COVID cases rise over holiday weekend; officials urge vaccination

by PublicSource

The Allegheny County Health Department reported 6,340 COVID-19 from Dec. 19-25. About half of those cases were from unvaccinated individuals, and 7% were from reinfections, the county said in a Tuesday press release.

“Even with a high level of vaccination, the CDC’s COVID data tracker continues to show high community transmission in Allegheny County,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We have said this for weeks as well, but we urge residents, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear a mask in public, indoor settings to limit spread. “

The health department also cautioned that it believes the number of infections reported to be artificially low because they don’t include at home tests.

Last week, the department confirmed the first local cases of the highly contagious omicron variant. The first case is from a specimen collected Dec. 7 from an adult male, confirmed to be omicron on Wednesday. The second case was from a specimen collected Dec. 13 and confirmed Thursday.

At a Wednesday press briefing, Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen said evidence of the variant had already been found in wastewater samples but did not officially confirm any omicron cases.

COVID-related hospitalizations remain high, even though they have slightly decreased since their peak in late November and early December, Bogen said. The county has reported 97 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the month, according to last week’s briefing. 

A majority of hospitalizations and deaths are among individuals not vaccinated against the virus, particularly among those ages 30 to 59. 

“These deaths are as tragic as they are unnecessary and premature, and it breaks my heart to see people die because of misinformation, to see them refuse life-saving therapy. The vaccines work and are doing their jobs,” Bogen added.

Bogen expects cases to remain high as the omicron variant – the most common strain of the virus nationwide – spreads in western Pennsylvania.

As the omicron variant spreads, Bogen said the best way to protect against the virus is to get vaccinated, including booster doses for those who are eligible. As of Dec. 22, nearly 783,000 Allegheny County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. More than 288,000 residents have received vaccine booster doses, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Bogen also encouraged Allegheny County residents to wear masks, especially when attending indoor gatherings throughout the holiday season. 

“This is about individual and collective responsibility,” Bogen said. “The simple fact is that masks reduce transmission of the virus, and you don’t need a mask mandate to do the right thing.”

— By PublicSource intern Amelia Winger

 

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