More than 50 people have died from COVID-19 in the Lehigh Valley over the past week, with more than 125 area residents succumbing to the disease to date, according to data shared by the coroners for Northampton and Lehigh counties.
Both coroners are releasing updates on the number of deaths from the disease within their jurisdictions each Friday. The data is then shared on each county’s Facebook page.
According to Lehigh County Coroner Eric Minnich, 34 county residents succumbed to COVID-19 between April 17 and April 24, bringing the county’s death total to 75. (Note: The county’s death toll as of Friday was 49 according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. County coroners and state health officials are currently working to reconcile differences in how data with regard to deaths caused by COVID-19 is recorded.)
The deaths are spread throughout eight of Lehigh County’s 25 municipalities, with greater concentrations occurring in several communities, such as Lower Macungie Township.
In Lower Macungie, as in many of the communities in Pennsylvania in which there is a noticeably higher COVID-19 death toll, the statistical anomaly is related to the fact that the disease has struck residents of one assisted living facility particularly hard.
As of Friday, a total of 23 Lower Macungie Township residents had died from COVID-19.
According to Minnich, the other death totals by municipality are as follows:
- City of Allentown: 19
- South Whitehall Township: 17
- City of Bethlehem (Lehigh County portion only): 7
- Whitehall Township: 5
- Upper Macungie Township: 2
- Heidelberg Township: 1
- Upper Saucon Township: 1
Minnich reported that the average age of the residents who have died from COVID-19 in Lehigh County is 79. Fifty-three percent of those who have passed away were male and 47 percent were female.
He also noted that his total includes cases that were confirmed positive and presumptive positive, as determined by a medical certifier.
Based on last week’s reported total of 41, the number of deaths in Lehigh County increased 83 percent since the last report.
In adjacent Northampton County, the total number of deaths increased by approximately 68 percent, from 34 on April 17 to 57 on April 24, according to Coroner Zachary Lysek.
Six of the people who have died in Northampton County since the pandemic began were out-of-county residents, however they are included in the county’s total for statistical purposes.
Lysek reported that the average age of the individuals who have passed away from COVID-19 is 79, with 51 percent of them being male and 49 percent female.
The current death totals by municipality in Northampton County are as follows:
- Palmer Township: 13
- Bethlehem Township: 11
- Upper Nazareth Township: 10
- City of Easton: 3
- City of Bethlehem: 3 (Northampton County portion only)
- Lower Nazareth Township: 2
- Williams Township: 2
- Forks Township: 1
- Bangor borough: 1
- Nazareth borough: 1
- Washington Township: 1
- Plainfield Township: 1
- Wilson: 1
- Lehigh Township: 1
Lysek reported that the six residents from outside the county who have died in Northampton County were from the following locations: Lopatcong Township, New Jersey; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; Bronx, New York; Astoria, Queens, New York; Millersburg, Pennsylvania; and Monroe County, Pennsylvania.
Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure said in his news release about Lysek’s update that a significant number of the deaths in the county have occurred at Gracedale, which is the county-owned nursing home located in Upper Nazareth Township.
“At this time, sixty-two of the 596 (Gracedale) residents have tested positive for COVID-19,” McClure said. “Tragically, eight have passed. Six patients are in recovery and will return to their units when they are no longer infectious. Twenty-six staff members have tested positive; seven have finished their quarantine periods and are now back at work.”
He noted that 40 people who work at Gracedale were out sick on Thursday, April 23.
“Please note—the 57 unfortunate victims of COVID-19 do not provide enough data points for a statistically significant sample,” the Northampton County news release said.
Statewide another 1,599 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Thursday; information that was reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Friday. The daily total of newly confirmed cases has risen significantly over the past few days, after dropping below 1,000 on Monday for the first time since April 1. Friday’s daily total climbed to the highest it had been since April 17, when just over 1,700 new coronavirus cases were confirmed.
Since the pandemic began in Pennsylvania in early March, the state has confirmed a total of 38,652 cases of the disease. In terms of its total number of confirmed cases to date, Pennsylvania is currently ranked fifth among the five U.S. states with the most cases, behind New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California. According to Worldometer, in terms of the most deaths due to the disease it is currently ranked seventh among all 50 states, behind New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut.
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf recently extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 8, which is when parts of the commonwealth may begin to reopen under a three-phase, “red-yellow-green” system Wolf and health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine unveiled this week.
“Pennsylvania plans to proceed with returning to work cautiously,” Wolf said in announcing his Process to Reopen Pennsylvania. “Broad reopenings or reopenings that are not structured around ongoing social distancing, universal masking, or other public health guidance would likely result in a spike of cases and new stay-at-home and closure orders.”
Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and parts of the Poconos do not appear likely to reopen on May 8, since there is a requirement that a county have 50 or fewer new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents per day for at least 14 days before it can be considered for moving from one reopening phase to the next. Counties in all three areas have caseloads that are among the highest in the state as well as per capita rates of infection that are significantly higher than those of counties in north central and northwestern Pennsylvania.
Wolf said in a news release this week that those areas–which include some counties that to date have only reported a single COVID-19 case–will be the first to reopen if the data supports doing that.
As of Friday, Lehigh County had 2,478 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Northampton County had 1,716 confirmed cases, according to the Department of Health.
Lehigh County as of Friday had the second highest per capita caseload in Pennsylvania, with approximately 683 cases per 100,000 people. Only Philadelphia, which also has the most cases and the most deaths from COVID-19, had a higher per capita caseload: approximately 713 cases per 100,000 people, according to New York Times data.
“The administration will work closely with county and local governments to enable the communities to reopen and transition back to work,” Wolf said.
All of Pennsylvania remains under a mask mandate that went into effect Sunday and requires employees and customers inside essential businesses to wear a mask or face covering to help slow the spread of the disease.
Two recent changes that affect businesses statewide were Wolf’s announcement this week that car sales can resume, although only online for the time being; and his decision to allow construction work to resume May 1 with restrictive social distancing, sanitation, PPE (personal protective equipment) and other guidelines in place.