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By Public Source Reporters

The Allegheny County Health Department [ACHD] reported 189 new COVID-19 infections Thursday and no new COVID-related fatalities. The newly reported cases bring the total count since March 14 to 16,599 infections.

The case tally released Thursday came from 1,332 tests conducted from Oct. 27 through Nov. 4. The new infections were among patients ages 3 weeks to 98 years, with the median age being 41. More than half of the cases were in people younger than 40.

To date, the county has had 442 deaths and 1,442 people hospitalized because of the virus.

County-specific information and a statewide map are available on the COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

COVID across Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Thursday talked about coordination and preparation that the health department has been involved in for distribution and administration of a coronavirus vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration has been working to get this vaccine through special Emergency Use Authorization [EUA]. To get the vaccine through the EUA it needs to pass a number of trials, the secretary said, and there are six drug manufactures right now who are overseeing those clinical trials. They measure dosage, monitor potential side effects and report on responses to the vaccine.

As one or more vaccines are determined to be effective and safe, FDA will move towards issuing the EUA. 

The secretary said that there is no date when the vaccine is going to be available and she was not able to provide timetable for distribution as those things would need to be coordinated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. But she said the health department is “actively preparing to be able to receive, store, distribute and then administer the vaccines in Pennsylvania.” The CDC has a playbook for health departments to develop their own plans, which Pa. has done and already received feedback from the CDC on it.

The distribution of the vaccines, when they are available, is going to happen in three phases, the secretary said. In the first phase, the vaccine is going to be distributed to healthcare professionals, those working with the most vulnerable populations and essential workers.

Levine again emphasized the importance of prevention and containment measures, including wearing a mask, avoiding small and large gatherings and downloading Alert PA app and cooperate when contacted by contact tracers.

The health department will be preparing a communications plan to work through vaccine hesitancy among some Pennsylvania residents and will have a plan to track vaccine administration and effects and report it through the CDC’s tracking system called Tiberius.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health [DOH] reported 2,900 new infections and 47 fatalities Thursday, bringing the statewide tallies to 226,566 cases and 8,937 COVID-related deaths. 

Each region of the state has seen a significant increase in cases among younger Pennsylvanians, specifically 19- to 24-year-olds.  An alert was sent to healthcare providers about the changing COVID-19 case demographics, as there are more cases in younger age groups than in those 50 to 64 and 65 and older. In April,  roughly 5% of cases in Southwestern Pennsylvania were among 19- to 24-year-olds. The age group has represented nearly 12% of new COVID infections so far in October.

Still, personal care and nursing homes continue to bear the brunt of the deaths, with residents representing 66% of all COVID-related fatalities in the state.

Levine said last week that although it is a sacrifice, people should avoid small holiday gatherings outside of their immediate households because even they can spread the virus.

Top COVID news for the week of Nov. 1:

  • Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday that nearly $20 million is now available to assist Pennsylvanians currently experiencing homelessness. Through the COVID-19 Homeless Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG-CV) funds, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) invested in emergency shelter preparation for the winter months 2020-21. Under a new grant program called ESG-CV Code Blue, applicants may apply for funding for emergency shelter and temporary emergency shelter. These funds will be prioritized to assist homeless providers and communities to prepare for, prevent the spread of and respond to COVID-19. “As winter quickly approaches, Pennsylvania is bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases, all while continuing its usual work of providing shelter and services to those who are homeless,” Wolf said in a statement. “ This funding will help provide the tools that communities need to protect their residents, providing them safe shelter and preventing the spread of coronavirus further.” 
  • Allegheny County’s immunizations clinic has vaccinated nearly 1,500 people so far this flu season, which represents more than double the number that are typically vaccinated during an entire season, health department director Dr. Debra Bogen reported during her weekly briefing Wednesday. While the state of California last week confirmed its first case of simultaneous flu and COVID infections, Allegheny County, which is not yet conducting dual tests, hasn’t had such a case, Bogen said.
  • Since March 15, the state has paid roughly $30 billion in unemployment benefits to out-of-work Pennsylvanians, according to Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak, who announced the totals Monday. Pennsylvania has borrowed $566 million in zero-interest loans from the federal government to help pay benefits. October’s unemployment rate in Pennsylvania was 8.1% – roughly half of what it hit in April – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 500,000 Pennsylvanians were unemployed in September, according to the most recent unemployment data available.
  • Some voters in Allegheny County will receive letters this week providing updated polling place information for the election Tuesday. The changes will affect some voters in Bethel Park, Braddock Hills, Brentwood, Green Tree, McCandless, Plum, West Mifflin and West View. In a press release, the county encouraged voters to use online tools to verify their voting information before Election Day.
  • By a 2-1 vote, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board [PLCB] Wednesday approved forgiving roughly $27.7 million in next year’s license fees for retail licensees, including restaurants, clubs and hotels, among others, struggling with COVID closures. “We believe it’s the right thing to do in support of our restaurants, bars, and gathering places, so we’re glad next year to ease the financial burden to some extent for these local businesses,” Board Chairman Tim Holden said in a press release Wednesday. The waived license and permit fees vary from $30 to $700. Safekeeping extension fees, which depending on the county range from $5,000 or $10,000, will also be waived in 2021. For more information, click here.
  • The number of license compliance checks over recent days in the Pittsburgh area to ensure businesses abide by COVID-related safety requirements has dropped significantly just as the number of infections begins to rise. Pennsylvania State Police [PSP] Liquor Control Enforcement Officers visited 49 businesses and issued eight warnings from Oct. 23-25. On Sept. 23 and 24, officers visited 161 Pittsburgh establishments. Penalties range from an administrative citation to an establishment having its liquor license revoked. Statewide, officers visited 256 establishments, according to a press release Monday.
  • Roughly 1.8 million Pennsylvanians in September received SNAP benefits, a 7.4% increase in individuals collecting food stamps since February, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said Monday. More than 3 million Pennsylvanians were enrolled in Medicaid, the federal safety net that provides healthcare to the poor and disabled. “Just like we use publicly funded roads and infrastructure systems, our public assistance network is a public good that’s designed exactly for times like these,” Miller said. For more information on benefits, or to apply, click here.

This article was reported by Nicole C. Brambila, Oliver Morrison, Rich Lord, Matt Petras, Juliette Rihl, Charlie Wolfson, Mark Kramer, Jon Moss, Emma Folts, Veonna King, Amanda Su, Kellen Stepler, James Anthony Bell III, Sophie Burkholder and Amanda Hernandez.

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