Allegheny County not returning to masking; that could change if cases rise, Fitzgerald says

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(Illustration via iStock)

(Illustration via iStock)

PublicSource has been tracking COVID-19’s spread on a daily basis since March 2020. More than a year later, in an effort to direct our resources into enterprise reporting on the pandemic and other important issues, we will cover the Allegheny County Health Department’s weekly briefing on Wednesdays and update the numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We may adjust as the prevalence of the coronavirus ebbs and flows. If you have questions or comments, please email PublicSource’s managing editor halle@publicsource.org.

Allegheny County is closely watching COVID-19 transmission, though not currently planning a new mask mandate. That could change if cases rise, officials said during a Wednesday briefing.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen said she’d encourage all residents to follow the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. That guidance includes universal mask-wearing indoors in areas of high transmission and having all teachers, staff and students wear masks in schools.

The county is currently experiencing moderate transmission of COVID-19, below the CDC’s threshold for mask-wearing among vaccinated individuals. But case numbers in the county are trending upward, Bogen said. 

“Our cases are certainly rising here,” Bogen said. “In late June and early July, our cases were about 10 to 15 new cases a day. Now, just three weeks later, we’re experiencing 70, 75 cases a day.” Allegheny County reported 99 new cases on Monday, and another 50 on Tuesday.

Though the county won’t be reinstituting a mask mandate as of yet, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald didn’t rule one out if cases continue to climb. Bogen on Wednesday said that the CDC recommends mask wearing once cases hit 50 per 100,000 residents, and she noted cited a local rate of 17 cases per hundred thousand. On Thursday afternoon, the CDC listed Allegheny County's rate as 34.21 per 100,000 residents.   

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Fitzgerald said. “But we’re going to monitor those numbers closely.” He also applauded the Steelers and other Pittsburgh businesses encouraging or requiring employees to get vaccinated

Bogen said that contact tracing showed the county’s unvaccinated population remains the driving force behind the Delta variant’s spread. Over 55% of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated. 

She stressed the continued importance of vaccine outreach and education to curb future transmission. 

“This is really a pivotal moment in the pandemic, the latest in many pivotal moments,” Bogen said. “This time, we have the solution. This time, we know exactly what we need to do to protect our community. The question is, are we united and brave enough to do the right thing?”

— By PublicSource intern Chris Hippensteel

Resources

COVID vaccine resources in the Pittsburgh region

Housing and mental health supports amid COVID in Allegheny County

Allegheny County’s COVID-19 resource page with links to information on vaccines, testing sites and quarantine basics

Allegheny County's map of vaccination sites

(For more information or help with scheduling an appointment through Allegheny County’s Area Agency on Aging, residents can call 412-350-4234.) 

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout page

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