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WESA Daily Briefing: August 27, 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.



6:31 p.m. - Philadelphia accepts $10M grant for ambition election plan

Philadelphia on Thursday accepted a $10 million grant to help it advance an ambitious election plan to buy counting equipment and spread satellite election offices and secure drop boxes around the city to absorb growing demand for voting by mail in November's presidential election.

The city's election board, the Philadelphia City Commissioners, voted to accept the grant from the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life, whose donors include Facebook and Google.

Accepting the grant comes as President Donald Trump's campaign is suing to outlaw drop boxes — used in the primary in the heavily Democratic city of Philadelphia and its suburban counties where Trump lost badly in 2016's election despite prevailing in Pennsylvania.

Half the money, about $5 million, will go to equipment such as inserters, sorters, extractors, and scanners to speed up the counting of mail-in ballots, amid concerns that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.

Another $2.2 million will go to open 15 satellite election offices where people can register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot or drop off their completed ballot.

Another $550,000 will go to installing 15 drop-boxes that are available 24 hours a day at each satellite election office, complete with 24-hour video surveillance.

The city is aiming to open more than 800 fully-staffed polling places, including hazard pay for poll workers, after it consolidated down to 190 polling locations in the primary election.

6:03 p.m. - Finally pain-free, Roethlisberger ready to sling it

 Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says his surgically repaired right elbow feels better than it has in years. Roethlisberger missed most of the 2019 season after tearing three flexor tendons in his right elbow in Week 2 against Seattle. The 38-year-old says the elbow had been bothering him for quite some time but now he is able to throw pain-free. While the team is trying to keep Roethlisberger on a “pitch count” as he prepares for his 17th season, he's taken on a heavier workload this camp than he has in previous years.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA

4:43 p.m. - State gives $3 million to Pittsburgh-area research groups for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments

The University of Pittsburgh will receive the lion’s share of this grant money, followed by Carnegie Mellon University and the Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development says it selected entities that have a well-defined pathway to accelerated commercialization of these products.

4:33 p.m. - Wolf says state’s ability to process mail-in ballots will suffer without election law changes

Lawmakers approved Act 77, which allows Pennsylvanians to request a mail-in ballot for any reason, just last fall.

More than one million people did so during the spring primary, and even more may follow suit for the November election .

Now, Gov. Tom Wolf says county commissioners want election offices to be able to process ballots sooner, count ballots postmarked by Election Day, and more:

"We're all trying to figure out, 'How can the counties have the responsibility for making sure the count is accurate and as timely as possible?'” Wolf said.

The administration also wants the state Supreme Court to push back mail in voting deadlines.

That's made things contentious for the G-O-P controlled legislature.

A House Republican spokesman calls the move "politically motivated," and says Wolf is trying to skirt around lawmakers rather than work with them.

The Senate GOP, meanwhile, introduced its own bill for changing election rules this week.

3:15 p.m. - Greensburg priest charged with sexually abusing a child

Fr. Andrew Kawecki from the Diocese of Greensburg was arrested this week, charged with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy in Fairchance, Pa. in 2004. According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, Kawecki is the 54th priest to be arrested since the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report found widespread abuse of children at the hands of Catholic religious personnel. 

SNAP says there has been an 18 percent increase in the number of priests accused of abuse since the grand jury report was released. 

3:06 p.m. - Duquesne convenes special task for to handle the Dannielle Brown hunger strike

As a grieving mother finishes the second month of a hunger strike against Duquesne University, the school says it has assembled a "special team" to handle the situation.

Dannielle Brown has been on a hunger strike at Freedom Corner since July 3rd to get answers about how and why her son Marquis Jaylen Brown suffered a fatal fall from a dormitory window in 2018. In a statement Thursday, Duquesne said the team will include people who can help her attorney review school records of her son's death.

Duquesne says it must move carefully because Brown filed a lawsuit after her son's death. Brown has not made a formal complaint: Her court filing only gives her the right to do so in the future.

Brown has claimed Duquesne is not telling the full story. While the school has publicly announced she can see its files, Brown says the school has not granted her access due to confidentiality rules.

2:54 p.m. – DOJ requests info on nursing homes from four states, including Pa.

The U.S. Department of Justice is requesting information from the Democratic governors of Pennsylvania and three other states on their decisions to order public nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients.

The Justice Department says the governors sent hospital patients to the facilities "often without adequate testing."  The DOJ is considering whether to launch an investigation under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, a law that protects the rights of residents of nursing homes and other facilities. 

The governors issued the orders in the first months of the pandemic while appealing to federal authorities for more testing and personal protective equipment.  

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said his office is reviewing the request, while the governors of Michigan, New Jersey, and New York criticized what they describe as a partisan tactic deployed by the Trump administration in the midst of the Republican National Convention.

Forty-three percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred at long-term care facilities, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

1:47 p.m. - Allegheny County reports 61 new COVID-19 cases; Pennsylvania reports 620

The Allegheny County Health Department said the 61 new cases were out of 1,084 tests. New cases in the county have a median age of 59 years old. Statewide, health officials said the new 620 cases bring Pennsylvania's total to 131,156.

10:27 a.m. - Art Commission votes to schedule public hearing over Columbus statue removal

The Pittsburgh Art Commission voted yesterday to schedule a special public hearing on the proposed removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park. The statue has been vandalized this summer amid protests over Columbus's treatment of indigenous peoples. Some Italian-American residents of Pittsburgh have signed a petition against removal, saying the statue represents their heritage.

7:57 a.m. - Ross Township faility now site of largest nursing home COVID outbreak

A Ross Township facility is now the site to the largest COVID-19 nursing home outbreak in Allegheny County. State data show 110 residents at the ManorCare nursing home have contracted the coronavirus.

Of those 110 residents at ManorCare's North Hills facility, more than 20 have died. ManorCare says another 60 have recovered.

The Toledo, Ohio-based company owns 42 facilities in Pennsylvania, two-thirds of which have had COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health provides infection control assistance to nursing homes dealing with outbreaks but declined to say whether the North Hills nursing home has requested aid.

An emailed statement from ManorCare says that in most cases COVID-19 patients are treated in-house, and that it has an infection control process to manage the virus.

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.