By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
After weeks of watching the number of COVID-19 cases decrease across Allegheny County, the county saw a huge increase in cases last week that has continued as the July 4 holiday looms.
Last week, the number of cases reached 393. On Monday and Tuesday alone this week (June 29-30), the number of new cases reached 192, including 109 on Tuesday, a record number of new cases.
According to a release last week from the Allegheny COunty Health Department:
New cases ranged in age from 4 months to 97 years old with a median age of 31 years old.
Two-thirds of the new cases were among those aged 19 to 49 years old.
People contacted by the Allegheny County Health Department’s case investigation staff reported traveling all over the country. Myrtle Beach, Houston, Nashville, and places in Florida such as Miami, Tampa and Naples came up multiple times during case investigations.
New cases also told the Health Department they had recently been to bars and restaurants all around the county. Some of the new cases include staff at local bars and restaurants.
Of the 15 different bars and restaurants new cases reported recently visiting or working at, five facilities were reported multiple times.
Following the surge in cases, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald ordered a ban on all alcohol sales at bars and restaurants. Additionally, anyone dining in an establishment must wear a mask at all times unless eating or drinking. Enforcement of the order began Tuesday.
“For the first time since COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the state, Allegheny County led the state in the number of new COVID-19 cases,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re going the wrong direction. While most resident and businesses have been following the rules, these requirements and mitigation measures address the hot spots that have been identified during case investigations. These are severe steps, but we have to take steps now to limit the community spread that endangers those who are older, high-risk or otherwise immunocompromised.”
Allegheny County’s top health official, Dr. Debra Bogen, said that many of the new cases stemmed from travel, particularly those who participated in nightlife during travel and visiting local bars.
Bogen recommended that anyone who has traveled out of the state self-quarantine for 14 days or have two negative COVID-19 tests 48 hours apart.
“Recommending quarantine and testing after travel will help reduce spread from those individuals and I am confident our county has the testing capacity to handle it,” Bogen said.
In a statement on June 28, Gov. Tom Wolf said he supported the efforts by Allegheny County officials to contain the virus’ spread:
“I commend Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen for the decision to shut down bars and restaurants for on-premises alcohol sales in Allegheny County effective June 30. This was the right move to work to stop the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in its tracks and to remind all residents and businesses that the best defense we have in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping Pennsylvanians safe is to continue to follow the mask-wearing requirement, practice social distancing, and follow safety guidelines even and especially during the green phase of reopening. We cannot become complacent in practicing the measures we know can protect everyone from the spread of this very contagious virus.
“It is my hope that swift action on the part of the county results in swift containment and the return to an increased commitment to protect all residents, especially those most vulnerable to COVID-19, and that this action sets an example for the rest of the state to continue to follow mitigation efforts put in place to protect lives and livelihoods.
“Mitigation efforts statewide include the requirement to wear a mask when in businesses, following occupancy limits in all businesses and gatherings, practicing social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing surfaces – these simple practices can make a huge difference in protecting ourselves, our seniors, our neighbors and our communities. Even if you believe you will not get sick, you can, and you can spread the virus to someone who may not be able to recover as easily.”
Cassie Miller of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star contributed to this report.