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New Allegheny County COVID-19 policies go into effect Monday

PITTSBURGH — Changes to Allegheny County’s vaccination, masking and other Covid-19 policies go into effect Monday as rates of Covid-19 transmission continue to rise.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said last week that beginning Aug. 9, all new hires will have to be vaccinated, and current employees who are unvaccinated will be required to wear masks and will be tested regularly for COVID-19 once protocols have been established.

Executive branch county employees, including contracted employees, who have not provided proof of vaccination will be required to wear face coverings that cover the person’s mouth and nose when indoors at any county facility.

“Vaccination is the most effective tool that we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect those who for reasons of age, health or other conditions cannot be vaccinated,” Fitzgerald said. “As a government and essential service which has been open throughout the pandemic, with the vast majority of our employees here working, vaccination is the best way for to ensure that the public we serve is protected. With this new policy, the public can have confidence that the measures we are taking will protect their health and well-being.”

The policy also applies when individuals are in any county vehicle when not alone, as well as outdoors in instances when physical distancing is not possible. Additionally, unvaccinated visitors to county facilities will also be asked to mask up when indoors.

Signage to that effect will be in place beginning Friday with that policy also taking effect on Aug. 9. Vaccinated employees and visitors may make their own choice regarding masking.

At a news conference Wednesday, Allegheny County Health Department director Dr. Debra Bogen said the county was in the substantial category for the rate of transmission of COVID-19 and that more than two-thirds of cases in the area are from the Delta variant. She said the percent positivity rate has climbed to 3.7%, up from 2.7% last week. She said actual reported cases may only be “the tip of the iceberg,” however. Bogen said many people are not getting tested when they fall ill and others display no symptoms.

“The Delta variant is very contagious and is driving the current wave of the pandemic across the U.S. Locally, cases are rising quickly,” she said. “Even the fully vaccinated can get the virus.”

Bogen reiterated several times during the briefing that people who are fully vaccinated can still get sick in what are known as breakthrough cases. She said the CDC estimates about 20% of cases in Allegheny County over the last 28 days are people in this category.

“Vaccinated people are likely to represent a larger portion of COVID-19 cases,” Bogen said.

Fitzgerald met this week with corporate, educational and health leaders from the region to share the county’s policy related to the unvaccinated and discuss how employers, collectively, could encourage more vaccination and further protect employees and the constituencies of their organizations.

Following the meeting organizations including the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Allegheny Health Network provided statements in support of the county’s efforts.

In terms of new employee hiring, Fitzgerald said beginning on Aug. 9, job candidates given conditional job offers with the county will have to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, subject to applicable federal and state laws.

The prospective employee will need to be fully vaccinated or have at least one shot of a two-shot series before beginning work. Any employee who does not receive the second shot within 30 days will have their probationary employment terminated.

The county is also in the process of finalizing a testing protocol and expects to begin COVID testing of unvaccinated employees within the next 30 to 60 days. Testing will occur at least once a week and employees will also be required to continue wearing a face covering.

Violations of the policy could result in progressive discipline, up to and including termination, Fitzgerald said. The frequency of testing will be determined based on worksite. Additional measures to protect the public will be considered after a review of the data which will begin on October 1.