It’s no secret that Chester County is facing another surge in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant of the virus rears its head. To inform West Chester residents of the case numbers, effects and precautions people can take against the virus, American Community Journals hosted a Zoom titled “A New Year of Battling Covid in Chester County” with Jeanne E. Franklin, Public Health Director of the Chester County Health Department.
Franklin started out by identifying the more recent surge in Omicron variant cases in Chester County: “January 4th, 2022, was our highest number of new cases in a given day since the pandemic began and that was 1,168…. So, you can see how this current surge has really played out in a very short time. Obviously, an indication of its [Omicron’s] ease of transmission.”
Within these high numbers of transmission, she stated that younger people, especially those ages 20–29, are getting the virus at higher percentages.
She also made it evident that case numbers being reported nationwide are most likely underrepresenting the transmission of Omicron because of the recent availability of at-home COVID testing. She stated, “We do have an opportunity on our website for folks to at least tell us if they’re positive so we can give them the accurate guidance, but it’s not required to be reported. So, some of these numbers are a bit underreported.”
The webinar hosts and attendees also expressed their concern at everyone’s exhaustion in the face of the pandemic, commonly referred to as “COVID-19 fatigue.” Franklin made sure to point out how hospitals, specifically in Chester County, are overwhelmed.
“[Hospitals] are overwhelmed for a lot of reasons. We have some unique ones here in Chester County, but really what they’re experiencing, the trend we can share, is that individuals who truly require admission into a hospital for COVID-related needs are those that are not vaccinated.”
Franklin also noted that Chester County is close to reaching 1,000 deaths from COVID-19. She strongly urged getting vaccinated and boosted to prevent severe illness and death from the virus to protect ourselves and to help our hospital staff. She acknowledges that the vaccine may not prevent you from COVID infection but will “reduce the likelihood of getting infected, if infected reduce the severity of infection, and if medical care is needed, reduce the likelihood of death. That’s the intent of these vaccines which is why we see breakthroughs; it doesn’t mean the vaccines aren’t working.”
As we reach the third year of this pandemic, Franklin has often been asked, “Where do we go from here? How do we know we’re even nearing the end?” In response, she states, “I’m going to tell you we have a ways to go. We, at minimum, have to see this current surge through… as for positivity, 10% is going to be that next big milestone and right now we’re at 30.56% as of last Friday.”
When it comes to keeping ourselves safe, Franklin suggests following the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance on masks. The CDC recently stated that KN95 and N95 masks are safer than many cloth or single layered masks. On behalf of this new discovery, Franklin states, “It doesn’t mean back then the masks weren’t useful… the pandemic is a living, real-time event and we constantly are able to gather more science, more data, more studies to say, at this point, here are the best masks.”
As the webinar concluded, Franklin said she would plan to be back on another Noon Zoom in about a month to further inform and take questions from the Chester County community about everything COVID-related. In the meantime, Chester County residents can visit chesco.org/health for more COVID information.
Emma Hogan is a second-year English major. EH954390@wcupa.edu