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WESA Daily Briefing: August 14, 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.



5:33 p.m. - Private, charter schools worry bus cuts will strand students

Pennsylvania school districts that plan to start the year off virtually are facing a potentially thorny issue: What to do about bus transportation for students of private and charter schools offering face-to-face instruction. Some districts say they’ll continue to take these students to school, as usual, even though their own campuses are closed. But other districts plan to cancel bus service until their own students return to brick-and-mortar classrooms, potentially stranding the private and charter students they are required by law to transport. The Education Department says it plans to issue guidance on the issue.

Read more here.

4:25 p.m. Nearly $100 million awarded to small businesses hurt by the pandemic

This grant is specifically aimed at helping business owners of color, who have been less likely than their white counterparts to receive federal coronavirus aid so far.

Dennis Davin is Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

“So we know that the pandemic has been devastating for countless businesses all across the commonwealth, but the difficult truth is that these challenges have been even greater for minority owned businesses, which have been disproportionately hurt by this pandemic, and often don’t benefit and have the same resources as non-minority owned businesses."

About half of the 5,000 grants awarded in the programs first round are going to business owners of color. Overall the average grant size was about $20,000.

The grant program has another $100 million to disperse—the second round of applications opened on Monday.

4:00 p.m. - Democrats aim to keep Greens off fall statewide ballot

Democrats in Pennsylvania are challenging paperwork filed by the state Green Party to get its candidates on the fall election ballot for president and several statewide offices.

Monday's filing in the state's Commonwealth Court said the Green Party's paperwork contained "numerous defective signatures, illegible signatures, signatures of unregistered voters, signatures in the handwriting of others and signatures of fictitious persons."

There are also “defects” in statements by candidates and people who gathered the signatures, the Democrats' court filing said.

The Green Party's paperwork, submitted by the Aug. 3 deadline, contained about 8,550 signatures for its nominees for president, state attorney general, state auditor general and state treasurer, according to court papers. The legal threshold is 5,000 signatures of registered voters.

A state Green Party co-chairperson, Sheri Miller, said in a statement the Democrats' challenge is an "attempt to remove any non-corporate-backed competitors from the ballot and to limit voters’ choices to the duopoly.”

The national Green Party nominee for president is Howie Hawkins.

The Republican and Democratic parties in Pennsylvania often challenge third-party nominees to keep those candidates from siphoning away votes in a general election.

The Libertarian Party also filed paperwork to get its presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, on the fall ballot. Those signatures have not been challenged in court, state officials say.

3:52 p.m. - State asks to extend mail-in ballot deadline

The Department of State asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to extend the November deadline for voters to return their mail-in ballots. The state wants to change the deadline from 8 pm on election day to Friday, three days after the election. The change would apply to ballots postmarked by election day. Officials say the request is meant to address reports of expected widespread delays in mail delivery.

Read more here.

2:09 p.m. - Latest COVID numbers 

Allegheny County reported 90 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the result of 1,237 tests taken July 31-Aug. 13. Those infected range in age from 1 to 96 years old. The county health department also reported 11 new hospitalizations and five new deaths.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 829 to 122,950. The state also reported 36 new deaths.   

11:56 a.m. - State gives school COVID guidance

Pennsylvania state government agencies are providing school leaders with advice about how to respond when students or employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been on school property. The guidance issued late Thursday ranges from cleaning and tracing the sick person's contacts to shutting down buildings for two weeks or longer. The Education and Health departments is recommending procedures that depend on how many people are infected and how widespread the disease has been growing in their county. School leaders had sought the advice as they plan for restarting instruction this fall.  

8:43 a.m. - Food Bank distribution in McKeesport Saturday

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is holding a drive-up distribution tomorrow from 10 a.m. - noon in McKeesport. Each vehicle will receive one food share - that's about 50 pounds of pre-packaged food. The food bank is asking recipients to make reservations. 

7:26 a.m. - Mt. Lebanon school district to start year virtually

The Mt. Lebanon School Board voted unanimously last night to offer only remote learning for the first nine weeks of the fall semester. Pittsburgh Public Schools has suspended girls' soccer practice at Allderdice High School for two weeks after a player tested positive for COVID-19. The district said Thursday evening the student was last with the team on Tuesday and that so far she is asymptomatic. And the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is delaying the start of school until Sept. 8 for elementary students. The diocese says teachers asked for more time to prepare their classrooms and practice new COVID-19 protocols. High schools will remain on their original opening schedules.