BUCKS COUNTY >> The rate of new COVID-19 cases continued to shrink last week in Bucks County, falling well below 100 cases per day for the first time since the November election.
The seven-day average of new infections dropped Saturday to 84 per day, the lowest level since Nov. 4. The 575 new cases reported last week was more than 70 percent less than in early April.
Hospitalizations have also diminished to a level not seen since before Thanksgiving. Fifty-three COVID patients are in Bucks County hospitals, 15 in intensive care and seven on ventilators.
Seventeen COVID deaths have occurred in May, raising the pandemic death toll to 1,282.
Improving case numbers and ongoing vaccinations have bred greater freedom to mingle unmasked. The Centers for Disease Control last week posted new guidelines for fully vaccinated people, declaring no need to wear masks or to socially distance in most settings.
Pennsylvania adopted the relaxed CDC guidelines, but still requires unvaccinated people to wear masks until 70 percent of adults statewide are vaccinated.
“As the cases fall to low levels, Bucks County is in a terrific position to come out of this,” said Dr. David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department. “I am more optimistic now than at any point of the pandemic.”
Bucks County announced on Friday that fully vaccinated employees and visitors can go mask-free in its buildings except for the prisons and the Neshaminy Manor Nursing Home. Judges in the Court of Common Pleas and Magisterial District Courts also have discretion to order people to wear masks in their courtrooms.
The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated if two weeks have passed since receiving a second shot of a two-dose vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“The vaccine is easily available, and it’s safe and effective,” Damsker said. “To anybody who is on the fence: It’s been given to tens of millions of people, and it’s keeping people out of the hospital just like it’s supposed to.”
Private businesses have the right to continue to require patrons to mask, regardless of their vaccination status.
Tuesday’s primary elections are expected to have light turnout, reducing the prospect of crowded polling places. But some polling places are in settings, such as schools, that continue to require masks to be worn.
County pollworkers in those buildings are required to wear masks. Voters are asked to do likewise, though no one will be denied the right to vote if they refuse to wear a mask.
Vaccination numbers are still climbing in Bucks. Providers countywide have now administered almost a half-million doses of vaccine, enough to fully vaccinate 212,001 people and partially vaccinate 92,862.
A total of 2,022 children ages 12 to 15 have been given first doses of Pfizer vaccine at county-run clinics in the week since federal agencies allowed its use for that age group.
Statistics, charts, links to state health department data and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.