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WESA Daily Briefing: July 14, 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.


4:33 p.m. — PA House passes constitutional changes that would limit governor's emergency powers

The state House passed the constitutional amendments on Tuesday, 115-86. All Republicans and seven Democrats voted in favor of the measure.

The move represents the latest battle between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the legislature over his disaster emergency declaration during the coronavirus pandemic. GOP lawmakers were upset by Wolf’s unwillingness to ease pandemic restrictions in the early months of the outbreak, including Wolf’s veto of multiple bills that would have required him to allow more businesses to reopen.

The state Supreme Court earlier this month upheld the governor’s disaster emergency declaration, saying the legislature can’t terminate the declaration on its own.


3:39 p.m. — 14 journalists at the Post-Gazette take buyouts

According to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, a union which represents more than 100 employees, most people who took buyouts will be leaving by the end of the week. The group includes both veteran reporters and relative newcomers to the Pulitzer-prize winning paper.

“It runs the full gamut of the newsroom,” said union president Mike Fuoco. “The Guild is incredibly saddened to see all of them go. The loss of talent, institutional knowledge and potential is devastating.” 

Paula Reed Ward, the paper’s courts reporter for 17 years, confirmed her departure to WESA. Others have announced their exits publicly, including columnist Brian O’Neill, features editor Sharon Eberson, digital editor Matt Moret, and Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello.

Read more.

2:29 p.m. — PA reports 900 new COVID cases

Pennsylvania recorded more than 900 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, though  officials say nearly a quarter of those were the result of a delay in lab reporting. Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, reported 331 new virus infections, but only 145 of those were from the past 24 hours. That's according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. County health officials say the remainder were from tests conducted as early as June 8. Health officials say they are working with the lab to determine the reason for the big delay in test results. Pennsylvania reported 20 new deaths related to COVID-19.


11:11 a.m. – Allegheny County shatters previous single-day COVID case record

The Allegheny County Health Department today reported 331 new COVID-19 cases, well above the record 233 cases set recently. That number includes cases from tests spanning June 8 through July 13, and is the result of 4,536 tests. Just over 7 percent of those tested were positive.

Officials say those who tested positive range in age from 5 months to 99 years old. The total number of cases in Allegheny County is now at 5,364.

The county also reported one new death, bringing the total to 199.

Today’s record-setting number follows just 71 positive cases Monday, when only 741 test results came back. County health officials say they’re looking into the delay in test reporting data.  

10:45 a.m. – Report: Science does not support UPMC’s ‘less severe’ coronavirus strain claim

Last week, despite an uptick in new COVID-19 cases, UPMC reported its hospitalizations had not trended upward.

“Right now, the data indicates that we as a community are doing a good job of protecting those who we’ve learned are most vulnerable to bad outcomes from COVID-19, the frail elderly and those who are immunocompromised,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s head of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, at the time.

Snyder also said that the strain of coronavirus seen in UPMC patients is a variety that seems to transmit easier but is “less deadly.” Experts, though, disagree about whether the virus has mutated to be less lethal, and a new report by Spotlight PA finds that that Snyder’s claim is not supported by science.

“It’s an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told Spotlight PA.

Spotlight PA goes on to say, “When contacted for proof of Snyder’s claim that the virus had become less severe, Allison Hydzik, a spokesperson for UPMC, responded with a link to a study published in the journal Cell.

But the study itself contradicts UPMC’s own takeaways.”

Read more here.  

7:57 a.m. - Hospitals not challenged amid rising cases, health secretary says

Gov. Tom Wolf’s top health official says Pennsylvania’s hospital system is not challenged at the moment by a recent rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and the Department of Health isn't considering any new restrictions at the moment. Dr. Rachel Levine, Wolf’s health secretary, said Monday that the department decided to hold off on imposing restrictions in southwestern counties while it watches the day-to-day case counts. Still, Levine warned that a cycle previously seen is now repeating in Pennsylvania: a growing proportion of people infected with the coronavirus are younger, a step that preceded the virus getting into congregate care settings, like nursing homes.  

Read more.

7:19 a.m. - Children now required to wear masks at daycare - can the mandate be followed?

Children 2 and older in Pennsylvania are now required to wear masks at daycare.

State officials say it's a necessary safety measure as COVID-19 cases are trending up in the state.

Many child care providers and parents applaud the change, including Jolie Cover who runs a Child Care Center in Blair County.

“They understand that it is something that they need to be responsible for. And children sometimes actually really enjoy having that responsibility,” she said.

Other providers say they worry masks will make it harder for kids to learn...or more difficult to spot kids experiencing an emergency, such as an allergic reaction. So far, there have been about 75 COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania child care centers.

Read more.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.