WESA Daily Briefing: July 17, 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.
4:31 p.m. — June jobless rate slid down in PA, payrolls jumped
Pennsylvania’s unemployment slid a bit down in June after hitting a pandemic peak in April, but it was well above the national rate even as payrolls rebounded by more 230,000, the state reported Friday.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was 13% in June, down four-tenths of a percentage point from May's adjusted rate, the state Department of Labor and Industry said. It had initially estimated Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate at 13.1% in May. The state’s rate went over 16% in April, the highest rate in more than four decades of record-keeping.
4:14 p.m. — Sports teams want fans in the stand, restaurant/bar owners say they'll fight Wolf's orders
Wolf's order this week to reduce occupancy at bars and restaurants from 50% to 25% will drive them out of business or into debt, restaurant owners said Friday, asserting his administration lacks the data to target them as the reason behind the spike in coronavirus cases in some parts of the state.
Meanwhile, several professional, semi-professional, amateur and college sports teams have submitted plans to the state Department of Health to have fans in the stands, the agency said Friday.
1:26 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports 1,032 new COVID cases
The new cases bring the statewide total to just less than 100,000 cases since the pandemic began in spring -- though many of those cases have since recovered. Friday’s number of new cases is also the highest single-day increase seen statewide since May. Allegheny County is driving much of the growth: It reported 240 cases on Friday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health says it’s ”seeing significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases among younger age groups, particularly 19 to 24-year-olds.’
The state also reported 19 new deaths, bringing the total to 6,992.
12:55 p.m. - Target, CVS to require customers to wear masks
Target and CVS are the latest national retail chains requiring customers to wear masks as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to skyrocket.
The companies announced the new policies on Thursday following similar moves by a growing number of retailers acting to fill a void left by local, state and federal agencies that have so far refused to set mandatory face coverings policies.
As of Thursday, only about half of the country's states require masks in public places.
11:55 a.m. – Allegheny County reports 240 new COVID cases
The total number of cases is now at 5,990. Allegheny County Health Department officials say the new cases are the result of 2,118 tests and are found in people aging 1 month to 97 years old.
The county also reported 17 new hospitalizations and one new death.
Biggest one-day report for hospitalizations, third-biggest for new cases (and no, it doesn't appear to be driven by huge test volumes). No one-day report means much by itself -- this graph could look more startling if I wasn't averaging out 7-day results. But the trends ... pic.twitter.com/GwyylMhFQx— Chris Potter (@CPotterPgh) July 17, 2020
11:15 a.m. - Allegheny County again changes restrictions for bars and restaurants
Allegheny County has again changed its restrictions on bars and restaurants. This is the week’s third iteration of hospitality regulations.
Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, bars and restaurants are again permitted to seat patrons indoors. But capacity cannot exceed 25 percent. Also, customers are no longer limited to a maximum of three drinks.
The county health department put these regulations in place on July 8, after closing bars and restaurants the week prior so as to curtail an explosion of coronavirus infections that seemed to be at least partially driven by young people visiting these venues.
This new order brings the county mostly in step with regulations that the governor announced on Wednesday. The biggest change is that people drinking at an establishment must also order a “meal.” The governor’s order does not define meal.
However, some aspects of the county’s previous directive remain.
- Venues must still close to the public at 11 p.m.
- Smoking, both indoors and outdoors, is prohibited at bars, restaurants and casinos. This includes e-cigarettes.
- With the exception of the “retail food industry,” indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 persons are prohibited. Outdoor events and gatherings of more than 50 persons are prohibited.
8:45 a.m. - PA to use $50M to help pay essential workers
Pennsylvania says it has set aside $50 million to help essential workers who are paid less than $20 an hour.
The money comes from the state’s share of the federal coronavirus relief program under the CARES Act, but their employers have a short window to apply.
To get the funds to workers the fastest, employers need to apply for the grants between now and the end of the month.
Eligible businesses include the food manufacturing sector, nursing homes, hospitals, and some non-profits.
Wolf says the funds were meant to help people who have never received hazard pay or were getting it only to see it stop recently.
“These Pennsylvanians have kept our economy going and they’ve kept food on our tables and they’ve kept us safe and they deserve our gratitude,” he said.
Businesses can apply through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development website.
7:22 a.m. - Shell opens testing lab at Beaver County cracker plant site
As positive COVID-19 cases increase at Shell Chemicals' ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, The Times reports that the site has implemented a new COVID-19 testing lab. Between March and June, 6 workers tested positive for coronavirus. That spiked this month, with 12 new positive cases confirmed. Shell representatives announced that all new workers to the site will be tested, and that results will be delivered within about four hours.