Last month there were more encouraging signs that southwest Pennsylvania is turning around in the battle to return to normal after a year of living under the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 2 out of 3 people in Allegheny County were vaccinated against COVID, one of the highest rates in Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Health.
As more people were vaccinated, COVID cases in the area have slowed recently. The new COVID cases reported in the seven-county region fell by 15 percent at the end of April compared to the numbers two weeks earlier.
Meanwhile, residents of southwest Pennsylvania are increasingly resuming pre-pandemic behavior, local polls suggest.
Shot in the arm
Nearly 67 percent of people ages 15 and older in Allegheny County were at least partially vaccinated earlier this week. Only Chester County in eastern Pennsylvania had a higher rate. Nationwide, 52.5 percent of the population had been vaccinated.
Willingness to be vaccinated has changed dramatically in southwest Pennsylvania in the seven months since the first vaccine trials suggested that effective vaccines could be produced.
Last October, 15 percent of people in the area wanted the vaccine, according to a regional poll by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Schmidt Market Research. In March, 74 percent wanted it without hesitation and only 12 percent said there was no way they would get vaccinated.
All but two counties in the region have a vaccination rate that is above the national average. As of this week, only Beaver and Fayette counties continue to struggle to get at least half of their population aged 15 and over vaccinated.
Cases are falling
New cases are reported daily in the region, which are still higher than the numbers a year ago. But after the peak after the New Year holidays, the cases have slowly decreased. It’s a trend that can be seen in most of the Americas.
The COVID case numbers in southwest Pennsylvania compare to those in other U.S. metro regions. That has largely been the case throughout the pandemic. And April was no exception, according to COVID data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Allegheny County, the region’s most important county, had 7,799 cases per 100,000 people as of the end of April. That was 24 percent less than the national average of 9,657 cases per 100,000 population. Only the counties that include Seattle and Austin had lower rates of COVID cases than Allegheny among the 16 metropolitan areas recorded by Pittsburgh Today. Davidson County, Tennessee, home of Nashville, had the highest rate, reporting 12,714 cases per 100,000 population.
Westmoreland, Fayette, and Armstrong counties in southwest Pennsylvania had the highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita on April 21.
Desire for normalcy
Residents of southwest Pennsylvania are eager to return to pre-pandemic activities, and many have begun, monthly Allegheny conference polls show.
About 52 percent said they are comfortable getting back to work now, and another 12 percent said they will be comfortable with it by the end of this month. And 52 percent say they have already started dining indoors, with just 19 percent saying they will wait for all COVID restrictions to be lifted before doing so.
Activities that people were extremely reluctant to do last year are also gaining popularity. Last July, only 10 percent of the people in the region were willing to attend major events such as concerts and ball games. Last month, 42 percent said they are ready to resume such activities.
“I think the summer will show the possibility that more restrictions will be lifted, more people will be vaccinated and there will be a great desire for concerts, events and travel,” said Vera Krekanova, chief strategy and research officer at the Allegheny Conference.