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Allegheny County May Be Headed For A Spring COVID Surge

Heinz Field COVID-19 vaccination clinic, March 2021.

Allegheny County might be headed towards another coronavirus case surge, officials say.

Despite the rush to get people vaccinated, the county has seen a slight increase in cases. But there appears to be no particular pattern driving these numbers beyond the fact people are participating in more gatherings and activities.

“[People] attended weddings, funerals, parties, celebrations, sporting events, restaurants, and they’ve traveled,” said health department director Dr. Debra Bogen at a Wednesday press conference.

While hospitalizations and deaths are not yet increasing, Bogen said this trend is concerning due to the variants of COVID-19 that spread more efficiently.

“One case can spread to a greater number of their close contacts leading to a great number of cases connected to a single individual than we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

More than a dozen cases of B.1.1.7, or the UK variant, have been confirmed in the county. But Bogen said there are likely more of these cases, noting that there have been B.1.1.7-associated outbreaks.

Because many people remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, Bogen is asking the public to remain cautious for another couple months. Roughly 15 percent of adults in the county are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and another 17 percent are partially vaccinated.

“By the end of this week, at least 50 percent of county residents who are 65 or older will have received at least one vaccine dose. These data tell us it’s time to expand our eligibility requirements,” said Bogen,

Starting on Friday, the health department will vaccinate 50-to-64-year-olds who have a health risk that meets Pennsylvania’s 1A criteria for vaccine eligibility. These include obesity, cancer, pregnancy, Down syndrome and sickle cell disease. 

Some providers are already vaccinating anyone in the 1A group. But the health department has only given appointments for those 65 or older, as age is a leading risk factor for COVID fatality.

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.
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