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WESA Daily Briefing: September 2, 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.



5:00 p.m. - Local researchers find inexpensive steroid helps COVID-19 patients

An international team led by UPMC and University of Pittsburgh researchers have found that inexpensive, widely available steroids improve the survival odds of very ill COVID-19 patients. Corticosteroids lower inflammation and modulate immune system activity. Administering the steroids reduced the fatalities of ventilated COVID-19 patients by 29 percent. The World Health Organization is updating its treatment guidance as a result of these findings
4:10 p.m. - House OKs changes to mail-in voting in near-party line vote

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives is approving changes to the state's mail-in voting law, but in highly partisan fashion. The Republican-penned bill passed Wednesday, 112-90, on a near party-line vote.

The vote came after a fruitless summer of discussions between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on a compromise to fix gray areas and glitches in the law. One key aspect prescribes specific locations where voters can deliver mail-in ballots by hand.

Democrats oppose that provision, saying it effectively bans the drop boxes that Philadelphia and some southeastern Pennsylvania counties plan to use to help handle the avalanche of mail-in ballots in November.

Read more here.

3:10 p.m. - Republicans in the state house set to pass election-reform bill today

Gov. Tom Wolf and other Democratic lawmakers say the measure stops short of ensuring timely election results.

The bill would require counties to start sending out ballots earlier and finalizing counts sooner.

But it also would let counties start processing mailed ballots the Saturday before Election Day, later than the three weeks ahead requested by election directors.

They also want permission to assign poll workers anywhere in their home county, and that’s in the bill.

But so is a more controversial provision allowing campaigns to assign poll watchers anywhere in the state, the same relief sought in a federal lawsuit by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Representative Malcom Kenyatta is a Democrat from Philadelphia.

“Allowing people to come from counties, all across the Commonwealth into places like Philadelphia, which is what this exception is created to do, will try to have the intended effect of trying to intimidate people from using their right to vote,” Kenyatta said. “We have seen these tactics before. That's why the Voting Rights Act struck down a lot of these things.”

House Bill 2626 also calls for a mailed ballot application deadline 15 days before the election versus a week, but doesn’t address the return deadline. Currently, that’s Election Day

The Department of State has recommended a three-day extension and recently decided to seek it through litigation

DOS didn’t initiate the lawsuits – but, in two cases, leveraged its position as a respondent to get matters into the hands of the Democratic majority state Supreme Court.

Lycoming County Republican Garth Everett heads the House State Government Committee.

“They don't care about compromise. They don't care about doing it through legislation,” Everett said. “The governor may veto this whole thing. And then, you know, the courts will have to decide it or the governor might by the executive order.”

House Bill 2626 also would make it clear voters can drop off mailed ballots at their polling places on Election Day, in addition to county courthouses and election offices.

Democrats wanted provisions for satellite election offices where voters could apply for mailed ballots and cast them early -- but that’s not in the bill.

3:00 p.m. - New survey shows Democrat Joe Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania has narrowed significantly

A Monmouth University poll says Biden leads Donald Trump 49 to 45 percent among registered voters here. That’s down from a 13 percentage-point lead in a Monmouth poll from July. Today’s poll is the first in the state since the party conventions, and it shows Biden’s support ebbing among men and voters under 50. 

2:26 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

The Allegheny County Health Department reported 68 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the result of 1,088 tests taken between Aug. 24 – Sept. 1. Those infected range in age from 2 to 97 years old. The county also reported nine new deaths, which occurred between Aug. 20-28.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 816, bringing the total to 135,611. The state Department of Health also reported 21 new deaths.  

11:08 a.m. - Pence blasts Biden for fossil fuel stance at Luzerne County event

Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a Trump campaign event yesterday in Luzerne County. 

Pence took aim at Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden's stance on natural-gas drilling. Pence said Biden's opposition to a total ban on fracking is at odds with Biden's previous statements on fossil-fuels development.

“Joe Biden was asked last July, and I quote, ‘Would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking in a Biden administration?’ Joe Biden said quote, ‘No, we would work it out,’” Pence said.

Biden made the comments at a presidential debate hosted by CNN in 2019. He went on to say he opposed subsidies for any fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. 

Biden now opposes a total ban on fracking but says he wants to stop new drilling on public land.

9:35 a.m. - Food bank distribution in Johnstown today

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is holding a drive-up distribution from noon to 2 p.m. today in Johnstown. The food bank is planning to serve up to 1,100 vehicles, and is asking visitors to make reservations.  

8:24 a.m. - CDC issues sweeping halt on evictions nationwide  

The Trump administration is ordering a halt on evictions nationwide through December for people who have lost work during the pandemic and don't have other good housing options.

The new eviction ban is being enacted through the Centers for Disease Control. The goal is to stem the spread of the COVID outbreak, which the agency says in it's order, "presents a historic threat to public health."

Read more from NPR's Chris Arnold