Allegheny County COVID restrictions lifted; Pennsylvania has a six-month supply of PPE

Pennsylvanians who lose their insurance can turn to "Pennie" starting Nov. 1.


Gov. Tom Wolf speaking at a press conference on Sept. 24, 2020. (Screenshot)

Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen lifted her order Thursday limiting outdoor gatherings to 100 people and imposing stricter restaurant restrictions than the state.

“Our case counts continue to remain relatively low and we are doing much better than other areas of the country,” said Bogen in a press release.

State orders regarding face coverings, mandatory telework and business occupancy restrictions, among others, remain in place, the county said. On Wednesday, county officials said that limits on the size of gatherings would be enforced, despite a federal judge's ruling that some of the state's pandemic mitigation efforts are unconstitutional.

“I encourage people not to get caught up in the political battles that tend to go on,” county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at a Wednesday press conference. “We're going to continue to remain vigilant here and make sure that everybody continues to cooperate.”

Click here for more information on state mitigation efforts.

The Allegheny County Health Department reported 68 new COVID-19 infections and four new COVID-related fatalities on Friday. The new cases take the total to 11,995 infections and 380 deaths.

Friday’s case tally came from 1,035 tests conducted from Sept. 16 to Sept. 24. The new infections were among patients 3 years old to 88 years old, with the median age being 36. Of the new cases, 64% were in people younger than 50.

PA numbers

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 806 new infections and two fatalities Friday, bringing the statewide tallies to 154,203 cases and 8,081 COVID-related deaths.

Each region of the state has seen a significant increase in cases among younger Pennsylvanians, specifically 19- to 24-year-olds. Southwestern Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh has seen one of the greatest spikes in this age group. In April, roughly 5% of cases in the region were among 19- to 24-year-olds. So far in September, the age group represents about 28% of new COVID infections. 

Personal care and nursing homes continue to bear the brunt of deaths, with their residents representing 67% of all COVID-related fatalities in the state.

Roughly 10,551, or 6.8% of all infections, are among healthcare workers, a percentage that has remained fairly steady throughout the summer.

Data on statewide hospitalizations can be found here. County-specific information and a statewide map are available on the COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

Top COVID news for the week of Sept. 21:

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement calling on President Donald Trump to “abide by COVID-19 mitigation guidance when visiting the commonwealth and forgo holding unsafe rallies in Pennsylvania.” The Sept. 25 statement comes three days after Trump held a rally in Moon Township. In the news release, Wolf said his administration is still waiting for a response from the Trump campaign from a Sept. 10 letter, asking them to abide by the commonwealth’s COVID-19 mitigation measures for a campaign rally held three weeks ago. “It is dangerous and disappointing that the president continues to ignore science and his own health advisors while putting the lives of those who support him at risk,” Wolf said in the news release.

    Mail-in and absentee ballots have begun to be mailed out, county election officials announced Thursday.  About 70,000 ballots were delivered to the post office Wednesday and Thursday. Over-the-counter voting at the Allegheny County Elections Division office at 542 Forbes Ave. downtown is now open during regular business hours. For more information, click here.

  • During a press conference Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf revealed that Pennsylvania has roughly six months of personal protective equipment [PPE] on hand for the anticipated fall case surge. In comparison, about 20 states – Wolf said, disclosing a recent conversation with Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force – have a month of PPE stockpiled.
  • “With COVID-19, our health has never been more on our minds, and our healthcare coverage has never been more important to our peace of mind,” state Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said in a press conference Wednesday. And yet the ailing economy may disrupt some people’s employment-based health insurance, she noted. Pennsylvanians who lose their coverage have options, which will soon change. Right now, people can apply for coverage via the Affordable Care Act marketplace, Altman said. The state’s new health insurance portal, dubbed Pennie, will start taking applications for health insurance on Nov. 1, for coverage that will take effect Jan. 1. People who lose coverage in the interim may be “eligible for a special enrollment period,” she said. More information on all insurance options is available here.
  • The 16,487 COVID-related fatalities in the nation’s nursing homes in July and August equates to 11 resident deaths every hour, according to a new report released Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The report also identified insufficient supply of personal protective equipment, workforce shortages and inadequate testing. “This report describes the horrifying reality in nursing homes—where 16,800 residents and workers died from COVID-19 in July and August alone—and lays out solutions to save lives going forward,” the senators said in a statement. (Read a PublicSource story about a death at Brighton nursing home.)
  • COVID Alert PA, a coronavirus exposure notification app, launched Tuesday as a tool to track the spread of the virus. Developed by Apple and Google, the phone app uses Bluetooth technology to alert users who come into close contact with an individual later infected by COVID (that individual needs to self-report they tested positive for COVID). Proximity and not location is what’s measured between phones. The app is currently being used in Ireland, parts of the United Kingdom and the state of Delaware, which has seen more than 24,000 users since Sept. 15. “This app is a simple tool you can use to help fight COVID-19 every day, everywhere you go,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a press release. By Thursday afternoon, 70,000 Pennsylvanians had downloaded the app, according to the governor’s office.
  • Calling transit a public good and not a business, Pittsburghers for Public Transit on Tuesday released a report that called for the Port Authority of Allegheny County to enact a low-income fare program that would permit riders receiving federal benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] to show their EBT Access card in lieu of payment. “While we understand that transit funding is in crisis, we believe that the remedy is not to extract fare revenue off the backs of those who can least afford to pay,” the report said.
  • The Immunization Clinic in downtown Pittsburgh, located on the fourth floor of the Hartley-Rose Building at 425 First Ave., will offer walk-in flu vaccines starting on Monday, Sept. 21. The clinic will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and will have extended hours from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Thursdays. Vaccines will be available to insured, underinsured and uninsured residents of Allegheny County. Appointments are not required for a flu vaccine at this location, but those interested should bring a form of identification and any insurance information with them to the clinic.

Over-the-counter voting

The Allegheny County Board of Elections on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal to open additional over-the-counter voting offices on weekends leading up to the Nov. 3 election, in an effort to address concerns driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each office will provide voters the opportunity to vote or return ballots to a fully staffed, secure office.

The planned locations and hours are:

  • Saturday, Oct. 10, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 11, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m: County Office Building, Downtown; the North Park and South Park ice rinks; the #2 Department of Public Works garage in Carnegie; and the Community College of Allegheny County [CCAC] Homewood location.
  • Oct. 17 and 18, same times: County Office Building, South Park rink, CCAC South, Boyce Park Ski Lodge, Shop ‘n Save in the Hill District.
  • Oct. 24 and 25, same times: County Office Building, Boyce Park Ski Lodge, CCAC South, CCAC Allegheny, North Park rink.

The Elections Division manager also reported that the county has enough residents who have either previously served or volunteered to serve as a poll worker to fully staff the county’s 1,323 polls. About 3,500 of those workers have been assigned to locations, and training began last week. Those who serve on Nov. 3 will receive a pay increase of $200 in light of the pandemic.

This article was reported by Nicole C. Brambila, Oliver Morrison, Rich Lord, Matt Petras, Juliette Rihl, Charlie Wolfson, Mark Kramer, Jon Moss, Emma Folts, Veonna King, Amanda Su, Kellen Stepler, James Anthony Bell III, Sophie Burkholder and Amanda Hernandez.

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