County Officials Confirm 'Community Spread' Of Coronavirus, Seek Equipment Donations

Mar 21, 2020

The Allegheny County Health Department said on Saturday that there is “community spread” of the coronavirus in the southwestern Pennsylvania region.

The department reported a total of 31 case Saturday morning, up from 28 the day before. In an afternoon media briefing, Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the health department, said she expects that number to increase in coming days. That’s due in part to community spread, in which a virus spreads easily within an area, and it may not be clear how any given carrier contracted it.

“The most important thing we can all do to stop the spread of the virus in our community is to stay home and practice social distancing,” Bogen said. She warned, however, that the effectiveness of social-distancing measures – like staying home and maintaining physical distance from others – would only become obvious in a week or two.

Bogen said for the time being, it “may not feel like this is being effective, because we’re seeing an increase in our [positive case] numbers, but there's a lag of 5 to 10 days” between the time a person contracts the disease and the time when it is diagnosed. “So we’re always looking ahead.”
 

Projections suggest that the U.S. health care system does not have the capacity to treat everyone who will need care. As a result, many hospitals in the region have stopped elective surgeries, per a request from Gov. Tom Wolf. But UPMC announced Friday it would continue such procedures. The healthcare giant has said it can safely balance future requirements with patient needs today.

Asked if the health department would challenge UPMC’s decision, Bogen said, “We ask that UPMC – like all the other health care providers in our communities – begin to address this request from the governor and from us to please wind down elective procedures as soon as possible.”

Officials also confirmed the county’s first death as a result of the virus: a person in their late 60s who died after being hospitalized. The Allegheny Health Network confirmed Saturday afternoon that the patient had been at Jefferson Hospital, but officials said they would not provide other details.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said efforts over the last week to stay home and social distance were “very, very helpful.” And he said an effort was underway to obtain donations of badly needed equipment like virus-resistant masks. While the county isn’t ready to accept donations just yet, he urged companies and individuals to reach out to a new email address, covid19donations@alleghenycounty.us, to share information on what they might be able to offer.
 

“We’re all pulling together in this,” Fitzgerald said. “The level of support and cooperation from all sectors of this community has been overwhelming. We live in a special place. Pittsburghers have stepped up.”