By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — The Allegheny County Department of Health announced a new advisory for county residents on Wednesday, pleading with them to stay at home, and to stop gathering in public in order to help slow the rapidly rising coronavirus cases that have hit the Pittsburgh area.
This advisory also includes prohibiting travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving celebrations should be confined to the people currently living together, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at a press conference. The advice mirrors guidance issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health earlier this week.
“We have some of the most active gathering times for the year coming up,” Fitzgerald said. “We really need people this year to stay home and work with just your household individuals.”
NEW: Allegheny County has issued a stay-at-home and stop-public-gathering advisory in response to rapidly rising COVID cases. This is not to the level of an order, but Dr. Bogen is quite adamant that people stay home and not travel for Thanksgiving.
— Ryan Deto (@RyanDeto) November 18, 2020
Allegheny County saw a record number of daily COVID-19 cases at 620 on Wednesday. Allegheny County health director Dr. Debra Bogen said the county has seen more than tripling of COVID cases in just a month.
“If this increase is sustained, it will threaten our health system,” Bogen said. “If this continues, we could see a shortage of health care workers.”
Bogen said the county’s advisory is specifically focused on individuals because that is what contact tracing and data is indicating is causing the spread. She also called out parents in Plum borough for holding a dance for students that was not sanctioned by the school district. Over 150 students attended, and there have already been documented cases of COVID-19 linked to that event, which was held in Westmoreland County.
“This is not because of a spread within schools, but because of the spread within our communities,” Bogen said. “We know we can operate businesses safely, but now people are losing staff due to COVID quarantines.”
While the county has traced many COVID-19 spreading events to private gatherings and parties, there is still the possibility that those cases are spreading elsewhere as well. Counties in Pennsylvania are currently working with incomplete data because large majorities of people are not speaking to contact tracers about their activities.
The advisory is not an order, but Bogen warned that if cases continue to rise, the county will institute stricter public health orders to mitigate the spread for the virus.
Fitzgerald added that if data does eventually show that COVID-19 spread is happening at businesses, in addition to private gatherings, then the county will impose restrictions.
“If the contact tracing and data takes us there, we will not hesitate to impose new restrictions,” Fitzgerald said.
Bogen also reminded Allegheny County residents to follow the state’s new mask order, which requires people to wear masks at all times when you are out of the home.
While these current cases are the largest the county has seen, Fitzgerald and Bogen expressed a bit of optimism by mentioning the positive developments about vaccines. Several companies have reported effective vaccine trials, and hint at a possible roll out soon.
“We are maybe within a few months to be on the other side of this,” Fitzgerald said. “We really need to continue the level of cooperation and community support to get through this.”
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.