.
After jumping briefly last week when nearly 10,000 new cases were added on Friday, the rolling seven-day average dropped for the third consecutive day to 5,459 cases a day.
Cambria County added 19 cases, Somerset County added 35 cases, Bedford County added four cases, Blair County added 34 cases, Indiana County added seven cases, Clearfield County added 24 cases, Centre County added 43 cases and Westmoreland County added 63 cases. Hospitalizations continued to trend lower, with fewer than 100 COVID-19 patients in Cambria, Blair, Somerset and Bedford county hospitals. There were 93 hospitalized, with 17 in intensive care units and 20 on ventilators on Monday.
Statewide hospitalizations were down to 3,280 on Monday after topping out at more than 6,000 a day in late December.
There were 5,473 COVID-19 in January across Pennsylvania, up from 5,651 December deaths. The two-month period accounted for more than half of the state’s total 21,687 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Cambria, Bedford and Indiana counties were slammed in December, with each reporting more than half the county’s current total during one month. But January was harder on Somerset and Clearfield counties, which each doubling its fatality total during the past month.
Cambria County had 190 deaths during December and 110 deaths during January.
Somerset County had 69 deaths in December and 88 in January.
Bedford County had 70 deaths in December and 24 in January.
Blair County had 110 deaths in December and 80 in January.
Indiana County had 84 deaths in December and 24 in January.
Clearfield County had 37 deaths in December and 50 in January.
Centre County had 85 deaths in December and 52 in January.
Westmoreland County had 224 deaths in December and 178 in January.
The question remains: Can the nation can stay ahead of the fast-spreading coronavirus mutations?
After a slow start, the vaccination drive that began in mid-December is picking up the pace. More than 31.1 million doses have been administered in the U.S., according to the CDC. That is almost double the 16.5 million on the day President Joe Biden took office, Jan. 20.
That includes 1,008,025 doses of the vaccine that have been administered in Pennsylvania, the health department reported Monday. There are 615,085 people who have received the first dose and 196,470 who have received two doses and are considered fully covered.
The number of shots dispensed in the week and a half since Biden’s inauguration has been running at close to 1.5 million per day on average, well over the president’s oft-stated goal of 1 million per day. More than 5.6 million Americans have received the required two doses, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Three mutated variants of the virus from Britain, South Africa and Brazil have been detected in the U.S. The British one spreads more easily and is believed to be deadlier, but the South Africa one is prompting even more concern because of early indications that vaccines may not be as protective against it.
The more the virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to mutate.
Walensky urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as shots become available to them, and stressed it’s no time to relax basic precautions such as wearing masks.