SALISBURY TWP., Pa. — The start of the holiday season brought with it a significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to health officials in the Lehigh Valley.

As of Tuesday evening, the Lehigh Valley Health Network had 230 COVID patients, an increase of 37% in just 10 days. St. Luke's University Health Network reported 185, a 32% increase in just less than a week.

"We have the highest hospitalization rates that we have seen since we had the peak approximately a year ago in December," said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, an infectious disease physician at St. Luke's.

Health officials said roughly 80% of COVID hospitalizations and 95% of COVID patients in the ICU are people who are unvaccinated.

The spike comes at a time when hospitals said they are dealing with staff shortages and a backlog of procedures postponed because of the pandemic. Officials said they're also bracing for a possible "twindemic" of COVID and the flu.

That's why health officials are urging people to stay vigilant during the holidays, with hand washing, wearing masks, social distancing, and vaccination. Another precaution is testing, no matter what your vaccination status.

"Now, people can get over-the-counter rapid tests that are antigen tests, if they are planning a gettogether, whether it's the holidays or some other event," said Dr. Timothy Friel, an infectious disease physician at LVHN. "It's another strategy that they can employ testing before they go."

Both health networks said they are monitoring the case numbers very carefully and are considering changes to procedures, and even policies like visitation in order to keep people safe.

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