WESA Daily Briefing: July 31, 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.
6:24 p.m. - PPS students will learn remotely until November
Pittsburgh Public Schools' nearly 23,000 students will not return to classrooms for the first nine weeks of the year.
The board unanimously passed a resolution to postpone an in-person return until at least the end of October. Board member Kevin Carter, who represents North Side neighborhoods, proposed the move last week. He told board members Friday there is not a good solution, and that he is aware of the challenges that come with remote learning.
But, as local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase, he said it is too risky to return to schools.
“Are you willing to gamble the lives of the students and staff? Because that’s what this vote means today,” he said.
More details on remote learning for the first nine weeks are expected to be discussed at the board’s Tuesday, Aug. 4 meeting, which can be streamed here. The board also unanimously approved a health and safety plan that must be sumbitted to the state. The plan outlines how the precautions the district would take if it were to reopen schools.
District administrators had previously suggested using a hybrid model of both in-person and online instruction with the option of fully online learning. That position was largely influenced by the district’s “All-In to Reopen Our Schools Plan” process that brought together parents, teachers, students and community advocates to consider how schools could safely reopen. The committees submitted 400 recommendations to the administration.
4:55 p.m. - Demonstrators march for non-discrimination protections of LGBTQ people
In response to a recent Trump administration ruling that reversed Obama-era health care and housing protections for the LGBTQ community, dozens marched through downtown Friday afternoon.
Many of the activists leading the demonstration said the federal reversal of non-discrimination protections was a matter of life and death. The June ruling defined “sex discrimination” as only applying to male and female-identifying people, leaving out many people who are part of the LGBTQ community.
Trans YOUniting founder Dena Stanley says transphobic messages from Trump are harmful.
“We’re talking about mental health, as well, because folks are fearful. Even though people say we don’t have to listen to him, but that’s still the president right now,” Stanley said. “So people hear that and they get scared.”
Dalen Michael says he’s worried that the change will discourage people from seeking medical care and help with housing.
“I’m afraid that in the middle of this pandemic that my trans brothers and sisters are not going to be able to go to the emergency room, are at risk of getting kicked out of their house,” Michael said.
The group is asking for a statewide ban on discrimination based on gender identity. Allegheny County has one, but demonstrators say LGBTQ people outside of the region won’t be protected.
4:32 p.m. - Penn State University’s plans for school this fall
Penn State plans to have tests sent to about 30,000 faculty, staff and students shortly before they return to campus. The tests will go to people in high risk areas and are supposed to be sent back to the testing center about a week before returning to campus.
Dr. Kevin Black is interim dean of the College of Medicine.
“This pre-arrival testing strategy provides us the opportunity to begin the semester with a far lower number of asymptomatic but COVID[-19] positive individuals on campus,” Black said.
Penn State President Eric Barron called on local communities for help including through ordinances and enforcement.
“It’s a challenge to control behavior of the students that are living off campus, so we really need the commitment of our local community,” Barron said.
August 24th will be the first day of classes for the fall semester at Penn State.
4:18 p.m. – Federal government won’t accept new DACA applications
Immigrants in Pennsylvania seeking protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program received some bad news this week.
A memo from the Department of Homeland Security also said that for anyone renewing their DACA status, the renewal would only last one year, instead of two.
Armando Jimenez, an organizer with the immigrant rights group Make the Road PA, received DACA shortly after it was first implemented in 2012. He’s been talking with other recipients and giving advice where he can, mostly recommending that people consult a lawyer. He says the DACA news is draining, but community organizing helps.
"We see what happens when you speak out with other folks. We’re the ones that drive the narrative. We’re the ones that speak our truth. And I think that’s definitely healing," Jimenez said.
The news came a month and a half after the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump Administration’s attempt to end DACA. Since then, new applicants and their lawyers say they have received silence or rejections from DHS.
Lawyers brought the government’s lack of guidance to a federal district judge in Maryland, who ruled the government must fully reinstate the program.
The agency is arguing that its latest rules are temporary, as the government decides what to do next with DACA.
4:06 p.m. - Cultural Trust furloughs 49 employees
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more jobs at the Pittsburgh area’s biggest arts presenter. The nonprofit Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has furloughed 49 workers, about half of its full-time staff. The move follows an earlier round of furloughs of part-time employees, and pay cuts for full-timers. The Trust says it has canceled some 3,000 events this year because of the pandemic, including such key money-makers as the touring Broadway shows it hosts at the Benedum Center.
1:28 p.m. - Pennsylvania to hire 1,000 more coronavirus contact tracers
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is hiring 1,000 additional contract tracers to bolster the state’s efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks by quickly notifying people who might have been exposed. The Health Department on Friday announced a $23 million, federally funded contract with Atlanta-based staffing agency Insight Global to recruit, hire and train the new workers. They will join the state’s existing contact-tracing force of more than 650. The department says recruitment will be focused on workers who have been laid off because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Health Department said 970 more people have tested positive for the virus, with 13 new deaths.
12:51 p.m. – Allegheny County reports 244 new COVID cases
The number of cases mark the third-highest single-day increase since the county started tacking COVID data in March. The new cases were the result of 2,616 tests taken over nearly a month-long period, between June 30 and July 30.
The county also reported four new deaths, spanning July 23-39. Those who died ranged in age from 74-93 years old. Additionally, county officials reported 33 new hospitalizations, but did not provide a date range for them.
10:06 a.m. - Pitt to offer isolation beds for students
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.
7:24 a.m. - PPS board member calls for audit of remote learning devices
Pittsburgh Public School board member Sala Udin says the district isn’t prepared for remote learning. The board has authorized the district to purchase thousands of devices, but Udin says administrators aren't forthcoming about where the devices are.
Udin has asked City Controller Michael Lamb, who has auditing jurisdiction over the district, to audit the quantity and location of computers and tablets the district has purchased.
“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.”
The board is expected to vote Friday on whether to begin the school year online or in person. Neither the district nor Lamb immediately responded to a request for comment.