Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen issued a countywide stay-at-home advisory on Wednesday with the warning that a full-blown public health order could come next if case counts continue to rise.
“For the past few weeks, I’ve asked people to follow the rules, curtail gatherings and parties, stay home except for essentials and wear masks,” Bogen said. “I’m done asking, and today I’m telling you that these are things we all must do to bring down the level of spread and keep our community safe.”
There were 620 newly reported covid-19 cases in the county on Wednesday, the highest the new case count has been since the pandemic began.
Bogen said she expects residents to heed the advisory. If they do, she said, new case counts will begin to decrease. The practice worked over the summer, she said, and it will work again. She advised that people not have visitors in their homes.
“If we don’t, cases will continue to increase,” Bogen said. “If the spread of covid-19 in Allegheny County continues, I will have no choice but to enact official public health orders.”
She said willfully disregarding public health guidelines is unacceptable. As an example, she pointed to parents in the Plum School District who organized a high school dance not sanctioned by the school. Already, she said, cases have been linked to the dance, which was held in Westmoreland County and flouted capacity restrictions.
She said that as of Wednesday morning, dance organizers had not shared the attendance list with the school or the health department, making contact tracing “extremely difficult.”
“This level of disregard for the public health of our community, frankly, makes me quite angry and it is disheartening and truly disappointing,” Bogen said.
Such events and willful circumvention of guidelines, she said, will lead to more cases and, in turn, a public health order that is enforceable rather than an advisory.
“I don’t want to enforce this,“ she said. “I want people to use their really good personal judgment and make good personal decisions so we never get to the place in our county where we are short on health care workers or don’t have enough beds.”
Bogen said she endorses new orders laid out Tuesday by the state Department of Health and Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. The new orders include wearing a mask when with anyone outside of your household, even indoors and even when six feet apart.
Levine acknowledged that enforcement relies on residents engaging in personal responsibility, as does a parallel order she issued asking those who travel to Pennsylvania to have received a negative covid-19 test within 72 hours of traveling to the state.
Barring that, she said, they should plan to quarantine for 14 days after they arrive.
In light of those orders and the already increasing demand for testing, Bogen said, the county health department is working to expand the availability of testing. She said she hopes demand for testing born out of travel plans will not come to fruition.
“What I’m hoping is people won’t travel because I just put out that advisory and you’re all canceling your travel plans as I did and many members of our staff have done,” she said. “That way we won’t have a huge demand for testing if people don’t travel.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also asked residents to stay home during the Thanksgiving holidays. He said the county did not come through the Halloween holiday very well, with cases linked to parties and the like.
“We have one of the most active social times of the year, the four days of Thanksgiving weekend,” he said. “We really need people this year to stay home.”
He pointed to sacrifices made by previous generations, mentioning the 1940s and the sacrifices made by those who fought overseas in World War II and the sacrifices made by those at home who had to ration food and materials.
“We’re asking people now to wear their mask and stay distant – that’s the ask,” he said. “That’s a community service. That’s a patriotic act that you’re doing when you wear your mask.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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