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WESA Daily Briefing: September 1, 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.



5:20 p.m. - State completes baseline testing for COVID-19 at nursing homes, plans to expand to other groups

State Department of Human Services Secretary Theresa Miller says all of the state’s more than 1,300 assisted living residences, personal care homes, and private intermediate care facilities have completed universal baseline COVID-19 testing -- meeting an August 31 deadline set earlier this year.

More than 5,000 of the state’s nearly 7,700 COVID-19 deaths are among people in nursing homes.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says one focus now is to add testing for other vulnerable groups.

“So we want to make sure, for example, that minority populations have access to testing, African-American populations, the Latino population.”

Levine says the baseline testing helps to assess the level of coronavirus spread in an area and allow for the appropriate response.

She says that will be especially important as the commonwealth heads into the fall, with schools resuming classes, and some people eager to visit businesses and restaurants.

4:12 p.m. – Columbus statue hearing scheduled for mid-September

Pittsburgh’s Art Commission has scheduled a September 17th public hearing about what to do with the Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park. Columbus memorials elsewhere have been removed because of his enslavement and mistreatment of indigenous people. Commenters can recommend that Pittsburgh’s statue be removed, replaced or altered, or be left as is. Comments will be accepted by letter or email, or via Zoom at the commission's 5:30 p.m. virtual hearing. More information is here.

3:58 p.m. - Demonstrators rally downtown for the extension of additional $600 weekly unemployment benefits

Restaurant and unemployed workers rallied outside Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s downtown office, calling for the extension of an additional $600 weekly jobless benefit. The benefit expired in July, even as over 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus took hold

Larisa Mednis worked in the service industry for five years and now distributes food and other items to unemployed service workers through the Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid. She says many people who have applied for jobless benefits haven’t received them.

“People are worried about the future… especially with the $600 bonus going away, and we don’t even have a guarantee that it will come back,” Mednis said.

Pittsburgh Unemployed Council member Kaity Berill said many families struggled to meet basic needs even before the pandemic.

“The living wage for Allegheny County is $15.35 for a household in the county with two working adults and two children,” Berill said. “Our minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.”

Berill was a service industry worker for fifteen years before she was furloughed. Last month, Pennsylvania said it could offer another $300 in weekly unemployment benefits for at least three weeks, but Berill says that isn’t enough.

3:55 p.m. - Gov. Tom Wolf has renews  statewide disaster proclamation as the coronavirus pandemic enters into its sixth month

For the next three months, the Wolf Administration will keep in place a number of emergency measures aimed at getting help to Pennsylvanians who need it fast.

For instance, people who need unemployment insurance won't have to jump through as many hoops, and training requirements remain suspended for healthcare workers and other essential professions.

There's one notable exception though: the moratorium on rental evictions. That was authorized under a different executive order and expired at midnight on Monday.

The governor's legal team says there's nothing more Wolf can do on the issue -- noting the legislature will have to approve another measure to stave off evictions.

While the governor has publicly called on lawmakers to take action, the Republican majority in both chambers claim the administration hasn't directly reached out to them.

The GOP is expected to focus on other issues as lawmakers reconvene at the Capitol.

3:18 - Sidney Crosby undergoes wrist surgery

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby underwent arthroscopic wrist surgery on Monday but should be ready to go well before the start of training camp.

The team announced the procedure on Tuesday. It did not specify which wrist was injured. General manager Jim Rutherford says the expected recovery time is about a month.

The 33-year-old Crosby had two goals and one assist during Pittsburgh's brief postseason appearance as the Penguins fell to Montreal in four games in the qualifying round. The three-time Stanley Cup winner missed a portion of the three-week training camp in the run-up to the start of the 24-team tournament with an undisclosed issue.


Credit Mark Humphrey / AP

3:02 p.m. - Lawsuit seeks to give voters more time with mail-in ballots

A Commonwealth Court judge heard nearly 11 hours of testimony Monday in a fast-tracked lawsuit seeking to give voters more time to return ballots by mail for the presidential election.

The proceedings will inform a report due Friday that’s expected to figure heavily in the state Supreme Court’s consideration of the case.

This lawsuit was filed earlier this year, before mail delays had grown over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

In court Monday, former deputy postmaster general Ronald Stroman reviewed statistics on mail delivered to USPS standards -- and it’s plummeted over the summer.

Stroman said election officials should allow three weeks between mailed ballot application and return deadlines.

Pennsylvania’s turnaround time is as short as a week right now.

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar testified she wants just another three days to return ballots ….

citing the USPS letter to P-A and other states warning them voters could be disenfranchised under the current deadlines.

Few states have a window as long as the one Stroman suggested.

2:18 P.M. - Latest COVID numbers

Allegheny County reported 29 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the result of 954 tests taken Aug. 6-31. Those infected range in age from 17 to 77 years old. The county also reported four new deaths, two of which are associated with long-term care facilities. 

The state Department of Health reported 770 new cases across Pennsylvania. The statewide total is now 134,795. The state also reported 18 new deaths. 

12:34 p.m. - Pittsburgh launches citywide land use planning effort

The City of Pittsburgh has launched a new initiative called ForgingPgh, a framework for city planning that prioritizes equity and data-driven decision-making.


In a midday statement, the city said the effort will be guided by the city’s existing P4 framework, which was launched in 2005 in collaboration with the Heinz Endowments. P4 stands for people, planet, place and performance, and promised a “new model of urban growth.”


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Displacement Vulnerability Index will also be taken into consideration in city planning.


As part of ForgingPgh, the city released a Conditions and Trends Report, also organized around the p4 framework.


The city is encouraging residents to provide feedback online by completing a virtual workshop, which includes a survey and map activity. 


 9:11 a.m. - Police say home invasion suspect in Wilkinsburg shot, killed accomplice

Police in western Pennsylvania believe a home invasion suspect shot and killed an accomplice as they tried to flee the scene. Allegheny County Police say two men stopped a female at gunpoint and entered the home in Wilkinsburg just before 11 p.m. Monday. Police say two armed male residents confronted the intruders and one of the suspects opened fire as he fled out the front door while the second intruder fled out the back door. Police found the body of a 29-year-old man who was wearing a ski mask. Detectives say the armed residents did not return fire and the preliminary investigation suggests the dead man was struck by gunfire from his accomplice.