“…government should be leading in the effort to promote the best practices necessary to ‘flatten the curve.’”

March 13, 2020 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner issued the following statement regarding operations of her office during the continuing concerns over Coronavirus:

I wish to commend and thank the County administration and Health Department staff who have been working diligently to monitor and prepare for the inevitable emergence of Coronavirus in Allegheny County. Their work is sure to become even more critical in the days and weeks ahead.

However, I am greatly concerned with the lack of clear guidance and strong encouragement for our community to take proactive measures to prevent potential exposures.While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has urged suspension of large gatherings and avoidance of unnecessary social contact, Allegheny County’s message has thus far differed. This is especially concerning in light of the large percentage of elderly residents in our County, and reports that tests have not been available to County residents exhibiting symptoms consistent with the virus.

While much remains unknown about this virus, nationally renowned health experts have stated that proactive social distancing can help to reduce transmission. According to the New York Times, "A recent paper cited by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a news briefing on Tuesday, concludes that the rapid and aggressive quarantine and social distancing measures applied by China in cities outside of the outbreak’s epicenter achieved success. ‘Most countries only attempt social distancing and hygiene interventions when widespread transmission is apparent. This gives the virus many weeks to
spread,’ the paper said, with the average number of people each new patient infects higher than if the measures were in place much earlier, even before the virus is detected in the community."

Given both what we know and what we don’t know, I cannot in good conscience continue to ask my employees who care for a sick spouse or elderly parent, or who have health concerns themselves, to risk exposure on public transit, in a carpool, or in our offices.

For this reason, beginning on Monday Controller’s Office employees whose attendance at the office is not essential will be permitted to work remotely until further notice. Those who need to report to work will be permitted flexible scheduling to allow for commuting at off-peak times, and to provide care for family members whose schools, day cares, or senior facilities may be closed. This is in keeping with the values with which I have always sought to lead my office, which was the first known public office in Pennsylvania to provide paid family leave to all employees, a policy which has been followed by a number of other local government entities.

In putting health and safety first for our employees, government should be leading in the effort to promote the best practices necessary to ‘flatten the curve,’ and prevent community spread of the virus. In our modern world where so much can be done
remotely on our home computers and mobile devices, there is no reason we cannot ensure that our work gets done without putting others at unnecessary risk.

I do wish to give special attention to our County employees in essential areas like Public Safety, our Kane Centers, Corrections, and our 911 Call Center who will not have these options now or as this situation develops, and whose work promises to become all the more demanding in the near future. We must remember and thank these dedicated workers now and always.

Lastly, I wish to thank the organizers and supporters of Pittsburgh’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade who, despite unclear guidance from authorities, made the responsible and selfless decision to postpone an event which requires huge commitments of time and effort to plan. This is the type of leadership and considered action that will be required of many as we seek to protect all in our community.