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WESA Daily Briefing: August 4, 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.



4:21 p.m. - Sen. Casey and Gov. Wolf want to continue unemployment benefits amid pandemic

U.S. Senator Bob Casey and Governor Tom Wolf want Senate Republicans to preserve an additional $600-per-week unemployment benefit in future coronavirus relief bills.

During a conference call today, Casey and Wolf heard from Michele Evermore, a senior analyst with the National Employment Law Project. She says ending the extra payments could deepen the health crisis.

“So, people are going to have to make the decision to resume unsafe work  that they should have the economic ability to refuse and prevent the spread of the virus," Evermore said.

The U.S. House has voted to extend the payments, which expired last week. Some Republicans say the benefits may discourage people from returning to work.

2:37 p.m. - State Health Department reports 854 new cases 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is reporting 854 new COVID-19 cases. 

While today’s figure is up from the previous two days, the seven-day average of new cases is down compared to last Tuesday. The state averaged a little more than 800 new positives per day over the past seven days, which is down about 16 percent from this time last week. 
According to the department's data, about 6 percent of total COVID-19 tests performed the last thirty days have come back positive. 

1:30 p.m. - Pennsylvania Education Secretary takes a new job

Pennsylvania's top education official is leaving the job as schools grapple with plans to develop and implement pandemic reopening plans.

The board of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster on Tuesday hired Education Secretary Pedro Rivera to be its next president.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf says he plans to nominate one of Rivera's top deputies to succeed him. Wolf says he'll nominate Noe Ortega, the deputy secretary for post-secondary and higher education. Rivera has been part of Wolf's cabinet since the start of his first term more than five years ago. 

Read more here.
11:25 a.m. - Allegheny County reports 132 new COVID-19 cases

The Allegheny County Health Department reported that out of 1,778 test results, 132 were positive for the novel coronavirus. New cases range from people ages 10-93. The median age is 33.

There were six new hospitalizations and one new COVID-19-related death. 

10:35 a.m. – Four Democratic state Senators propose suspending per-diem allowance for officials

State Senator Lindsey Williams is one of four Democratic senators proposing a bill that would suspend the per-diem allowance for General Assembly members during the state's emergency disaster declaration. 

State lawmakers are permitted to file reimbursement claims of up to $178 per day for lodging and food expenses while traveling on official business.  Earlier this year the state senate unanimously adopted rules allowing members to participate remotely in senate sessions during the pandemic.  Williams represents the 38th district, which includes parts of Allegheny County.

Credit Dani Fresh / Keystone Crossroads
Keystone Crossroads

9:19 a.m. - Fox Chapel Area School District releases plan for teaching students in the fall

The district is offering families two plans: a hybrid of in-school and remote learning, or all-remote learning.  Under the hybrid plan, elementary students will be divided into cohorts and attend in-school classes on certain days of the week, while secondary-school students will be grouped alphabetically and also receive in-school instruction on select days.

Parents who opt for the all-remote plan can choose between two options.  The first includes a blend of synchronous instruction, in which students and teachers are online at the same time, combined with asynchronous instruction, such as teacher-recorded videos and software-based curriculum. 

The second all-remote option contains only asynchronous instruction.  The district says this overall educational model is subject to change based on health and safety recommendations.

6:00 a.m. - Three Ambridge High School students test positive for COVID-19

Two members of the girls' soccer team and one member of the band at Ambridge Area High School have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from Barry King, the Pandemic Coordinator for the district.  All three students are quarantined.  The two infected soccer players recently attended practice and the district has temporarily suspended girls' soccer practice.  The band has not yet begun summer practice.

5:47 a.m. - Drive-by food distribution in Washington, Pa. today

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is holding a drive-up distribution today in Washington, Pa.  The event runs from noon to 2 p.m.  Each food-share will contain at least 50 pounds of food.  Reservations are required.  More information is available here.

5:33 a.m. - Flooding due to climate change could cause toxin release at Superfund sites

Increased flooding caused by climate change could result in the release of toxic chemicals from hundreds of Superfund sites along the Atlantic Coast, according to a new report.

A disproportionate number of these highly dangerous hazardous waste sites are located near communities of color and low-income residents.

Dozens of these sites are located in New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Sea level rise could cause flooding at more than 200 current and proposed Superfund sites in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware in the next 20 years. 

The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists says the EPA under the Trump Administration suppressed research in this area and is shirking its responsibility to protect public health. Jacob Carter is a former EPA researcher and author of the report.

“Millions of people of color and thousands of low income households will be at risk from future flooding from these sites. And that’s something that the agency can no longer sit on. There needs to be action now.

President Trump reversed an Obama-era mandate that required EPA to use climate science to assess flood risks. An EPA spokesperson says the current Superfund program adequately addresses those risks.

5:12 a.m. - How autonomous vehicles could help people with disabilities

The University of Pittsburgh will lead a consortium of institutions to study how autonomous vehicles can be made accessible to those with physical disabilities. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the school a $1 million grant last week. The department awarded grants to four new University Transportation Centers to advance research and education programs that address transportation challenges. 

Read more here. 

WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.