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The Allegheny County Health Department is deploying a new Covid Field Response Team on Thursday to monitor businesses and ensure they are following public health orders, officials announced during a Wednesday news briefing.
Team members — 10 people who are contracting with the county — will visit businesses such as bars and restaurants and evaluate them using a checklist. The list will address safety
precautions including the state’s masking order, occupancy restrictions and physical distancing requirements. A copy of the completed checklist, as well as educational materials, will be provided to the business at the conclusion of each visit.
The business’s name, the date of the visit and a copy of the checklist will be posted to the county website “so that the public can see which businesses are working hard to keep everybody safe,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said team members initially will visit bars and restaurants identified through complaints made by residents to the department.
“If a team member finds a bar or restaurant not following all the covid-19 safety measures, they will alert the health department’s Food Safety Program,” Fitzgerald said, and an inspector will be sent to the location. “Which could result in the facility being shut down.”
At bars and restaurants, the team members will check whether tables are spaced far enough for physical distancing; indoor capacity is restricted to 25%; staff and customers are wearing masks; dining services end at 11 p.m.; and signs remind customers
of precautions, among other examples.
“We’re not looking to punish bars and restaurants,” Fitzgerald said. “But we want everyone following the rules, and this team will be providing them with materials and resources that they need to operate safely.”
Fitzgerald and Allegheny County Health Director Debra Bogen said they were pleased at the recent decline in daily cases of the coronavirus in Allegheny County after several days of triple-digit reports. Fitzgerald said the percentage of positive tests was consistently 11% or 12%.
There were only 96 cases reported in the county Wednesday, and the positivity rate had dropped to under 6%, Fitzgerald said. Hospitalizations and fatalities because of the virus have risen, however.
“It’s really a credit to the folks in this community that take those recommendations and those mitigating strategies that Dr. Bogen and her team put out to heart,” Fitzgerald said.
Bogen said Wednesday that the county’s case investigations have shown a greater number of positive cases have resulted from individuals attending private parties like bridal showers and birthdays. This is unique from the majority of cases from late June and early July, which were largely traced back to bars and restaurants.
“If everyone who is infected with covid-19 got sick, this virus would be a lot easier to fight,” Bogen said. “But because many people with the virus don’t have any symptoms, we don’t know who could be spreading the virus and who is not.”
Bogen encouraged people to continue gathering, but practice physical distancing and take other precautions, like “resisting” hugs, limiting the share of food and utensils and wearing masks.
She said she understands many are suffering from covid-related “fatigue,” but cautioned that the county – and the rest of the country – will likely be dealing with this for at least another year.
Bogen also said the county is preparing for another spike in cases in the fall, as more people crowd indoors because of cooler weather and as students return to school. She cautioned that no back-to-school plan will be 100% safe from covid-19 infections, and she asked parents to be patient and flexible as guidelines change.
Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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