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WESA Daily Briefing: July 1, 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.


6:03 p.m. - Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has joined the Mayors for Guaranteed Income initiative

The program provides direct payments to families as a way to pilot the concept of a universal basic income. Peduto told WESA's The Confluence he's looking for philanthropic funding for the program.

"We believe that the investment into these families will be such that city dollars that would have had to have gone to the different services that they would have relied upon will be less."

A city spokesperson says they’re still studying the idea, and haven’t determined the amount of the payments or who would be eligible to receive them. Peduto said the group of mayors will lobby for a universal basic income nationwide.

5:55 p.m. - County clarifies quarantine recommendations

Allegheny County’s health department has clarified its quarantine recommendations. Recently department director  Dr. Debra Bogen advised that people quarantine for two weeks after returning from out-of-state travel.  But Wednesday Bogen said whether to quarantine depend on the trip and kind of work a person does.

“If you had what we call ‘low-risk travel,’ such as you went camping in the woods with just members of your household and didn't have much contact with others, you probably don't need to quarantine or get tested regardless of your job,” Bogen said.

But if the trip included high-risk activities, like going to bars, Bogen says it might require a quarantine, especially if you work at a job where you're around other people.

4:34 p.m. – Black Lives Matter-themed vigil held by interfaith groups in Oakland

Car horns honked in support of the protest, which drew about 200 masked, physically distanced demonstrators holding signs referencing scripture or displaying messages like “We Stand with our neighbors.”

The 20 or so participating faith groups from across the city included Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. Organizers say the goal of the Interfaith Vigil for Black Lives was to continue the momentumof the protests that sprang up nationally after the killing of George Floyd by police.

Organizers included Reverend Gavin Walton, of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, in the Hill District.

“We all agree that our God is a God of justice,” Walton said, “and that goodness and flourishing of all human beings is what we’re here for, whatever faith tradition you stand for.”

Beth Bush attended the protest as a member of East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

“Something’s gotta change in the way we police,” Bush said. “And I think our systems in this country were built by white people and largely serve white people … enough is enough.”

The silent protest lasted one hour and stretched for a half-mile along Fifth Avenue. It ended with a prayer.

4:20 p.m. – Wolf expands mask order, wants new restrictions to be local

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration moved Wednesday to expand its indoor mask order to public places outdoors where social-distancing is impossible. He also said Wednesday that he prefers to let local governments handle further coronavirus restrictions, as opposed to the broad shutdown orders he imposed this spring.

Wolf says he doesn't envision another broad shutdown order to contain the coronavirus. Wednesday’s mask order is similar to a days-old order in Philadelphia, extending it to crowded public places where it is impossible to remain six feet away from other people, as well as on public transportation and any indoor location where the public is generally permitted.

3:25 p.m. - UPMC contradicts county health officials over quarantine recommendations

UPMC is again contradicting local public health officials, by telling employees that they do not need to quarantine for 14 days after out-of-state travel.

Allegheny County made this recommendation after case investigators found that many newly infected residents had recently traveled to places like Florida and Texas. UPMC says staff don't need to comply with the directive because it has a responsibility to deliver uninterrupted medical. And it says employees only need to get tested for the coronavirus if they have recently been exposed or are exhibiting symptoms.

3:10 p.m. - County Council weighs bill to ban police use of so-called less-lethal weapons

Two supporters of the bill were invited to speak to the Health and Human Services committee about the measure, which would ban non-lethal projectiles and chemical sprays to control crowds.

Police policy change advocate Brandi Fisher raised concerns over tear gas in particular, saying that it was impossible to control it once deployed, and that it was unfair to gas a large crowd for the actions of a few. She and Richard Garland, who teaches violence prevention at the University of Pittsburgh, said chemical sprays pose a special threat during the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee heard from opponents of the bill last week, and its prospects seem uncertain. A few councilors saying police need some means of controlling large-scale disruptions. The committee decided not to hear further testimony on the bill, and will debate it next week.

12:47 p.m. – Allegheny County hits new daily COVID high again

The Allegheny County Health Department reported another daily high for COVID-19 cases. The county on Wednesday reported 110 new cases, bringing the total to 2,870. The previous day marked the first time the local case count had passed 100. The number of deaths hasn’t appeared to spike in the way the case count has, but both hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators. Officials reported one new death, bringing the total to 187.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 636 to 87,242. The number of deaths increased by 38 to 6,687.  

11:09 a.m. – City to focus Fourth of July public safety efforts on virus safety

The city of Pittsburgh will not be hosting any fireworks or Fourth of July-related events this year, but officials say public safety officials will still be out.

Rather than patrolling large crowds at events, Pittsburgh Police and partner agencies will be enforcing physical distancing, dispersal of large groups and public mask-wearing.

The city will also be on the lookout for illegal fireworks, especially at Point State Park or in any city parks.

“In addition, the use of any fireworks, even those that are legal, are prohibited within 150 feet of any structure, on any public land and on private property without the landowner’s permission. Due to a dramatic surge in fireworks complaints, Public Safety formed a Fireworks Taskforce to patrol city neighborhoods and target anyone using fireworks illegally,” the city said in a press release.

Officials also reminded residents not to fire guns into the air, and to prepare for heat and practice water safety.  

10:10 a.m. - New tool shows COVID risk in your county

How severe is the spread of COVID-19 in your community? If you're confused, you're not alone. Though state and local dashboards provide lots of numbers, from case counts to deaths, it's often unclear how to interpret them — and hard to compare them to other places.  

NPR reports researchers at Harvard are leading a collaboration of top scientists at institutions around the country who have joined forces to create a unified set of metrics, including a shared definition of risk levels — and tools for communities to fight the coronavirus. Read more here.

Credit Alyson Hurt/NPR

 8:10 a.m. - UPMC doc chosen for nursing home advisory commission

Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer for UPMC Senior Committees, has been selected to join an independent commission that will advise the Trump administration on how to prevent future outbreaks in nursing homes nationwide. Nace, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, will join two dozen other geriatric care experts to improve health quality. Pennsylvania's worst COVID-19 outbreak was at a Beaver County care facility, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report at least 29,000 people have died of COVID-19 in nursing homes across the country.