Sunday marks fourth consecutive day of no new Allegheny County COVID-19 deaths

More
On Forbes Avenue in Oakland, a person wearing a face mask exits a Port Authority bus adorned with the message 'Stay Home, Save Lives'. (Photo by Kimberly Rowen/PublicSource)

On Forbes Avenue in Oakland, a person wearing a face mask exits a Port Authority bus adorned with the message 'Stay Home, Save Lives'. (Photo by Kimberly Rowen/PublicSource)

Allegheny County reported 14 new COVID-19 cases but no new deaths or hospitalizations Sunday. To date, the county has reported 1,911 COVID-19 cases, 151 deaths and 340 past or present hospitalizations.

The county has not reported a new COVID-19 death since Wednesday.

Pennsylvania reported 511 new COVID-19 cases and 18 new deaths from the virus Sunday. To date, the state has reported 71,926 cases and 5,555 deaths. For the past few weeks, the state has reported fewer than 1,000 new cases per day. 

Nursing and personal care home residents and employees in 609 facilities across 44 counties represent 18,145, about a quarter, of the state’s total caseload and 3,540, almost two-thirds, of the state’s deaths. Healthcare workers represent 5,455, about 7.5%, of the state’s total caseload. 

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced Friday that 16 counties, including Allegheny, will move into the green phase of reopening on June 5. This is in addition to the 18 counties that moved into the green phase at noon.

The newly announced green-phase counties are Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clinton, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Lycoming, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland.

Levine said that a key metric for easing restrictions is the percentage of people tested who test positive, rather than just the net total of COVID-19 cases. Statewide, the percentage of tests that have positive results has been dropping since mid-May and is currently less than 10%.

Wolf said that at this point the criteria for moving counties between phases include rates of new cases over seven- and 14-day periods. His administration also considers the presence of outbreaks and whether an area is equipped to deal with them.

Wolf said the moves also resulted from increased capacity to test residents — now up to 13,000 tests a day statewide — and expanded capacity for contact tracing. “Because of this, we’re able to take important steps to return to a sense of normalcy — again, as we remain careful and vigilant,” he said.

Wolf and Levine emphasized that the threat of COVID-19 remains and that residents should continue wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance. Even under these loosened restrictions, Levine said, “If you can’t social distance, actually consider whether or not you really have to go out.”

While acknowledging that many experts expect some level of COVID-19 resurgence in the fall, Wolf said his administration is making plans for the next school year.

“We are going to be opening schools,” he said, “whether it’s August or September. That depends upon the local school district.” Wolf said that schools would be operating differently — smaller class sizes and more online resources, for example. He said the Department of Education is working on guidelines that should be released sometime next week.

Opening schools, he said, would also require even more robust testing. “We’re not even close to the point where we have enough tests to do surveillance testing,” Wolf noted, referring to the ability to test everyone in the state on a regular basis. There are currently 318 testing sites in Pennsylvania.

Levine expressed a desire to work with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity to conduct more testing outreach efforts in “vulnerable populations,” though she did not cite specific means for doing so.

She expressed optimism that “a rapid, accurate, point-of-care test” could be developed by the fall. Such a test could be nasal or oral, possibly administered without a health care worker and even taken at home, providing results within 15 to 20 minutes and with a low false-negative rate.

Levine estimated that among those Pennsylvania residents who have had the virus, 64 percent recovered.

Another eight counties moved to the yellow phase on Friday, including Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

For the first time since the state shutdown began, the governor and health secretary held an in-person press conference at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Harrisburg, the seat of Dauphin County, one of the newly yellow-phase counties. Wolf began his remarks by expressing condolences to the family of George Floyd, who died on Monday in an encounter with Minneapolis police. He said that racism and such violence affects everyone, including Pennsylvanians. “If some of us are not treated equally, all of us are in jeopardy.”

Wolf emphasized that he shares the frustration the shutdown caused for individuals and businesses, but added that it’s important to stay the course with measures that reduce infection rates. “If we don’t follow these guidelines, we’re risking. We’re taking risks with that virus. That’s the enemy. Not me. Not Donald Trump. Not a member of the House of Representatives or the state Senate. It’s that virus.”

The green designation allows, among other things:

  • Restaurants and bars to open at 50% of normal occupancy
  • Hair salons, barbershops and other personal care services to open at 50% occupancy and by appointment only
  • Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities, gyms and spas to open at 50% occupancy with appointments strongly encouraged
  • Casinos, theaters and shopping malls to open at 50% occupancy
  • Construction activity to return to full capacity with continued implementation of protocols
  • Visitation to prisons and hospitals to resume subject to the discretion of the facility.

The green designation doesn’t allow gatherings of more than 250 people, nor does it lift visitation restrictions on nursing homes, personal care homes and long-term care facilities.

Houses of worship are excluded from limitations established by Wolf’s order, but encouraged to enforce social distancing.

Within an hour of Wolf’s announcement, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald thanked him for the designation and praised residents’ handling of the crisis. He also warned against throwing caution to the wind.

“I want to thank the citizens and the folks of Allegheny County who have continued to wear their masks, keep distance and act responsibly,” he said in a press conference held in the County Courthouse courtyard and livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page.

“We still have to be very vigilant,” he added, pointing northward to indicate the cautionary tale of a county that has seen increasing infections since it went from the red to yellow phase. “There wasn’t any one hotspot in Erie County. What we’re hearing was a lot of backyard parties, block parties,” that caused an increase in infections.

Fitzgerald noted that hair and nail salons, restaurants and gyms have been through great hardship, and made no promises of a quick economic rebound.

“A lot of that’s going to depend on: Are the customers going to come back?” he said. “A lot of this is going to be about public confidence, about people feeling safe.”

He added: “At least we’re moving in a positive direction.”

To all those waiting for a dip in a wave pool, he made no promises, saying it would be difficult to find the 100 to 150 lifeguards needed to staff the county’s four pools. He said he was hoping to have further information on pools next week.

Senator Bob Casey on Friday announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. In a statement, Casey said that he’d quarantined at home for two weeks “earlier in the spring” after experiencing a fever and flu-like symptoms. At that time, medical professionals did not recommend he be tested for the virus. Last week, after consulting the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician, he received an antibody test.

"In an effort to help others fighting this virus, I hope to make my first plasma donation today in Taylor, Pennsylvania," Casey said in a Facebook post. "I encourage others who have recovered from COVID-19 to consult with their own physician to see if they may also be eligible to donate."

Nursing and personal care homes continue to bear the brunt of the novel coronavirus.

Cases in 600 long-term care facilities – including both residents and employees – accounted as of Thursday for 17,721 of the cases in 44 counties, including Allegheny County. Roughly two-thirds of COVID-related deaths have occurred in these facilities.

Since the beginning of February, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has conducted 1,473 nursing home inspections, 907 of which arose from complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release last Saturday. The department finalized 10 sanctions against facilities, totaling $93,500 in civil penalties.

Last year, the department conducted 5,381 inspections, 3,285 of which arose from complaints. The department finalized 213 sanctions against facilities, with civil penalties totaling more than $2.5 million.

“If you see something at a nursing home that doesn’t seem right, we encourage you to speak up,” Levine said in the press release.

Earlier in May, the department released COVID-19 related data for individual nursing homes and personal care facilities, including the number of residents and staff infected and the number of deaths per facility. The data will be updated daily. (The list for Southwest PA is here.)

State unemployment payments reach $11 billion

More Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment benefits in the first three weeks of the COVID-19 economic shutdown than over a 52-week period at the height of the Great Recession.

Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said during a virtual town hall on Thursday that 960,000 out-of-work Pennsylvanians filed claims in 2010.

In the three weeks beginning March 15, more than 1 million Pennsylvanians sought unemployment benefits.

Before the pandemic, and with historic low unemployment, the department had a staff of about 770 employees, he said. Now beefed up to handle what Oleksiak called an overwhelming number of claims, the department has swelled to 1,400 who have worked more than 90,000 of overtime hours handling claims.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” Oleksiak said.

During the pandemic, the state has paid $11 billion in benefits and received roughly 2.3 million claims.

Earlier this week, the department announced it had initiated a fraud investigation involving scammers attempting to steal resident identities and file false claims. To combat this, the department will begin issuing paper checks to claimants who receive their benefits through direct deposit.

Also on Thursday, Department of Human Services [DHS] Secretary Teresa Miller reminded Pennsylvanians of several programs designed to help struggling residents.

“If ever there was a moment for us all to appreciate a strong, stable and sufficiently funded social safety net, I think that this is that moment,” Miller said.

Programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program [CHIP] and energy assistance programs, among others.

Miller said stigma is the greatest barrier to receiving critical resources.

“There is no shame in reaching out for help when you need it,” Miller said. “The act of submitting an application for SNAP or Medicaid during a time of crisis is an act of advocacy for yourself and your family.”

For more information or to apply online, click here.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Thursday morning said Pittsburgh had been spared the worst of the epidemic’s first wave, citing local cooperation to mitigate infections. 

In brief remarks, Peduto said the pandemic was one of many challenges that cities will face, noting past struggles the city faced. The address was given during the closing session of the United Nations Ministerial Dialogue with Local and Regional Governments On Combining Climate Action with Economic Recovery.

Peduto recounted the devastation from the 1918 Spanish flu; the St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936, in which the floodwaters peaked at more than 40 feet; the city’s dirty air and water quality after World War II; and the economic collapse of the region’s industrial economy.

“All of those factors were times when there was an opportunity to do something great,” Peduto said in a brief talk focused on resilience and mitigating climate change. “That’s where all of us as city leaders are as we look at what comes after the pandemic.”

Personal protective equipment

In a virtual press conference Wednesday, Wolf praised several Pennsylvania-based businesses for providing personal protective equipment [PPE] to help first responders and healthcare workers respond to the pandemic. Among those he mentioned was Thread International, a Pittsburgh company that makes backpacks but shifted to producing face shields.

“These production efforts are still ongoing and are continuing to help us build our stockpile in anticipation of a resurgence,” Wolf said.

Levine said the state has distributed to direct care workers: 

  •     Nearly 5 million N95 masks.
  •     Almost 300,000 hospital gowns.
  •     More than 1.6 million procedure masks.
  •     About 2 million sets of gloves.
  •     Nearly 180,000 face shields.
  •     More than 300,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. 

Allegheny COVID case investigations

Also on Wednesday, Allegheny County health officials said during a teleconference with the media that they had begun investigating 278 COVID-19 cases between May 6 and 20, finding:

  •     27 were employees and/or healthcare workers at long-term care facilities, which includes nursing homes.
  •     167 of the infected were linked to a cluster of cases.  

Four in 10 of the cases were residents in long-term care facilities.

The vast majority of the infections – 201 out of the 278 cases – were linked to other known cases.

And 45% of the cases were individuals who are not healthcare workers nor residents of long-term care facilities. 

Additionally, county officials reported that during the same time period, there were no new COVID-19 cases at the county jail or among first responders. During the pandemic, 19 first responders have been reported as contracting COVID-19, 17 of whom have since recovered, according to a press release. 

COVID among children and testing

Levine said Tuesday that the state has had 17 reports of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, with nine confirmed cases and six under investigation. Two reports of MIS-C were ruled out.

Emerging as a possible effect of COVID-19, MIS-C is a condition in which body parts – for example, the heart, lung and kidneys, among others – become inflamed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of MIS-C include persistent fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, neck pain, swollen lymph nodes and red eyes. Levine encouraged parents to contact their child’s pediatrician if they see symptoms similar to MIS-C.

While most children diagnosed with MIS-C recover, the disease can be extremely serious, even deadly, according to the CDC.

Levine did not identify in which counties MIS-C has been identified.

Sixteen health clinics in Allegheny County are offering COVID-19 testing to people with symptoms at no charge, according to a county press release. A doctor’s referral is not required to get tested. 

COVID-19 symptoms include shortness of breath, fever and chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and a loss of taste or smell. Other, less frequently reported symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 

 Here is the list of clinics:

  •     Alma Illery Medical Center – 7227 Hamilton Avenue, Pittsburgh 
  •     Braddock Family Health Center – 404 Braddock Ave., Braddock
  •     East End Family Health Center – 117 North Negley Avenue, Pittsburgh 
  •     East Liberty Family Health Care Center – 6023 Harvard St., Pittsburgh
  •     Hazelwood Family Health Center – 4918 Second Ave., Pittsburgh
  •     Hill House Health Center – 1835 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh
  •     McKeesport Family Health Center – 627 Lysle Blvd., McKeesport
  •     Metro Community Health Center – 1789 South Braddock Ave., Swissvale 
  •     North Side Christian Health Center – 816 Middle Street, Pittsburgh
  •     Northview Heights Clinic – 525 Mt. Pleasant Rd., Pittsburgh
  •     Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center (South Side) – 249 South 9th St., Pittsburgh
  •     Squirrel Hill Health Center – 4516 Browns Hill Rd., Pittsburgh
  •     Steel Valley Family Health Center –1800 West Street, Homestead
  •     Sto-Rox Family Health Center – 710 Thompson Ave., McKees Rocks
  •     West End Health Center – 415 Neptune Street, Pittsburgh 
  •     Wilkinsburg Health Center – 807 Wallace St., STE 203, Pittsburgh.

Click here to schedule an appointment.

Summer activities

Wolf earlier released guidance for camps operating this summer:

  • Summer programs must follow the CDC’s guidelines for youth summer camps; the guidelines cover sanitation, distancing and risk assessment. Camps must develop a written plan for following the CDC guidance and post it online prior to operating.
  • Day camps are permitted to operate in counties in the yellow and green phases of the governor’s reopening plan. Overnight camps may only operate in counties in the green phase.
  • Camps may hold indoor activities, including those in counties in the yellow phase.
  • Distancing recommendations for camp programming “looks different than” keeping six feet between each person. Camp groups should consist of the same children each day, and the same staff should remain with the same group each day. Programs are encouraged to stagger activities so these groups don’t mix, stagger drop-off and pickup times, and limit contact between staff and parents.
  • Staff members are required to wear face coverings. Coverings are recommended by the CDC for children, but Wolf’s summer camp guidance does not require them.
  • There are no restrictions on enrolling children who live outside the county in which the program is operating.
  • Organized team sports are only permitted in the green phase.

The City of Pittsburgh released information on May 15 on how a number of summer activities will be impacted by the pandemic.

City-run activities that will be allowed to proceed this summer with appropriate distancing measures include drive-in movies, farmers markets, tennis and pickleball courts, skate parks, fields (without organized sports), and Frisbee golf.

The city noted a number of activities can’t comply with distancing requirements and will not be held, including July 4 fireworks, city-sponsored concerts, races, city summer camps and Citiparks youth baseball. City swimming pools will also be closed.

“Pittsburgh residents have done a great job during these trying times staying safe and looking out for each other,” Peduto said in a statement. “The data shows the battle against this pandemic is far from over, however, and we must keep social distancing and other measures in place to win this fight, even when we’re enjoying the outdoors.”

The city has yet to make a decision on the viability of a number of activities and facilities, including recreation centers, senior Healthy Active Living Centers, block party permits, the Mellon Tennis Bubble, water fountains, park restrooms and organized group sports.

Allegheny County will offer distanced programming in its parks, including youth mountain biking and yoga. Outdoor facilities can be rented starting on May 16; renters must follow CDC guidelines while using the facilities.

State and local actions

    • On May 29, Wolf announced that Allegheny County and most other counties in southwestern Pennsylvania will be moved to the green phase of reopening effective June 5.
    • On May 13, Wolf's administration told state health organizations to begin collecting data on the sexual orientations of COVID-19 patients, in an effort to ensure that LGBTQ communities receive fair treatment.
    • On May 7, Wolf suspended evictions and mortgage foreclosures, statewide, through July 10.
    • On May 6, Wolf announced the creation of the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps, to augment the existing public health workforce by adding workers to assist with contact tracing and testing efforts.
    • The Pennsylvania stay-at-home order is active through May 8. The governor's office has provided a full list of activities that are acceptable and the state has a list of life-sustaining business categories that can stay open. The governor has announced plans to allow construction to commence May 1, with safety precautions.
    • On May 4, Pennsylvania's Department of Education submitted an application to the United States Department of Education seeking about $523.8 million in emergency funding to help schools during the pandemic. The state’s department of education expects the application to be approved within one week. 
    • On April 23, Allegheny County's Board of Elections voted to dramatically reduce the number of polling places to be used in the June 2 primary election.
    • On April 18, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry began accepting unemployment compensation applications from independent contractors, gig workers, self-employed individuals, and people without sufficient work history to normally qualify for benefits.
    • On April 17, Allegheny County announced that every registered voter eligible to vote in the June 2 primary will receive a mail-in ballot application along with a postage-paid return envelope in the mail. Pennsylvania law says that any voter can apply for a mail-in ballot, but there’s no statewide mandate to mail each voter an application.
    • On April 13, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry launched a COVID-19 job portal intended to help connect residents looking for work at life-sustaining businesses that are immediately hiring. In order for a business to list its open positions on the portal, it must be considered life-sustaining and have more than 10 openings. 
    • On April 10, Wolf announced the creation of the Hospital Emergency Loan Program. Citing a combination of increased costs and reduced revenue at hospitals throughout the state, Wolf said the $450 million low-interest loan package will enable medical facilities to purchase necessary equipment and personal protective equipment they need to respond to COVID-19.
    • Wolf also signed an order on April 10 that allows for the potential release of nonviolent inmates in state prison who would otherwise be released within nine months or who are within a year of release and have a high risk of complications from COVID-19. The state estimates that 1,500 to 1,800 inmates could be eligible, with releases set to begin April 14.
    • Wolf signed an order April 8 that allows the state to commandeer medical equipment from any private or public facility or manufacturer in Pennsylvania and reallocate it throughout the state as needed as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
    • All Pennsylvania schools have been instructed to remain closed for the remainder of the school year. The Pennsylvania Department of Education released free resources for teachers.
    • Wolf asked all Pennsylvanians on April 3 to wear face masks when leaving home. Later that day, President Donald Trump shared new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] recommending cloth masks in public for everyone. The state and the CDC say surgical masks and N95 respirator masks should still be reserved for healthcare workers or patients in healthcare settings. Homemade masks, paper masks, or even bandanas and scarves can be used by the general public in addition to social distancing. Cloth masks should be washed after each use. Wolf’s office has released resources instructing Pennsylvanians on how to make homemade masks.
    • Pennsylvania has received a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow local providers of Medicaid and Childrens Health Insurance Program [CHIP] flexibility to increase access to healthcare and public assistance funds.
    • Allegheny County has launched a “rumor control” page and is asking residents to email rumors to web.comm@alleghenycounty.us so that it can correct any misinformation that is circulating.
    • On March 19, the U.S. Small Business Administration made loans available for businesses and eligible nonprofits in Pennsylvania, following a request from Wolf for disaster relief. The federal loans offer up to $2 million per loan in assistance. The state will finalize a $60 million low-interest loan program for small businesses, Wolf said on March 20.
    • Wolf on March 25 announced the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program, a new small-business loan program funded by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority’s Small Business First Fund. Loans of up to $100,000 will be available to businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees.
    • The City of Pittsburgh moved to Level 2 emergency operations on March 18. Public safety departments will continue responding to emergency situations as usual. See the city’s press release for the full list of updates.

This article was reported by Nicole C. Brambila, Oliver Morrison, Rich Lord, Matt Petras, Juliette Rihl, Charlie Wolfson, Mark Kramer, Jon Moss and Emma Folts.

This post is being updated multiple times daily to reflect the latest information. Outdated information is being removed for ease of use.

PublicSource has a special page dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for the Pittsburgh region. See it here and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We hope you are following the news and, if your situation allows, social distancing guidelines.  Have a tip or an idea? Please email mila@publicsource.org.

Comments are closed.