Dr. Debra L. Bogen, Director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

“July has been a very, very challenging month,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Wednesday afternoon, during the Allegheny County Health Department’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.

In the last 24 hours, 125 new cases were reported to the Health Department out of 1,310 test results, with a median age of 52. The department also received reports of 10 new hospitalizations and five additional deaths. Newly reported deaths range from ages 70 to 90, with dates of death spanning July 14-July 24.

Allegheny County has hit triple digits in new cases for seven straight days. A rise in hospitalizations is worrisome, but not unexpected.

“Today we reported 10 new hospitalizations; yesterday, 20,” said Allegheny County Health Department Director Debra Bogen at the briefing. “Over the last week we’ve recorded 77 new hospitalizations in our daily reports, but these numbers really reflect admission dates from the last couple of weeks. We did expect the number of people hospitalized to increase when we saw the numbers of new cases going up, and we know again that hospitalizations lag by a couple of weeks our case counts.

“But our hospitals are prepared for it. We know that there are areas of the country like Texas, Florida and California who are warning of hospital and ICU bed shortages, but we are not in that situation here. We flattened the curve at the beginning of the pandemic to give our hospitals time to prepare for an increase like we’ve seen in the past few weeks, and they are well prepared. I do get to talk often with our chief medical officers of the region’s hospitals, and they have assured me that they have the capacity to handle this increase in hospitalizations and have robust plans to expand bed space if needed.”

Attending social gatherings without proper precautions seems to be driving a lot of the transmission locally.

“We are continuing to see an increase in people reporting attending private parties,” said Bogen. “And we’re also hearing more cases about those attending weddings, funerals, religious services, gyms or fitness centers.”

“I urge you to practice COVID safety precautions like wearing masks, washing hands and keeping at least six feet away from others, no matter what the event, or wherever you’re around other people at weddings, funerals or church services. Avoid congregating inside and outside the building, and try not to hug or shake hands with others, but if you do, use your hand sanitizer before and after. And gyms should prioritize outdoor activities, whenever possible. If you’re exercising indoors, please remember you must wear your mask, even in group fitness classes around the bike you have to wear your mask the entire time you’re in the gym.”

Contact tracing is still turning up cases related to bars and restaurants, even with more stringent regulations in place.

“We have seen a decline in the number of new cases reporting going to bars and restaurants, although it is still the most commonly mentioned event that people report during case investigation,” said Bogen. “The data we collect through case investigation tells us where people who’ve tested positive have gone, but it doesn’t tell us where people were infected with the virus.”

The Allegheny County Health Department’s COVID Field Response Team is visiting food establishments, from restaurants to coffee shops to ice cream parlors, to make sure that they comply with state and county health orders. They check for everything from closing at 11 pm to tables being six feet apart.

The team visited about 350 establishments in the past week.

“The good news is that 87% received an all satisfactory report and are highlighted in green on the list of completed checklists, available through the COVID field response team site,” says Bogen. “Thirteen percent had at least one item to address, and most of these places had only one item to address. The most common was staff not wearing face coverings, and the second was followed by too many people allowed indoors.”

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.