During a press conference announcing a new statewide study on breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania last week, Acting Health Sec. Alison Beam presented the data as an accurate assessment on the issue, while in fact it was an incomplete picture.
An Aug. 13 state order mandated all hospitals and acute care facilities report data. Roughly half of all hospitals and 69% of acute care facilities followed through.
In Lancaster County, two of the three hospitals operating here — Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital and UPMC Lititz — reported breakthrough hospitalizations, according to the state health department.
WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital did not.
Moving forward, the state is working with WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital to get information on breakthrough hospitalizations, Mark O’Neill, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson, said in an email. The department did not respond to a question asking what penalties facilities face for failing to report.
A COVID-19 breakthrough infection — or post-vaccination case — is defined as a fully vaccinated individual who tests positive for the virus two weeks after completing a single- or two-dose regime.
Tracking these cases is considered important for monitoring the nation’s immunization campaign.
The state health department is expected to release monthly reports on breakthrough cases.
Released Sept. 14, the state report found 95% of COVID-19 hospitalizations from Jan. 1, 2020, through Sept. 7 were among the unvaccinated, or patients who were not fully vaccinated.
Just 3% of the COVID-19 fatalities were vaccinated patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked breakthrough cases for months, with similar results.
WellSpan Health operates seven acute-care hospitals in south central Pennsylvania.
Ryan Coyle, a WellSpan spokesperson, did in an email that the health system did provide systemwide data to the state “but it did not directly match their request. We regret this miscommunication and are working closely with them to remedy.”
WellSpan does, apparently, collect this data.
In a Sept. 17 press release, the health system reported 206 COVID-19 patients in its acute-care hospitals, the vast majority of whom were unvaccinated.
“Right now, WellSpan’s COVID-19 patients are younger, sicker, and 90 percent of them are unvaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Aquilina, WellSpan Health executive vice president and chief physician executive, said in a statement. “The numbers don’t lie.”
Aquilina also echoed what has become an unambiguous refrain from health care officials, who have touted the success of vaccine in the face of data showing the unvaccinated are more likely to become severely ill and die from the novel coronavirus.
Of those admitted with COVID-19 at WellSpan hospitals, 38 were in the ICU and 30 on a ventilator, all unvaccinated.
Last week’s statewide report did not provide any local data on hospitalizations.
LNP | LancasterOnline requested from LG Health and UPMC Lititz the numbers reported to the state for the first report.
From Jan. 1 through Sept. 7, roughly 5% of COVID-19 admissions at LG Health were among vaccinated patients, according to data provided by the health system.
UPMC referred questions to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which referred LNP | LancasterOnline back to UPMC.