Of the 352 COVID-19 cases reported between April 20 and May 5, more than one-third can be attributed to residents of long-term care facilities, according data on infections among its high-risk populations released by Allegheny County Wednesday.
Health care workers comprise another 14 percent, the majority of whom work at those facilities.
Thirty percent of Allegheny County residents who were infected during this period are not linked to another known case, indicating that after a month and a half of living under a stay-at-home order, community spread continues.
“This is one of the most severe challenges,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who encouraged people to wear masks in public and continue to practice social distancing.
Overall the county’s case count has remained well under the benchmark set by Gov. Tom Wolf for the stay-at-home order to be lifted. During a two-week period, an area must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents.
The state department of health cited population density as the reason southwest Pennsylvania will not be moving from the “red” phrase of social distancing mandates, to the less restrictive “yellow” phase this Friday. At the end of the week, 24 counties in northwest and north central Pennsylvania will graduate to yellow.
“It our understanding that Gov. Wolf will also be making an announcement on May 8. And we’re certainly hopeful that the southwest region will go from red to yellow,” said Fitzgerald.
Under the yellow stage, the stay-at-home order lifts, and retail is allowed to resume. But schools, theaters and gyms will remain closed, restaurants and bars will still be restricted to take-out service, and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited.
When Allegheny County does move to yellow, residents will have more contact with each other, so COVID cases are expected to increase.
County health department director Dr. Debra Bogen said that currently, a person who has contracted COVID averages just one close contact.
“The number of close contacts could grow to 10 per case, or more,” said Bogen.
A close contact is defined as someone who lives with a COVID patient, regularly spends time in a patient’s home, or has been within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes in the days before the infected individual began experiencing COVID symptoms.
“The names of close contacts are passed to our contact tracers. Contact tracers call the contacts and inform them of the exposure, but don’t share the name of the case,” said Bogen. “They provide advice to self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms for 14 days…and assess individuals’ needs during quarantine.”
County and state officials warn that the order will be reinstated if the number of cases increase significantly.