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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald reflects on balancing protective measures in the pandemic

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald at a McKeesport drive-thru COVID testing site in September 2020.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald at a McKeesport drive-thru COVID testing site in September 2020.

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Two years after the first COVID-19 related restrictions were announced, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald reflects on what might have been done differently to mitigate risk in the county; a member of the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild tells us how, despite the pandemic, the region’s beer scene is expanding; and we learn about pickleball, a fairly new sport that’s gaining in local popularity. 

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says the county carefully decided what to shut down and what to leave open in the pandemic
(0:00 - 12:30)

It’s been two years since the first shutdown of the pandemic, and even as people feel more comfortable going out and even returning to work. Are Allegheny County and its residents returning to normal, and what does that mean right now?

Allegheny County has lost more than 3,200 people to COVID-19, but 71% of residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says the county has handled this crisis “pretty well,” especially when considering the region’s response to the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918. He says in hindsight, the county could have made some decisions differently, like shutting more businesses down.

“That comes with other costs, if you will,” says Fitzgerald. “There were many people who said we didn't shut things down enough, and there were many people who said we shut things down too much. So that's a very difficult balance to deal with, you're dealing with people's livelihoods.”

Fitzgerald says while the region might be approaching an endemic phase of dealing with COVID-19, he’s waiting for confirmation from medical experts.

Despite the concerns, Fitzgerald says he is proud the county took a hard stance on requiring all employees to be vaccinated. The county, like many other industries, is struggling to hire and retain employees it needs, but Fitzgerald says it's working to mitigate this by holding a job fair in April, and working with the Human Resources Department to attract future employees.

The region’s beer and brewery scene has been expanding in the pandemic
(12:39 - 17:37)

Throughout the pandemic, the food and restaurant industry adapted to offer take out and outdoor dining options. Many breweries did the same.

In the two years since initial COVID-19 lockdowns, some have survived, and others haven’t.

“In Allegheny County, we have over forty-five breweries and more coming every day,” says Jennifer Walzer, a board member of the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, and founding member behind Inner Groove Brewing in Verona.

Some breweries have struggled and even closed, such as Couch Brewery in the East End. But Walzer says, more breweries are expanding than closing. Six breweries have opened in the last six months, and she knows of at least nine more planned to open this year. Three breweries are also opening new taprooms, including Walzer’s brewery, Inner Groove.

“Being able, for us, to shift how we sold during the pandemic was huge,” says Walzer. “All of us went to selling to-go beers, and delivering curbside or delivering to everybody's house.”

Walzer says it also helps that the brewing community is fairly tight-knit. Supply chain shortages meant there was sometimes a swap of goods, be it cans or hops, when those items were difficult to locate.

Walzer says it’s just a matter of time before Pittsbugh is taken more seriously as a destination for craft beer.

“Pennsylvania itself is in the top five of the most breweries in one state. I don't think everybody knows about it yet, but that's what we're working on,” says Walzer.

Pickleball is gaining in popularity
(17:43 - 22:30)

A racket sport with a funny name is becoming very popular in the Pittsburgh region. Pickleball has spread so quickly in recent years that many fans of the game want it to be an Olympic sport.

90.5 WESA’s Maria Anto reports on why local players love pickleball.

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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