WESA Daily Briefing: June 26, 2020
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.
4:25 p.m. - Protesters return to East Liberty, chanting support for Black trans women
Demonstrators gathered outside the Target in East Liberty on Friday to protest the treatment of Black people by law enforcement. Such protests have taken place in Pittsburgh since late May, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Definitely growing pic.twitter.com/pPlSwJEGYo— Ariel Worthy (@airreeulll) June 26, 2020
The action was a return to the site of a June 1 protest, when Pittsburgh Police broke up a crowd using “less-lethal” dispersion methods, including tear gas and bean-bag rounds.
3:17 p.m. - City secures $500,000 for immigrant community's COVID-19 relief
The Mayor's Office of Equity's Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative has been granted $500,000 to help community organizations that aid the city's immigrant and refugee populations. According to a release from the city, the money will be distributed through the immigrant and Latino-focused group toward businesses and families in need of financial aid due to the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown.
The funds will be given through a first-come, first-serve application process over the next few weeks.
2:57 p.m. – Pitt to study fossil fuel divestment
The University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees plans to study possible divestment of the university's endowment from the fossil fuel industry. The Pitt News reports the board made the announcement at its meeting Friday morning. Student activists have been calling on the university to divest its $4.3 billion endowment from fossil fuel investments for years. In February, the board announced Pitt would be carbon neutral by 2037, which students said didn't go far enough.
2:51 p.m. – PLRB examiner says Pitt inflated faculty size ahead of union vote
A Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner on Thursday ruled the University of Pittsburgh administration misrepresented its faculty size to impede a worker effort to join the United Steelworkers.
According to a USW press release, PLRB Hearing Examiner Stephen A. Helmerich found an employee list provided to the PLRB was “factually and legally inaccurate.” Helmerich concluded more than 300 names should be removed from the list.
USW claims the inflated list was aimed at preventing a unionization vote, since the union needs to show support from at least 30 percent of workers to trigger such a tally. The union says it expects Pitt administration to appeal the decision.
Pitt responded in an emailed statement: "We disagree with the PLRB’s decision, and will carefully consider our next steps. We remain confident that the University’s handling of this matter has been appropriate. From a list of nearly 4,000 names, the examiner ultimately found that we should have added 34 and excluded 392. While we disagree with his conclusions about the majority of the changes he ordered, we note that he upheld the validity of more than 90% of the list."
2:48 p.m. – Pittsburgh forms fireworks task force
The City of Pittsburgh has formed a task force to address the issue of fireworks being set off in parks and residential areas. During the first three weeks of June, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police received 137 complaints about fireworks, a nearly four-fold increase from the same period last year. Fireworks are not permitted to be set off within 150 feet of a structure or in city parks. Violation of the law could result in a $100 fine and seizure of fireworks.
2:34 p.m. – Some Pitt students could live in hotels this fall
All University of Pittsburgh students with housing guarantees for the upcoming fall semester will be given residence, but some will make themselves at home in an unexpected setting. According to a university press release, the Property and Facilities Committee of the university's Board of Trustees has approved a plan to provide student residency in multiple hotels near campus to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
This comes at an estimated total cost of $22 million, and will mostly apply to first-year students who typically stay in denser housing. The hotels that will be selected are expected to be within a 15-minute walk from campus, and will operate in the same way as university housing. There will be 24-hour security at the hotels, as well as resident assistants and resident directors for support, and university shuttle routes.
2:11 p.m. - PWSA extends water shutoffs suspension
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is extending its suspension on water shutoffs until August 1st. The water utility cites recent economic disruptions and financial hardships for many customers as reasons for issuing the extension. The PWSA Board of Directors on Friday also approved policies to make accessing assistance programs easier. They include no longer requiring Bill Discount Program participants re-certify their income every 12 months.
1:25 p.m. — PA health officials eye areas where COVID-19 cases are rising
Pennsylvania health officials are looking closely at areas where COVID-19 infection rates and deaths are ticking back up, threatening to turn back progress against the pandemic, the state's health secretary said Friday.
“We are doing quote-unquote a deep dive into all of the counties that have had increases,” Dr. Rachel Levine said, warning that “community spread” is occurring in some parts of the state.
The rise may be attributable to the gradual reopening that has been taking place in Pennsylvania, as well as more extensive testing, Levine said.
1:04 p.m. – Allegheny County and Pennsylvania continue to see climb in COVID-19 cases
An additional 61 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Allegheny County, which is the highest number of new cases reported in a single day since April. This week, the average daily case load has been above 40. On Wednesday, county health officials advised people to wear masks and stay socially distanced.
The county's positive case total is now 2,382; two more individuals have died.
Pennsylvania, meanwhile, saw a total of 600 new positives, bringing the state total close to 85,000.
6:20 a.m. — Erie and Philly go green along with 10 other counties today
Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Susquehanna counties entered the green phase of Gov. Tom Wolf's reopening plan this morning.
Only Lebanon County remains in yellow.
The green phase, which Allegheny County entered on June 5, means stay-at-home restrictions will be lifted and some businesses will be allowed to open with proper safety precautions.
6:04 a.m. — Biden brings campaign to Lancaster, but stays mostly out of sight
Thursday was former Vice President Joe Biden’s first visit to Lancaster County for the general election campaign against President Donald Trump. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, whose home base is in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, makes frequent campaign trips to Pennsylvania, but usually for events in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.
Biden delivered a speech to a small gathering of reporters and an online audience inside the Lancaster Recreation Center focused on the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010 when he was vice president. He met with families who told him the law — often referred to as Obamacare — helped access life-saving health care and avoid financial hardships.