Hearing on the Prevention of Legionnaires’ Disease in Pennsylvania 

Last week, at my request, the Pennsylvania Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on Legionella  bacteria and the effects it can have on the commonwealth post pandemic.  Specifically, the committee explored what causes Legionnaires’ disease and discussed my Senate Bill 1285 (SB 1285) from the 2019-20 session.  Testifiers included Dr. Hung Cheung from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, various stakeholders in the Legionella testing laboratories including Dr. Janet Stout from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and a spokesperson for the Water Works Operators’ Association of Pennsylvania.  The United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters also weighed in.  Each stakeholder brought a unique prospective to the hearing and I am appreciative of their efforts to make sure Pennsylvania is better prepared to prevent a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak as the commonwealth begins to open.

Legionella is a potentially fatal infectious lung disease. In 1977, Legionella bacteria were named following an outbreak that occurred during the prior year at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. The bacteria were responsible for an unidentified illness with pneumonia-like symptoms, now known as Legionnaires’ disease, that hospitalized numerous convention attendees. At least twenty-five people died as a result of this incident.

Legionella bacteria cannot be spread directly from one person to another.  Instead, it is commonly spread to the lungs through aerosolized water, in the form of a mist or vapor. Most people exposed to the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease do not develop it.  However, if an individual does become infected, the disease can be treated with antibiotics.  People older than 50, smokers, or those with weakened immune systems, cancer, diabetes, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions are at increased risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease. The disease is responsible for fatalities among 1 out of 10 infected individuals.

Legionella is naturally occurring and found in soil and sources of water like rivers, lakes and streams that supply our public water system and provide our homes, buildings, and facilities with water every day. While Legionella lives in the biofilm of pipes throughout our water distribution systems, common events like heavy rainfall, water main breaks, construction, servicing of water lines, fire hydrant release and others can dislodge the bacteria and push it downstream.  Additionally, poor building maintenance practices allow for their growth inside the plumbing systems and HVAC units of a building. As Legionella are resistant to chlorine and other disinfectants, it can be found in all community water supplies, especially in the absence of active monitoring of these bacteria.

Presently, there is concern that another Legionella outbreak may occur as Pennsylvania’s economy is reopening.  Many businesses, workplaces and schools have been shuttered temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving their water systems idle for more than a year.  Such inactivity has created optimal conditions for the growth of Legionella bacteria.

According to the CDC, a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak has occurred when two or more cases of legionellosis have been confirmed in one location within a six-week period.  Outbreaks are commonly associated with buildings or structures that have complex water systems, including hotels and resorts, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and cruise ships.  The most likely source of infection include water used for showering, hot tubs, decorative fountains, and cooling towers (air conditioning units for larger buildings).

While Legionnaire’s disease outbreaks make the papers, the overwhelming majority of cases (96%) are single, sporadic cases isolated from outbreaks according to the CDC.  Additionally, underreporting of cases is also a problem due to the delayed onset and overlapping of symptoms with those of other illnesses, including COVID-19.

Testing for legionella is the only direct way to know whether it is present.  During the last legislative session, it was brought to my attention that the CDC has reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease increases have occurred of over 200%, and Pennsylvania has had some of the highest rates of illness year after year.  For that reason, I introduced Senate Bill 1285 that would make Legionella testing a required part of water management and bridge the regulatory gap that now exists.

In the past, organizations have opted to leave testing “at the discretion of the facility.”  When given a choice, these businesses and building owners have opted to not test for Legionella and the risk to patients in especially facilities that house high-risk patients often goes undetected until someone contracts the disease.

My bill aims to make Pennsylvania’s drinking water and buildings a safer environment especially for our more vulnerable population by requiring action to prevent and control Legionnaires’ disease.  In the coming weeks I will be going through the testimony and make any necessary changes as suggested by the panel to my previous SB 1285 in order to guarantee there is no stone unturned when it comes to this potentially fatal but preventable disease.

Mail-in Ballots, Ballot Return

The deadline to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot was 5 p.m. on May 11.

Voted ballots must be received by the Allegheny County Elections Division no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 18. Postmarks are not enough; the ballots must be received by 8 p.m.

I also want to remind all voters who have mail-in or absentee ballots to be returned may return their ballot, in person, by taking it to the lobby of the County Office Building, located at 542 Forbes Avenue. Hours are listed below. Voters who have made errors on or misplaced their security or declaration envelope may get replacements at the window:

Date Hours Location
Friday, May 14 8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. County Office Building Lobby
Saturday, May 15 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. County Office Building Lobby
Sunday, May 16 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. County Office Building Lobby
Monday, May 17 8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. County Office Building Lobby
Tuesday, May 18 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. County Office Building Lobby

As a reminder, voters can only return their own ballot, they may not return the ballots of others. Masks or face coverings are required in the offices and physical distancing will be followed.

As we continue another election using mail-in voting, it’s important to note that mail-in voting is safe, secure, and convenient. That’s why so many voters are choosing to vote by mail as you’ll learn below. I want mail-in voting to be how we conduct elections in Pennsylvania going forward. Learn more about the history and future of mail-in voting and secure elections by taking a look at a piece I authored in March if you haven’t seen it yet and learn more about Senate Bill 128 by clicking here.

Did You Know

Did you know that 124,694 mail-in and absentee ballots were approved for the upcoming primary election in Allegheny County?

New Polling Places

Letters were mailed last week to approximately 40,000 households which have new polling places for the May 18 primary election. There are 10 polling places in the 42nd Senatorial District that have been moved. Those locations are as follows:

Municipality Ward District Polling Place Location
Avalon Borough 2 2 Salvation Army, 327 South Home Avenue
Bellevue Borough 1 1 Knights of Columbus, Mariner Hall
450 Lincoln Avenue
Ingram Borough 1 Ingram Borough Building Memorial Hall
40 West Prospect Avenue
Ingram Borough 2 Ingram Borough Building Memorial Hall
40 West Prospect Avenue
Ingram Borough 3 Ingram Borough Building Memorial Hall
40 West Prospect Avenue
Pittsburgh 1 1 Human Services Building
One Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh 1 2 Engine Company #4
1324 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh 3 4 Ebenezer Baptist Church
2001 Wylie Avenue
Pittsburgh 5 5 Calvary Baptist Church
2629 Wylie Avenue
Pittsburgh 10 15 Mt. Ararat Community Center
745 North Negley Avenue

How to Schedule a Vaccine

All Pennsylvania adults are eligible to schedule an appointment for the COVID -19 vaccine! As of May 13, more than 9.4 million doses of COVID vaccine have been administered in Pennsylvania and more than 4 million Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated.

Find a COVID-19 Vaccine near youLast week, President Joe Biden announced the launch of www.vaccines.gov. On this site, visitors can simply enter their zip code and a listing of locations in order of proximity will generate showing locations with vaccines in stock. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has also announced they transitioned to www.vaccines.gov.

This transition to Vaccine Finder for Pennsylvania also ensures that all vaccine providers in Pennsylvania display on Apple Maps. Users can find nearby COVID-19 vaccination locations from the search bar in Apple Maps by selecting COVID-19 Vaccines in the Find Nearby menu or by asking Siri, “Where can I get a COVID vaccination?”

Google Maps and Facebook are also using Vaccines.gov as the source of the information being displayed as people search for a location where they can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition, individuals can text their zip code to GETVAX (438829) for English, or VACUNA (822862) for Spanish and receive three possible vaccination sites in their area, with phone numbers to call for an appointment.

There are many other ways to locate a vaccine as well. 

I want to remind everyone that my website features a vaccination page which can be viewed at https://www.senatorfontana.com/vaccine. Anyone without internet access can also call the Department of Health at 1-877-724-3258 for help finding a vaccine provider.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) has a Vaccine Registration site and any individuals seeking vaccine appointments may register online at http://vax4.alleghenycounty.us  or by calling 2-1-1. ACHD also has a vaccine provider map, which can be viewed by clicking here. The vaccine provider map contains information about pharmacies and ongoing vaccination sites, as well as temporary vaccination events for the public. Each location includes information about the type of vaccine available and how to register. More locations will be added on an ongoing basis. 

ACHD announced earlier this week they will administer the Pfizer vaccine to children 12 and older following federal approval of the vaccine by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Pfizer vaccine is currently being administered at ACHD vaccination sites in Castle Shannon at the Volunteer Fire Department Banquet Hall, 3600 Library Road, and Robert Morris University (RMU) at the UPMC Events Center, 6001 University Boulevard. Walk-ins are accepted at both locations. Parents or guardians will need to provide consent before the vaccination of any youth between the ages of 12-17. Appointments can made at https://vax4.alleghenycounty.us/patient/s/ or by calling 2-1-1 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily.

UPMC has a website, https://vaccine.upmc.com/, that allows individuals to complete a registration form. Once the registration form is completed, you will receive additional communications from UPMC to schedule an appointment. Those without access to technology or the internet can call 844-UPMCVAC (844-876-2822).

Allegheny Health Network is allowing anyone to sign up for “MyChart” and you will be alerted when they have COVID-19 vaccine appointments available. You will also be able to schedule your vaccine appointment online by clicking here or by calling 412-362-8677.

St. Clair Hospital has created a registration page for individuals in their 34-zip code service area. Anyone in their service area can sign up to be contacted to schedule an appointment once supply allows. Anyone without internet access can call 412-942-2960 to request to register. Callers should leave a message including your full name, address, date of birth, and phone number. To learn more about St. Clair Hospital’s vaccination efforts please click here and to sign up to be contacted to schedule when supply allows, please click here.

In addition to the information provided above, the following are providers in Allegheny County that have received vaccines from the Pennsylvania Department of Health in the last two weeks. This is in addition to large pharmacies who are receiving vaccines directly from the federal government.

Accredo Health Group

3000 Ericsson Drive



Advanced Rheumatology & Arthritis Wellness Center

10431 Perry Highway



Adzema Pharmacy

8105 Perry Highway



AHN Forbes Hospital

2570 Haymaker Road



AHN Allegheny General Hospital

320 East North Avenue



AHN Allegheny Valley Hospital

1301 Carlisle Street

Natrona Heights


AHN Jefferson Regional Hospital

565 Coal Valley Road

Jefferson Hills


AHN West Penn Hospital

4800 Friendship Avenue



Allergy & Clinical Immunology Assoc.

180 Ft. Couch Road

Upper St. Clair


American Healthcare Group

733 Washington Road

Mt. Lebanon


Associates in Ophthalmology

9970 Mountain View Drive

West Mifflin


CCN Pharmacy

300 Penn Center Boulevard



CMU Student Health Services

1060 Morewood Avenue



DiToppa Medical Center

1978 Lincoln Way

White Oak


East Liberty Family Health Center

6023 Harvard Street

East Liberty


Family Matters Direct Primary Care

4824 William Flynn Highway, Suite 102

Allison Park


Healthquest Medical Associates

5318 Ranalli Drive



Hiebers Pharmacy

3500 Fifth Avenue



Hilltop Pharmacy

818 E. Warrington Avenue



Integrated Health 21

2403 Sidney Street, Suite 220

South Side


Kids Plus Pediatrics

810 Clairton Boulevard

Pleasant Hills


Kids Plus Pediatrics

4070 Beechwood Boulevard

Squirrel Hill


Lebanon Shops Pharmacy

300 Mt. Lebanon Boulevard

Castle Shannon


Metro Community Health Center

1789 South Braddock Avenue



North Side Christian Health Center

816 Middle Street



Pittsburgh Family Practice

1517 Forbes Avenue



Pittsburgh Family Practice

362 Lincoln Avenue



Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center

249 South 9th Street

South Side


Pleasant Hills Apothecary

25 Gill Hall Road



Primary Care Pharmacy

27 Heckel Road



Spartan Pharmacy

3520 Saw Mill Run



Spartan Pharmacy

3400 South Park Road

Bethel Park


Squirrel Hill Health Center

4516 Browns Hill Road

Glen Hazel

Visit online

Squirrel Hill Health Center

103 Towne Square Way


Visit online

St. Clair Hospital

1000 Bower Hill Road

Mt. Lebanon


Steel City South Pediatrics

3911 Saw Mill Run Boulevard



Sto-Rox Family Health Center

710 Thompson Avenue

McKees Rocks


Towne Drugs

227 Commercial Avenue



Trilogy Mission Rx

307 23rd Street



UPMC McKeesport

1500 Fifth Avenue



UPMC Mercy

1400 Locust Street



UPMC Presbyterian

200 Lothrop Street



UPMC Shadyside

5320 Centre Avenue



UPMC St. Margaret

815 Freeport Road



UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

4401 Penn Avenue



VDI Kevin’s Shop n’Save Pharmacy

799 Castle Shannon Boulevard

Castle Shannon


VDI Pleasant Hills Apothecary

25 Gill Hall Road



Waltmire Pharmacy

1435 Spring Garden Avenue

Spring Hill


Wilson’s Pharmacy

4101 Penn Avenue



Vaccine Scheduling for People with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism 

Last week Governor Wolf announced a partnership with Rite Aid Pharmacy to ease access to COVID-19 vaccinations for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

People with an intellectual or developmental disability and their caregivers can call the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) Vaccination Call Center at 1-800-424-4345 to request a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for themselves and/or their caregivers. This hotline is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

From there, ODP will give Rite Aid names and locations of individuals who need to be vaccinated. Rite Aid staff will assign local pharmacies to reach out to callers to schedule vaccinations at a Rite Aid location near to the caller. This effort will also be able to help coordinate special accommodations for individuals who need assistance with transportation or on-site aid, among other needs.

Anyone age 16 or older with an intellectual or developmental disability and their caregivers can request a vaccine appointment through this effort, regardless of whether they are currently enrolled in a service and support program through ODP. ODP oversees services and supports for approximately 57,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across Pennsylvania but estimates that this only covers about 25 percent of Pennsylvanians who may qualify as having an intellectual or developmental disability. ODP is working with Pennsylvania’s Developmental Disabilities Council, Temple University’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, the Arc of Pennsylvania, and Aging and Disability Resource Centers to help people with disabilities and their caregivers know about this option and assist with accommodations.

New Mask Order Reflects Latest CDC Guidance for Fully Vaccinated Individuals

Mask UpdateOn May 13, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that the commonwealth’s mask order reflects the announcement made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier that day.

The commonwealth’s mask order was amended by adding language directing to the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people allow for no face coverings. That means that the new CDC guidelines automatically go into effect in Pennsylvania. Masking requirements will still be in place as otherwise provided under the CDC guidance and for unvaccinated individuals until 70 percent of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

The CDC provided guidance that fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities that they did prior to the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing except where required by law, rule, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Under the guidance, individuals are still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs, such as airports and stations. In addition, all individuals will still need to follow guidance at workplaces and local businesses.

For more information on the CDC guidance, please click here.

Increase to Indoor, Outdoor Events & Gatherings Maximum

On May 11, the Wolf Administration announced that event and gathering maximum occupancy limits will be increased to 50 percent for indoor events and gatherings and 75 percent for outdoor events and gatherings effective Monday, May 17 at 12:01 a.m.

This update will not prevent municipalities, school districts, restaurants and venues from continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts. Based on current CDC guidance, social distancing is strongly recommended for municipalities, school districts, restaurants, and venues.

An event or gathering is defined as a temporary grouping of individuals for defined purposes, that takes place over a limited timeframe, such as hours or days. For example, events and gatherings include fairs, festivals, concerts or shows and groupings that occur within larger, more permanent businesses, such as shows or performances within amusements parks, individual showings of movies on a single screen/auditorium within a multiplex, business meetings or conferences, or each party or reception within a multiroom venue.

Currently, maximum occupancy is 25 percent for indoor events and gatherings and 50 percent for outdoor events and gatherings, regardless of venue size and only if attendees and workers are able to comply with the 6-foot physical distancing requirement.

Mitigation Orders Lifted Starting Memorial Day

Covid restrictions liftedLast week, the Wolf administration, in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, announced that mitigation orders except masking will be lifted on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31 at 12:01 a.m.

The updated masking order requiring unvaccinated Pennsylvanians to wear masks will be lifted when 70 percent of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

Requirements such as testing and reporting new cases will remain in place for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Maintaining requirements for hospitals and long-term care facilities will allow Pennsylvania to continue to closely monitor COVID-19 spread while lifting other restrictions.

The Department of Health recommends that Pennsylvanians refer to CDC guidance and recommendations regarding ongoing COVID-19 safety measures and procedures.

These updates will not prevent municipalities and school districts from continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts.

Shredding, Medication Take-Back Event Tomorrow

Shredding EventRep. Deasy and I are joining with Green Tree Borough to host a shredding event and medication take-back event this Saturday, May 15 in the parking lot at Green Tree Park, located at 905 Green Tree Road, from 8 – 11 a.m. (or until trucks are full).

Documents will be shredded on-site by a reputable and bonded company. All papers must be loose, no binder clips or paper clips, and documents cannot be in binders. The Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office will be present to collect any unused/unwanted prescription medications that will be disposed of safely as part of their Project D.U.M.P.

Staff will be wearing masks and gloves. All attendees must stay in your vehicles and wear a mask. Recycling must be in paper bags or cardboard boxes and placed in your trunk or in the back of your vehicle.

With consumer fraud and identity theft continuing to be an issue, we are hosting these events to not only to raise awareness and promote prevention, but also to provide individuals with the opportunity to have unneeded, confidential documents destroyed free of charge. You may bring documents that contain personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.

Pennsylvania Tax Forgiveness Program

With the personal income tax filing deadline approaching this coming Monday, May 17, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is reminding low-income Pennsylvanians that they may be eligible for a refund or reduction of their Pennsylvania personal income taxes through the commonwealth’s Tax Forgiveness program.

About one in five households qualify for Tax Forgiveness and it is a benefit commonly received by retirees and low-income workers. However, every year there are hundreds of thousands of eligible Pennsylvanians who do not take advantage of the program because they fail to file a Pennsylvania Personal Income Tax Return (PA-40) to claim the reduction or refund on their taxes.   

A family of four (couple with two children) can earn up to $34,250 and qualify for Tax Forgiveness. Meanwhile, a single-parent, two-child family with income of up to $27,750 can also qualify for Tax Forgiveness.

Using the most recent data available, the Department of Revenue estimates there are at least 380,000 Pennsylvania taxpayers who would qualify for Tax Forgiveness but fail to file an income tax return with the commonwealth to claim the benefit. That estimated number could be much higher depending on the number of children eligible taxpayers have. These people are missing out on refunds ranging between $10 and $1,000.

Please visit the Tax Forgiveness page on the Department of Revenue’s website for further eligibility information, including eligibility income tables. 

Emergency Rental Assistance Program 

Assistance with utility bills remains available through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to individuals and families who live in rental properties. A total of $847 million has been distributed among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to help thousands of families maintain their housing and utility services and to sustain the rental and utility industries hit hard by the economic downturn. ERAP launched in March.

Households may be eligible for up to 12 months of assistance to cover past-due or future rental and/or utility payments. The amount of a household’s monthly rent or utility bills does not preclude eligibility, but the amount of ERAP assistance provided to a household is determined by program administrators at the county level.

Assistance can be provided to a tenant for future rental payments, and for unpaid rental or utility arrears that were accrued on or after March 13, 2020 on a residential rental property. Counties may choose to provide additional assistance to eligible households if funds remain available.

To qualify for assistance, a household must be responsible to pay rent on a residential property and meet each of the following criteria.

  • One or more people within the household has qualified for unemployment benefits, had a decrease in income, had increased household costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic; AND
  • One or more individuals in the household can show a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; AND
  • The household has an income at or below 80 percent of area median income, which varies by county. Income limits by county are available by clicking here. Resources (like bank accounts and cars) are not relevant to ERAP eligibility.

Applicants will need to provide the following information: head of household’s personal information; income information for all household members 18 and older; rental lease and amount owed; landlord’s name and contact information. If applying for utility assistance, applicants must provide utility expenses and utility provider information.

ERAP will end when all funds have been expended.

In Allegheny County, applications can be submitted online at https://covidrentrelief.alleghenycounty.us/. Those without internet access can call 412-248-0021.

Affording Higher Education Webinars

As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to alert students and families of some upcoming webinars that focus on affording higher education.

For most families, borrowing for education is part of the equation and can be confusing as families look for the best options to fit their needs. Join Dan Wray and Linda Pacewicz of PHEAA for a one-hour webinar to increase your financial literacy and knowledge on the process of credit and how to maintain or improve ratings and comparison points to help make informed and affordable education borrowing decisions.

This webinar, Deep Dive Into Credit Related to Education Funding is available at the following dates and times:

            Tuesday, May 25, 6:30 p.m.

            Thursday, May 27, noon

Anyone interesting in registering for any of these sessions can click here.

A second webinar, Two Step Approach to Post Secondary Financial Bliss, focuses on how to use online tools to plan for financial success as you seek a postsecondary education. This webinar also emphasizes best practices, such as seeking grants and scholarships first, covers the primary methods of keeping school related debt to a minimum, reminds families about additional resources, such as payment plans, and touches on private/alternative loans as a last resort.

This webinar is available at the following dates and times

            Tuesday, May 18, noon

            Thursday, May 20, 6:30 p.m.

Anyone interested in registering for either of these sessions can click here.

Carnegie Museums Survey for Teachers, Educators

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh wants to hear from educators! As the current school year wraps up and plans for 2021-2022 are underway, Carnegie Museums wants to better understand how they can best support educators’ educational goals and curriculum needs in the months and years ahead. To that end, they have created a short, 10-15 minute survey for educators.

Four survey participants will receive a free educational program from the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh museum of their choice for their classroom. After completing the survey, you will be prompted to enter your name and contact information, which will be entered into a random drawing. The winning educators will be contacted by Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh to schedule their free educational programs.

Educators can access the survey by clicking here.

Fontana Fact

Nurses week

This past week was National Nurses Week in the United States, a time to celebrate the critical work nurses do every day. There are currently more than 3.8 million registered nurses in the United States and nursing is one of the fastest growing professions with more than 200,000 new nursing jobs being created each year.