WESA Daily Briefing: August 5, 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.
6:01 p.m. - Republican Senator opposes another round of direct payments for COVID relief
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) says he opposes another round of direct payments in any future coronavirus relief package.
Toomey says he also wants to limit federal unemployment benefits to $200-a-week, down from an additional $600 benefit that expired last week.
Toomey says too much of the stimulus money is going to people who didn’t lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
"People who never lost a penny of income...why would we be going further into debt and printing more money so that those people can get $1,200 checks?"
Toomey and other Senate Republicans are pushing for a $1 trillion plan that limits unemployment benefits to $200 a week through September.
Democratic-controlled House passed a more than $3 trillion stimulus bill in May, that includes another round of direct payments and extends the additional unemployment benefits through December.
5:35 p.m. - Allegheny County COVID-19 numbers slowly decreasing
For several weeks the rate of new COVID-19 infections in Allegheny County has been falling, with daily case counts for four of the last five days being below 100.
In July the state and county implemented restrictions on bars and restaurants to slow the virus’s spread. This includes requiring venues to close by 11 pm, and not allowing people to drink alcohol unless they are also eating a meal.
“And as we predicted, around three weeks they started to come down nicely by about 50 counts a week,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, head of the county health department. “I think we’re seeing the effects of our mitigation strategies. So, from a public health perspective, the mitigation strategies we put in place have worked.”
While it’s not possible to know exactly when or where someone gets infected with the coronavirus, Bogen noted that the number of people who had visited a bar, restaurant or party and then tested positive for COVID-19 has decreased. However, the number of COVID-19 patients who went to a wedding and funeral before testing positive has increased.
While the county has made progress the virus is still circulating and the rate of new cases is far higher than it was earlier this summer.
“Although we’re doing better, we still have some room to go,” said Bogen.
3:13 p.m. - Local restaurant owners urge Governor to allow on-site dining
Local restaurant and bar owners say they will gather tomorrow morning to urge the Governor Wolf to lift on-site dining restrictions. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Restaurant and Tavern Association formed last month, with about 200 members. They say they should be allowed to open at full capacity as long as they follow social distancing rules, or install partitions to separate customers. Public health officials warn that bars and restaurants have been hotspots for spreading the disease.
2:40 p.m. - Food distributions to take place in Clairton and the North Side this week
The group 412 Food Rescue will give out food to families in need on Friday and Saturday. Friday's distribution will take place at Clairton Middle/High School from 1-3 p.m. On Saturday, people can pick up food at Clayton Academy from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
2:22 p.m. - Lawmakers hear schools face range of challenges in reopening
Two days of legislative hearings are giving Pennsylvania state lawmakers little reason for optimism about the set of problems ahead as schools plan to reopen during the pandemic.
The state House Education Committee heard experts say there's been lots of planning but much concern about what lies ahead.
Among the issues are questions about what standards schools should use to decide whether to shut down a school or a district when an outbreak occurs, a prospect that looms large as the school year is about to begin.
12:42 p.m. - Two tornadoes touched down in Pennsylvania on Tuesday
The National Weather Service has confirmed that tornadoes touched down in Bucks and Montgomery counties during Tuesday’s storm. The weather service office in Mount Holly, New Jersey said more details would be provided later such as the strength and exact location of the storms, which were among six that struck the region.
Tornadoes also touched down in Ocean and Cape May counties in New Jersey, Kent and New Castle Counties in Delaware and Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. Regional rail service was suspended Wednesday in Philadelphia after the storm raised the Schuylkill River and sent an unsecured construction barge into a bridge.
12: 23 p.m. - Pennsylvania reports 705 additional positive COVID-19 cases
The state Department of Health said throughout the commonwealth there were 12 new deaths reported. The state’s coronavirus cases now total 115,714.
Allegheny County COVID deaths:
Pennsylvania COVID cases:
12:16 p.m. – Lamb calls for investigation into COVID-19 outbreak at Brighton Rehabilitation facility
Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb is calling for a federal investigation of the Pennsylvania Department of Health's response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County.
More than 330 residents have been infected and at least 80 have died.
"The Department of Health does not appear to have imposed any accountability or punishment on Brighton for the use of hydroxychloroquine without permission," Lamb wrote in a letter addressed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The drug has been touted by President Trump as a treatment for COVID-19, but in June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked authorization for the use of hyrdoxychloroquine due the possibility of serious side effects. The FDA had previously approved its use only in hospital settings.
State inspectors discovered in May that staff at Brighton had administered the drug to residents without approval.
11:48 a.m. - Allegheny County reports 70 new COVID-19 cases, five deaths
The Allegheny County Health Department said there were 9 new hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus. The five deaths were people in their 80s and 90s.
Since March, there have been 8,512 COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County and 248 deaths.
10:55 a.m. - O'Hara Township Council votes to rename Squaw Valley Park
By a vote of 6 to 1, Council approved a measure to call the site "O'Hara Township Community Park." On August 17th, Council is expected to take up proposals to rename Old Squaw Trail and Squaw Run Road, according to the Tribune Review. The term "squaw" is now considered a slur against Native Americans.
9:27 a.m. - Sewickley teen named as finalist in National Student Poets Program
Five high school juniors, residing everywhere from Lake Worth, Florida, to Saratoga, California, have been named National Student Poets.
A partnership between the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the student poet program was launched in 2011, with winners contributing to community programs and and poetry events and performing their work everywhere from Lincoln Center to the White House. Winning applicants each represent a different region and are chosen based on creativity, dedication and promise.
This year's poets are Isabella Ramirez, from Lake Worth; Ethan Wang, from Katy, Texas; Manasi Garg, from Saratoga; Madelyn Dietz, from St. Paul, Minn.; and Anthony Wiles, from Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Each receives a $5,000 cash award.
"Now more than ever, we look to a rising generation of creative leaders to demonstrate the power that poetry and the literary arts have to inspire, galvanize, and unite communities," Christopher Wisniewski, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. said in a statement Wednesday. "We are excited to work with these five exceptional teens to engage museums, libraries, and schools in the year ahead, and we are eager to see all that they will accomplish.”
The final five were selected from more than 20,000 submissions, reviewed by a panel that included former U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and such fellow poets as Edward Hirsch, Danez Smith and Arthur Sye.
8:25 a.m. - Grieving mother on month-long hunger strike still waiting for records about son’s death
Dannielle Brown has been on a hunger strike for a month, and she is still waiting on Duquesne University to share what it knows about her son's death. The school says turning over those records is complicated.
Brown's son, Marquis Jaylen Brown, died in late 2018 after he fell from a 16th floor dormitory window. His mother wants to know how it could have happened, and Duquesne pledged last month to turn over records from the incident.
But Brown is still waiting.
Duquesne says it has to clear legal hurdles before it can hand over its files. In an emailed statement, the school says it is working with Brown's lawyer to make sure its process "adheres to federal privacy laws." Duquesne says it is rare for a process like this to take place overnight. It did not provide a timeline for when the material would be released.
Brown says the school should have had the material ready when it announced it would turn the files over.
6:20 a.m. - Pennsylvania House Education Committee Tuesday kicks off two days of hearings on schools
The Republican controlled committee heard testimony from Pennsylvania’s private schools, charter schools, and families of children with special needs, among other groups.
Sherrie Landis, with Arc of Pennsylvania, a group that advocates on behalf of children with disabilities, told lawmakers she was worried that students at schools that don’t open up in person will miss critical services guaranteed by law.
“If a student has an aide at their school then they should have an aide at their home too, the aide should be able to come to their house,” Landis said. “We are asking for the exact same services that they would receive in the school building to be done remotely, at home.”
Other speakers outlined logistical headaches in planning to return to school this fall—from shortages of personal protective equipment to bus scheduling problems.
Lawmakers don’t have much power to influence back to school plans—Governor Wolf is leaving it up to districts to decide how to reopen.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have opted to start the year fully virtual. Many others are still weighing options.
5:56 a.m. - Tropical storm Isaias whips through eastern U.S.
At least six people were killed as Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain Tuesday along the U.S. East Coast after making landfall as a hurricane in North Carolina, where it caused floods and fires that displaced dozens of people.
Two people died when Isaias spun off a tornado that struck a North Carolina mobile home park. Another person died in Pennsylvania when their vehicle was overtaken by water and swept downstream. Two others were killed by falling trees toppled by the storm in Maryland and New York City, and a sixth person died in Delaware when a tree branch fell on them, authorities said.
Isaias sustained top winds of up to 65 mph (105 kph) more than 18 hours after coming ashore, but it was down to 45 mph max winds as of 10:50 p.m. EDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm's center was about 45 miles southeast of Montreal, moving northeast into Canada at about 38 mph (61 kph).
As Isaias sped northward, flooding threats followed. The Schuylkill River in Philadelphia was projected to crest early Wednesday at 15.4 feet (4.7 meters), its highest level in more than 150 years. By Tuesday night, the river had already topped its banks in low-lying Manayunk, turning bar-lined Main Street into a coffee-colored canal.