COVID Cases in Allegheny County Increase, Linked to Unvaccinated Younger Residents

While not issuing a mandate, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called on everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear a mask when in indoor spaces away from home.

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The mood was grim at Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

“I wish I had good news to report today. Sadly, I don’t,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “Daily cases are up. Hospitalizations are up. Positivity rate is up. All discouraging trends, especially as we approach school openings.” 

The county reported that in the last 48 hours, there were 377 new cases reported to the Health Department. Of these, 188 are confirmed cases and 189 are probable cases. There were five new deaths reported, all from August; one person was in the 25-49 age group and four people were older than 65. Over the past week, Bogen said, the county’s daily average has nearly doubled, and the positivity rate, which hovered around 1 percent for June and early July, is now nearly 5 percent. 

“The Delta variant, combined with the still-significant number of unvaccinated people, is driving our trends,” Bogen said. 

Roughly 25 percent of the county’s population — many of whom are young adults — have abstained from the vaccine for a wide range of reasons, she explained. But with the increased spread of the Delta variant, which is both more contagious and more virulent, both Bogen and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stressed the importance of getting the shot and masking up, regardless of vaccination status.

“As things change, you do see our universities, our healthcare facilities, our various businesses are starting to look at mask mandates for their businesses and vaccination mandates for their employees and customers,” Fitzgerald said. While Fitzgerald has no concrete plans to enforce a countywide mask mandate like the one we saw earlier in the pandemic just yet, he said that “everything’s on the table.” 

“Consulting with Dr. Bogen and her team, we’ll certainly continue to evaluate. We see that Philadelphia today is making an announcement along those lines. We see that California is also making announcements along those lines, and you’re starting to see a trend that’s heading in that direction as these numbers become very serious,” he said.

Another concern is for children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine and will soon be returning to schools — many of which have not yet announced masking or social distancing policies for students and faculty.

“To prevent infection and spread in children, people have to wear masks,” Bogen said. “We need to protect children by following the CDC guidance and wearing masks. Wear properly fitting masks.”

Even without a countywide masking mandate, multiple businesses and festival organizers have instituted policies of their own. Last week, Giant Eagle announced that it would strongly request all customers and employees wear masks, whether they’ve received the vaccine or not.

“As we witness increases in positive COVID-19 cases across our communities and the country, we are reinstituting the wearing of face masks, cloth face coverings or face shields for Team Members and guests this week, inclusive of all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals,” the company said in a press release last Monday. 

Duquesne University was quick to follow suit, announcing via email on Aug. 11 that it would institute a “temporary requirement that all individuals on campus, regardless of vaccination status, wear a face covering when indoors, both in public spaces and when they are in groups.” The university’s policy will be in effect starting on Aug. 13 and continuing through Labor Day, at which point officials will evaluate whether or not the guidelines remain necessary. 

Duquesne staff and students have also been asked to upload proof of vaccination or exemption, if applicable. Those without will still be asked to mask up and submit to weekly COVID testing.

Similarly, Barrel & Flow Fest — a beer festival celebrating and showcasing Black artists, musicians, chefs and brewers scheduled to take place the weekend of Sept. 10 in the South Side Works — announced Aug. 11 that all attendees must now show proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results from within 72 hours of admission. The festival will also keep attendees and vendors at less than half capacity to allow for proper spacing, include more hand-washing stations and social-distancing signage and recommend that all vendors wear masks while serving — vaccinated or not.

Since March 14, 2020, there have been 104,807 cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County residents, 7,417 hospitalizations and 2,015 deaths. 

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