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WESA Daily Briefing: August 3, 2020

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Erin Keane Scott
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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.

 

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4:55 p.m. - Walmart to provide drive-thru COVID-19 testing throughout the state 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has added nine more drive-thru coronavirus testing sites at Walmart Supercenters around the state. Southwestern Pennsylvania locations include sites in Tarentum, Cranberry, Beaver Falls and Uniontown. Since this summer's sharp increase in COVID-19 cases locally, some people have reported having trouble accessing tests. Patients must make an appointment before testing to determine if they met criteria. At this time, tests are at no cost to the patient.
 
4:14 p.m. - State Health Department releases COVID-19 numbers 

The State Department of Health reported no new deaths attributed to COVID-19 for the first time in more than four months. But health officials note that there's often a lag in reporting of cases and deaths from the weekend. As of today the statewide death toll is reportedly 7,209. 

The department also reported 565 new virus infections. 
 
3:03 p.m. - Pittsburgh bars warned about compliance regulations 
 
Fifteen Pittsburgh bars and restaurants received warnings over the weekend related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, though none of those establishments received formal citations. 
 
That’s according to numbers released by the State Police Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, which conducted more than 1,200 compliance checks throughout Pennsylvania last Friday through Sunday; about a third were conducted in Pittsburgh.
 
The check-ins aim to ensure licensed liquor establishments are enforcing social distancing, masking and other regulations to contain the spread of COVID-19. Statewide, the Bureau issued 52 total warnings and only three citations. 
 

 
2:52 p.m. - Advocates, educators tell state Senators that more funding is critical for reopening schools

The state Senate’s democratic policy committee heard from teachers, union leaders and advocates Monday about reopening schools.

The two largest districts – Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – have postponed in-person learning until at least November. But smaller districts say they need more specific guidance and a lot more funding.

The state distributed federal CARES act funding to districts to buy technology and personal protective equipment. But advocates and district leaders say it wasn’t enough.

Tomea Sippio-Smith with Public Citizens for Children and Youth told the Senators that the pandemic will have lasting impact on students in the most under resourced districts.

“We cannot keep saying we will reform education funding next year and expect students to perform better this year, especially without computers, without tutors and educational support or even structurally sound buildings for students to return to,” she said.

She and other speakers called on the state to equitably invest in schools now.

Pennsylvania State Education Association president Rich Askey says school districts need more specific guidance.

“It’s time that we don’t have these conversations of 3 feet or 6 feet. We don’t have ‘oh you can wear a mask here, but not here, you can wear it in the hallway but not in the classroom. Those conversations need some guidance,” he said.

12:58 p.m. - Allegheny County reports 68 new COVID-19 cases

The Health Department said out of 1,104 test results, 68 were positive for the novel coronavirus. Statewide, there were 565 additional positive cases, with the majority coming from Allegheny and Philadelphia counties. 

10:26 a.m. - Virtual classrooms at Pa. cyber charter schools are filling up

The coronavirus pandemic has led many parents across the state to enroll their children in cyber charter schools. The Post-Gazette reports  the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, based in Beaver County, had already filled its enrollment by the end of July—something unusual for the online school.

Students who applied after the classrooms were filled will be placed on a waitlist. Many parents told the PG they opted for the online educational system because they weren’t comfortable sending their children to in-person instruction or they were not happy with how their previous districts provided virtual learning.

Read more here.

9:17 a.m. - Yoga in the Square returns to downtown Pittsburgh starting Wednesday

The free, one-hour classes will be held outdoors in Market Square on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m.  Masks are required.  Participation in each session is limited to 50 people.  Last month the weekly farmers' market moved back to Market Square after beginning the season in the Strip District.

8:01 a.m. - Giant Eagle recalls some types of onions

Giant Eagle has issued a recall of Spanish, white, and red onions due to potential Salmonella contamination.  The supermarket is advising customers to throw away bulk or bagged onions, as well as any deli items that include onions, purchased since June 6th.  More information is available on the Giant Eagle website.

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Credit Jakob Lazzaro / 90.5 WESA
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90.5 WESA
Shoppers browse the produce section of the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle on Murray Avenue.

7:44 a.m. Public health and environmental activists want state officials to close oil and gas loopholes in new regs

State regulators are working to finalize a new regulation to limit pollution from oil and gas producers, after getting 30,000 comments from the public.

The new regulation would require better monitoring and control of emissions at existing oil and gas sites. It specifically targets volatile organic compounds, but the Department of Environmental Protection says it would also cut down on leaked methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The rule’s supporters include a group of 50 institutional investors, managing a total of $4 trillion in assets, who say businesses face significant financial risk as a result of climate change.

Critics say the rule as written won’t apply to small conventional gas wells, which studies have found contribute more than half of Pennsylvania’s methane emissions.

Gas industry groups say drillers have already cut emissions voluntarily.  And they dispute the DEP’s estimate on how much money could be saved by trapping methane that would otherwise leak into the atmosphere. 

7:32 a.m. - Two local high school athletes test positive for the coronavirus

Officials at Central Catholic High School say one football player is infected and was last at practice on July 23rd, according to the Tribune Review.  The school is suspending team activities and practices - and all team members and coaches will be in quarantine - through this Thursday.  Another student athlete in the Beaver Area School District tested positive yesterday.  The district is canceling all extracurricular activities for three days to allow for deep cleaning. 

5:04 a.m. – Pennsylvania takes step to become a trauma-informed state

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf created the state's Office of Advocacy and Reform to overhaul the state's services and systems to protect the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.

Now, the office has added an additional goal to its mission: To make Pennsylvania a more trauma-informed state.

The Wolf administration says its departments need to consider how traumatic childhood or other experiences will affect how people access state services.

The Office of Advocacy and Reform is overseen by the Department of Human Services and DHS Secretary Teresa Miller says, Black and brown communities tend to experience more trauma, because of systemic inequities within Pa.'s government assistance programs.

"The Wolf administration is committed to using our position and privilege to correct generations of racism and mistreatment that perpetuate trauma in these communities, especially as we continue to face a pandemic that disproportionately is affecting communities of color."

What would that look like? One suggestion, is ensuring schools provide one psychologist for every 500 students.

Another, would provide licensed, certified trauma counselors in shelters, police departments and other settings where assistance can be offered immediately.

What you missed over the weekend:

  • Allegheny County reported an increase of 82 COVID-19 cases on Sunday. Statewide, cases grew by 654.
  • Seven people were arrested on Friday night after fights broke out at Kennywood in West Mifflin.
  • Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Two NASA astronauts are back on Earth after their SpaceX capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Fla.