WESA Daily Briefing: July 4, 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.
1:43 p.m. -- Wolf says mask-wearing 'provides more freedom to to the things we love'
Gov. Tom Wolf had an unusual Fourth of July message for an unusual moment in American history: Obeying a mask requirement helps keep Americans free.
Masks “provide more freedom to do the things we love without an increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Wolf in a Saturday-afternoon statement.
“This Independence Day I ask all Pennsylvanians and all those visiting our state to mask up to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and allow everyone to continue to enjoy the freedom we associate with our country and our commonwealth,” the statement said. “We have made great strides with our mitigation efforts but now is not the time to stop.”
That message may irk some who see mask as oppressive or inconvenient, but Wolf’s message dovetails one sent by President Trump’s own surgeon general.
“If we all wear these, we will actually have more independence and more freedom because more places will be able to stay open,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams just before the July 4th weekend.
1:22 p.m. -- Confrontation between Trump supporters and demonstrators ends without incident
A confrontation between Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Pittsburgh’s North Side appears to have ended largely without incident.
The two groups faced off – though most protesters’ faces were covered by masks – on a pier alongside the North Shore river walk for roughly three-quarters of an hour. But after intermittently challenging BLM protesters over violence within the black community, the Trump supporters departed with a police escort. Many returned to boats they had taken from the South Side this morning as part of a flotilla in support of the President.
“I believe that we will win!” the Black Lives Matter protesters chanted, after moving onto the pier once Trump supporters departed it. Both groups were dispersing shortly after 1 p.m., though some demonstrators said they would join a previously planned 3 p.m. “Civil Saturdays” demonstration Downtown.
12:46 p.m. -- Emotions run high as Trump supporters, counter-demonstrators meet on North Side
Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters have reconnected on the city’s North Side, with scores of Black Lives Matter protesters chanting “Black lives, they matter here!” at a smaller group of Trump supporters on a pier near the Fort Duquesne Bridge. Trump supporters chanted back “four more years!” and “USA!”
Horse-mounted police maintained a buffer zone between the two groups, and were joined by baton-wielding and helmeted officers. "I don't see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?" the Black Lives Matter demonstrators chanted.
“Trump supporters and counter protesters are yelling and cursing at each other,” the city’s Public Safety Twitter account advised. “Still non-violent, but not entirely peaceful as emotions are running high. Avoid the area.”
Other Trump supporters were on more than two dozen boats that ferried the group from the South Side Works to the North Shore. Trump supporters had planned the flotilla after similar demonstrators in support of the President were held in other cities. Counter-demonstrators were on hand to wish the voters a not-so-fond bon voyage this morning.
12:27 p.m. State, county COVID numbers continue their rise
The state Department of Health reported an additional 634 positive cases of COVID-19 across Pennsylvania – and as has been the case in recent days, Allegheny County has been driving much of that total.
The county reported 150 new cases of the disease Saturday morning, with ages of those afflicted ranging from 3 to 87 years old, most being in their mid-20s or lower. That is down from the previous two days, but still the third-highest total posted within the county this year, and it continues a fifth straight day of three-digit increases in the number of people diagnosed with the disease.
Still, rates of hospitalization remain low: Only 2 new admissions, and no new deaths, were reported since Friday.
The spike in the county’s caseload since mid-June has been most pronounced among people in their 20s, who are expected to need hospitalization less often than older patients, who bore the brunt of the disease this spring. Still, health officials have warned that hospitalizations typically lag new cases as symptoms worsen, and it remains to be seen how the health system will handle the massive growth in new cases.
There has been an increase in statewide case numbers as well: Day-to-day totals have roughly doubled from their lows in mid-June. The state reported three new deaths on Saturday, raising the total to 6,749 since the virus took hold.
12:09 p.m. -- Trump flotilla gets underway amid protest, but with lititle incident
Protesters bid farewell as a flotilla of Trump supporters numbering a few dozen boats – well short of the hundreds that organizers had said was possible – departed the South Side on Saturday morning.
Counterdemonstrators – clustered in groups of 25 whose members stood 6 feet apart in accordance with social-distancing requirements – marched along the Monongahela’s south bank onto the Hot Metal Bridge. They chanted “No KKK, no fascist USA. F--- Donald Trump!” Boaters responded by blasting their horns occasionally and playing patriotic songs like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”
Organizers of the Trump flotilla said they intended to sail to the North Shore, and they departed the South Side around 11 a.m.
The two sides, separated as they were by a body of water, had little interaction, and Pittsburgh police reported no incidents other than a brief traffic blockage on Hot Metal Street after the boats departed.