Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Public Health Dynamics Lab, said sparsely populated areas could help slow the spread of the virus but would not act as a shield forever.
“New Jersey is generally a denser state. Density is important for a disease that relies on proximity for transmission, ”he said. “But you still see it everywhere, all over New York, Maryland, Ohio, everyone is seeing it.”
In fact, some areas in Pennsylvania that are already experiencing the worst infection rates are comparatively rural.
Places like Wyoming or Lawrence County currently have rates as bad as some suburbs of New York City in North Jersey or cities like Philadelphia – with averages of between 8 and 12 cases per 100,000 people. The hospital with the highest rate of COVID-related hospitalizations in either state is in Danville, Pennsylvania, which has had dozens of severe cases, despite being in a county of just over 18,000 residents.
Some of the counties served by Danville had below average vaccination rates while others were above average. Still, Dr. Alison Brodginski, director of infectious diseases at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, was responsible for the overall slower vaccination rate for the Danville outbreak.
“The good news is that we didn’t have anyone in our intensive care unit and we didn’t have any deaths in a fully vaccinated patient,” said Dr. Brodginski told WNEP this week. “Unfortunately we don’t see this demand [for vaccinations] that we saw months, even weeks ago. “
While research shows that in rare cases it is possible for vaccinated people to become infected with the virus – called breakthrough cases – and spread it, Roberts said unvaccinated people are the main causes of the Delta variant.
Rural areas have generally had lower vaccination rates than urban areas, but there are still millions of unvaccinated people who can spread the virus in the suburbs and urban areas that are spreading.
“It differs from district to district,” he said. “But here in Pittsburgh and Allegheny Counties, for example, virtually all COVID-19 patients have been unvaccinated … and more cases have been seen across the country where vaccination rates have been low.”
With 53% of all residents fully vaccinated, Pennsylvania is just ahead of some of the delta-hit states – like Florida, which has 49% of all residents fully vaccinated.