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Even without omicron, COVID-19 cases are still high in Allegheny County

Matt Slocum

It’s just a matter of time until the omicron coronavirus variant shows up in the Pittsburgh area, according to the head of Allegheny County’s Health Department.

At a Wednesday press conference, Director Dr. Debra Bogen noted that early evidence suggests omicron is highly contagious, but at this time, “Our cases remain nearly all delta.”

Bogen reported that at least 4% of coronavirus infections in the county undergo genomic sequencing by commercial laboratories to determine which variants are present. Last week, a Philadelphia man tested positive for omicron, making Pennsylvania one of the 21 states to report the variant, so far.

Even without omicron, Allegheny County continues to experience a high rate of transmission with an average of around 650 new cases a day; about 1% of these are reinfections.

Public health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated and get their COVID-19 boosters. There’s recently been a slight increase of Allegheny County residents receiving both their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and the booster since the omicron variant was discovered. However, the vaccination rates for kids and teens seems to be tapering off.

But it’s not just COVID-19, people also should get vaccinated for influenza. Bogen and other experts are concerned that adding flu patients to the already high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations will create a dangerous level of demand on area medical systems.

“We have had 500 cases of influenza in the county already, most in the past month,

which is a return to pre-pandemic levels,” said Bogen.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to both the flu and COVID-19. So to help protect this population, the county is partnering with area medical providers to distribute both vaccines to senior buildings which often house low-income residents.

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.