What’s Behind Allegheny County’s “Fourth Wave” of COVID Infections?

Recent daily case counts have set records for 2021.
Dave Cole 11 Resized


If Gov. Tom Wolf is right that the vaccine is winning in a race against the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, that race is a very close one in Allegheny County.

Wolf was in McKeesport Wednesday to visit Bethlehem Baptist Church, where the Allegheny County Health Department will open a vaccination clinic on Monday. He also defended the state’s decision to ease pandemic restrictions as the number of infections was rising. Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states — New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“We’ve got to get the vaccines into arms as quickly and as equitably as we can, and that’s what the strategy of the state is,” Wolf added. “In the meantime … we haven’t done what some states have done, which is basically to take off every restriction.”

Wolf acknowledged that the upsurge in cases is mostly among people ages 15 to 24.

At a separate briefing a few hours later, Allegheny Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen confirmed the county was “well into our fourth wave of cases here.”

“And we know the cause,” she said. “Large gatherings, combined with no physical distancing or masks, mixed with the variant viruses in our community. The next few months are the final push, and we must all exercise self-restraint. This is not the time to give up.”

Recent daily case counts have set records for 2021, Bogen said. COVID-related deaths, which had been declining since mid-December, began to increase the week of March 21.

Nearly a quarter-million people are fully vaccinated in Allegheny County and more than 75% of those aged 65 and older are at least partially vaccinated.

County officials predict vaccine distribution will accelerate in the coming weeks as Allegheny Health Network and UPMC are holding mass vaccination clinics to administer a combined 25,000 Johnson & Johnson shots.

“The simultaneous expansion of eligibility and the opening of mass vaccination clinics is by design,” Bogen said. “And while AHN and UPMC run these large sites, the health department will continue to focus most of its attention on filling the gaps and meeting unmet needs.”

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