Allegheny County is not following Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation that Pennsylvanians cancel and avoid any gatherings larger than 250 people, so as to discourage the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
During a Thursday afternoon press conference the governor also urged the public to not visit places like gyms, movie theaters or malls.
Reporters asked about this discrepancy, at a different Thursday press conference that included Allegheny County officials and representatives from UPMC and Allegheny Health Network, the two biggest medical systems in western Pennsylvania.
Dr. Kristen Mertz, an epidemiologist at the Allegheny County Health Department, said during an epidemic, these measures usually only occur if there is community transmission of a virus. This is when people are getting the virus, but can't trace where they were infected.
“I think a lot of places are acting early because they think they’re going to have community transmission, the way they do on the west coast and in certain places,” said Mertz.
Though the county has not recommended it, many colleges and universities are switching to exclusively online instruction. The city of Pittsburgh canceled its St. Patrick’s Day parade, and other events, like the Empty Bowls fundraiser hosted by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, have also been canceled or postponed.
“We’re in a bit of an unknown era, this is a new virus,” said Dr. Lee Harrison, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh and the head of the county board of health.
Harrison did recommend that people over age 60 and those with underlying health conditions avoid crowds. The COVID-19 fatality rate is higher for these populations.
The county and state health departments both say at this time, no Allegheny County residents have tested positive for the virus. However, the county health department wouldn’t disclose how many people have been tested.
As of Thursday, 219 Pennsylvanians have been tested for COVID-19, 116 were negative, 81 results are pending and 22 were positive. There’s concern a lack of testing is masking how much the virus has spread throughout the US.