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Rate of death due to COVID-19 in largest U.S. counties, including Allegheny, correlated with low-income

Jae C. Hong

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Staff at a Bloomfield Starbucks have voted to unionize, becoming the first store to do so in the commonwealth; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Kris Mamula explains how a study found the rate of deaths due to COVID-19 in 100 U.S. counties was most strongly correlated with lack of income; FBI Supervisory Special Agent Tim Wolford tells us how the agency is combatting "sextortion schemes," where an increasing number of teen boys are targeted; and officials worry about the cost of the upcoming election.

On today’s episode of The Confluence:

Nationwide, low income was most correlated with high rates of death due to COVID-19
(0:00 - 6:24)

According to the Allegheny County Health Department, there have been 3,246 COVID-19 related deaths during the pandemic. A new study looked at the 100 largest counties in the nation and the medical, demographic and economic factors that might be correlated with COVID-19 deaths.

“What they found is that the closest association between COVID death and those factors was median household income,” says Kris Mamula, a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“It's actually backed up in studies that have been done as long ago as 20 years, that the higher the income in a particular area, the better the health,” says Mamula. “It is such a strong link between median household income and COVID death that if the median household income was $40,000, you were three to four times more likely to die of COVID than if the median household income was $120,000.”

Bloomfield Starbucks votes to unionize, first store in PA to do so
(6:37 - 9:52)

Workers at the Starbucks in Bloomfield voted unanimously Wednesday to unionize, becoming the first of the coffee chain’s stores in the state to do so. The employees joined the union Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

WESA reporter An-Li Herring says Starbucks employees want to advocate for increased pay and better benefits.

“They also are concerned about changes in tipping at their stores with the rise of online ordering and just the increased use of credit cards,” says Herrin. “Even if you pay with a credit card in person, you can't automatically leave a tip that would have to be done in cash, so that they've really seen a drop in their tips.”

The National Labor Relations Board needs to certify the vote, and is expected to do so in the coming days. After that, workers can begin negotiating labor contracts with the store’s management.

‘Sextortion schemes’ targeting teen boys are becoming more common
(9:55 - 17:29)

There are increasing reports of teenagers in the region becoming victims of “sextortion,” where they’re coerced into sending someone sexual images and videos, then extorted into sending money.

The FBI Pittsburgh Field Office is trying to alert parents and caregivers to be more aware of this crime, and how to prevent it. Supervisory Special Agent Tim Wolford oversees the unit handling these types of cases here in the Pittsburgh region.

“I think the reason why they're targeting teenage boys is because they're in that age bracket where they're very impressionable, they're very kind of easily swayed into thinking they're talking to a pretty young female,” says Wolford.”If we can get the word out to teenagers and parents to be aware of this kind of activity, hopefully we can reduce the number of people that are victimized in the future.”

Wolford says there were about 140 reported sextortion cases in the region in 2021, amounting to a financial loss of $30,000, and he anticipates that number of reported cases will rise.

County officials turned to satellite voting locations in 2020, but won’t use them this year
(17:33 - 22:30)

In 2020, Allegheny County officials were tasked with running a high stakes election while making sure an unprecedented number of voters could safely cast their ballots. As another high-profile election approaches, 90.5 WESA’s Lucy Perkins reports local officials say that one successful strategy is too expensive to repeat.

Today’s show includes a reference to suicide. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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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