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WESA Daily Briefing: June 10, 2020

Erin Keane Scott
90.5 WESA

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.

6:54 p.m. - PPS commencement viewing canceled

A statement from Pittsburgh Public Schools read: "At the request of law enforcement, the District will cancel this weekend’s Commencement Viewing Events due to planned protests in the Downtown area.  The drive-in style events were scheduled to take place outside of the PPG Paints Arena."

The virtual ceremony will still be online here

5:47 p.m. - State Senate asks Department of State to produce report on primary

State lawmakers have approved a bill requiring the Department of State to produce a report on last week’s primary election.

The deadline to submit the report is August 1st—just before the legislature is set start debating changes to the state's election code ahead of the fall election.

But voting rights advocates, local officials and legislative Democrats--including southeastern Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony Williams--say talks need to begin now.

“Why we’d wait, would be a curious consideration to any of us, other than we don't want it to affect the November election and make sure it's correct,” Williams said.

Pennsylvanians cast an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots last week, largely due to COVID-19 concerns.

The bill calls for the report to include 30 data points on election procedure—such as poll staffing, voter registration and various components of mailed ballot processing.

5:23 p.m. - Proportion of new coronavirus cases at long term care facilities in Allegheny County declines

Residents of these facilities accounted for 26 percent of cases Between May 21st and June 3rd. Earlier in May, that figure was 41 percent.

“Facilities are better at identifying symptoms of the virus early. Getting residents and employees tested. And keeping employees home, and residents cohorted to keep people safe,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, head of the county health department. “As we’ve learned more and more about the virus, we’ve identified symptoms such as loss of appetite and diarrhea that are common in the elderly.”

Roughly 80 percent of Allegheny County residents who have died from COVID-19 lived at these facilities.

St. Barnaba Nursing Home in Gibsonia, Caring Heights Community Care and Rehabilitation Center in Coraopolis, and the county-owned John J. Kane Living Center in Pittsburgh’s Glen Hazel neighborhood have had the most deaths.

4:16 p.m. — Pence campaigning in Pittsburgh area on Friday

Vice President Mike Pence will make an appearance at a manufacturing plant near Pittsburgh on Friday as part of a new campaign effort showcasing the nation’s economy making a comeback. President Donald Trump had planned to run for reelection on the back of a strong economy, a hope dashed by the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic devastation, including a soaring unemployment rate. But he seized on a better-than-expected jobs report released last week, and his campaign quickly made an ad proclaiming “the great American comeback has begun.”

4:10 p.m. — "Black Lives Matter" mural updated by black artists 

Pittsburgh’s newest mural is the words “Black Lives Matter,” painted in white letters 12 feet tall on the wall of the Allegheny Wharf, Downtown. Artists painted it Saturday to support protests against police killings of African Americans, but critics were upset that none of the artists was black. Wednesday, a group of black artists organized by local muralist Camerin “Camo” Nesbit gathered to add their own embellishments. The mural, which faces PNC Park, was painted without permission, but was sanctioned after the fact by Mayor Bill Peduto.

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Destenee Guy, of Hazelwood, contributes to the mural Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

4:02 p.m. — Speaker Turzai stepping down next week

Speaker of the State House Mike Turzai will leave the legislature next week. After a 45-minute speech on the House floor Wednesday, the Allegheny County legislator said his last day would be June 15. He announced his retirement in January, and said he might leave before the end of the year. The next speaker could call a special election in Turzai's 28th House district north of Pittsburgh, but an election law expert says that's unlikely. Republican Rob Mercuri and Democrat Emily Skopov are running to replace him.

3:57 p.m. — Sports are coming back for green/yellow phase areas

K-12 athletics practices and competitions can resume for districts in the yellow and green phases, according to new preliminary guidance released by the state. Whether to do so will be left up to the districts’ governing bodies. The state is not allowing spectators at games, though—only athletes, coaches and officials. 

Professional sports can also resume in the yellow phase with a Department of Health approved plan. No spectators are allowed in the yellow phase. 

Teams practicing and playing in the green phase will not need a plan and up to 250 people can be on site. Spectators should wear face coverings and sit six feet from anyone not in the same household. Teams can request Department of Health approval to allow more than 250 people on site. 

The state recommends coaches and athletes continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.   

2:57 p.m. - PPS to hold drive-in style commencement

Pittsburgh Public Schools seniors will celebrate virtually and on a big screen outside of PPG Paints Arena this weekend. The district announced the drive-in style ceremonies Tuesday night. Each graduate will wear their cap and gown and must stay inside of a vehicle parked in the lot at Wylie and Logan Streets. Ceremonies for nine high schools are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. More information can be found at the district’s website.

2:54 p.m. - Kennywood announces opening date

Kennywood will reopen next month, with new policies in place. The park will require masks and temperature checks  when it reopens July 11th. Capacity will also be limited. Theme parks like Cedar Point and Disney World have adopted similar protocols. Visitors will need to register online for their visit, in addition to purchasing a ticket. The park says registration will be released in phases, so those wanting to plan an end-of-summer trip should continue to check the website as more dates are added. 

Credit 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA

12:28 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

The number of COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County increased by seven to 2,034. The number of deaths increased by three to 172.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 410 to 76,846. That total includes approximately 5,837 cases among health care workers and 19,154 cases among nursing and personal care home staff and residents. Statewide, the number of deaths also increased by 48, to 6,062.  

10:32 a.m. - Turzai expected to step before end of term

State House Speaker Mike Turzai said back in January he would not seek re-election. Today, he's expected to announce he will step down before the end of his term. Spotlight PA, citing several sources in the legislature, is reporting Turzai will outline a timetable for his departure later today.

Earlier this year, Turzai said he would leave the legislature to take a job in the private sector. 

8:55 a.m. -Pennsylvania orders hospitals to protect workers from virus

Pennsylvania hospitals will be required to replace soiled or damaged respirators on request, require universal masking and take other steps to protect health care workers from the new coronavirus under an order issued Tuesday by the state health secretary. With unionized nurses raising the alarm about hazardous working conditions, Health Secretary Rachel Levine pledged to “deliver a safer environment” for health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 death toll passed 6,000 as the Health Department reported 61 additional deaths linked to the disease. Since early March, infections have been confirmed in more than 76,400 people in Pennsylvania. Read more here.   

7:41 a.m. - Post-Gazette editor offers "the rest of the story"

In a letter published early this morning, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette executive director Keith Burris writes, "In recent days the readers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have been subjected to a great deal of disinformation about the Post-Gazette. It is time for the rest of the story." He says the newspaper did not "single out" reporter Alexis Johnson and photographer Michael Santiago because of their race. The letter follows a virtual panel hosted by 1Hood Media, during which Johnson said newsrooms need to be doing more to support black journalists

The Associated Press contributed to this report.