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WESA Daily Briefing: July 2, 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.


6:10 p.m. – Union says survey favors retaining PPS police

The union representing Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers and police officers says a survey shows that members support retaining the district’s in-house police department. However, fewer than half of the union's 3,100 members took the survey.

Education activists have called for the removal of the officers, who have arresting authority. They say black and brown students are disproportionately policed. The activists have not called for eliminating security guards who do not have arresting power.

5:52 p.m. – Officials urge residents to apply for other assistance that isn’t unemployment

People on unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic have been receiving an extra $600 per week. But, that boost in assistance will run out at the end of this month, unless the federal government renews it.

In March, the Federal CARES act passed, pouring money into the economy, including the additional $600 a week on top of regular unemployment compensation to people out of work due to COVID-19.

Those extra federal dollars are set to run out the week of July 25th. Regular unemployment benefits will continue.

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services secretary Teresa Miller is urging residents to apply for other programs such as Medicaid and food assistance if they worry about losing that help.

“These programs help ensure that people have access to healthcare, have enough food, and are able to pay utility bills,” Miller said.

Workers say the additional funds have helped keep their heads above water, but some employers complain the money is incentivizing their employees to stay home.

Congress is split along largely partisan lines about whether or not to extend the payments.

4:52 p.m. – Bar owners and employees protest shutdown order

Bar owners and employees held a protest Downtown today, arguing that Allegheny County should not have shut them down amid a spike in cases of the coronavirus. Health officials say bars have become hotspots for the disease, partly because alcohol makes people less likely to wear a mask and socially distance.

But Mason Gordon manages Riley's Pour House in Carnegie, and says he enforces those rules.

"So because other places decided to not do things the proper way, everybody's stripped of it now, and it's just not right,” Gordon said.

A few dozen people took part in chanting slogans like "let us work." But the rally's organizer did not attend, because of concerns he and his employees had contracted the virus.

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A protest in downtown Pittsburgh by bar owners and employees arguing that the region should not have shut down the establishments due to COVID-19.

4:34 p.m. - Final Pennsylvania county moves to green tomorrow


Lebanon County will be the 67th and final county to enter the green phase of reopening under Gov. Tom Wolf's plan. The county in the center of the state had reported high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases due to "community spread" and long-term care facilities, according to state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.


Under the green phase, gatherings of more than 250 are prohibited and masks are required inside businesses. Gyms and restaurants must operate at 50 percent capacity. 


4:31 p.m. - Bars, restaurants and casinos ordered to close for one week

Bars, restaurants and casinos will be closed in Allegheny County for one week. The order comes after officials reported 233 new cases and four new hospitalizations Thursday. In the last week, more than 700 new infections have been confirmed in the county. The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Food establishments may still offer take-out and delivery.


Officials also recommended a voluntary stay-at-home protocol for residents of the county. While not part of the order, limiting travel to necessities and other mitigation measures is intended to further reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our county. The Isolation-Quarantine Basics document can be found on the county’s COVID-19 page.


3:59 p.m. - Mt. Washington Transit Tunnel to undergo two-year construction update


Port Authority said in a release that the nearly 3,500-foot long tunnel connecting Station Square to the South Hills will be closed nightly for nearly two years. Work begins on Monday, July 6. Updates include new lighting and cable inside the tunnel.


PAT has included a series of light rail and bus detours on its website.

3:29 p.m. – Pittsburgh to pilot universal basic income program

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has joined the Mayors for Guaranteed Income initiative. The effort seeks to provide families with money in a pilot program for universal basic income. Peduto told WESA's The Confluence he hopes philanthropies will offer funding.

"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,” Peduto said.

Peduto didn't say who would receive the money or how much they'd get. He says the group of mayors will lobby for a universal basic income nationwide.

Listen to the full show.

2:47 p.m. - Kennywood still plans to open as scheduled

While swimming pools are closed this summer due to the skyrocketing number of daily COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County, Kennywood is prepared to open for the season.

Kennywood Park will still open to the general public on July 11, as planned, but it’ll look a little different this year.

Under state guidelines, the park will only be able to allow half of its usual number of guests at a time. Visitors will also have their temperatures taken before reaching the entrance gates and signage around the park will remind guests to wear masks, and maintain social distance.

That’s right, you’ll need to keep your mask on, even as you scream down the drops of the Thunderbolt.

Spokesperson Nick Paradise didn’t want to speculate about what the future could bring, but said the park will only close or shorten its summer season if the county returns the more restrictive “yellow” phase of the shutdown.  

1:56 p.m. - Penn State student dies of COVID-19

A Penn State student has died from respiratory failure due to COVID-19.

Penn State said in a press release that it learned of the Tuesday death of 21-year-old Juan Garcia, a student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, through friends and family. He is the first known Penn State student to die from coronavirus.

Garcia was living off campus in State College when he began to feel ill. He traveled to his home in Allentown on June 19, then was tested for COVID-19 the next day. Garcia died 10 days later.  Read more here

12:02 p.m. - Allegheny County COVID case numbers 'truly alarming'

Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and 1.2 million residents, is reporting its highest one-day total of positive coronavirus tests that officials are saying is a larger increase than expected. The county on Thursday reported 233 more new positive tests, a day after it reported a single-day high of 110 positive test results. The county says it expects another significant increase to be reported Friday. On Twitter, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who lives in Allegheny County, called Thursday’s figure “truly alarming.” The county’s percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations are also on the rise.

9:53 a.m. - Closing bars to stop coronavirus spread is backed by science

Credit Gene J. Puskar / AP

Authorities are closing honky tonks, bars and other drinking establishments in some parts of the U.S. to stem the surge of COVID-19 infections. Experts agree there’s sound science behind the move. Clusters of cases have been linked to bars, including a Michigan outbreak now involving nearly 140 people in 12 counties. The coronavirus spreads more easily in closed, crowded spaces with poor ventilation and where there are close-range conversations. Natalie Dean is an infectious diseases expert at the University of Florida. She says alcohol also lowers inhibitions, so people forget precautions. Read more here

7:27 a.m. - Nursing home sued over housekeeper's COVID-19 death

The family of a woman who died of COVID-19 while working at a Pennsylvania nursing home that struggled to cope with the virus outbreak is suing the home and its owners for wrongful death. The lawsuit filed in Pittsburgh on Wednesday cites the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center’s history of safety and sanitation problems. It alleges the defendants' practices created a perfect environment for an infectious disease to run rampant. The lawsuit states that at least 80 people have died at Brighton and that more than 350 residents and more than 100 staff have caught the infection. Brighton management declined comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.