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Bogen Says The Entire Region, State Needs To Be Included In Coronavirus Mitigation Efforts

Matt Slocum
Allegheny County officials say personal choices are driving the spread of the virus.

Rumors have been circulating for nearly a week that new coronavirus mitigation restrictions in Pennsylavnia would be announced by Governor Tom Wolf. Instead, on Wednesday, Governor Wolf announced that he and members of his security team tested positive for the coronavirus.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at a Wednesday news conference that the state could announce new restrictions as early as Thursday. But Fitzgerald threw cold water on the idea of another shutdown, like what was seen during the first wave of the pandemic. 

“What we have learned since the beginning of the pandemic is more strategic strategies to isolate where the risky behavior or the risky potential exists,” Fitzgerald said. “Limiting certain gathering numbers, and activities, and those sorts of things.”

Some have wondered why Allegheny County hasn’t taken more decisive action and broadened restrictions, similar to actions taken in Philadelphia last month. The head of Allegheny County's health department said that acting alone wouldn’t be very effective because surrounding areas also have surging rates of coronavirus infections.

“An Allegheny County-only mitigation strategy won’t stop people cross county borders to work, to go to restaurants, attend weddings, funerals, visit friends, family or attend sporting events,” said Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen. "We need the entire region to be included in mitigation efforts."

Bogen said that it is the state's job to spearhead mitigation efforts, and that a return to normal also requires individuals to take more responsibility for their behavior. 

“The spread of the virus is not being driven by government action or inaction, but by personal choices made by each and every one of you,” she said.

Some public health experts and epidemiologists take issue with this perspective. They argue that by allowing large wedding venues, bars, restaurants and gyms to remain open, the government sends the message that those gathering places are safe, when they’re not. These experts also criticize poor messaging and mismanagement of the pandemic on the federal level, which hinders efforts of state and local officials.

Infections and hospitalizations, meanwhile, continue to increase. On Wednesday, the county reported its largest number of COVID-19 fatalties—34 people—in a single day. That included one person in their 40s and another in their 50s. The dates of these deaths range from November 20th through December 8th. 

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.