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Drying out: Area residents give up alcohol for Dry January

Vodka tonic, hold the vodka.

After a very merry holiday season, several local residents are participating in Dry January, an international movement that encourages starting the New Year sober.

“One of my friends does it every year, just as a reset over the holidays,” said Jessica Zapadka, a first-time Dry January participant who lived in Canonsburg for nearly a decade before moving to Mt. Lebanon. “(I decided) one of my resolutions is going to be doing Dry January. I just thought this would be a really good challenge for me.”

It’s a challenge gaining in popularity. Dry January began in 1942, when the Finnish government launched what it dubbed Sober January as part of its wartime efforts.

The United Kingdom charity Alcohol Change UK coined the term Dry January in 2014; the movement moved into the U.K.’s mainstream with the nonprofit’s widely publicized campaign.

Since then, the challenge has picked up steam in the states, and people participate for a myriad of reasons.

“There are a lot of benefits,” said Holly Martin, a psychologist and chief operating officer at Greenbriar Treatment Center. “I think people have found when they dry out for a month they sleep better, they feel better overall. Medically, people will find out their cholesterol levels will drop, their glucose levels will drop, their blood pressure will even out. Alcohol’s a depressant; when you remove that, most people will find out their mood is better, that they have more energy.”

Indeed, Samantha Quraishi, a 2004 Chartiers-Houston graduate who lives in Meadowbrook, said she’s been sleeping soundly since quitting alcohol Jan. 1.

“Usually I don’t. I usually get up at like 2, 3, just wide awake,” she said. “I haven’t really been getting up at those times now, which is great.”

Faith Spicer, a hairstylist at Studio 11 in Canonsburg, and her boyfriend, Ian Ramsey, are also sleeping through the night. This year marks their first Dry January.

“It’s funny because I didn’t even know it was a thing. It’s just something my boyfriend and I decided to do after the holidays,” Spicer said. “I’ll admit some days it was hard, at first. You just want to have that glass of wine to settle down, but we’re noticing it’s getting a lot easier. We don’t see ourselves really wanting a drink, really needing that.”

Wanting a drink – to take the edge off after work, to stave off boredom – has become more common since the pandemic began.

“As a culture, we normalize alcohol use with just about everything,” said Erica Usher, prevention supervisor at Fayette County Drug and Alcohol. “Especially since the pandemic, a lot of people have really been highlighting their alcohol use. There were many people who very publicly, on social media, would talk and show how they were coping with the stress of the pandemic ... with alcohol. It’s a joke, many people use that as a joke. But when we see that over and over and over again, it slowly normalizes that for all of us.”

Zapadka, who works from home as a StitchFix stylist, said COVID-19 made it even easier to clock out and grab a drink. Dry January, she said, is helping her establish healthier habits.

“I feel like, OK, instead of having a glass of wine I can get on my spin bike or go to the gym,” she said. “It’s just opened up a lot more options. Once you crack into a drink, you’re kind of down for the day.”

In addition to sleeping better, feeling lighter and more energetic Zapadka’s also drinking more water. So, too, is Quraishi.

“I do drink sparkling water – the flavored ones. I think that has definitely helped. I do drink seltzers when I do drink, so it’s kind of like the same thing.”

While Quraishi drinks sparkling water instead of seltzer, Spicer’s swapped booze with a hemp-based drink called Kowa.

“A friend actually introduced them to me,” she said. “I just drink one at the end of the night. It’s fat-free, calorie-free, sugar-free, so it’s not unhealthy, either.”

Breweries in recent years have double-hopped on board the sober bandwagon, offering zero- and low-alcohol options for the sober and sober-curious.

Quraishi purchased Ritual Zero Proof, a non-alcohol spirit.

“I haven’t opened it,” she laughed. “I’ve looked online at all kinds of wines and things like that, but then again, I don’t know if I want to put that taste in my mouth. I don’t know if I’ll be craving the alcohol instead.”

For problem drinkers, Martin advises against NA beers.

“That really just leads you back to drinking. It tastes the same, maybe, but you don’t get the same effect. It does still count as Dry January,” but, she said, “It’s a trigger. It just creates that desire for the alcohol. It’s better than drinking alcohol.”

Usher views NA beers, wines and spirits as a stepping stone on the road to recovery, in much the same way a smoker uses a nicotine patch before quitting altogether.

And John Fox, drug and alcohol director for Greene County Drug and Alcohol Program, said there’s no right way to get sober.

“I get people like the taste of beer,” said Fox. “O’Douls has been around a long time. I just talked to a guy; he’s like, ‘(Budweiser Zero) tastes the same.’ If drinking those types of products helps someone feel like, hey, I still fit in with my group of friends, I can still go out to the bar and watch a football game. If you figure out a way that you can still socially interact with your cohort of friends and not be ostracized, you pour it in a glass, it looks like a beer. If it’s working for you, it’s working for me.”

Unlike Spicer, Zapadka said she hasn’t explored NA options.

“Since this is mainly my first time being really committed to it, I just felt like I’m not even going to tempt myself,” she said. For her, water is working.

“Alcohol is not something that the body needs,” said Usher, noting increased water intake is good for smooth skin. “From a place of prevention, if we’re asking people, hey, take a period of time and see how it goes for you, to eliminate this substance from your life. As you’re living that experience, you’re going to learn something. That’s useful for a person to examine.”

Since January began, Spicer’s anxiety has decreased. Quraishi said her digestive system is working better, and both agreed with Zapadka that living a hangover-free life is kind of nice.

“I think everyone should just kind of challenge themselves: go a day, go two days, go three days, then go a week,” said Spicer.

Quraishi might extend Dry January into February.

“I don’t know if I will really go back to drinking at all,” she said. “It’s still too early to tell; I haven’t decided.”

Zapadka isn’t planning on poppin’ bottles once January ends, either.

“I think it’s good for everyone, to have this refresh. It’s just good to get back to your original self,” she said. “It’s definitely a good way to get back to zero, get in touch with your body and your mind.”

Biden to double free COVID tests, add masks to fight omicron

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with “high-quality masks,” as he highlighted his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.

Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant. Speaking at the White House, he said six additional military medical teams will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.

Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.

Biden acknowledged that, “I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year” as virus cases reach new heights. But he insisted that it remains “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people test positive for the virus, but Biden noted medical figures showing that people are far less likely to suffer serious illness and death if they’ve received a shot: “What happens after that could not be more different.”

Biden’s comments come as his administration’s focus is shifting to easing disruptions from the spike in cases that is also contributing to grocery shortages and flight cancellations, rather than preventing the transmission of the virus.

On Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, told Congress that the highly transmissible strain will infect “most people” and that the focus should turn to ensuring critical services can continue uninterrupted.

“I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?” she said. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function – transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.”

Biden said that he is directing his team to double its procurement of rapid COVID-19 tests to be delivered for free to Americans through a forthcoming federal website, as he seeks to respond to criticism over shortages and long lines for tests. The initial order was for 500 million tests, and now the federal government will purchase 1 billion at-home testing kits.

The initial batch of test kits will be available starting next week, Biden said, when the administration launches a new website where Americans can request the free tests. The rest of the tests will be delivered over the coming months.

Biden also announced that for the first time his administration was planning to make “high-quality masks,” including N95s, which are most effective at preventing transmission of the virus, available for free. He said his administration would announce details next week.

The federal government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks, the White House said this week. And though research has shown those masks to be better protection, they are often more uncomfortable, and health officials are not altering their guidance to recommend against less-protective cloth masks.

The best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.

Biden encouraged Americans to wear masks when indoors to slow the spread of the virus, even as he acknowledged they’re a “pain in the neck”

“Next week we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality masks available to the American people for free,” he added.

During Thursday’s remarks Biden was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recently recovered from his own case of COVID-19, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. They were hearing about the work of the more than 800 military personnel who have been helping civilian hospitals since Thanksgiving and the more than 15,000 National Guard members whose work supporting vaccinations, testing and caring for patients is being covered by the federal government.

The White House said the they spoke with federal personnel who are already on the ground in Arizona, Michigan and New York to hear about their experiences.

Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that as of Thursday, there are now 15,200 Guard members around the country supporting COVID-19 missions.

State Guard leaders from Ohio, New York and Colorado told reporters on Thursday that they are using only vaccinated troops for missions that directly interact with the public, including at testing sites and in patient care at hospitals.

The White House said the teams will support Henry Ford Hospital just outside Detroit, University Hospital in Newark, the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Cleveland Clinic and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

The deployment by the Department of Defense will join another team sent by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to Bob Riney, president of Healthcare Operations and chief operating officer for Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System. He said the phases of the operations would come together “in a highly coordinated way.”

“They’re not overlapping. They’re complementary,” he told reporters Thursday.

The first team of medical personnel arrived Sunday and went through an orientation before helping patients on Monday. They are providing care for up to 24 beds and supporting staff at Henry Ford Wyandotte with in-patient care and surgeries, Riney said.

The first phase is through Jan. 21 and the second team will come for an additional 30 days. “We are looking at 45 days of total support and that has a much more meaningful impact,” he said.

“We welcome and are grateful for any support that we have,” said Riney, who told reporters that the federal government chose to address needs at the Wyandotte hospital after the health system submitted its current situation and data to Health and Human Services.

A spokesperson for the Cleveland Clinic said the hospital system is “receiving federal support from a team of approximately 20 military medical professionals.”

Spokesperson Andrea Pacetti said they likely will begin working next week at the Clinic’s main campus in Cleveland. CEO and President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic in a statement on Thursday said: “We are grateful for the federal support as we continue to face a challenging COVID-19 surge in our Ohio hospitals. The addition of military medical personnel allows us to care for more patients in our community.”

AP writers Alexandra Jaffe and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Corey Williams in Detroit and Mark Gillispie in Cleveland contributed.

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Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign rebounds with WCCF donation

The Salvation Army fell just short of its Red Kettle campaign’s fundraising goal in Western Pennsylvania this holiday season, but exceeded its target in Washington, thanks to a last-minute donation from the Washington County Community Foundation.

The local campaign in Washington County had hoped to raise $65,000 during the holidays, but had only reached about $44,000 due to fewer kettles being placed outside stores with a smaller number of bell-ringers available this season.

But the Salvation Army received a late Christmas gift on Monday when the Washington County Community Foundation provided the nonprofit with a $50,000 grant to help it meet its Red Kettle goal, along with additional money needed for additional emergency services.

The local branch was already stretched thin after spending about $30,000 over the past three weeks to pay for the hotel rooms of about 30 residents who were displaced after the Dec. 23 fire at Thomas Campbell Apartments in South Strabane damaged numerous units. So the money from the Community Foundation will allow the Salvation Army to continue helping residents who still need housing, while also providing them with bedding and welcome home packages when they are able to return to their apartments.

“They were able to give us a grant for the amount we were missing and then some,” said Capt. Amber Imhoff of the Salvation Army in Washington. “We were very blessed, needless to say. It was a miracle. (The Community Foundation) pushed us over the last stretch, so we’ll be able to serve well in this community.”

She added that the organization is now working with Blueprints in Washington to help displaced residents apply for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program that offers financial help for people who are struggling to pay their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in really good shape,” she said. “A few more people will be housed over the next few weeks.”

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army fell just short of its overall fundraising expectations in Western Pennsylvania, raising about $2.2 million, which was about $200,000 less than its goal. The organization attributed the lower fundraising figures due to a lack of volunteer and paid bell-ringers as the pandemic continued through the winter, along with general staff shortages that have plagued the nation.

But both Greene and Fayette counties were in line with their localized goals. The Greene County Service Center raised $42,253, which was $750 below its goal, while Fayette County exceeded expectations by nearly $3,500 after raising $68,465 this year.

“We are incredibly grateful for the community’s ongoing support as we work to raise the funds needed to continue to lift up the most vulnerable people in our neighborhoods across the region,” said Maj. Gregory Hartshorn, who serves as the divisional commander for the Salvation Army in Western Pennsylvania.

He added that people can continue to donate online at to help the organization throughout the year.

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”

Biden called on businesses to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies already have done so.

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges – and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraging private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

The OSHA regulation had initially been blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.”

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all health care workers in the country, applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

Biden said that decision by the court “will save lives.”

In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have.” It said the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare arena.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration has the authority “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration hadn’t shown convincingly that Congress gave it that authority.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed onto Thomas’ opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent that the other three conservatives also joined.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters are asked for negative test results before being allowed inside the courtroom for arguments, though vaccinations are not required.

The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday.

A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.


Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.


This story corrects that four justices noted dissents in the health care vaccine case, not just Alito and Thomas.