WESA Daily Briefing: August 20, 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.
5:30 p.m. – Councilor Strassburger wants changes to police use of force policy
City Councilor Erika Strassburger is calling for an immediate change to the Pittsburgh Bureau of police’s use of force policy, following a confrontation between police and protesters at Mellon Park on Wednesday night. Police used pepper spray and other less lethal techniques to disperse activists at the park, after a conversation with Mayor Bill Peduto on his porch.
I’m calling for immediate change to police policy regarding use of force. Otherwise, I will work with my colleagues to introduce legislation to that effect.— Erika Strassburger (@erikastrassbrgr) August 20, 2020
To those protesting: my door is open if you want to work toward change together.
4:56 p.m. - Penn State is having trouble with students obeying COVID-19 restrictions
Penn State had to break up a large gathering of unmasked students apparently partying outside of dorms on the University Park campus Wednesday night, raising concerns in the community about the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks.
The get-togethers, documented on social media, defy the university’s rules requiring everyone to wear masks while in public spaces on campus and not to gather in groups. And, they came before classes start on Monday.
In a statement, Penn State President Eric Barron said the "behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.”
“We have said from the beginning health and safety is our priority, and if the university needs to pivot to fully remote instruction we will,” Barron said.
State College Borough Council President Jesse Barlow, speaking only for himself and not the borough as a whole, called the gathering alarming.
“It’s kind of the nightmare we’ve all been having since Penn State decided to return to at least partly in-person classes," Barlow said.
He says many students are being respectful of the borough's mask-wearing ordinance, but not everyone.
"I can’t say I’m surprised something like this happened, unfortunately, because it’s happened at a bunch of other universities too," Barlow said.
The university also announced it suspended a fraternity for hosting a party Tuesday that violated state and local rules and Penn State’s policy for Greek organizations.
4:30 p.m. - After a protest at Mayor Bill Peduto’s house, officers arrested one demonstrator
Charges against 26-year-old Ian Frazier include aggravated assault, resisting arrest and rioting. According to the criminal complaint, police said he hit an officer with his bike, and attempted to flee once taken down for arrest. The incident happened at Mellon Park, where police ordered protesters to go after they were given a dispersal order to leave Peduto's house. Once at the park, they were then told the park was closed and they were trespassing. Police pepper sprayed the crowd, and shot off an unidentified round.
3:29 p.m. - GOP bill on school sports clears state House committee
GOP-sponsored legislation that would give Pennsylvania school districts the final say over whether to hold sports and other activities during the pandemic cleared a House committee Thursday.
The legislation came one day before the governing body for interscholastic sports plans to decide the fate of the fall season. Republicans introduced the legislation after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf issued a “strong recommendation” that all youth athletics be canceled until 2021 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association plans to make a final decision on fall sports on Friday. Meanwhile, parents, students and coaches staged a “Let Our Kids Play in PA” rally on the steps of the Capitol.
1:28 p.m. - Latest COVID numbers
After one of the lowest single-day COVID-19 case increases in nearly two months Wednesday, on Thursday the number of cases shot back up to the triple digits. The Allegheny County Health Department reported 100 new cases, the result of 1,648 tests taken June 23 through Aug. 19. The department also reported one new death, that of a person in their 70s who died Aug. 12.
Statewide, the number of cases increased by 791, to 126,940. The number of deaths also increased by 15.
10:46 a.m. - Mail delays could hurt the census, too
Under pressure from the Trump administration to deliver 2020 census results by the end of this year, the U.S. Census Bureau has set a cutoff date for receiving paper forms for the once-a-decade head count, NPR has learned.
The bureau confirms to NPR that it plans to only process paper census questionnaires postmarked by Sept. 30 — its new end date for all counting efforts — and received by Oct. 7 at one of its two data processing centers in Phoenix and Jeffersonville, Ind.
Although the vast majority of households (80%) that have filled out a census form on their own did so online, paper forms have been the second-most popular way for those households — about 1 in 5 — to get counted, especially in rural areas.
That's why recent cuts to the U.S. Postal Service are raising concerns among census advocates.
6:45 a.m. - Pitt changes plans for in-person classes
The University of Pittsburgh is adjusting its coronavirus strategy, and delaying the start of in-person instruction to Sept. 14. The school's decision Wednesday came as a top university official admonished students in a stark warning about partying and ignoring social distancing. In-person instruction was to start Monday. Across the state, Drexel University canceled in-person instruction for undergraduates for the fall quarter, with university officials saying they changed their minds after watching the difficulties at other large universities that have brought undergraduates back to campus. Meanwhile, the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee asked state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to reverse the requirement that schoolchildren wear masks.