Allegheny County officials Sunday ordered all bars and restaurants in Allegheny County to halt on-premises alcohol consumption in response to the recent surge in covid-19 cases.
Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen issued the order through her authority under the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law. It goes into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Restaurants and bars will still be able to offer to-go alcohol sales.
“We’ve all got to continue to be vigilant or this thing could get out of control very quickly,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.
The new order comes among a recent surge in new covid-19 cases in Allegheny County, the majority being among younger people. On Sunday, the county reported 96 new cases, its largest single-day coronavirus case jump since the virus was first reported in the county March 14.
The county reported 90 new cases Saturday, 61 on Friday, 37 on Thursday and 45 on both Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday was an outlier with only 19 new cases.
Bogen said there has been community-spread of the virus among people who have congregated at bars in Pittsburgh’s South Side and Oakland neighborhoods and have traveled to out-of-state hotspots like Florida, Texas and the beaches along the Carolina coast.
People who have traveled out of state should quarantine for 14 days, or have two negative tests at least 48 hours apart for the quarantine to be lifted, Bogen said.
The situation also stems from the fact people lowered their guard after the state eased lockdown restrictions.
“We did recommend lots of things, but I’m not sure that that guidance was always followed. We had been reinforcing physical distancing, and yet you drive by bars and there are people crowded together,” Bogen said. “I think had we followed the green guidance carefully, we might not be in this situation.”
People are less likely to follow the recommended guidelines when they’re drinking at a bar, Bogen said.
“When people drink alcohol they tend to lose inhibition, talk louder, get closer to one another, and can’t adhere to the physical distancing and mask recommendations,” Bogen said.
“There’s a clear pattern among our cases in the past week: They visited local bars and restaurants. And many reported that masks were not worn by staff and patrons alike.”
More than 75% of the new cases are in people between the ages of 19 and 49. In many of the cases, people have mild to no symptoms. That means they could unknowingly be spreading the virus to others — in particular to those who fall within the high-risk group, such as seniors or those with other health conditions.
Though the number of hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus have not significantly increased, Bogen said she worries that may be on the horizon. As of Sunday, there had been 382 coronavirus-related hospitalizations and 186 deaths. But hospitalizations lag behind new cases by a week or more, Bogen said.
“I worry that we will see a surge in hospitalizations in a few weeks when the parents and grandparents of current cases become infected,” Bogen said. “We must slow the spread of the virus.”
Fitzgerald said at this point there are no plans to regress the county back to the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-tiered re-opening plan.
Fitzgerald said other businesses permitted to open in the green phase, such as nail and hair salons and gyms, are not responsible for the recent jump in cases. That has been isolated to certain areas, and those are where the county is focusing its mitigation efforts.
In addition to bars, restaurants and travel, people reported being at family gatherings and group events, but no one event or location accounts for more than a handful of cases.
“Our numbers are heading in the wrong direction,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to make sure that we can contain this and we can flatten this curve and send it back down the other way. We want to be very strategic in what are doing in isolating hotspots and trying to stop it there.”
Masks will also be required by all employees and patrons of businesses. Restaurants must adhere to social distancing guidelines, limit patrons to 50% capacity, and prioritize outdoor seating, officials said. Masks must be worn when seated at restaurants and may only be removed when eating or drinking.
Any reported violations will be investigated. Those found to be in violation will be closed while they are being investigated.
Complaints about establishments that are violating the order can be sent to the department using an online form, by emailing [email protected] or calling 412-350-4636. Complaints can be made after 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department said.
Wolf released a statement Sunday saying he is in support of the county’s mitigation efforts.
“This was the right move to work to stop the recent spike of covid-19 cases in its tracks and to remind all residents and businesses that the best defense we have in preventing the spread of covid-19 and keeping Pennsylvanians safe is to continue to follow the mask-wearing requirement, practice social distancing, and follow safety guidelines even and especially during the green phase of re-opening,” Wolf said. “We cannot become complacent in practicing the measures we know can protect everyone from the spread of this very contagious virus.”
Bogen and Fitzgerald acknowledged the effect the order will have on the economy. Fitzgerald said it’s not a decision the health department takes lightly.
“When Dr. Bogen and her team make these recommendations, they certainly know the impact that it’s going to have on the business community,” Fitzgerald said. “However, if we don’t get ahead of it now, we will have to shut down many more businesses and hurt our economy and put more people out of work going forward.”
Madasyn Lee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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