This is Why Allegheny County is Changing the Way It Reports Virus Data

Officials also discussed the new omicron variant and the importance of both vaccinating and masking up.
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The Allegheny County Health Department announced at a press briefing Wednesday that some changes will be coming to the way COVID-19 data is disseminated.

Starting on Dec. 28, the department will release information weekly rather than each day, much like the State Health Department. 

“Day-to-day updates show spikes in variation, but fail to adequately illustrate trends. Weekly reports will allow our staff to provide more data, including reinfection and the number of new cases and deaths among the fully vaccinated and unvaccinated,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. 

There will be one more 24-hour update Thursday, and then no updates Friday through Monday for the Christmas weekend. The next update will be on Tuesday, Dec. 28, and it will cover data for the entire week of Dec. 20-26. Weekly updates will then be issued every Tuesday.

The COVID-19 dashboard, however, will continue to be updated daily on regular business days.

The Health Department also announced that changes are coming to the way case investigations and contact-tracing efforts are conducted.

“We continue to investigate cases among people 50 and older, and anyone 4 and younger — that is the age group for which there is not yet an approved vaccine. In all other cases, people who test positive will not be contacted by the health department,” Bogen said. 

People who need information about COVID-19 spread are encouraged to turn to online resources, or call their own health care provider or 211.

“We made these changes because we’ve been at this for nearly two years. Fewer people respond to our calls, and many people are now conducting tests at home, and therefore we don’t have that information about their results,” Bogan explained.

She reiterated that vaccination is the single best way to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as the world’s ticket to an eventual return to normalcy. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also thanked the more than 900,000 county residents who had already been vaccinated, and urged the remaining 300,000 to do so if they’re able. 

The majority of severe illnesses and deaths, especially among younger populations, occurred in the unvaccinated. Bogen added unvaccinated people within the 30-59 age group who contract the virus are 12 times more likely to suffer serious illness or death than their vaccinated counterparts.

“These deaths are as tragic as they are unnecessary and premature. It breaks my heart to see people die because of misinformation,” she said.

Fitzgerald also noted the new omicron variant was even more transmissible than the delta variant, but fortunately, it doesn’t seem as severe. Nevertheless, it is now the most common coronavirus strain in the country. While Allegheny County hasn’t seen a great deal of omicron cases, Bogen said she expects a “rapid rise” in the omicron variant here in the coming weeks.

Especially as folks plan to gather for the upcoming holidays, officials urged everyone to mask up, adding that it’s the most effective way of preventing virus transmission, aside from vaccination.

Nevertheless, the county does not plan on instituting a mask mandate at this time.

“I’ve heard from those who insist we must need a mask mandate, and from others who argue for the exact opposite. This is the story of our divided country right now,” Bogen said. “This is about individual and collective responsibility, and the simple fact is that masks reduce transmission of the virus, and you don’t need a mask mandate to do the right thing.” 

Many individual businesses have begun requiring masks once again — and other businesses never stopped requiring them in the first place. The Allegheny County Port Authority, too, recently announced that it’ll install air purification devices on all of its vehicles early next year, which should prove effective against the virus when coupled with proper masking and social distancing techniques.

“My mask protects you, and your mask protects me,” Bogen added. “We are all in this together.” 

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