COVID-19 is something we are learning to live with as a society, but frequent changes to the protocols have left many people confused and feeling vulnerable.

With a new coronavirus variant called BA.4  detected in Western Pennsylvania, health officials say it is important to take precautions and continue to take care of yourself and those around you.

As summer approaches, Allegheny County stood at the medium COVID-19 community transmission level, following around two weeks on high. PublicSource checked with a leading local doctor and the county Health Department, consulted available resources and assembled answers to some of the most common questions.

Is the pandemic getting better, or worse, in our area?

Allegheny County reported an average 442 cases per day during the two weeks leading up to and including June 7, the most recent day for which state data is available. This average is higher than the case counts reported in the spring, with Allegheny County recording between 45 and 122 cases every day in March. However, the current daily case count still reflects a significant decrease from the record-breaking rates reported throughout the winter amid the rise of the virus’ Delta variant, which peaked with 4,686 cases reported on Jan. 5 alone.

Do those numbers include home test results?

The vast majority of home tests remain unreported, according to the Health Department. The department also monitors the prevalence of indicators of the virus in wastewater, and that began to decline in June, after a period of increase.

When should I take an at-home COVID-19 test?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people immediately take an at-home COVID-19 test if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or are about to attend an indoor event or gathering. People who were exposed to someone with COVID-19 should take an at-home COVID-19 test at least five days after their exposure, and even if they test negative, they should consider taking another test after another day or two.

Home tests are helpful as a tool to test symptoms you might deem minor, according to Dr. Amy Crawford-Faucher, vice chair of the Primary Care Institute and Department of Family Medicine at Allegheny Health Network. She said some common symptoms that might prompt citizens to self-test include a dry cough or nasal and sinus congestion, which can lead to headaches, ear pain and throat pain. She added that “with [the] Omicron [variant], the early signs of infection hang around in your throat.”

Where can I find at-home COVID-19 tests in Allegheny County? 

All households in the United States are eligible to order up to 16 free at-home COVID-19 tests. You can buy additional at-home COVID-19 tests at pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid or make appointments at local testing sites.

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

The CDC recommends people isolate at home for at least five days after testing positive for COVID-19, which is significantly shorter than the previous recommendation to isolate for 14 days. After your fifth day, it is still highly recommended to check your symptoms, avoid crowds and wear a mask until 10 days after exposure. 

Anyone who is not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations and becomes exposed to someone with the virus should quarantine for at least five days, along with getting tested. Those who are quarantining should avoid traveling and watch for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after their exposure, according to the CDC.

In tests conducted by AHN, according to Crawford-Faucher, “70% of the employees they tested on day five or six were still testing positive, and by day eight only 20% to 30% of people still continued showing positive.” 

How should I report the results of my home test?

“Allegheny County residents can voluntarily self-report their positive COVID-19 home tests via the secure Allegheny County Health Department home test reporting tool,” county Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen said in an email response to questions. Although people are not obligated to report their at-home test results, it helps medical workers track changes in the pandemic.

When should I get a COVID-19 vaccine? What about a booster dose?

“Everyone who is eligible for a vaccine, currently those 5 years and older, should get one,” said Bogen. Getting the COVID-19 vaccines — whether Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson — will not only protect you, but protect others as well. 

Pennsylvania’s State Department of Health indicates that 839,052 people in Allegheny County are fully vaccinated, meaning they received both vaccine doses, but not necessarily a booster dose. Receiving a booster shot is highly recommended by health officials.

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 5 receive their first booster dose. People 50 years and older, and anyone older than 12 who is immunocompromised, are advised to get a second booster dose.

An advisory committee for the US Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines for children ages 6 months to 4 years on Wednesday afternoon. The FDA will next issue a determination, and the CDC will decide whether to issue guidance recommending the vaccine for children younger than 5.  

Crawford-Faucher adds that it is especially vital that people 70 years and older get boosters.

Are the young safe?

No. Even though younger people are at lower risk than the elderly for severe disease, we have still seen bad outcomes among some young persons who are not vaccinated,” said Bogen. 

To date, Allegheny County has reported four deaths among children ages 0 to 4, according to county health statistics

Are people still being hospitalized and dying from the virus?

Yes. During the first week of June, the county reported 199 hospitalizations and 18 deaths from COVID-19, up from 159 hospitalizations and 16 deaths the prior week.

Are there places where masks are still required?

While masks are optional in most places during periods of medium transmission, they are still recommended in some settings, including Port Authority transit vehicles. Pittsburgh Public Schools, which ends its regular school year this week, continues to require masking.

How should I stay updated?

COVID-19 remains highly transmissible and harmful, especially to those with prior health and autoimmune disease issues. Below is the PublicSource COVID-19 Case Tracker which includes data, updated weekly, on the prevalence of the virus.

Ashanti McLaurin is a PublicSource editorial intern. She can be reached at ashanti@publicsource.org. Amelia Winger is a reporting covering health at PublicSource. She can be reached at amelia@publicsource.org.

Resources

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

Housing and mental health supports amid COVID in Allegheny County

(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 vaccination page

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Ashanti McLaurin

Ashanti McLaurin is an editorial intern for PublicSource. Originally from New York, she resides in North Carolina and is graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2023. She is pursuing a bachelor’s...

photo of amelia winder

Amelia Winger is a health and mental health reporter for PublicSource, focusing on telling solutions-oriented stories that combine human experiences with broader context about data and policies. Previously,...