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Most Correctional Staffers At Pennsylvania State Prisons Are Not Vaccinated

Jaqueline Larma
AP, file
According to the state Department of Corrections' COVID-19 data, nearly 80% of correctional staff haven't received the vaccine, despite there being no restrictions for adults. More than half of all inmates are vaccinated.

On today’s program: Nearly 80% of state correctional facilities’ staff have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, despite its wide availability; a look at Pittsburgh’s public and private sector commitments to energy efficiency, now that city government committed to become carbon neutral by 2050; and a local author’s new book tells of how telephone-inventor Alexander Graham Bell worked with deaf people to promote speech and suppress sign language.

State correctional officers are very vaccine hesitant, and susceptible to misinformation
(0:00 — 6:33)

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for any adult in the state who wants it, and yet 80% of those working in state correctional facilities are still unvaccinated.

“We don’t actually have a great reason as to why we don’t have more corrections officers or staff getting the vaccine,” explains Joseph Darius Jaafari with Spotlight PA, who has been reporting on the data on COVID-19 infections and vaccinations among those working and incarcerated in prisons. He says this issue is not unique to Pennsylvania’s correctional officers.

“The reality is that a lot of these prisons and and a lot of the workers in prisons live in areas that are susceptible to false news or misinformation around the vaccine,” says Jaafari. “What we hear from people inside is that corrections officers, they tell other people that the vaccine has a microchip in it, that it’s gonna kill them, with the rumor mill starting with the corrections officers.”

A much higher percentage of those incarcerated have been vaccinated at just over 50%, commensurate with the rate of vaccinations across the general public

The Department of Corrections offers a $25 commissary benefit to incentivize inmates to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Staff are also offered paid time off for getting vaccinated.

“This is not a question of access,” says Jaafari. Corrections staff are able to get vaccines where they like, including at the prison. Prisons remain hotspots, says Jaafari, because of how they are organized and people are housed.

“If that number of people who are cramped together are vaccinated, they become less of a hotspot because the worry is that the people who are going in and out are multiple times exposed,” says Jaafari. “That doesn’t really happen when the prisons are, A, decarcerated, and then B, the majority of the population is vaccinated. However, you need to have both the staff and incarcerated population reach a certain level of herd immunity amongst themselves.”

Jaafari says the state can’t mandate vaccinations because the correctional officer union would need to approve the policy. The union pushed back against other COVID-19 mitigation measures like mandatory testing.

Pittsburgh city government aims to be carbon neutral by 2050
(6:38 — 13:16)

Last week, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto issued an executive order to make Pittsburgh’s city government carbon neutral by 2050.

This came on Earth Day, and the same day President Joseph Biden announced the United States would cut its carbon emission in half by 2030.

“I think what is great about the executive order is that it is looking through the lens that is very integrated and holistic,” says Jenna Cramer, executive director of Green Building Alliance. She says integrative and holistic design, in her experience, leads to the best outcomes to both people, the environment and economy.

The executive order calls on city departments to take climate risk into account in budgets and infrastructure, and calls on departments to improve energy efficiency in city facilities. It also calls for adding more electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city, implementing the Bike+ Plan, and replacing retired vehicles with cleaner ones whenever possible, among other directions.

Cramer says although the order is specific to city government, she believes the action helps to show private sector industries the benefits of energy efficiency as well. She cites the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County participation in the Pittsburgh 2030 District plan as one of those commitments. The Pittsburgh 2030 District is an initiative led by Green Building Alliance to reduce energy and water use and transportation emission by 50% by 2030.

“We use a strong set of data to prove the performance of these actions, and not only how they are reducing our emissions, but how they’re improving the bottom line,” says Cramer. “We know that climate efforts do make business sense, and places that are not actively addressing climate actually have an aspect of economic and financial risk.”

New biography covers Alexander Graham Bell’s advocacy against sign language
(13:20 — 18:00)

Alexander Graham Bell is known as the inventor of the telephone. But Bell thought of himself mainly as a teacher of the deaf.

A new biography titled “The Invention of Miracles” explores his controversial efforts to promote speech and suppress sign language among the deaf.

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll asked the book’s Pittsburgh-based author, Katie Booth, about deafness in Bell’s own family.

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.
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