Health Director Says Allegheny County Has Finally “Turned the Corner” On COVID

Dr. Debra Bogen says the county has entered a new phase of the pandemic.
03 04 20 New Health Director 18

ALLEGHENY COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR DR. DEBRA BOGEN

Good news overflowed from Allegheny County’s biweekly press briefing Wednesday on the pandemic. 

“I am an optimist at heart, and I am optimistic that we have turned a corner,” said Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen. “As we spring into warmer weather, better days lie ahead.”

She pointed to the latest case numbers as evidence. The Health Department reports there were between 150-175 new cases per day last week — a sharp decline from the more than 3,000 daily cases the county was seeing in January.

Bogen also said the county has entered a new phase of the pandemic — and that calls for a new way of analyzing COVID-19 data. 

“The current pandemic phase is different than previous ones and as such, it requires a different approach,” she explained. Bogen cited high vaccination rates — around 70% — and the natural immunity that many people developed as a result of the recent omicron surge, along with effective medications that reduce the severity of the illness for those most at risk.

Bogen referenced the CDC’s sweeping changes to the way risk is assessed, which it announced on Friday; the public health agency said last week that anyone in counties where the virus poses a low or medium risk to the healthcare system no longer has to wear a mask. Folks in these communities should stay up to date on their vaccinations and stay home if they feel sick.

Allegheny County remains in the low category, meaning that there is limited impact on the health care system and low amounts of severe disease in the community.

You can find out the risk level of your community here.

The new risk assessment is based on three metrics. 

The first indicator is case rates of less than or greater than 200 cases per 100,000 over the last seven days. The second indicator is the new seven-day total of COVID hospital admissions per 100,000, and the third is the seven-day average percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID patients.

“The COVID community levels inform recommendations for both what individuals can do to protect themselves, and what community-level prevention strategies can be implemented,” Bogen said.

Even though Allegheny County is in a low level of risk, Bogen still recommends getting vaccinated, as that’s the most effective way to prevent serious illness or death — especially as many people can now lose the mask.

“Vaccinations have been a game-changer in this pandemic,” Bogen said. “In Allegheny County, the hospitalization rate for people without any vaccination was 251 per 10,000 residents, compared to just 11 for people who are vaccinated and had a booster dose.”

The difference in the death rate is equally sobering. For the unvaccinated, Covid kills 48 per 10,000 cases. For those who are fully vaccinated and boosted, the number drops to just under two per 10,000.

Can we throw away our masks? Bogen says probably not. 

“The pandemic is not over. There will likely be more phases, possibly more surges and variants, and you may be asked to wear a mask again for a limited time in certain settings,” she said. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that the present looks much better than it did last month, and certainly better than it did in January.”

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