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As Delta Variant Cases Surge, Allegheny County Officials Recommend Masks Indoors But Hold Off On Mandate

Gene J. Puskar
County officials are strongly encouraging residents to mask up when indoors, but holding off on a mandate.

According to the Allegheny County Health Department, 20% of new COVID-19 cases have been among fully vaccinated people over the last month. That figure is based on limited data from the lab contracted by the county and does not account for tests administered by other providers in the region.

Daily new case counts continue to come in by the hundreds. But, despite the surge, officials are holding off on imposing a mask mandate or other mitigation efforts used earlier in the pandemic.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at a County Health Department press conference Wednesday that a mask mandate was not even being considered. But he said residents should follow advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“At this point, we’re recommending to follow the CDC guidelines,” Fitzgerald said. Those guidelines recommend universal masking in areas with high or substantial spread. Allegheny County is considered an area with substantial spread.

Officials also declined to outline what criteria would trigger a new mask mandate or other mitigation measures.

“It’s just hard to say. There are so many different factors that can affect that,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the health department would make data-informed decisions.

Hospitalizations are also up in Allegheny County, according to Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen. She said most of those admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. According to state data, 72 people are currently hospitalized with the virus in Allegheny County.

Allegheny County is experiencing a surge similar to other areas across the United States, primarily driven by the delta variant. The more aggressive and contagious strain has fueled outbreaks across the world.

“This late summer surge is due to the delta variant of the virus,” Bogen said Wednesday. It’s unclear exactly how many cases are due to the delta variant, because not every positive test is sent for sequencing, according to Bogen.

But the C.D.C. estimates about two-thirds of cases in Allegheny County are the result of the variant. Bogen said most cases have been traced back to familiar sources: maskless gatherings, parties, weddings and travel.

The percent positivity rate has climbed from 2.7% last week to 3.7% this week, according to Bogen. She noted that actual reports may only account for a fraction of the total cases in the county, as many people do not get tested when they’re sick or do not experience symptoms that would prompt them to get tested.

The County Health Department is increasing its COVID-19 press conferences once again to a weekly affair; another indication of the increasing severity of the situation. The county had transitioned to a bi-weekly update in early June.

The county will continue to publish new COVID-19 data on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. A two-day total of 268 new cases were reported for Wednesday. Three new COVID-19 deaths were reported; one from May and two from July.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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