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Allegheny County Passes Somber Milestone, Reports More Than 1K Coronavirus Cases

John Minchillo
A Transportation Security Administration agent serves a traveler at a checkpoint in a sparsely populated Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York.

Allegheny County passed a depressing milestone on Thursday, reporting more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

A month ago that number seemed distant. 

“It pains me to report these numbers. I had hoped we’d never see this level of community spread…I implore to you cancel parties, weddings, gatherings, events and stay home whenever possible,” said county Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen in a press release. “My heart goes out to all the families who have lost loved ones throughout this pandemic. We can, and we must do better.

Of the 1,028 new cases just 11 are from tests that are more than a week old. There's a lag between when a test sample is submitted and the result is reported to the state. The county's COVID-19 dashboard provides a timeline that dates cases by when tests are conducted.

The ages of the newly infected patients age from one month to 98 years old.

Thursday also was a record-breaking day for cases statewide as the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 11,406 new infections. 

It’s likely both the county and state will soon set new records. Throughout November the daily coronavirus case reports smashed the previous record highs that were often just days old. As the percent of positive tests also contiues to grow it's clear these high numbers are not due to increased testing, but because of increased viral spread.

Also, on Thursday Allegheny County reported 20 new deaths—including one person in their 40s, and another in their 50s. The large number of fatalities was expected as hospitalizations have rapidly risen for weeks.  During the spring and summer surges hospitalizations and deaths lagged several weeks behind increases in the infection rate.

State data show that more than 660 people in the county are hospitalized, nearly 100 of whom are on ventilators. Statewide, 588 of the 5,071 Pennsylvanians who are hospitalized are on ventilators. 

These numbers will grow in part because holiday traditions and cold weather continue to lead people to gather inside—despite public health warnings. Contact tracers are having a hard time keeping up with the rising case numbers, which in turn increases the likelihood of people unknowingly passing the virus to others.

The magnitude of Thanksgiving gatherings and travel likely won’t take shape for at least another week. After Canada’s Thanksgiving, which occurs in October, that country saw a significant rise in cases.The same is expected in the U.S.

While the state and county’s health departments are urging residents to cancel social events like weddings and holiday celebrations, government mandates do allow them.

In addition to the loss of life, local health systems are in danger of being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Providers might soon have to ration medical care due to staffing shortages.

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 where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.