“Fourth wave” of COVID-19 underway in Allegheny County, but new vaccination sites open

Phase 1c of vaccination push to start April 12

Administering flu vaccine. (flickr/creative commons)

Administering vaccine. (flickr/creative commons)

As Allegheny County experiences a ‘fourth wave’ of COVID-19 cases, the race to vaccinate throughout Pennsylvania is gaining ground. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that as of Friday, April 9, nearly 36% of the state’s eligible population had received a first vaccine dose.

On Monday, April 12, phase 1c of the vaccine distribution plan begins, which includes food service and transportation workers as well as employees in government, media and legal services. The state’s vaccination plan can be viewed here. All Pennsylvanians, 16 years of age and older, will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination on April 19.

As vaccines become more broadly available, Allegheny County is among the many areas nationwide seeing cases spike to levels last seen in January. Hospitalizations in the county have been slowly rising and deaths have started to increase for the first time in months. 

The Allegheny County Health Department reported 593 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths Friday.

The new cases come from individuals 7 months old to 96 years old, with a median age of 29.

The new deaths dated from March 30 to April 7. One individual was in their 30s, one individual was in their 50s, two individuals were in their 60s, two individuals were in their 70s, three individuals were in their 80s, and one individual was in their 90s. 

To date, the Allegheny County Health Department has reported 89,545 cases, 1,807 deaths from the virus and 6,162 past and present hospitalizations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 5,048 new COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths Friday, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 1,064,092 cases and 25,362 deaths.

Nursing and personal care home residents and employees represent about 8.1% of the state’s cases and about 51% of the state’s deaths. Healthcare workers represent about 2.6% of the state’s cases.

Through April 9, there have been 6,055,844 vaccine doses administered in Pennsylvania; 4,017,045 people have received one dose of the vaccine, and 2,208,680 people have received both doses of the vaccine.  

'Fourth wave' in Allegheny County

Transmission of COVID-19 continues to surge in Allegheny County, with rising daily case counts and tests coming back positive 8.8% of the time in the last week. That’s about a percentage point higher than the previous week.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I report that we are well into our fourth wave of cases here,” said Allegheny County Health Department [ACHD] Director Dr. Debra Bogen in a press briefing Wednesday. “Case counts continue to increase, we’re back where we were in early January, and over the last several days, daily case counts have set records for 2021.”

From mid-December to mid-March, deaths slowly declined in the county but started to increase the week of Mar. 21. 

“I don't expect cases to decline for at least a couple of weeks, and we know the cause,” Bogen said. “Large gatherings, combined with no physical distancing or masks, mixed with the variant viruses in our community.” 

ACHD and Allegheny County Emergency Services partnered with Allegheny Health Network and UPMC in creating a series of mass vaccination sites, alternating weekly between the two large healthcare providers. AHN scheduled its first clinics at Next Tier Connect in Monroeville on April 9 and 10, and UPMC will start its clinics at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer Township on April 14 and 15. ACHD estimates about 12,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, which require only one injection, will be administered weekly through this effort. 

ACHD recently launched a vaccination clinic at Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport, which seeks to vaccinate between 100 and 200 people per day. Gov. Tom Wolf visited the site Wednesday along with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Rep. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport.

“Equity means not only identifying which populations are at greatest risk from COVID-19, but proactively working to get vaccine into those communities, and breaking down barriers that make it harder for vulnerable Pennsylvanians to access the vaccine,” Wolf said at the clinic, according to a Wednesday press release. “Local providers – like those right here in Allegheny County – know their communities best and can put in place targeted efforts to ensure vaccine equity. That’s exactly what will happen at this site.”

Bogen described the next few months as the “final push” against the virus and yet again urged residents to practice mitigation efforts like social distancing and mask wearing.

$2.2 million awarded to five community revitalization projects

The Community Revitalization Fund Program has awarded $2.2 million to five Pennsylvania developments for the construction and rehabilitation of mixed-use developments, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday. 

Two of the five projects are located in Allegheny County. The TomTom24 Development project was awarded $500,000 and the Braddock Community Development project was awarded $400,000. The developments will use the money to build 25 units of new or rehabilitated housing for people whose incomes are at or below 80% of the area's median income. The developments will also create 27,250 square feet of new or rehabilitated commercial and retail space. 

The funding was raised through the sale of tax credits under the Mixed-Use Development Tax Credit Program and is being used to fund neighborhood revitalization projects across the state. This round of funding prioritized applications from smaller cities and communities.  

Return to school

Following guidance from the federal government, the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education announced on April 5 an update to their instructional model recommendations for Pre-K to 12 schools. The recommendations are based on the county’s level of community transmission.

  • Counties that fall within the low level of community transmission category, with a percent positivity rate less than 5%, have been recommended to return to a full in-person instructional model.
  • Counties that fall within the moderate level of community transmission, with a percent positivity rate over 5% and less than 10%,  have been recommended to return to a full in-person instructional model or blended learning instructional model.
  • Counties that fall within the substantial level of community transmission, have a percent positivity rate over 10%, have been recommended to follow a blended learning instructional model or full remote learning instructional model. 

This article was reported by Matt Petras, Punya Bhasin and Danielle Cruz.

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