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Allegheny County Council Approves Sick Leave Ordinance

City County Building chamber council.JPG
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: The latest from Allegheny County Council, which approved a sick leave ordinance and rejected a mask mandate for large crowds last night; the lead physician from a clinic to treat “long COVID” explains how his team is trying to relieve symptoms and pinpoint the cause of the lingering disease; and a COVID-19 “long hauler” who contracted the virus a year ago, and is still experiencing symptoms, shares the strain it has put on her life. 

Allegheny County Council approves sick leave bill, shoots down mask mandate for crowds
(0:00 - 7:51)

Allegheny County Council took up two issues yesterday evening: masking and sick leave.

The council approved a bill that requires companies with 26 or more employees to provide five paid sick days per year.

The bill was initially approved in March but was vetoed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who said the Health Department has to approve such ordinances before Council.

Fitzgerald says he will sign this bill, which went through the Health Department, and it will be implemented within three months of his signature. “As soon as he signs it, the county will be responsible for ensuring that businesses provide notice to their employees of this new set of benefits that they’ll be getting,” says An-Li Herring, government and accountability reporter with WESA.

Herring says it’s not yet clear the total number of businesses responsible for implementing this policy.

“We know from the U.S. Census that about 18% of the nearly 34,000 establishments in the county have at least 20 employees, so that’s going to capture some businesses that don’t have to adhere to this regulation,” says Herring.

Also at yesterday’s County Council meeting, two members introduced a mask requirement that was swiftly shot down. The legislation would have required those in gatherings of more than 25o people to wear a mask over their nose and mouth or face a fine of $100.

“Usually what happens at this stage is the bill is introduced and council refers it to committee,” explains WESA government and accountability editor Chris Potter. “But what Council did, in this case, was get a two-thirds majority to waive that process, just bypass the committee entirely, and go to a final vote.”

Potter says this is something of a shot across the bow at the legislation’s co-sponsor, Democratic Councilor Bethany Hallam.

“There had been concerns about whether council has the ability to craft health regulations on its own, as opposed to taking regulations crafted by the Health Department and passed by the Board of Health,” says Potter.

He adds there were also ideological concerns about if the government should mandate this behavior.

“They got hammered last night, in part because I think they didn’t build support for the measure first,” says Potter.

AHN clinic is treating ‘Long COVID’ 
(8:05 - 15:06)

Some people who have contracted COVID-19 are still experiencing symptoms after most with mild cases recover, sometimes for months or more. They call it “long COVID,” and those experiencing those symptoms are “long-haulers.”

Allegheny Health Network established a clinic in April to treat and monitor these patients.

“Post-COVID syndrome or post-acute COVID syndrome is a completely new disease entity, and we’re learning as we go,” says Dr. Tariq Cheema, a pulmonologist and lead physician at AHN’s Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic. “About 40% of people who get COVID have some sort of long-term symptoms and these symptoms can vary.”

Cheema says symptoms they’ve seen include shortness of breath, brain fog, loss of smell and taste, heart or neurological issues, and anxiety or post-traumatic stress from COVID-19.

Some patients have symptoms that linger from the time they contract the disease and on, while other patients had a mild case of COVID-19 and recovered, but began to experience fatigue and brain fog weeks later.

“We haven’t pinpointed [the cause] yet,” says Cheema. “The purpose of some of these clinics is to try to find some symptomatic relief for patients, but also learn from patients and see what is the common thread that some people get these symptoms and others don’t.”

Cheema says the clinic is offering supportive care in a majority of cases, but there have been some cases where intervention has totally alleviated symptoms.

A COVID ‘long hauler’ says the clinic has reassured her, she’s not alone
(15:06 - 22:30)

Jennifer Gorzock is a nurse and COVID long-hauler participating in AHN’s clinic. She was diagnosed in August 2020 and is still struggling with migraines, brain fog, fatigue, and heart palpitations, which hit two months after her initial infection.

“I was actually off of work 44 weeks and three days,” says Gorzock. “When I was initially diagnosed, COVID was still so new, and a lot of physicians were like, ‘Well that [long COVID] can happen but it’s very rare. You’re a healthy young person without a medical history prior to COVID.’” says Gorzock. “I almost felt like they were telling me, ‘Well, it’s in your head.’”

Gorzock says she’s received better care since going to the clinic, and now sees a cardiologist regularly.

“The hardest part is not knowing how long or when these symptoms will go away,” says Gorzock. “You only get one heart, so I worry, is this going to cause extra stress on my heart? Could I possibly, down the road, end up with heart failure, maybe need a heart transplant?”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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