By Jamie Wiggan
Six months after a July 4 address where President Joe Biden declared the nation was moving toward “independence from the coronavirus pandemic,” new case tallies have soared well beyond the previous peak in January 2021.
In Allegheny County, nearly 2% of the entire population tested positive during the first week of 2022.
“Omicron is definitely here,” said Debra Bogen, Allegheny County health director, during a Jan. 5 briefing. “This highly transmissible variant has caused a dramatic rise in the number of cases here in Allegheny County.”
In Gazette 2.0’s distribution area, total cases, hospitalizations and deaths have nearly doubled during the past six months.
According to health department data, about 18% of residents have been infected with the virus at some point during the past two years, with 590 of those winding up hospitalized and 173 dead.
Most local governing bodies have not, however, resorted back to lockdown-style measures.
Likewise, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter recently indicated during a press conference that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration would not be instigating further mitigation policies.
As exceptions, the Sto-Rox district has held a number of remote-only days to curb rising cases, and McKees Rocks has held two meetings with remote-only public participation – although officials in each case say these measures are short-term.
Elsewhere, school districts like Cornell and Montour have loosened restrictions by making student mask-wearing optional during recent board meetings.
Public health experts including Bogen say Omicron cases appear to be on the whole less severe than those from previous variants, but caution against dropping all defenses in response.
During her latest briefing, Bogen advised residents to get all available vaccines, wear masks in public and practice social distancing where possible.