Allegheny County reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still contracting the coronavirus.
“Despite no new cases … people in our community are sick with COVID-19 and are being hospitalized, and some are dying,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, head of the county health department, at the county’s weekly COVID-19 press conference.
Wednesday's numbers included one new hospitalization and three additional fatalities.
Bogen added that the county’s daily count of new cases is not a real-time reflection of the outbreak. It often takes at least two to three days for a lab to report new cases.
Despite a recent decline in new cases, Bogen warned that the virus still has "ample opportunity to spread."
"We've estimated that now more than just 3 percent of the county has been exposed to coronavirus," she said. “That means that 97 percent of the population is still at risk."
Wednesday was the first day the county reported zero new cases since the coronavirus was first reported in Allegheny County in March. However, Tuesday saw a somewhat large count of 27 new cases. Bogen said more than 80 percent of Tuesday's cases were from various long-term care facilities and accounted for several days of testing.
Bogen also said the county is taking up new testing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is now advised that anyone recently exposed to COVID-19 be tested.
The recommendation is a stark contrast from this spring when many people, including those who were symptomatic, were being turned away from testing because they did not meet rigid guidelines.
The county defines exposure as individuals who live with a COVID-19 patient, people who have been within six feet of someone with COVID-19 at least 15 minutes, and those who have been in large crowds, like protests, marches or rallies.
“You should be tested about a week after that potential exposure," Bogen said. "Testing too soon can create false negative results."
Asymptomatic patients can get tested at some Rite Aid or MedExpress locations, as well as the county’s federally qualified health centers.
Bogen said it might be a bit too soon to know if there has been an uptick caused by recent protests against police brutality.
“But I think the good news is the protests are being held outdoors, which we know reduces the spread of the virus. People that I’ve seen have mostly been wearing masks, which is fantastic,” she said. “And we have a relatively low rate in our community, which I think is helping us as well.”
Bogen said people need to continue to take precautions, especially by wearing masks, and try to stay six feet apart.