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Despite Declining Cases And Vaccine Distribution, Allegheny County Has ‘More Difficult Months Ahead’

Medical staff at the Allegheny County jail will be among the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

The Allegheny County Health Department reports that some 4,000 county residents have received their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

More than 41,000 doses have been distributed statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The vaccine is a two-dose regimen, so those who have received it won’t reach full immunity until early next year.

While most of the vaccine distribution is being done through area hospitals, the county health department says it received its first allotment Wednesday morning, which it will distribute to county medical employees. This includes staff at the county jail and the Safe Haven Hotel—a county-run facility that provides emergency housing to those who have been exposed to the coronavirus, or are ill with COVID-19.

Staff and residents of the four county-owned nursing homes, all of which contended with outbreaks this year, are slated to receive vaccinations in January. The county reports that a total of 44 residents at Kane Living Centers have died from COVID-19.

Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the county health department, has called the arrival of the vaccine “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic. But at a Wednesday afternoon news conference she warned, “We certainly have at least a few more difficult months ahead of us [with] many more cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”

At a Wednesday morning press conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said it appears that coronavirus cases have started to plateau. This was anticipated as the governor put in place several mitigation orders earlier this month—including a ban on in-door dining at bars and restaurants.

The results of these orders might also be showing up locally, though Bogen said, “I wouldn’t hang my hat on it at this point. I think we need another week or two of data.”

The county’s top public health official also said holiday gatherings could reverse this positive trend.

“Christmas…is when people want to get together with their families,” said Bogen. “I’m very worried we will see a bump in our numbers again.”

Due to the time it takes to produce vaccine, public health officials say that the general public won’t have access to the vaccine until the spring or summer.

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.