It's certainly not a statistic to take lightly, with more than a half-million deaths linked to COVID-19 about a year after the virus was first detected in the United States, but there's also perhaps room for optimism.

One of the largest healthcare providers in our region -- Tower Health's Reading Hospital -- said its hospitalizations have fallen 75% since January.

The trend since the holidays at Grand View Health in Montgomery County has been good, too.

"Our intensive care unit had been filled," said Dr. Thomas Paparella, a cardiovascular and pulmonary disease specialist at Grand View. "We are down to admitting maybe one or two a day."

The Lehigh Valley Health Network said its hospitalizations have dropped from 500 in December to 150.

"We're seeing fewer individuals being tested and fewer individuals present to the emergency department, said Dr. Kate Kane, an emergency medicine specialist with LVHN. "With that, we are seeing lower hospitalizations."

Statewide trends have improved, too. The COVID-19 positivity rate is less than half of what it was in December. Health experts said they attribute the positive trends to people listening to medical advice.

The coming months could bring more good news, with warmer weather on the way and greater vaccine availability, which could help achieve herd immunity and restore normalcy.

"My hope is we'll be having concerts during fall and spring next year," Paparella said. "Summer, I don't know. Will enough people be able to get rolled out by then?"

Experts said they are also keeping an eye on more contagious variants and the impact that they will have.

Until herd immunity is achieved, the best defense is masking, hand washing, and distancing.

"I think we'll be doing the mask wearing for probably at least three to six months," said Dr. Debra Powell, the chief of infectious diseases at Reading Hospital.

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