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WESA Daily Briefing: July 15, 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.



4:11 p.m. — Pitt and UPMC are looking for COVID-19 vaccine trial participants

The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC are looking for volunteers to participate in phase three trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was created by Moderna Inc. and uses synthetic messenger RNA to cause an immune system response.

The study is looking for 750 local participants over the age of 18, especially those who have a higher likelihood of being exposed to coronavirus, as well as people in communities disproportionally impacted by the virus. Find more information and volunteer here.

3:52 p.m. — Gov. Wolf imposing new statewide restrictions on bars, restaurants, gatherings

Nightclubs will be shut down, bars will also be closed unless they also offer dine-in meals, and bars and restaurants will be limited to 25% capacity, according to an email from Wolf's office sent to county governments.

Indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited, as well as outdoor gatherings of more than 250. And businesses will be required to have their employees work remotely to the extent possible.

Read more.

3:35 p.m. — The reason Allegheny County has lagging COVID-19 test results

According to the county, the case backlog reported yesterday is mostly from tests conducted at federal qualified health centers. These clinics receive federal funding to operate in medically undeserved communities. Samples collected at these centers are analyzed by Curative, a California-based biotech company. The county says Curative was having issues with entering results in a database. As a result, the health department was not alerted of many new cases, which delayed contact tracing efforts.  

3:30 p.m. — Biden up big in new PA polls

The poll, by New Jersey’s Monmouth University Polling Institute, shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading President Donald Trump by 53 to 40 percent among registered voters. The presumptive Democratic nominee is especially strong — holding a combined 19-point lead — among voters in Erie and nine other swing counties where the results were tightest in 2016. Hillary Clinton won those counties by a combined total of only 1 percent.

Not all those registered voters will actually vote, and voter enthusiasm was a huge factor in Clinton's loss here in 2016. But Biden also led — albeit by lesser margins ranging between 7 and 10 percentage points — when Monmouth gauged the preferences of likely voters in both a low- and high-turnout scenarios.

Read more.

2:17 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports nearly 1K new COVID cases

State health officials Wednesday reported 994 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 97,665.

The state Department of Health says:

“The number of tests administered within the last 7 days between July 8 and July 14 is 139,819 with 5,372 positive cases. In the last day, close to 28,800 COVID-19 diagnostic test results were reported to the department, the highest one-day number of COVID-19 diagnostic test results reported.”

The state also reported 26 new deaths, bringing the total to 6,957.  

2:07 p.m. - Pittsburgh's restaurant scene has been hit hard by pandemic

Credit Googlemaps

For the first few months of the pandemic, restaurants in the region have been shut down except for takeout. Then, just a few weeks after reopening, indoor dining was prohibited.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition reported last month that as many as 85% of independent restaurants could close permanently by the end of the year, and Pittsburgh restaurants have not been immune. In recent weeks, some staples of the local restaurant scene have shut down for good, including Union Standard, Alexander’s Italian Bistro, and Spoon.

The outlook for other independent restaurants in the city is dire, Hal B. Klein, Pittsburgh Magazine’s dining critic, told WESA's The Confluence Wednesday.

“If things continue the way they’re going, and there isn’t federal support, state support, and local support, I think we’re going to see a lot more restaurants that we love closed in six months," he said.

Listen to the conversation here.  

11:44 a.m. – Allegheny County reports 246 new COVID cases

The new cases reported Wednesday include results from tests that span June 30 through July 14 and are the result of 2,944 tests. Those who tested positive range in age from 2 months to 102 years old.

The total number of cases is now at 5,610.

The county also reported five new deaths, which occurred July 3 through July 9. The total number of deaths is now at 204.  

8:04 a.m. - PPS to announce plan for return to school

Pittsburgh Public Schools will announce a full plan on Aug. 4 for returning students and staff to buildings. The board will vote on a less detailed plan later this month.
On Tuesday, a district-convened task force outlined a few of its 400 recommendations. They include requiring students and staff to wear masks all day and practicing social distancing.
The district plans to offer a hybrid model when school resumes in August with both in-person and remote learning. It has asked parents who want their children to stay home to enroll in online learning by Monday.

7:12 a.m. - Allegheny County Council rejects COVID and protest-inspired bills

Yesterday, Allegheny County Council rejected two bills that Democrats Liv Bennett and Bethany Hallam proposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.

One of the bills would have stopped the county police department from using less-lethal weapons, like bean-bag rounds and pepper spray, to disperse protests. But it was defeated 12-3. Democrat Paul Klein voted against the idea. He worried it could lead officers to using deadly force more often.

“These less-lethal devices and serious efforts to de-escalate tense situations are mitigating factors that might forestall or avoid a far darker outcome,” he said.

The second bill would have mandated universal COVID-19 testing at the county jail and four Kane nursing homes. The risk of outbreaks of the disease is high at the group-living facilities, but health authorities said the proposal would not help to contain the virus. Council voted against the bill 10-5.

But all of council’s 15 members voted in favor of new non-discrimination protections for transgender people in healthcare settings. 

Read more.