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WESA Daily Briefing: July 29, 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.



6:16 p.m. – PG union members to vote whether to approve a strike

On Wednesday, union members at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette said they would vote on whether to approve a strike. Members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh will cast secret ballots by mail in the coming days. The decision to do so came after more than three years of stalled contract negotiations between the company and the several unions at the newspaper.

Read more.

5:27 p.m. - Rep. Reschenthaler to quarantine after exposure to colleague who tested positive for COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler said he will self-quarantine after being in close contact with Texas Republican Louis Gohmert, who tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday. 

“Yesterday during the House Judiciary Committee hearing, I shared a desk with Congressman Gohmert and had extensive conversations with him, including a walk together from the Capitol to the Cannon House Office Building,” the Republican confirmed to WESA. Gohmert tested positive on Wednesday. “After a personal consultation with the Attending Physician and in accordance with their guidance, I will be self-quarantining for 14 days out of an abundance of caution.” 

Reschenthaler represents the 14th district which includes Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.

4:33 p.m. - Virus prompts new grace period for expiring driver licenses

Pennsylvania reported more than 800 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, as continuing concern about the virus prompted a new grace period for drivers with expiring licenses.

The state Department of Transportation extended the expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards and learner’s permits to Aug. 31. The grace period applies to cards that expired after March 16. It had been scheduled to expire this Friday.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health reported 834 additional confirmed virus cases and 16 new deaths. The virus has infected more than 110,000 people in Pennsylvania since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 7,160 have died, most of them in nursing homes.

In July, Pennsylvania’s 14-day rate of new cases per 100,000 residents has risen by more than 70%, from below 60 to almost 100.

The seven-day positivity rate — based on the Health Department’s daily public disclosures of the number of people who are newly confirmed to be positive and the number of people who tested negative — has gradually increased in July, from about 4.5% to 6%.

Deaths have declined from June to July, although hospitalizations are on the rise in July, according to state data.

4:04 p.m. - Borough panel to mull use of "squaw" in street, trail names


A western Pennsylvania borough committee plans to examine use of the word “squaw" in street and trail names after objections to the word as a derogatory term for Native American women.

The Tribune-Review reports that several residents in Allegheny County's Fox Chapel have requested that local governments replace the word. Councilwoman Mandy Steele said she expects the issue to be discussed at an Aug. 17 meeting.

“In my opinion, where there is consensus among a historically violently oppressed minority group that a word is offensive, legislators should remove it from place names,” she said. “No committees, no community vote, no referendum. Just remove it.”

Steele has joined others in spearheading the name change on Old Squaw Trail and Squaw Run Road, along with Squaw Run, a stream that winds from the Allegheny River through the Lower Valley. The Squaw Valley Park name has drawn dueling petitions in O'Hara Township.

Fox Chapel council president Andrew Bennett suggested that residents from Squaw Run Road and Squaw Run Road East should serve on the borough’s new committee.

At a township parks and recreation committee meeting last week, more than a dozen people challenged use of the word but others said the issue is being unnecessarily linked to recent protests over racial injustice.

“Are we going to bleep it out of every movie? Remove it from every map?” committee member Joe Jablonski asked. “I feel it’s another move by people hacking away at the history of the township.”

Member Mary Lasher recommended that surveys be sent to homes across the Lower Valley. “I never knew the word was offensive,” she said.

3:44 p.m. - Eight residents indicted on federal charges related to a May 30 “Black Lives Matter” protest

The demonstration took place in downtown Pittsburgh and resulted in confrontations between marchers and police. In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Western Pennsylvania says the alleged offenses included throwing bricks and an explosive device at officers, striking police horses, and setting police cruisers on fire.

3:10 p.m. - Wolf addresses effects of coronavirus on Latinos in Pa.

Gov. Tom Wolf says his administration is learning better ways to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on Latinos in Pennsylvania.

The democratic governor spoke on a panel with New Mexico Governor Michelle Luhan Grisham at the UnidosUS online national conference. 

Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz Balart asked Wolf and Grisham about their responses to the pandemic. Both governors criticized the federal governments’ response and discussed their efforts to contain the resurgence of cases in their states.

Grisham says nursing home employees, many of whom are Black and Latina women, do not receive the recognition and the pay they deserve.

“They don’t get recognized for their work, they’ve lost their lives, they brought COVID back to their families. Here’s what they have to deal with. They’re just like the frontline workers that we do recognize in hospitals,” Grisham said. “They have to say goodbye to the people they love and care about in the facilities that they’ve dedicated their careers to and lives to.”

Balart asked what the governors would have done differently in March, knowing what they know now.

Wolf said his administration could have required testing in long-term care facilities.

As of the day the panelists taped the discussion, July 24th, all nursing home personnel and residents in Pennsylvania were supposed to have been tested, Wolf said. About 68 percent of the state’s deaths connect to nursing homes.

3:04 p.m. - Pittsburgh and Montreal meet in game 1 of Eastern Conference qualifying round

The Pittsburgh Penguins play the Montreal Canadiens in game one of the Eastern Conference qualifying round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The teams meet Saturday for the fourth time this season.

The Penguins are 20-16-4 in Eastern Conference games. Pittsburgh has given up 34 power-play goals, killing 82.1% of opponent chances.

The Canadiens are 9-13-2 against opponents from the Atlantic Division. Montreal leads the NHL shooting 34.1 shots per game while averaging 2.9 goals.


Credit Keith Srakocic / AP

1:51 p.m. - Pitt to study plasma as COVID treatment

The University of Pittsburgh will participate in a nationwide study of the effectiveness of convalescent plasma as a COVID-19 treatment. The plasma comes from patients who have recovered from the infection, and contains antibodies that are believed to neutralize the coronavirus. Previous research has been conducted on patients who are seriously ill with COVID-19. Scientists hope introducing plasma early, to patients with mild symptoms, will lessen the severity of the disease.

11:15 a.m. – Allegheny County reports 125 new virus cases

The new cases are the result of 1,310 tests taken July 8-28. Those infected range in age from 1 to 98 years old.

The Allegheny County Health Department also reported 10 new hospitalizations and five new deaths. Those who died were between 70 and 90 years old and the deaths took place between July 14-24. 

10:47 a.m. - COVID-19 is filling up hospitals in small cities


As the coronavirus has moved from coastal cities to more rural areas of the country, disparities in hospital capacity are causing problems for those not equipped to deal with the recent surge of the pandemic.

Read more from NPR's Sean McMinn.

8:15 a.m. - Bars, restaurants challenge virus restrictions

Pennsylvania bar and restaurant owners say they have been unfairly blamed for rising virus case numbers. At a House hearing Tuesday, they challenged the Wolf administration to provide evidence and blasted the Democratic governor over pandemic restrictions they say will drive many of them out of business. Wolf cited rising infection rates in some hot spots when he imposed a new round of restrictions on bars and restaurants two weeks ago. Occupancy was reduced from 50% to 25% capacity, and alcohol can only be served with meals. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections Tuesday for the third time in less than a week.  

7:38 a.m. - Jill Biden meets with local teachers

Jill Biden told Pittsburgh-area educators Tuesday that if her husband were already president, he would have had a plan to safely reopen schools. Teachers told her in a virtual call that they don’t feel safe going back to classrooms.

Beaver Area High School teacher Laura O’Rorke says it is disrespectful to send teachers and students back to schools because she says it isn’t safe.

“I truly feel that the environment that would be created even attempting to implement the very important CDC protocols would create an environment that at this point I have to feel is less conducive to learning than remote learning would be.”

O’Rorke and other teachers on the call with Jill Biden, who is herself a teacher, praised the plan Joe Biden’s campaign released this month.

That plan emphasizes local decision-making for reopening schools.

President Trump, meanwhile, has threatened to withhold funding from schools that won't reopen.

What's at stake and candidate profiles for statewide races and competitive primaries in Allegheny County.