"I am hopeful that we will see the end of this pandemic sometime this year. But for now, we must stay the course."By Lindsay Ward

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Positivity rates and case numbers are down, but there are now three cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant in Allegheny County, Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen announced Wednesday.

Bogen said it was another week of “reassuring case numbers,” though she says there have been some small increases in daily case counts the past few days and there are two new cases of the U.K. variant.

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With spring around the corner, she’s urging people to continue to be safe while gathering together — that includes social distancing and wearing a mask.

“I am hopeful that we will see the end of this pandemic sometime this year. But for now, we must stay the course,” said Bogen. “Keep your distance from others, limit your trips out of the house, avoid large groups and crowds. We know this works and for now, we need to keep at it.”

Dr. Lee Harrison, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, said the current safety efforts are enough to ward it off for now.

“What we know about the UK strain is that it’s definitely more transmissible,” said Harrison. “It spreads more rapidly than other strains. We also know the current vaccines are quite effective against it.”

Harrison said the symptoms of the UK variant and the original strain aren’t much different. But washing hands, social distancing and double masking are still effective prevention, along with getting the vaccine when it’s your turn in line.

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“In terms of mitigation efforts, you just want to double-down now,” said Harrison.

The first case of coronavirus variant B.1.1.7. was reported in Allegheny County two weeks ago, and Bogen then said she suspected the variant had been present for a while.

COVID infections and deaths continue to drop in Allegheny County. And even though vaccine shipments hit a snag last week, the county is optimistic that many more doses are on the way. It’s giving County Executive Rich Fitzerald a boost of optimism.

“We’re hopefully getting near the end, within a few months, of getting back to the normalcy that we all crave and we all want to have as we’re approaching a year of the pandemic,” said Fitzgerald.

As COVID-19 continues to evolve, Dr. Harrison said the same should be expected from Pfizer and Moderna when it comes to the ingredients of a vaccine. Eventually, a new vaccine could be made.

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“The good news is that the current vaccines are 95 percent effective against COVID. And if we can update vaccines against new variants,” Harrison said, “I would anticipate very high effectiveness against new variants as well.”