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A majority of Allegheny County employees are vaccinated, complying with the executive’s mandate

In this Dec. 29, 2020, file photo a Chester County, Pa., Health Department worker fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa.
Matt Slocum
In this Dec. 29, 2020, file photo a Chester County, Pa., Health Department worker fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa.

On today’s episode of The Confluence: At least 90% of county employees have complied with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to be inoculated by yesterday’s deadline, but lawsuits challenging the order are still being considered; the commonwealth ranks 22 out of 47 states, plus the District of Columbia, when it comes to health care affordability; and Duolingo has hired a native Pittsburgher as its new head of social impact.

Most Allegheny County employees met COVID-19 vaccination deadline
(0:00 - 6:20)

Wednesday was the deadline for Allegheny County employees to meet County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s mandate to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, get an approved exemption, or face termination.

“This particular requirement applies to anyone under the county executive’s purview which is roughly 5,000 workers. It does not include individually elected positions like a sheriff, or those who work in the court systems,” says WESA reporter Kiley Koscinski.

Fitzgerald told Koscinski Wednesday that most employees had been vaccinated by the deadline.

“The vast, vast majority, not just a simple majority, but well over 90% of the employees have already been vaccinated,” said Fitzgerald. “Not only protecting themselves and their families but protecting their coworkers and protecting the people that we serve every day in this county.”

Fitzgerald did not give examples of any employees who are partially vaccinated by the deadline, however, the sheriff’s department told Koscinski about a dozen out of 200 employees received “good faith” extensions, having shown proof they received one dose so far.

While the county allowed exemptions, Koscinski reports only one or two percent of employees qualified for a medical or religious exemption.

The Allegheny County Police Association and Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union filed a joint lawsuit against the county, arguing the choice to get vaccinated should be of the individual. However, last week a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the attempt to block the mandate while the legal proceedings continue.

Despite many Pennsylvania residents having health insurance, half of them struggle to afford care
(6:25 - 14:30)

The annual Healthcare Affordability Scorecard from the Healthcare Value Hub has ranked Pennsylvania 22 out of 47 states, and the District of Columbia.

“It starts to look at important things for consumers like, curbing excess prices, reducing low-value care, extending coverage to ensure that everyone has the coverage they need and ultimately making out of pocket costs, what you and I pay when we go to the doctor, more affordable for everyone,” says Patrick Keenan, Director of Consumer Protections and Policy at Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

Keenan says one in two Pennsylvanians has struggled to pay health care costs in the past year. He adds that the state has stayed stagnant in its rankings over the years.

Pennsylvania is doing well in making sure residents have access to health care coverage.

“Our uninsured rate over the past couple of years has really kind of dipped to an all-time low, even though five to six percent of Pennsylvania residents still lack insurance,” says Keenan. The state’s Medicaid expansion and state based health insurance exchange has helped increase the number of insured residents.

However, Keenan says despite that coverage, the cost of health care continues to rise in the commonwealth, becoming prohibitive for some.

Duolingo’s new head of social impact says the role is about helping the company be a “good neighbor” 
(14:32 - 22:30)

Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood has seen a lot of changes over the years, with an influx of tech companies setting up shop in the area.

Duolingo, a mobile language-learning platform that launched in 2011, is headquartered in East Liberty. The company recently created the Head of Social Impact position, which looks at how Duolingo engages with the neighborhood and broader community.

“From the field that this role would normally be associated with, [social impact] looks a little bit like corporate social responsibility, but sort of takes it a step further and is really community engaged,” says Kendra Ross, who is the first person to step into the role.

Ross says she’s looking into how Duolingo can be good neighbors with not only those physically near the company’s East Liberty office, but in other communities it has a physical presence in.

She says this means sharing prosperity and growth with the community and supporting non-profit organizations currently doing important work.

“I think the main thing is to always remain engaged with the community, not only just tell them what we’re doing and share with them but also receive from them, receive feedback,” says Ross.

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. 

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