The state of Pennsylvania reported at least 500 deaths from the Wuhan coronavirus in the month of July, according to PA Department of Health data.
The state has maintained a public “dashboard” of COVID-19 data, complete with charts of daily cases and deaths. However, those numbers differ slightly from daily reports given in a separate “archives” page — which posts an updated total death count, drawn from the Department’s Vital Records Program as of 11:59 PM on the previous date and broken down by county.
According to the department’s archives, Pennsylvania reported 518 deaths total in July, comparing totaled figures from July 1 and August 3 (the end of the month fell on a Friday) — an average of 16.7 per day. According to a Department of Health spokesperson, no date of death is given on these reports, so it is unclear how many occurred in earlier months and how many occurred in July. The CDC cautions that its own count of death certificates can come between one to eight weeks after a death occurs, but the PA spokesperson was not able to similarly estimate an average lag for its own figures.
This month’s total is a 53.5009% decrease from the 1,114 deaths reported in June, according to these same archives. On average last month, the state saw roughly 37.13 deaths per day.
Twenty-four counties did not record any new deaths in July. Seventeen of those counties had previously recorded deaths: Armstrong, Bedford, Bradford, Cambria, Clarion, Fayette, Forest, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mifflin, Perry, Snyder, Tioga, Union, and Warren. Seven of those counties have not yet reported any deaths: Cameron, Clearfield, Forest, Northumberland, Potter, Sullivan, and Venango. Of those 24 counties, only Cambria and Fayette have populations over 100,000.
One county’s count actually decreased by one — Wayne County, whose total changed from nine to eight deaths on the report dated July 8. A Department of Health spokesperson explained that, occasionally, a reported death may need to shift to a different county to match the legal residence of the decedent, and some data may be revised or clarified based on new information. That anomaly is not counted against the total death reports in this reporting.
Nineteen counties reported three or fewer deaths in July: Blair (2), Butler (2), Carbon (2), Centre (3), Clinton (1), Columbia (1), Crawford (1), Elk (2), Franklin (2), Fulton (1), Greene (1), Lawrence (3), Lycoming (1), Mercer (3), Montour (2), Pike (1), Somerset (1), Susquehanna (2), and Wyoming (1). Three of those counties reported their first coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic: Crawford, Elk, and Greene.
Eight counties reported four to ten deaths: Adams (7), Cumberland (6), Erie (4), Lackawanna (8), Luzerne (6), Schuylkill (5), Washington (5), and Westmoreland (8).
Seven counties reported 11 to 20 deaths: Beaver (11), Berks (14), Bucks (14), Chester (19), Dauphin (20), Lebanon (11), and Monroe (15).
And eight counties reported more than 20 deaths: Allegheny (47), Delaware (32), Lancaster (43), Lehigh (35), Montgomery (46), Northampton (22), Philadelphia (70), and York (38). Of these eight, Philadelphia maintains the highest total deaths (1,681), followed by Montgomery (850), Delaware (687), and Bucks (579). No other counties have yet reached 500 total deaths since the state began taking these records in March.
For comparison, the most recent public PA death statistics — from the year 2018 — marks the state’s top causes of death as heart disease (32,713 deaths for the year, an average of 2,726 per month), cancer/malignant neoplasms (27,995 deaths for the year, an average of 2,332 per month), and nontransport accidents (7,207 for the year, an average of 600 per month). [These data were provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The Department specifically disclaims responsibility for any analyses, interpretations, or conclusions.]
These figures reveal a key metric in the ongoing debate over the state’s lockdown measures. As testing became more widely available, confirmed cases began to rise in mid-June, but, more than a month later, coronavirus deaths have not followed that trend. The number of PA hospitalizations bottomed out in mid-July, slowly rose until the end of the month, then dropped quickly — reportedly due to a change in the federal government’s reporting process.
As of July 3, all 67 counties reached the “green phase” of Governor Tom Wolf’s reopening plan — which allowed for gatherings of up to 250 people, with religious services exempted but “strongly encouraged” to resume with social distancing and masks in use. However, as confirmed cases increased in the following weeks, Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine modified the green phase restrictions — limiting indoor gatherings to 25 people and outdoor gatherings to 250.
In May, as the first wave of the virus was on the decline, Wolf suggested that mass gatherings such as sports events may not be feasible until a vaccine for this strain of coronavirus is available. Breitbart News reported at the time:
“Ultimately I think what it’s going to take for everybody to feel safe going to a Penn State game or a basketball game is that they have some confidence that they’re not going to get sick by being in close contact with somebody else,” Wolf said, noting that the state is focusing on testing and contact tracing.
“I think that’s what it’s going to take to really get our economy back to normal, and I really think that can’t happen fully, 100 percent until we have a vaccine that is foolproof,” Wolf said. “That’s my own stance.”
Wolf advised PA residents not to go to the beach over Memorial Day weekend, warning them that people without masks in those outdoor spaces would put them “at risk.”
At the end of June, a public opinion poll showed Wolf’s approval rating at 49%, down from 68% in April. The governor took flak from critics earlier that month for joining a Black Lives Matter protest after calling business owners “cowardly” and “selfish” for defying his lockdown orders.
Just days after that poll, Wolf and Levine mandated that residents wear masks in all public spaces “whenever anyone leaves home.” This Monday, the governor warned Pennsylvanians that law enforcement can cite them for failure to comply.
Today I'm at Susquehanna Township Police headquarters to talk about the enforcement of #COVID19 mitigation orders.
Masks are required to be worn in all public spaces. Law enforcement officials are able to cite Pennsylvanians who aren't wearing a mask in public. pic.twitter.com/oxNNz8lAWV
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) August 3, 2020