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WESA Daily Briefing: September 22, 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.


5:50 p.m. - Pennsylvania nears launch of new health insurance website

Pennsylvania is getting ready to launch its own website to sell Affordable Care Act-compliant policies that will replace the federally operated to enroll people for the 2021 insurance year, state officials said Tuesday.

It is named “Pennie" and lawmakers approved the idea last year in a bid to get more people into it, lower their insurance costs and save money for the state government.

Pennsylvanians can sign up for an account on the website after it goes live, scheduled for later this month. Starting Nov. 1 through Jan. 15, shoppers can look for and buy insurance plans on it.

People who have been buying policies in the marketplace will be notified that they must transition to Pennie. State officials say they will begin marketing it to raise public awareness.

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has said it expects it can lower premiums by 5% to 10% for the roughly 400,000 people who have been buying policies in the marketplace.

Officials also say they are signing up certified brokers and assisters, and will have customer service centers to help people enroll in plans.

They also say they are spending more money than the federal government to help people enroll and are doing more enrollment activities. They say they will hold enrollment events in each county, with a focus on areas with the highest uninsured rate.

4:30 p.m. - City Council passes facial-recognition regulation bill

Pittsburgh City Council passed a bill Tuesday that requires city police to seek council’s approval before purchasing facial-recognition technology. The tool can match surveillance photos to images in a government database. Currently the city does not own such software, but police have used a system managed by the state.

Some critics say the technology should be banned outright because of concerns about privacy and racial profiling.

3:50 p.m. - Duquesne students and alumni hold protest in support of Dannielle Brown

About a dozen people, including Brown, participated. Brown is demanding answers and action from the university in response to her son’s death on campus in 2018. 

She began a protest of the school in July to get answers on her son’s death. Today was day 81 of the strike. 

Brown is calling for the university to require body cameras and de-escalation training for campus police officers. Duquesne officials say the school has agreed to Brown’s requests and has offered to donate $100,000 to a foundation in her son’s name.

3:32 p.m. - South Side’s historic Rex Theater closes due to the pandemic

In an announcement on its Facebook page today, the longtime music venue blamed hardships and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The former movie theater opened as a vaudeville house in 1905. For the past two decades, it has primarily hosted local and touring music acts and other live performance.

The Rex is Pittsburgh’s largest independent concert venue to permanently close because of the pandemic.

Read more here.

3:20 p.m. - Pennsylvania chips away at pandemic poll worker shortages

It will take 40,000 or more poll workers to run the fall election in Pennsylvania. While some counties are on track to have fully staffed polling places, with six weeks to go officials aren’t sure if there will be a repeat of the primary’s coronavirus-driven shortages. A law passed this spring by the Republican-led Legislature let the counties assign poll workers to any precinct in their home county for the primary only.

Poll workers are normally restricted to working in the precincts where they live. A proposal to make that provision permanent has stalled in the General Assembly along with other election mechanics changes.

12:44 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

The Allegheny County Health Department reported 42 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the result of 608 tests, taken Aug. 25- Sept. 21. Those infected range in age from 3 months to 98 years. No new deaths were reported Tuesday.

Statewide, the number of cases rose by 834, bringing the total to 151,646. The number of deaths statewide increased by 19 to 8,023.   

10:52 a.m. - PA launches new virus exposure notification app

Pennsylvania’s new coronavirus exposure-notification app is now available on app stores. The release of the app Tuesday is part of Pennsylvania’s effort to more quickly break chains of transmission by using the new technology to notify people who may have been exposed. The app is based on smartphone technology developed by Apple and Google. The app is interoperable with the state of Delaware’s app, which released last week. Use will be limited to people 18 and over. It is designed to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus, and state officials say the app does not store personal information.  

Read more here.

10:06 a.m. - Trump to visit Moon today

President Trump is scheduled to speak at a campaign rally this evening at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township.  The President is expected to talk about his plan to pick a replacement for former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election. Ginsburg died last Friday.  Earlier this month Vice President Mike Pence attended a 'Workers for Trump' campaign event at a natural-gas drilling site in Beaver County and an anti-abortion discussion hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List in Murrsyville.  

7:33 a.m. - U.S. prepares to reach 200K coronavirus deaths

The U.S. marked 100,000 recorded deaths from COVID-19 on May 27. Now it's preparing to reach 200,000.

Though the number of daily fatalities has gone down since the highs of spring, COVID-19 still claims the lives of hundreds of people in the U.S. each day. More are expected to die as the weather gets colder.

For people who work in hospitals, the challenges haven't gone away. NPR's James Doubek talks to those on the front lines