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Allegheny County Issues A Stay-At-Home Advisory In Effort To Slow Coronavirus Surge

Gene J. Puskar
A man walks past a restaurant in Mount Lebanon, Pa., with a sign in the window that reminds people to wear a mask, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

Citing the rapidly climbing number of coronavirus cases, the Allegheny County Health Department issued a stay-at-home advisory on Wednesday afternoon. 

The advisory states that people should only leave home to attend work or school or for essential needs like medical care or food shopping. Unlike an order, which can include enforcement measures, the advisory is an urgent recommendation.

“County residents are expected to follow the advisory, and if we do, cases will start to drop. If we don’t, cases will continue to increase. If the spread of COVID-19 in Allegheny County continues, I will have no choice but to enact official public health orders,” said county health department director Dr. Debra Bogen at the news conference announcing the action.

Earlier in the day, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the department reported more than 600 new cases of the virus. Also for the first time, Pennsylvania exceeded 6,000 new cases in a single day. These totals are just the latest daily case counts that have shattered previous records—themselves only days old.

If the county doesn’t slow the virus’s spread, Bogen warned that hospitals could become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. 

“I want to never have to tell you that we are short on medical staff to staff our hospitals,” she said. “If we don’t act now, and we don’t take this seriously, we could be there in a couple of weeks or months.”

State data show that as of Wednesday evening, there are 335 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Allegheny County; more than a third patients are in intensive care. There are just 79 available beds in adult ICUs across the county, which is home to two major health systems.

During the press conference Bogen discussed her frustration with what she described as “willful disregard” on the part of some county residents who are not following public health measures. In particular, she cited a group of parents from the Plum Borough School District who organized a dance for their children that was held in neighboring Westmoreland County.

“The event ignored the state COVID restrictions on capacity, and so far, there have already been confirmed cases from this event; and many more exposed who have already been asked to self-quarantine,” said Bogen. “This level of disregard for public health of our community frankly makes me quite angry, and it’s disheartening and truly disappointing.”

Bogen said the dance’s organizers have refused to share the attendance list with the county or school district. Because there is no coronavirus vaccine and no cure for COVID-19, with the exception of a lockdown, tracing and containment is the only way to stop the virus’s spread.

The unauthorized dance highlights the county health department’s ongoing struggle to contain the virus. While businesses by and large comply with public health directives, private settings are nearly impossible to regulate. Case investigation data confirms that these settings are where people are most likely to become infected.

“We really need individuals to cooperate,” said county executive Rich Fitzgerald. “Enforce the mask order in your own home. If people come to visit you, you’re in charge.”

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.