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To Protect Kids, Health Department Director Urges People To Get Vaccinated

Kimberly Paynter

The delta variant continues to drive up coronavirus case numbers in Allegheny County.

The county health department says that during the past week, the number of infections reported every day has doubled to roughly 150 new cases each day.

The proportion of COVID-19 PCR tests coming back positive has increased, too. Earlier this summer, the test positivity rate hovered around 1 percent; now it's nearly 5 percent. Officials have not reinstated any countywide rules to mitigate the spread.

“There's no one metric that we can say if we hit this on Thursday, that on Friday there's going to be some sort of mandate in place. I think the bigger concern is to watch where these trends continue to go,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Wednesday at the county’s weekly COVID briefing.

Hospitalizations are going up, though the increase is somewhat tempered by Allegheny County’s relatively high vaccination rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 64 percent of adult residents are fully vaccinated.

Though the delta variant is more likely than previous coronavirus strains to infect a vaccinated person, immunization drastically reduces the risk of severe illness and death. Therefore, most concern rests with people with compromised immune systems or those who are unvaccinated, such as kids under 12.

“Even if you're in the age group that is unlikely to be seriously affected, get vaccinated for the elderly and the immunocompromised who are at higher risk from the variant. Get vaccinated for all the children who still cannot be vaccinated and protected,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the county health department.

In July, there were a reported 25 cases of COVID-19 in kids under age 4, but already this month there have been 67 cases in this age group, Bogen said. For kids ages 5-12, those numbers for July and August are 85 and 121 respectively.

It’s not clear if an infection of the delta variant is more likely to make young people sick. But more children will become ill because delta is extremely infectious, and a portion of these kids will be hospitalized.

“We don’t have a way to predict who’s going to get serious illness or mild illness. And so, if it’s your child that gets seriously ill, that’s really scary,” said Bogen, who was a pediatrician at UPMC’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh before joining the health department.

In addition to getting vaccinated, people should wear masks, especially while at schools, Bogen stressed. There is no statewide policy, but the CDC recommends that all students, staff and teachers wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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