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WESA Daily Briefing: July 23, 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.



5:32 p.m. - Orioles, Maryland in talks about Blue Jays in Baltimore

The Baltimore Orioles and the state of Maryland have had talks about the team sharing Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the displaced Toronto Blue Jays amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Blue Jays are looking for a big-league park after the Canadian government declined to allow them to play in Toronto, and the state of Pennsylvania nixed a deal to play in Pittsburgh because of frequent travel throughout the United States. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press there have been talks about the state hosting the Blue Jays.  

5:10 p.m. - PennDOT won't require medical provider to sign off on gender changes for IDs

PennDOT has updated and streamlined its system which allows people to get an “X” as their gender marker on state-issued identification cards. The designation is for people who don’t identify as either male or female. Rafael Álvarez Febo of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs says people changing their designation from male to female, or vice versa, no longer need a doctor’s note to do so.

“Not needing a third party to tell PennDOT that your gender is what you know it is is super important,” Álvarez Febo said.

When the ability to change the marker was first introduced in 2019, gender non-conforming people said the option might not seem significant, but was important and affirming for people who don’t identity as male or female. Álvarez Febo agreed, and said not having to go through a medical or social service provider is important for these individuals. 

“No matter my appearance, no matter how you want to accept me, I am this person,” Álvarez Febo said. 

People wishing to change their ID’s gender can fill out Form D-L-32 on the Department of Transportation’s website.

4:55 p.m. – State health officials defend restrictions, update issues on testing lags

The Wolf Administration is defending its decision to reinstate some statewide restrictions during a rise in coronavirus cases in the commonwealth.

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all bars and restaurants to reduce indoor seating to 25 percent, and limited indoor gatherings to 25 people.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the administration is trying to prevent Pennsylvania from having an outbreak like Florida or Texas.

“What we’re trying to do is prevent the spread of a dangerous virus and to prevent people from getting very, very sick and to hopefully have school start in the fall,” Levine said.

Levine says the state averages over 18,000 tests results per day, but a backlog in results – which can be up to seven days – remains a problem. She says the wait times are a problem all over the county.

“The lag time when those tests are being done by national commercial laboratories, which is a national issue, which will have to be dealt with by the federal government.”

The state run lab – which is producing faster results – is focusing on nursing homes

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A COVID-19 testing site in Pittsburgh's South Hills.

2:51 p.m. - Officials prepare for election changes this fall

The COVID-19 pandemic will impact how states conduct elections this fall.

While mail-in ballots will play a much larger role here in Pennsylvania, in-person voting will still be an option.

David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the non-partisan good government group Committee of Seventy, says it’s essential to ensure polling locations are properly staffed.

“You can’t run in-person elections without poll workers,” Thornburgh said. “And—as many people are going to vote at home—we’re still going to have maybe half or more people showing up the polls November 3rd, so we’ve got to rise to the occasion.”

Citing health concerns from some poll workers—many of whom are elderly—about working during the ongoing pandemic, Thornburgh says it’s important to reach out to younger people to act as poll workers.

1:02 p.m. – Target to move into former Kaufmann’s building downtown

Credit Googlemaps

A Target is expected to open early next year in the former Kaufmann’s building located at Smithfield Street and Fifth Avenue downtown, the Post-Gazette reports.

The newspaper reports that the store will occupy the first floor.

“It is exciting news that Target is official, signed and sealed,” Michael Samschick, president and CEO of Core Realty, which owns the building, told the newspaper. “We’re very lucky. There were other cities slated as well. We were so fortunate to have them come to the plate.”

Read more from the Post-Gazette here

11:35 a.m. – Allegheny County reports 147 new COVID cases

Health officials say the new cases are the result of 1,172 tests taken July 6-22. The people infected range in age from 9 to 93 years old.

The county also reported two new deaths, which occurred June 28 and July 22. Both people were in their 80s.

Officials also said there were 15 new hospitalizations in the last 24 hours.

9:59 a.m. - Allegheny Co. launches COVID-compliance task force

Allegheny County will launch a COVID Field Response Team Thursday to ensure restaurants follow regulations to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

County executive Rich Fitzgerald said the team will start with restaurants that have been the subject of complaints.

"If a team member finds a bar or restaurant not following all the required covid 19 safety measure, they will alert the health department's food safety program, and an inspector will be sent out to do an inspection, which could result in the facility being shut down,” he said.

Fitzgerald said the county will also publish the names of establishments that do comply with the guidelines.  

7:16 a.m. - PPS students and families to have better idea of fall plan soon  

Pittsburgh Public Schools students might not return to classrooms for at least the first nine weeks of the school year. On Wednesday, board member Kevin Carter introduced a resolution for the postponement. 

“While our state has taken some extreme efforts to, you know, mitigate the COVID-19 crisis, we are nowhere near where I think we should be as a society to feel comfortable enough to put our kids in our school buildings,” he said.

The board will vote on the resolution in two weeks.

If approved, it will direct district administrators to provide a contingency plan for special education students and to ensure that every student has the technology needed for remote learning.

Read more here