PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Allegheny County Health Department is forcing bars, restaurants and the Rivers Casino to close, and canceling all activities and events involving more than 25 people for a period of one week.
This order comes as the Allegheny County Health Department announced 233 new Coronavirus cases on Thursday.
Over the last two weeks, the health department has been reporting higher new case numbers for the virus than the county has ever seen since the pandemic hit. Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen is also urging Allegheny County residents to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary. The recommendation comes in addition to the on-site alcohol ban announced on Sunday.
Takeout and delivery will still be available. The closure will begin July 3 at 12:01 a.m. and does not apply to religious gatherings.
“It is devastating,” said Carmella Salem, owner of Carmella’s Plates & Pints. “It’s completely devastating to our industry.”
Salem says Carmella’s offered only take-out for 10 weeks during the initial shutdown. The thought of doing it again in painful.
“I just can’t do it,” she said. “I’m emotionally drained. Let’s hope it doesn’t last longer than a week.”
Salem said some of the frustration stems from a lack of enforcement on establishments that ignored state guidance for reopening, while she invested in safety measures for her restaurant.
In addition to bars and restaurants, the River Casino, which is in Allegheny County, is also under the order. Other Southwestern Pennsylvania casinos remain open.
The county also announced the cancellation of all rentals of facilities, shelters or fields from July 3 through July 9 due to the recent rise in cases. The county says refunds will be issued.
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Because of the order, the city of Pittsburgh has revoked permits for nine block parties this weekend, all of them neighborhood gatherings.
Dr. Bogen is also recommending “a voluntary stay-at-home protocol” for residents. It’s not part of the order, but the county health department says limiting travel helps reduce the spread of coronavirus.
The county hopes these measures will bring the virus back under control, though they warned they expect numbers to “significantly increase” tomorrow.
The expectation is that the numbers will also significantly increase again tomorrow. Wearing masks, washing your hands and maintaining physical distance from others is absolutely essential to keep our community safe – now more than ever.
— Allegheny County Health Department (@HealthAllegheny) July 2, 2020
“This is one time to think not just about your own assessment of risk, but what you might do to people unintentionally,” says Dr. Donald Yealy, the chair of UPMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
The health department says three-fourths of new cases were among people 19- to 49-years-old, with 27 being the median age. The 19 to 49 age range now makes up half of all cases reported since the start of the outbreak in Allegheny County.
The health department says the number of cases between 19- to 24-year-olds has doubled since June 20 and now accounts for one-third of new cases.
“Younger people with the illness, many of whom either don’t have symptoms or very mild symptoms,” says Dr. Yealy.
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Since June 20, there have been 31 new hospitalizations, 13 of which happened in the last three days. Seven people were in their 20s and 30s.
“While the total number of infections has gone up, probably because of risky behavior, like travel-related, and here locally, in bars or wherever, we haven’t seen the same increase in hospitalizations,” says Dr. Yealy.
Dr. Bogen has said hospitalizations lag about one week behind cases.
“I know that people were angry and frustrated with recent developments including the surge in cases, the prior order and recommendations, as well as the state mask order,” said Dr. Bogen. “I also realize that this newest order won’t make any of that better, but as Health Department Director, I am charged with protecting, promoting, and preserving the health and well-being of all county residents, particularly the most vulnerable. This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly, but I believe it’s necessary based on the new cases in the county and the community spread that is occurring.”