As Americans celebrate Independence Day, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen reminded revelers to stay away from crowds, wear masks and refrain from consuming large amounts of alcohol.
Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, Bogen issued an order on Sunday prohibiting on-premises alcohol consumption at any business establishment in the county. Enforcement went into effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. So far, no citations have been issued for non-compliance.
The Pennsylvania Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE) is conducting compliance checks at licensed facilities to ensure that the requirements of the guidance are observed. Failure to comply risks citation by the BLCE, a fine of up to $1,000 and possible suspension and/or revocation of a liquor license.
“The World Health Organization noted in its fact sheet on alcohol and COVID-19 that ‘drinking alters your thoughts, judgment, decision-making and behavior, and that bars casinos, nightclubs, restaurants and other places where people gather to consume alcohol increased the risk of transmission of the virus,'” Bogen said during Wednesdays COVID-19 briefing.
In addition to the order, Bogen also strongly encouraged people returning from traveling to quarantine for 14 days or seek testing upon their return to try to limit the spread from other areas around the country. The most commonly reported locations included Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, S.C., Raleigh, N.C., Miami, Orlando and Clearwater, Fla., Youngstown, Ohio, Houston and Nashville.
For months, the Pittsburgh region had a low number of COVID-19 cases. Then, on June 5, Allegheny County went to the green phase, allowing businesses to open their doors to customers.
As a result, Allegheny County ended June with some of the worst COVID-19 numbers in the state. There were 712 new cases reported since June 20. Patients range in age from four months to 97 years, with a median age of 27. The number of cases among 19- to 24-year-olds more than doubled since June 20, accounting for one-third of the recent cases. Bogen doesn’t expect the numbers to decline for at least a couple of weeks.
“The trend among our new cases remains consistent,” Bogen said. “They are younger people who traveled out of state or who visited local bars and restaurants around the county.”
The Allegheny County Health Department continues to do contact tracing to learn more.
“So in the past few weeks, four individuals indicated during case investigations that they had attended a protest and two of these had also visited bars and restaurants.” Other cases reported visiting over 40 different bars, restaurants and nightclubs, she added. About 15 places were identified more than once, and many reported that neither patrons nor employees were wearing masks or practicing physical distancing.
Bogen acknowledged that many customers and business owners are frustrated by her public health order, but says it is necessary to combat the virus.
“It allows us to keep our businesses open and to continue to support the economy,” she said.