WESA Daily Briefing: July 21, 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.
5:55 p.m. - Duquesne agrees to some demands made by mother of son who died on campus
Duquesne University has agreed to three demands made by Dannielle Brown during an 18-day hunger strike. Brown's son, Marquis Jaylen Brown, died at the school in 2018 after he fell out of a 16th-floor window. Brown says the school's report left too many questions. She wants Duquesne to cooperate with an independent investigation, buy body cameras for campus police, and train them in handling mental health crises.
5:04 p.m. - Pirates, MLB officials and Sen. Toomey talk about the return of baseball this week
The Pirates are in talks with the Toronto Blue Jays to offer up PNC Park as the Canadian team’s temporary home. Ben Cherington, Pirates General Manager, said during a roundtable hosted by Sen. Pat Toomey that the two teams are looking at scheduling conflicts and a decision has not yet been made.
“We need the Blue Jays to be able to play. It’s a league full of 30 teams and we need 30 teams to be able to start the season,” Cherington said. The Blue Jays have been barred from playing home games at Rogers Centre by the Canadian federal government due to COVID-19.
Opening Day is scheduled for Thursday and the Pirates have their first game in St. Louis on Friday. The regular 2020 season will be shortened from 162 games to just 60. League officials announced a number of new health and safety protocols in an attempt to keep staff and players safe from exposure to COVID-19.
Players and staff will be regularly tested for COVID-19 and the league will also administer antibody tests according to the MLB’s medical director Dr. Gary Green.
“This group of players and staff will probably be the most tested cohort over a long period of time that we have in this country," he said.
Data from those tests will be shared with healthcare professionals, Green said. While the subjects are overwhelmingly young males, the data could be studied to learn more about reinfection rates and risk factors.
The roundtable discussion was hosted on Sen. Toomey’s YouTube page. Other panelists included Rhys Hoskins, Phillies first baseman; Patrick Houlihan, Senior Vice President & Deputy General Counsel for MLB; and Xavier James, Chief Operating Officer for MLB Players Association.
3:41 p.m. - Turnpike: Toll hike, 45% non-EZ pass surcharge coming
Pennsylvania Turnpike officials have announced yet another toll increase — 6% beginning early next year — as well as a new 45% surcharge for non-EZ-Pass users whose tolls are assessed by mail based on their license plates.
Officials said the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission on Tuesday approved a 6% increase for EZ-Pass users as well those without passes in the “Toll by Plate" program. But they also approved an average 45% increase over the 2020 cash rate “to reflect the costs of collections for this tolling method."
Under the Toll by Plate option, high-speed cameras capture license-plate images as vehicles pass by, and the registered owner then receives an invoice for trips made through the tolling point. Officials said those receiving a Toll by Plate invoice have the option of opening an E-ZPass account and paying the lower rate.
Such drivers previously paid the same rate as cash users, but cash payments were suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to reduce contact between drivers and toll workers. The commission decided in May to keep the cashless system and laid off about 500 people last month, mostly toll collectors.
The new rates are to take effect Jan. 3.
3:12 p.m. – Council passes voter referendum on police review board
Pittsburgh City Council has voted in favor of letting residents decide whether or not the Citizen Police Review Board should have power. On Tuesday morning Council approved a bill to put a referendum on the board's authority this November. If voters back the measure, there could be harsh consequences -- including termination -- if an officer does not cooperate with a review board investigation.
Councilor Ricky Burgess introduced the legislation and says that the issue is especially important now, when there is nationwide discussion on police accountability.
"I think this is really important and would move our city even closer to healing and reconciliation,” Burgess said.
Currently officers face few consequences if they do not cooperate with an investigation.
2:15 p.m. - Westmoreland Co. teacher killed by bullet fired outside her home
State police say a bullet entered a western Pennsylvania home and struck a sleeping elementary school teacher who later died at a hospital. Police in Westmoreland County say 52-year-old Tracy Marie Squib called 911 at about 4 a.m. Monday to report that she had been shot in the chest in her Derry Township home. She died shortly after she was taken to a hospital. State police said the shot was one of several fired at her home from outside, and they are investigating the death as a homicide. Trooper Steve Limani would not say whether police believe Squib was targeted.
12:39 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers
Allegheny County reported 139 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the result of 1,501 tests conducted June 29 through July 20. The people infected ranged in age from 1 to 92 years old. The total number of cases is now at 6,380. Eight new hospitalizations and one new death were also reported.
Statewide, the number of cases increased by 1,027, bringing the total to 102,765. The state Department of Health also reported 20 new deaths.
9:32 a.m. - AHN to provide mobile virus testing
Allegheny Health Network caregivers will provide mobile COVID-19 testing this week, but the increase in the number of cases across the county has changed some conditions. Now, any patient who wishes to be tested, at any site, must be experiencing symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, vomiting, gastrointestinal issues, or loss of smell or taste. Asymptomatic patients are recommended to quarantine for two weeks, so that testing supplies can be conserved, particularly for the most vulnerable. Testing today will be at the City Hall Building in Clairton.
7:46 a.m. - Highland Park filtration plant back in service
Highland Park's Microfiltration Plant is coming back into service this week, after three years of work and more than $14 million in investments. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority manages the plant, which was taken out of service in 2017 to meet stricter state water quality standards. The changes include improved treatment methods, a rehabilitated microfilitration system, and strengthened sercurity. The plant treats water from behind the Highland I reservoir, which provides drinking water to Pittsburgh's eastern nieghborhoods, the Hill District, and parts of Oakland, for about 250,000 customers.