The pandemic may feel like it’s in the past, but the danger to Northampton County residents from COVID-19 isn’t over; particularly if they are unvaccinated and especially because new data shows the county has one of the highest infection rates in the state.
According to the latest data, Northampton County is reporting an average of 17 new COVID-19 cases daily, which is the most of any county in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, 58 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which is slightly below the statewide average of 66 percent who have received at least one dose.
Northampton County’s current infection rate of 1.42 cases is one of the highest statewide, and the highest rate it has reported since the earliest days of the pandemic in April 2020.
Only Perry County, which has a much smaller population, currently has a higher rate.
Other counties with an infection rate to match Northampton’s are Lancaster, Mifflin and Northumberland, which are all at “very high risk” from the virus’s comeback, according to the risk classification system used by the virus tracking site Covid Act Now.
An infection rate of 1.42 cases means that on average, each person in Northampton County with COVID-19 is infecting 1.42 other people; a level of spread deemed “critical.”
Most new cases of COVID-19 are Delta variant cases. The Delta variant is a more highly transmissable variant of the virus that first appeared in the area nearly 18 months ago, and is now responsible for the vast majority of new cases in the U.S. and worldwide.
Case numbers peaked in late 2020 and early 2021, and steeply declined in the spring and early summer, as more people received the vaccine. Health experts say that along with the Delta variant, vaccine hesitancy and relaxing safety precautions such as the use of face masks and social distancing are combining to help fuel a virus resurgence.
Pennsylvania’s face mask mandate ended June 28, but according to the latest CDC guidance, masks should still be worn by vaccinated individuals in indoor public spaces to help reduce the spread of the Delta variant. Unvaccinated people should continue to mask in all public spaces, and schools should require universal masking in classrooms to help prevent the spread of the virus among students and staff, the guidance states.
The Saucon Valley School Board voted 8-1 late last month to make masks optional for students–except on buses–when the new school year begins later this month, with board member Sandra Miller dissenting. The Bethlehem Press reported that one parent questioned the district’s course of action, while Superintendent Craig Butler cited a parent survey in which the majority of those polled reportedly favored optional masking.
Masks were required in Saucon Valley schools during the 2020-2021 school year, when outbreaks of COVID-19 among students and/or staff led to school closures and the postponement or cancellation of sports and extracurricular activities at various times.
Saucon Valley was one of the only districts in the region to offer full in-person learning for all students throughout the year, although last year parents had the option to enroll their children in virtual classes; an option that roughly 20 percent reportedly selected.