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WESA Daily Briefing: July 30, 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.



6:02 p.m. – PPS board member says district isn’t prepared for remote learning

Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Sala Udin said the district assures him that it will have enough computers for students in the fall, but Udin says that isn’t good enough. The board has authorized the district to purchase thousands of devices.

“I’ve been asking questions like ‘have they arrived?’ and I get questions like ‘well not completely’. Well how many have arrived and how many are due to arrive? ‘Well we expect they will all be here in time for school.”

City Controller Michael Lamb has auditing jurisdiction over the district. Udin has asked him to audit the quantity and location of computers and tablets the district has purchased for remote learning.

Neither the district nor Lamb immediately responded to a request for comment.

“I request a thorough and complete audit of the inventory of PPS laptops, Chromebooks, IPADS and other technology devices purchased since January 1, 2020,” Udin said in a letter sent to Lamb. “The audit should also determine the number of such devices previously owned and actually received by the district and the details of how they were distributed and how many were returned to the district. In addition, please include an audit of the number of students/families in need of high-speed internet access. How many hotspots were purchased or acquired?”

The board is expected to vote Friday on whether to begin the school year online or in person. Administrators have said the district is prepared for a hybrid model with both in-person and online learning. More than 100 people spoke at a more than five-hour public hearing this week about the options.

5:52 p.m. – Pitt to offer isolation beds for students with COVID-19

The University of Pittsburgh will offer isolation beds for students who become infected or are suspected of having COVID-19. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports university officials expect to begin the semester remotely and eventually transition to a hybrid model to include in-person instruction. Students are asked to quarantine for seven days after arriving to campus.

5:48 p.m. – Dannielle Brown on 27th day of hunger strike

Dannielle Brown continues a nearly month-long hunger strike at Freedom Corner in the Hill District, as seeks justice and information about the death of her son. Marquis Jaylen Brown was a student at Duquesne when he died in October 2018.

The school says he broke a window and then jumped out of it, but she suspects there is more to the story. Brown has demanded Duquesne cooperate with an independent investigation, and that on-campus officers wear body cameras. Duquesne agreed to her requests last week. Brown is currently waiting to hear from her attorneys about the findings of the investigation.

4:24 p.m. - Blue Jays manager: Series at Phillies off because of virus

Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Thursday his team's weekend series at Philadelphia was called off because of concerns about the coronavirus after two Phillies staffers tested positive.

“Our plans right now are to stay put and let MLB work through whatever they're working through,” Montoyo said before his club played the last of four games in Washington. “We're not going to Philadelphia. Those games have been postponed.”

It's the latest in a series of scheduling changes as Major League Baseball attempts to play a 60-game season amid a pandemic that is surging in parts of the United States.

Earlier Thursday, word emerged that another player with the Miami Marlins — who recently played at Philadelphia — tested positive for COVID-19, bringing their total outbreak to 17 players, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Phillies said there were no positive results among players from Wednesday’s testing of their team. But there were two positives: One from a a member of the coaching staff and one from a member of the home clubhouse staff.

All activity at Citizens Bank Park was canceled Thursday until further notice.

3:55 p.m. – New poll shows Biden leading Trump in Pennsylvania

A new Franklin and Marshall College poll shows Democrat Joe Biden leading President Trump—50 to 41 percent—among Pennsylvania registered voters ahead of the November election.

The survey results released today show President Trump’s approval rating among Pennsylvanians steady at 38 percent—the same percentage who rated his performance as either “excellent” or “good” in January’s F&M poll.

About one-third of respondents said the COVID-19 pandemic is the most important issue facing Pennsylvania today. 

3:07 p.m. – Department of State to release report on primary election

The Department of State will release a report on the primary election this weekend, but election officials and political party leaders are already considering changes for November's general election.

The presidential primary was the first major election since coronavirus shut down much of the state. It was also the first time Pennsylvanians didn’t need an excuse to vote by mail – and more than 1.4 million of them did so.

Ahead of the primary, Pa. election officials asked legislators to change state law to allow ballot processing before Election Day.

That didn’t happen and some jurisdictions took more than a week to count mail-in ballots –  even two weeks in a few places, including Philadelphia.

“Our poor election staff worked until 2:30 a.m. to just do the ballots that had already been received,” said Senator Lindsay Williams, a Democrat from Allegheny County. “So, moving that up is critical for our general election because of the sheer number of ballots.”

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar says counties need a long-term investment from the state.

“To really have sufficient staff, have sufficient equipment to carry out what … we want to allow uniformly for voters, [it] does require sustained continuous funding, so they don't have to worry about whether the federal government is going to come up with a grant this year,” Boockvar said.

Now, election directors are again asking state lawmakers for an earlier start on ballot processing.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Campaign workers stand outside a polling place in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

2:42 p.m. – PPS board member calls for technology audit

Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Sala Udin is asking the city controller to perform an audit of the district’s technology. Udin says he has asked district administrators for more information about the devices it has purchased to loan to students learning remotely. He says the district hasn’t told him how many students still need technology or internet access.

City Controller Michael Lamb does have auditing jurisdiction over the school district. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

1:11 p.m. – Allegheny County reports 132 new COVID cases

The new cases are the result of 1,800 tests taken July 15-19. Those infected range in age from 9 months to 94 years old. The county Department of Health also reported 23 new hospitalizations and one new death. The person who died was in their 60s and officials say the death occurred earlier this week.

Statewide, the number of positive cases rose by 860, bringing the total number to 111,078. The state Department of Health also reported 14 new deaths.  

10:48 a.m. - PA may pilot virus-tracing app popular in Ireland

A contact-tracing app that was downloaded by one-fifth of Ireland in 36 hours might undergo a pilot project in Pennsylvania that could go live in the coming weeks as part of an effort to more quickly contain coronavirus outbreaks by notifying people who may have been exposed. Lindsey Mauldin, a special assistant to state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, told lawmakers Wednesday that Health Department personnel are working with academic researchers to figure out how to use the app in Pennsylvania. The app is based on technology developed by Apple and Google. A number of states are interested in using the Apple-Google technology for an app, but none has introduced one yet.  

8:01 a.m. - Pence to attend 'Cops for Trump' event in Greensburg

Vice President Mike Pence will make another law-and-order-themed pitch in the presidential battleground of Pennsylvania today. Pence will address a “cops for Trump” campaign event at Greensburg Police Department, in Westmoreland County, where President Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton two-to-one in 2016's election.

After that, Pence will speak at the headquarters of a maker of industrial sealants and adhesives in nearby Somerset, another Republican stronghold in a region that once supported conservative Democrats.

The event, focused on economic recovery from the pandemic, is organized by America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit started in 2017 by Trump loyalists and associated with the America First Action super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection.