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‘We’re in a war’: County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is urging businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines

Gene J. Puskar

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is requesting employers require COVID-19 vaccines by January 1, 2022; and City Councilor Rev. Ricky Burgess explains why he put forth an ordinance to stop police from pulling over drivers for low level traffic offenses, such as broken taillights and brake lights, which he says disproportionately impact people of color.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald wants business to enact their own vaccine mandates
(0:00 - 13:25)

After enacting a vaccination mandate for county employees, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is asking every local company and organization to require their employees to be vaccinated by January 1st. The request comes as the county saw persistent high case counts.

I think it's obvious now that we've been a year, almost a year since the vaccine has been available,” says Fitzgerald. “It makes sense to me to have everybody vaccinated so we can get back to normal as normal as we can be.”

Some are protesting the county employee mandate, claiming that the requirement is an infringement of their rights.

Fitzgerald says people can make a choice, get vaccinated, or find other employment.

“The folks that we want representing us in my administration, who are interacting with the public--protecting the public in many cases, also have the right to be knowing that they're not working next to somebody who is unvaccinated and spreading this deadly disease,” says Fitzgerald.

For more than a month, the county has had an average of 350 to 400 new cases of COVID-19 per day. Fitzgerald says he thinks this continual high caseload could be attributed to people being more relaxed and less concerned about mitigation measures.

Pittsburgh City Council considers bill intended to make traffic stops more ‘equitable’
(13:33 - 22:30)

Aproposed City Council ordinance would ban low-level traffic stops, barring police officers from stopping drivers for smaller violations, like a broken taillight or a loose license plate.

It’s meant to make traffic stops more “equitable and fair, “ says Pittsburgh City Councilor Reverend Ricky Burgess, who introduced the legislation.

He says stopping people for minor offenses doesn’t build confidence or trust between Pittsburgh’s Black community and the police.

“These stops only have the recipe to create a chilling effect at the very best and can turn deadly at the very worst,” he says. “We already know from the African American community there is a great will for this to be done, and now it’s just a question of political will to implement it.”

According todata from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, officers conducted 4,650 traffic stops involving Black drivers in 2020, which accounted for nearly half of all stops that year. Black people make up about 23% of the city’s population.

Burgess says many Pittsburghers are scared of “driving while Black.”

“There is a fear of being stopped by the police,” he says. “What we want to do is we want to limit the interaction between police and the Black community to those things that are helpful and necessary. And these sorts of ticky-tack violations do not increase community confidence and they don’t create more public safety. They’re more of a nuisance.”

While the officers would be prevented from pulling someone over, they could still send drivers tickets for the lower-level violations in the mail.

The Committee on Public Safety Services will meet on Wednesday to discuss the bill with the Department of Public Safety.

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. 

Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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