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County Executive Rich Fitzgerald Says No Mask Mandate At This Time, Despite Increased COVID-19 Spread

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald explains why the county hasn’t declared a mask mandate or mitigation efforts despite rising COVID-19 cases, mandates for new and current employees, and what businesses can do; and how ending weekly free phone calls impact those incarcerated who are trying to stay connected with loved ones.

Allegheny County has ‘substantial’ COVID-19 spread, but Rich Fitzgerald is not planning to enact mitigation measures
(0:00 - 14:55)

Last week it was announced that all newly hired Allegheny county employees must be vaccinated, and current unvaccinated employees are required to mask up and undergo regular COVID-19 testing.

This move comes as some cities and businesses across the country are instituting COVID-19 vaccination mandates for their employees.

“We have a lot of collective bargaining issues that would probably make it much more difficult [to mandate vaccines],” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “The important thing is that we want the public who we serve every day to feel comfortable.”

Fitzgerald says right now, a third of county employees are unvaccinated, although the county has offered incentives, like giving employees a $100 bonus for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is substantial spread of coronavirus in Allegheny County. As of Monday, there were 388 new reported COVID-19 cases.

When it comes to public mitigation measures, Fitzgerald does not anticipate enacting a general mask mandate or capacity limits for businesses, at this time.

“Each individual organization is gonna make their own decisions,” says Fitzgerald. “We’ve seen restaurants that are actually requiring masks, and some are even requiring vaccinations to attend.”

Fitzgerald says he’s reassured by the currently low rates of hospitalization and fatalities.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ends free weekly phone calls
(14:58 - 22:30)

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ended free weekly phone calls provided to those incarcerated now that state prisons are allowing in-person visits for vaccinated inmates.

The Pennsylvania Prison Society wants the phone calls to stay.

"In Pennsylvania, it costs about 89 cents for a 15 minute phone call, but I think it's really important to contextualize that," says Kirstin Cornnell, the organization's social services director. "The average incarcerated person makes about 19 cents an hour, so a 15 minute phone call is the equivalent of about four and a half hours of work."

Cornnell says prisoners staying connected with those on the outside contributes to safer prison environments and leads to successful reintegration.

“So we know this connection matters, and we really need to have policies that reflect what we know from research, and be eliminating as many barriers as we can.”

According to Cornnell, family members of those incarcerated have heavily relied on the free phone calls during the pandemic, and there are still barriers to in-person visits.

"Prior to the pandemic, the Department of Corrections had contracts to provide low-cost, direct transportation for family members [to visit loved ones at the prison],” says Cornnell. “That program has yet to resume."

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.

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