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Studies Show Racial Disparities In COVID-19 Fatality And Potential Vaccine Access

Haven Daley
A University of Pittsburgh study found Black Americans are more likely to live more than a mile from a potential vaccination site than whites, which could hamper vaccinations in those communities.

On today's program: Two researchers from Pittsburgh-based institutions found Black Americans are more likely to live further from a vaccine distribution site, and that racially-segregated neighborhoods have higher rates of COVID-19 fatality; The outgoing Allegheny County Department of Human Services director Marc Cherna talks about the department he inherited, and what he’s leaving behind; and Rob Rossi from The Athletic breaks down the Penguins’ new management hires.

Pittsburgh-based researchers find racial disparities tied to COVID-19 pandemic
(0:00 — 5:34) 

There’s been widespread reporting about where and how people can access COVID-19 vaccinations. 

A new study by University of Pittsburgh researchers finds that in many parts of our nation, Black Americans are less likely than whites to live within a mile of a facility that could administer the vaccine.

“If you look at the map, there actually, within urban areas, aren’t any Black neighborhoods that are more than a mile from a potential vaccination site,” says WESA’s health reporter Sarah Boden. The issue, researchers found, is in regions that are more rural. “I would be really curious, once the vaccine becomes more widely available, which health clinics and pharmacies actually receive vaccinations.”

Boden explains that a White House senior advisor on the COVID-19 response told NPR vaccines must chase people

“In areas where there aren’t many nearby locations for vaccinations, people in those areas are less likely to get vaccinated,” says Boden. People in those areas, she says, are also less likely to have access to reliable transportation. “So, the physical barriers are real.”

Boden says Allegheny County Health Department and other systems say they are working to ensure hard to reach communities have access. 

Duquesne University researchers also found a correlation between the rates of COVID-19 fatality and the racial and socioeconomic segregation in a community. 

“Counties where 10% of their Black population was in racially segregated neighborhoods, for every 10% increase of that, there was 11% increase in COVID-19 death,” says Boden. “For every 10% increase in socioeconomic segregation in counties, there was a 14% increase in COVID-19 fatalities.” 

“We can measure disparity and predict an area’s level of risk, which hopefully will influence where resources are deployed.”

Pittsburgh Penguins hired a general manager and a new president of hockey operations
(5:36 — 12:35)

The Pittsburgh Penguins ended their search for a new general manager this week, and actually landed two big names in hockey: Ron Hextall as general manager and Brian Burke as president of hockey operations

Rob Rossi, a senior writer for The Athletic, says hiring Hextall was not a huge surprise. Rossi listed Hextall as a top contender in a conversation with The Confluence last week.

“Sources have told me that the only way to view these moves are as Mario moves,” says Rossi, referencing owner Mario Lemieux. “Not only is he one of the majority co-owners, but he’s one of the few guys in this world that anybody from hockey would pick up the phone when he calls.”

The Penguins also brought on former Toronto and Anaheim general manager Brian Burke as head of hockey operations.  

Rossi says there was some indication this job was being developed. “I had not heard they were looking to do that immediately, that might be something that they thought about based on their interviews with these candidates,” says Rossi. 

Burke, Rossi says, is a Lemieux confidant, and someone from which Lemieux sought advice. Burke will be something of a liaison between management and Hextall and the team.

“The Penguins want Ron Hextall to help them, by next season, become a cup contender again, but also not at the complete expense of the future,” says Rossi. 

Marc Cherna leaves the county Department of Human Services in better shape than he found it
(12:38 — 18:00)

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA


Marc Cherna will retire from leading Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services next month. He’s overseen seismic changes since joining the department in 1997. 

When he arrived, Allegheny County’s child welfare agency was in disarray. It had a 40% turnover rate, huge caseloads for social workers, a massive adoption backlog, and deep financial problems. 

Cherna tells 90.5 WESA’s Kate Giammarise that he felt the only direction to go was up

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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