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At roughly 3,000 new infections a day, Allegheny County COVID-19 cases seem to have plateaued

Laura Tsutsui
90.5 WESA

Daily COVID-19 case numbers appeared to have stabilized locally during the past 10 days, according to the director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

The current surge has rocketed case numbers to levels not seen in the county since the start of the pandemic. But for the time being, numbers are holding at about 3,000 new infections a day.

At a press briefing Wednesday, Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen said she hopes this plateauing signals an eventual decline, as seen in other parts of the world that have experienced surges of the highly contagious omicron variant.

Analysis from early January shows that more than 90% of the virus found in the county’s wastewater was omicron, said Bogen.

Despite record-high cases, COVID-related hospitalizations in the county are lower now than they were at this time last year. According to medical and public health experts, this development reflects both the fact that omicron is less severe compared to other variants of the virus, and that COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing serious illness.

In fact, the director said, unlike last year, she’s not concerned that hospitals will be overrun with patients, thanks to new treatment options and contingency plans.

“That’s not to say that our hospital staff are not tired. They’ve been working around the clock tirelessly for two years now, and this has been a big surge,” she said.

Setting aside these harbingers of hope, Bogen noted that severe COVID-19 illness among young children is growing in Allegheny County.

The data show that in mid-December the hospitalization rate for kids ages 4 four and under was 1.6 per 100,000. The week after Christmas, that rate exploded to 23 per 100,000

“This is the only age group for which we don’t yet have vaccines,” said Bogen. “We as a community have to do our part to reduce the spread of infection.”

Wearing masks in public and getting vaccinated are two ways to prevent transmission.

In addition to protecting kids, the vaccine keeps adults safe from severe illness. Last month was the third-deadliest for COVID-19 fatalities in the county, with 210 residents dying from the virus.

“The population of unvaccinated [people] are way over-represented in the serious outcome category; that is, hospitalization, ventilator use in the hospital and death,” said Bogen. “Nearly everyone who’s dying from COVID in our community is unvaccinated.”

The health department reports that slightly more than 70% of county residents age 5 or older are fully vaccinated. Another 9% are partially vaccinated.

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.