FILE PHOTO: This April 7, 2021 photo shows the WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital in Gettysburg, Pa. The health system announced Friday it will stop allowing most emergency department visitors at its Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals due to a flood of unvaccinated people sick with COVID-19.
Brett Sholtis is a health reporter for WITF/Transforming Health. Sholtis is the 2021-2022 Reveal Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grantee for Mental Health Investigative Journalism with the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. His award-winning work on problem areas in mental health policy and policing helped to get a woman moved from a county jail to a psychiatric facility. Sholtis is a University of Pittsburgh graduate and a Pennsylvania Army National Guard Kosovo campaign veteran.
(Franklin County) — WellSpan Health says it will not accept most emergency department visitors at its Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals due to a flood of unvaccinated people sick with COVID-19.
The decision to move to “Red Level” at those hospitals is based on both the increase in patients and on Franklin County’s high COVID-19 case counts, WellSpan Health Chief Physician Executive Dr. Anthony Aquilina said in a press release. Franklin County has seen a 42% increase in cases over the past two weeks, data shared by New York Times shows.
The York County-based health system is seeing surging hospitalizations among unvaccinated people across the region.
As of Friday 206 people were hospitalized at WellSpan locations with COVID-19. Of them, 185 are unvaccinated.
Of the 38 patients in its intensive care units, all are unvaccinated — as are the 30 people with COVID-19 on ventilators.
This infographic shows COVID-19 patient case counts at WellSpan Health hospitals as of Fri., Sept. 17, 2021.
“Right now, WellSpan’s COVID-19 patients are younger, sicker, and 90 percent of them are unvaccinated,” Aquilina said. “The numbers don’t lie. They provide clear evidence of the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness here in our community and that is why we’ve chosen to share the numbers on our COVID-19 website data dashboard for all to see.”
Geisinger and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have reported similar numbers in recent weeks. At each health system, about 90 percent of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. UPMC recently said it has seen so many younger patients that its average COVID-19 patient age has decreased by 10 years from about 70 to about 60.
More than 40 Pennsylvania counties are experiencing case increases over the past two weeks similar to or worse than Franklin County. At the top of the list, Cameron County has seen a 340% increase. Sullivan, Wyoming, Bedford and Potter round out the top five counties for uncontrolled COVID-19 spread. At the bottom of the list are Delaware, Philadelphia and Bucks counties, all showing a decrease in cases over the past two weeks.
At WellSpan, Dr. Aquilina urged people to get vaccinated.
“We need our communities to take action right now to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” Aquilina said. “This isn’t just a matter of concern for only COVID-19 patients. We need to ensure that we can provide care for all that need it, from COVID-19 patients to a loved-one experiencing a medical emergency.”
As a note of disclosure, WellSpan Health provides financial support to Transforming Health.