Photo by TH Carlisle.

Governor Wolf announced new restrictions today on bars and restaurants as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Pennsylvania. Effective at midnight on Thursday, July 16, all restaurants will be operating at 25% capacity indoors and there will be no bar service without food service. To-go cocktails will be allowed.

Currently, Allegheny County is not permitting indoor dining.

Gov. Wolf also imposed restrictions on gatherings — no more than 25 indoors– and said nightclubs and music venues must close and businesses that are able to are required to have employees work from home.

“We’re already at a tipping point where we really have to act. We don’t want to become Florida. We don’t want to become Texas. We don’t want to become Arizona. We have got to act now,” he said at a press conference earlier today.

Following the governor’s press conference, Allegheny County held a briefing on COVID-19 where an announcement was made about prioritizing testing due to the continued increase in COVID-19 cases. It was too soon to get the county response to Governor Wolf’s new restrictions.

“As you know, for the last two-plus weeks, we’ve had a rise in cases consistently hitting around 10 to 11%, which is much higher than we used to have at 2 and 3%; much more testing is certainly going on,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “We’re hitting numbers that we never hit before, over 200 in a number of days.”

Dr. Debra Bogen said, “The trends for these cases remain the same as well; younger people are telling our case investigators that they’ve traveled, visited bars and restaurants and attended parties or family gatherings. But today I really want to spend most of my remarks talking about testing for COVID-19. As you know, the demand for testing is quite high in our region for a wide variety of reasons, including our increase in cases, our travel recommendations from both us and the state Department of Health, and from our long-term care facility mandate for testing.

“Since the beginning of July, we have performed more than 220,000 tests in the county,” she continued. “And we have had five days during which we’ve had more than 2,000 tests performed. But despite these increases, we are hearing from people about long waits for those who seek test specimen collection, and a lot of variability in wait time for the results of their tests.”

While the county continues to expand collection and testing, they are asking for help in prioritizing who gets tested.

“So I ask for the cooperation of the public in implementing the prioritization which I’m going to describe as the following scenarios for those who should seek testing in order of priority,” said Dr. Bogen.

  1. If you have symptoms of COVID-19. “This is really the most important group. It is critically important that we have enough tests for anyone experiencing symptoms to get tested. If  you have symptoms, even mild ones, please stay home except to go get tested, or seek medical care and stay home while you wait for those results.”
  2. If the health department calls you and indicates that you are in close contact of a known positive case, you will be instructed to get tested and to quarantine for 14 days. “Close contact again is defined as someone who was within six feet for at least 15 minutes, with or without a mask.”
  3. “Our third priority group is our healthcare workers and our first responders who have had a known exposure to COVID-19 or was at high-risk travel. These people work on the front lines of the pandemic to keep us safe.”

If you do not fit into any of those scenarios, do not get tested, said Bogen. “I know this is a departure from the guidance I gave a few weeks ago, but the spread of the virus has changed dramatically during that time. And we have to be flexible and responsive to what we can do.”

Dr. Bogen also said that the record high of 331 new cases yesterday was a result of delayed test results which stretch back as far as June 8.

She urged everyone to stay vigilant. “The steps we took in March and April were effective to flatten the curve. And those same efforts can be effective now, and that’s what we need to do.”

Wear masks, practice social distancing and wash your hands often, she urged.

“And please, if somebody calls you from the Health Department to do case investigation or contact tracing, please answer the phone and answer all of our questions so that we can work as a community to really stop the spread of the virus in our community.

“We really need the cooperation of the public. So, again, be well, and be kind to one another.”

Tracy Certo

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people...