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Allegheny County COVID community level raised to 'high', though case counts holding steady

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised Allegheny County’s COVID-19 community level from “medium” to “high” on Thursday, indicating an increased risk of virus transmission in the community. That’s despite figures reported by the Allegheny County Health Department this week that show official week-over-week case counts remain stable.

Westmoreland and Washington counties' community levels were also elevated to “high.”

Community level is meant to measure the threat COVID poses to a community. It’s based on the number of COVID cases in a county, the percentage of new hospital admissions, and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients.

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The Allegheny County Health Department reported nearly 2,700 new infections from July 28 to Aug. 3, roughly the same number reported the week before.

With case counts holding steady, rising hospital admissions appear to have driven the CDC’s decision to change the COVID-19 community level to “high.” However, backlogged hospitalization data from the past month accounted for more than half of the 116 admissions reported by the health department on Thursday. Last week, the county reported 46 new hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, coronavirus concentrations in Pittsburgh-area sewage declined between July 19 and 27, according to the weekly COVID-19 report from the Allegheny County Health Department. Wastewater samples show that the daily drop ranged from roughly 6.8% to 16.3%.

The report also found omicron remains the dominant variant.

What can be gleaned from official case counts is limited due to the prevalence of at-home testing, the results of which are not included in official tallies. The health department relies on residents who test positive to self-report those results to the county, making it possible the actual number of positive cases is higher.

What's clear, though, is that some people are still becoming severely ill due to COVID-19; four people died in the past week after contracting the virus.

The rate of people getting vaccinated has slowed to a trickle; 27% of Allegheny County residents who are five or older are still not fully vaccinated.

There is some hope the arrival of an additional vaccine, Novavax, might buoy these numbers. Last week 2,300 doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine were shipped to Allegheny County pharmacies.

While Novavax received emergency use authorization in the U.S. in July, it's been available in Europe since December. Reuters reports that 250,000 citizens of the European Union have received it, citing the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Unlike the U.S.'s first three COVID-19 vaccines, Novavax is a protein vaccine. This technology is used with several other immunizations, including those for influenza and shingles. There's hope the older design will encourage previously hesitant people to get vaccinated.

Many Americans remain distrustful of Pfizer and Moderna, as these vaccines were created with never-before used mRNA technology.

This story was updated Friday, Aug. 5, to reflect the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions elevation of COVID-19 community levels in Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

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. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at