WESA Daily Briefing: August 24, 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. - At least three former Pennsylvania GOP congressmen endorse Democrat Joe Biden for president
The move comes as the Republican National Convention is underway in North Carolina. Most notable among the endorsements is former 15th District Congressman Charlie Dent of Lebanon County, who left midway through President Trump's term after more than a decade in the House.
He recently told CNN he sees Trump as too disruptive to the world order, calling his actions in international policy "unforgivable and disqualifying."
Another is Bill Clinger, who was Pa.'s 5th district Congressman and who was part of a group of Republicans who spoke out against Trump four years ago.
Former 8th District Congressman Jim Greenwood is also voting for Biden. He was a state lawmaker for more than a decade before serving in Congress between the early 1990s to 2005.
Recent polling shows Biden leading Trump by seven points in the commonwealth -- which is considered a crucial battleground state in November.
5:34 p.m. - Republican state lawmakers call for suspension of a law authorizing Pa.’s COVID-19 restrictions
GOP State Representative Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County argues the state's constitution gives the legislature the power to suspend law.
To that effect, he’s passing around what he calls a "Declaration of Suspension," something he claims, with enough signatures, could effectively declare the state of emergency over.
Metcalfe says the effort has a specific aim.
"To exercise that foundational power the people have given we in the legislature, that we want to suspend this law that the Governor has used to advance his tyrannical edicts,” Metcalfe said.
But the idea faces some problems: last month, the state Supreme Court affirmed Gov. Tom Wolf's power to manage the pandemic and declared a GOP attempt to limit it null.
The House GOP caucus says it officially wants to focus on limiting the Governor's powers, rather than suspending the law outright.
5:15 p.m. - Few Pitt students test positive for COVID-19
Less than 1 percent of the University of Pittsburgh students who were randomly tested have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials say students are following safety rules, though several fraternities and sororities and a few individuals have been disciplined for throwing large off-campus parties.
John Williams, the director of the university’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, says they haven’t identified a pattern of where and when students have been infected.
“A small minority of students can really mess it up for everyone else. And there’s a lag of one to two weeks between people becoming exposed and infected and then when you start seeing the illnesses appear.”
The university tested about 10 percent of on and off campus students. Classes will remain online until at least September 14th.
The university released a new dashboard Monday with up-to-date data on student and staff testing.
4:59 p.m. - Wolf administration urges USDA to extend federal waivers for free school meals
The waivers are set to expire at the end of the month, just as Pennsylvania students begin the fall term.
Pennsylvania began receiving federal aid to distribute meals to school children back in March, to ease the burden caused by school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wolf administration says the federal waivers have provided 24 million meals to the state's school children and wants to continue as many schools will reopen virtually.
The PA Department of Human Services Secretary Theresa Miller says kids who go hungry are at risk for health problems.
“Chronic hunger has serious lasting impacts on a person’s overall health,” Miller said. “Hunger and nutrient deficiencies are directly linked with increase risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, and poor overall health.”
Miller says these health problems in turn will make it harder for kids to keep up with their school work, and can worsen existing disparities.
3:38 p.m. - New coalition to organize next year’s Pittsburgh Pride
Trans YOUniting and the Pittsburgh LGBTQ Coalition say the June celebration will be Black-led and intersectional. The coalition’s Kenny West says the 2021 festival and parade will take place downtown, but feel different from the Delta-run Pride, which has been criticized for excluding Black and non-cisgendered people.
“Pride does not belong to one organization or one person, Pride belongs to the people,” West said. “That’s the direction we want to go in. ‘cause it’s about the community.”
The coalition also announced it would be having a weekly rally at the City County Building. It’s demanding that the Pittsburgh Police force put more Black officers in leadership positions and that charges against Black LGBTQ activists be dropped.
The Delta Foundation had hosted Pride for years, but dissolved over the weekend due to financial challenges.
12:20 p.m. - Latest COVID numbers
The Allegheny County Health Department reported 29 new COVID-19 cases Monday, the result of 690 tests taken Aug. 17-23. Those infected range in age from 18 to 94 years. No new deaths were reported.
Statewide, the number of cases increased by 426, bringing the total to 129,474. The state also reported one new death Monday.
9:26 a.m. - PWSA repairing sewer main in East End
Repairs to a sewer main on Penn Avenue between East Liberty Boulevard and Fifth Avenue are continuing today. One outbound lane is open to vehicular traffic - all inbound lanes are closed. The PWSA says work will continue around the clock through Friday.
7:19 a.m. - Delta Foundation to dissolve
The organization best known for putting on Pittsburgh’s annual Pride celebration has voted to dissolve. The Delta Foundation says it is disbanding due to a lack of revenue:
The annual festival and parade celebrating LGBTQ Pittsburghers generated revenue to keep Delta running, but the 24-year-old organization had to cancel the event due to COVID-19. The dissolution announcement comes after the board said it sent an internal review of its finances to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. That review was launched after Delta’s longtime board president resigned while facing criminal charges.
Delta has also faced criticism for a lack of diversity on its board and for allegedly curating its events for white, affluent audiences. A protest against the organization was held last week by mostly Black-led LGBTQ organizations on the South Side.