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WESA Daily Briefing: July 7, 2020

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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.

 

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7:22 p.m. –  Allegheny County Jail inmate tests positive for COVID-19

The county announced the diagnosis Tuesday, after going about two months without reporting new infections among the jail population. Twenty-four other inmates, whose results had been pending earlier this week, have tested negative for COVID-19. To date, 29 inmates and eight jail employees have been diagnosed with the disease.

5:52 p.m. - County health director may ease some restrictions

As cases of the coronavirus surge in Allegheny County, health director Dr. Debra Bogen said it's facing a delay in getting test results back.

 

"For a while our tests were returning very quickly, usually within two to three days. I have heard about a lag in test results recently, and I think that's because the national laboratories are overwhelmed,” she said.

 

Some parts of the United States are posting record case numbers, and Bogen said some local test locations have run out of test kits, which she called a “challenge." She said such problems make it harder to gauge whether a recent shutdown of bars and restaurants is effectively limiting spread of the virus. The county shut down bars and restaurants except for carry-out business after cases of COVID-19 began to spike late last month.

 

However, Bogen said she may ease some restrictions on eating out and group gatherings as early as Wednesday. Bogen said told she knows the limits she imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have hurt businesses, and that she’ll base her decision on factors like the number of new cases and the county's testing capacity.

5:00 p.m. - Pence, Biden to hit Pennsylvania campaign trail on same day

Former Vice President Joe Biden will campaign in Pennsylvania the same day as his successor, Mike Pence, makes several stops in the premier presidential battleground state. The men are working the campaign trail Thursday in Pennsylvania with fewer than four months until the election.

Recent polls showing Biden leading in Pennsylvania. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, plans to tour a metal works plant in Dunmore in northeastern Pennsylvania and speak about his economic recovery plan, the campaign says.

Biden, who grew up in nearby Scranton, is targeting an area where President Donald Trump showed unexpected strength in the 2016 election, when he narrowly won Pennsylvania. Pence, meanwhile, is mixing official and campaign business.

4:06 p.m. - Sen. Bob Casey calls on federal government to do more in response to the coronavirus pandemic

Casey says he’s concerned about the long-term effects of the pandemic. He worries the unemployment crisis will outlast the coronavirus – if businesses are not given more financial assistance.

He says he thinks the federal government should take a leadership role in the response and recovery effort. So, the Democratic lawmaker is calling for a nationwide testing plan and a personal protective equipment distribution program.

“We’ve never done this in war,” Casey said. “If we’re on a war footing, which we should be with the virus, we’ve never said states have to make their own war material when we’re fighting World War I or World War II and there’s no excuse for the failure of leadership”

Casey tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies in May.

He says getting the virus showed him just how easily it can be transmitted.

3:45 p.m. - Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh schools plan to teach students in-person this fall

The Diocese announced today that a detailed plan will be presented to parents for review and feedback. Schools will require temperature screenings and social distancing in classrooms and at large events.

Virtual learning options will be available for students who want to stay home. A Diocese spokesperson says the schools will follow CDC guidance for masking but didn’t confirm if students would be required to wear masks throughout the day.

3:11 p.m. - Pa. unemployment claim numbers are rising again

Unemployment benefits applications numbers are creeping up again in Pennsylvania, as the pandemic recovery wobbles.

“In the past few weeks there has been an uptick,” said Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak. The week ending June 13 had the smallest number of new claims since the pandemic started, with 43,874 first-time applications filed. Since then, each week has had more than 51,000 new applications.

“The primary industry that we’re seeing impacted is the hospitality/leisure industry,” said Oleksiak. Based on the most recent number of new claims by industry available, hospitality was third in terms of new applications, but first in continuing claims, one measure of how many people are actively receiving unemployment benefits. Since May 2019, the hospitality and leisure industry has lost 52.1% of its jobs, according to a department spokesperson.

Since the start of the pandemic, the food service industry, such as bars and restaurants, has hemorrhaged jobs. Unsteady progress towards controlling the virus led several parts of the commonwealth to step back from reopening plans in recent weeks.

Allegheny County officials announced that starting July 3, they would shut down bars, restaurants and casinos for a week, amid a spike in new cases. Philadelphia officials also walked away from plans to reopen restaurant dining rooms at reduced capacity.

Department of Labor and Industry officials did not immediately share how many of the new applications came from restaurant workers.

Since April, unemployment in the commonwealth has been at a record high. Officials shared that with the start of July, the state entered a new benefits quarter, changing the look-back period the department uses to calculate how much unemployment someone is eligible to receive.

“Now that we’re in a new quarter, that means that individuals who previously may not have qualified for unemployment compensation … they may qualify now,” said Susan Dickinson, director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy. People receiving assistance through programs other than traditional unemployment, such as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — a new program for gig workers, part-timers and other more irregular workers — may have their benefits “held temporarily” while the department investigates whether they qualify for traditional unemployment instead.

However, some applicants may currently be receiving an erroneous denial message. Dickinson said that’s because of a technical error with the vendor’s software.

“The message that people are getting is actually the message that other states who use the products of this vendor have turned on for their state,” she said. “So that’s being turned off.”

Unemployment benefits applications numbers are creeping up again in Pennsylvania, as the pandemic recovery wobbles.

“In the past few weeks there has been an uptick,” said Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak. The week ending June 13 had the smallest number of new claims since the pandemic started, with 43,874 first-time applications filed. Since then, each week has had more than 51,000 new applications.

“The primary industry that we’re seeing impacted is the hospitality/leisure industry,” said Oleksiak. Based on the most recent number of new claims by industry available, hospitality was third in terms of new applications, but first in continuing claims, one measure of how many people are actively receiving unemployment benefits. Since May 2019, the hospitality and leisure industry has lost 52.1% of its jobs, according to a department spokesperson.

Since the start of the pandemic, the food service industry, such as bars and restaurants, has hemorrhaged jobs. Unsteady progress towards controlling the virus led several parts of the commonwealth to step back from reopening plans in recent weeks.

Allegheny County officials announced that starting July 3, they would shut down bars, restaurants and casinos for a week, amid a spike in new cases. Philadelphia officials also walked away from plans to reopen restaurant dining rooms at reduced capacity.

Department of Labor and Industry officials did not immediately share how many of the new applications came from restaurant workers.

Since April, unemployment in the commonwealth has been at a record high. Officials shared that with the start of July, the state entered a new benefits quarter, changing the look-back period the department uses to calculate how much unemployment someone is eligible to receive.

“Now that we’re in a new quarter, that means that individuals who previously may not have qualified for unemployment compensation … they may qualify now,” said Susan Dickinson, director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy. People receiving assistance through programs other than traditional unemployment, such as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — a new program for gig workers, part-timers and other more irregular workers — may have their benefits “held temporarily” while the department investigates whether they qualify for traditional unemployment instead.

However, some applicants may currently be receiving an erroneous denial message. Dickinson said that’s because of a technical error with the vendor’s software.

“The message that people are getting is actually the message that other states who use the products of this vendor have turned on for their state,” she said. “So that’s being turned off.”

2:22 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports close to 1,000 new COVID cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 995 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day increase seen statewide since May. The number of positive cases is now at 91,299.

Health Department officials say, in addition to Allegheny County’s 204 new cases reported today, Philadelphia County’s total increased by 288.

The number of deaths across Pennsylvania increased by 33 to 6,787.

More than 750,000 people have tested negative to date.  

12:15 p.m. – After days with no or few new COVID deaths, Allegheny County reports 6

The Allegheny County Health Department reported six new deaths today, after several days with just one or none reported. However, officials say the number reported is not reflective of just the last 24 hours and include deaths dating back to April 5. The county also reported 204 new cases, bringing the total to 3,979.

12:08 p.m. - Duolingo co-founder threatens to move jobs from Pittsburgh

Louis von Ahn, the co-founder of Pittsburgh-based language learning app Duolingo, is speaking out against the Trump administration’s move to suspend some temporary work visas through the end of the year.

In a statement on twitter, the CEO who also invented the reCAPTCHA human verification system, said he’s proud of Duolingo’s legacy in Pennsylvania, but feels he will be forced to move jobs to Toronto if, “policies against (extremely qualified) immigration continue.”

 

 

In the tweet, von Ahn tagged Pennsylvania Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey as well as Mayor Bill Peduto. Casey and Peduto responded by echoing criticisms of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

 

Last month, President Trump extended a freeze on green cards for new immigrants and signed an executive order to suspend new H-1B, L-1, J and other temporary work visas for skilled workers, managers and au pairs through the end of the year. The move was reportedly to stem job losses caused the by the coronavirus pandemic, according to NPR.

 

Duolingo, based in East Liberty was founded in 2011 by von Ahn and his fellow Carnegie Mellon University student Severin Hacker. 

 

10:04 a.m. - What we know about the transmission of COVID-19

By now, it's common knowledge that the coronavirus can be spread by being in close contact with someone who's infected and then breathing in their respiratory droplets. Or by touching a contaminated surface and rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth.

An open letter signed by 239 researchers addressed to the World Health Organization, published Monday in Clinical Infectious Diseases, calls for attention and guidance around a third route of transmission: tiny respiratory particles that float in the air and are called aerosols.

NPR's Pien Huang looks at what we know about the transmission of COVID-19.  

9:17 a.m. - Bloomfield ShurSave closing in a few weeks  

The ShurSave grocery store in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood will close in the coming weeks. The Pittsburgh Business Times reports the site’s owner, Echo Realty, says it plans to redevelop the site, but in the meantime Giant Eagle will operate a community market there. Bloomfield residents and community groups have worried about the fate of the ShurSave site and its grocery store. They opposed earlier plans to build a mixed-use development with apartments. The developer, Milhaus, ultimately walked away from the project.

7:13 a.m. - Unemployment claims trending downward

New unemployment claims in Pennsylvania have dropped from a high of about 300,000 each week. Officials say recently it’s been closer to 50,000 claims a week. However, a spike in COVID-19 cases has created an uptick in assistance applications. The state says most of the requests have come from workers in the hospitality and manufacturing sectors but exact numbers were not immediately available.