Thanksgiving of 2020 marked the beginning of a massive surge in coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Pennsylvania.
A year ago, the state averaged 6,508 additional cases, 3,292 hospitalizations and 85 deaths per day.
On Dec. 16, the state’s seven-day daily case average peaked at 10,579, while on Dec. 21, hospitalizations peaked at 6,178. The seven-day average of deaths peaked at 208 on Jan. 17 of this year.
Fast forward one year later, and the 7-day averages are strikingly similar: 6,349 additional cases, 3,175 hospitalizations and 66.9 deaths per day, according to the latest state Health Department data Wednesday.
Pennsylvania recorded its first 43 vaccinations Dec. 14. Almost 18 million shots have been administered since then. There was hope that vaccinations would stamp out COVID-19, but that has not happened. The delta variant became overwhelmingly dominant in June.
Data from the Health Department confirm that vaccination can cut in half the risk of contracting COVID and needing hospitalization. COVID-related deaths are reduced almost five-fold in vaccinated people, according to the latest data.
Still, after 18 million shots, the overall number of hospitalizations is at a similar level as last Thanksgiving when nobody was vaccinated. There were 3,386 people hospitalized as of midday Wednesday, according to the Health Department. That was the highest single-day total since Jan. 30.
Where those hospitalizations are occurring, however, has shifted.
Hospitalizations in the six health care regions of Pennsylvania were pretty evenly distributed last year. The northeast region — which includes Lehigh and Northampton counties — had the lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations relative to population.
This year, the southeast region — which includes 5.2 million people in Philadelphia and seven surrounding counties — has seen its hospitalization rate cut in half. In the same period, that rate has increased 57% in the Northwest region anchored by Erie, while the North Central region has seen its hospitalization rate jump by 43%.
The rate in the northeast region is almost unchanged. The southwest and southeast regions are the only ones that have lower rates in 2021 than in 2020.
The current hospitalization rates correlate with the rate of people not fully vaccinated in each region. That is, the more people get all the jabs recommended for them, the fewer of them end up in the hospital.
The northwest and north central health care regions have the highest percentages of people who are not fully vaccinated as well as the highest population-adjusted hospitalization rates.
The northeast and southeast health care regions have the lowest percentages of people who are not fully vaccinated and also the lowest population-adjusted hospitalization rates.
The charts below compare each region’s hospitalization rate from Sep. 1 through Nov. 24 from last year to this year.