LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, April 13-19

Apr 13, 2020

News on the coronavirus pandemic, including the responses of local governments, health departments, hospital systems, schools and other institutions. For information from the previous week, click here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.

 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

3:19 p.m. -- Port Authority passengers must wear masks starting at 8 p.m.

At 8 p.m. tonight, a new state rule goes into effect requiring workers and customers at essential businesses to wear face masks. Hours before that deadline, the Port Authority of Allegheny County announced the rule would apply on transit vehicles as well.

“Those who board without a face covering … will be questioned by the operators and asked to cover their face while on the vehicle,” said a Sunday-afternoon statement from the Port Authority. Riders who cite economic or health reasons for lacking a mask may ride without one, as can children ages 2 or under. But riders who refuse to wear the covering for some other reason “will cause a delay in service as the vehicle will not proceed.”

The agency said it “will not forcibly remove these riders,” but would “address these cases … in a safe and reasonable manner.”

Earlier in the pandemic, public health officials nationwide either dismissed masks or actively encouraged members of the public not to wear them, for fear that a rush on supplies would make it even harder for healthcare workers to obtain them. More recently, though, officials have recommended homemade masks as an effort ot limit to spread of the coronavirus.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine announced April 15 that employees and customers of essential businesses would be required to wear masks. But the Port Authority said it received a “clarification” that the rule would apply to transit vehicles early this weekend.

The transit agency has already changed some procedures to limit the virus’ spread, like suspending cash fare and having riders board and exit from the back door rather than approach the driver.

2:08 p.m. -- New reporting practices help boost PA's death total to 1,112

The COVID-19 death toll in Pennsylvania reached into four digits Sunday, due in no small part to new reporting procedures that produced a spike of 276 new deaths. The state now reports 1,112 deaths since it began tracking cases last month.

“These deaths did not happen overnight. They did not all occur in the last 24 hours,” said state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine. Most, in fact, had occurred over the previous two weeks. 

The new numbers reflect an effort to reconcile the state’s totals with figures compiled by county and local officials: State reporting has lagged those numbers in some areas. It also reflects the inclusion of “probable” COVID-19 diagnoses – cases where a test was not performed but a person shows symptoms of the illness and has been in contact with a carrier. Federal authorities began including such cases in their totals last week.

Levine noted that in days ahead there would be similar one-day surges, in part because some deaths are reported as having multiple causes and it takes investigation to determine if COVID-19 played a role.

“At times, there will be a single day’s report that will show big increases,” she said. “But we are looking at trends in the data to base our decisions.”

In fact, the state reported 1,215 new COVID-19 diagnoses on Sunday, lifting the state’s total by 4 percent to 32,284. Levine reported that 2,629 patients were hospitalized, leaving state hospitals with 45 percent of their beds, 39 percent of intensive-care capacity, and 70 percent of their ventilators still available.

11:18 a.m. -- County reports 3 new COVID-19 deaths, modest increase of 26 new cases 

Allegheny County reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday morning, bringing the total of cases to 1,035. The county also reported 2 new hospitalizations resulting from the disease and 3 new deaths. Some 180 county residents either have been or are currently hospitalized for the disease, and a total of 50 deaths have been linked to it. The county says those who died range from 56 to 103 years old.

This weekend the county began including “probable” cases in its totals: Probable cases are those in which no test has been carried out, but in which a person exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 and is known to have been in close contact with someone who had the disease. The federal government began incorporating probable cases into its totals this past week to better track the disease spread, since the disease is almost certainly underreported due to a shortage of testing kits, and doctors urging some patients to not be tested given a lack of treatment options.

The county said that 4 of the 50 deaths it attributes to COVID-19 are probable cases. Of the 1,035 cases it has diagnosed, 16 are probable. That’s the same number a county spokeswoman provided Saturday, meaning the 26 new cases are all positive tests – among the 318 test results the county reports having received.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

7:24 p.m. -- Some state liquor stores to offer limited curbside pick-up starting Monday

Some 176 Pennsylvania liquor stores – including 17 in Allegheny County – will begin offering curbside pick-ups of wine and liquor on Monday, April 20.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced the move, and disclosed a list of participating locations, in a Saturday release, Each store will process what the PLCB calls “a limited number of orders by phone,” with customers allowed to call from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., or until the store hits its quota. Customers must order by credit card, and can purchase no more than six bottles per store per day.

The state’s Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores remain closed otherwise, as they have since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered them closed last month. The stores have been selling limited quantities of wine and liquor for delivery only, though there have been widespread complaints over how difficult it is to log into the system. The Liquor Control Board seems to anticipate that frustration will continue.

“We ask you to remain patient if you don’t get through by phone right away,” the agency’s release said.

2:26 p.m. - Port Authority announces sixth employee diagnosed with COVID-19

 

A sixth worker ifor the Port Authority of Allegheny County has tested positive for COVID-19, the transit agency said in a statement Thursday afternoon. The employee worked in maintenance at the Port Authority’s West Mifflin garage and most recently worked on April 13 before going into self-quarantine.

 

The news came a day after the Port Authority announced another maintenance worker at the same garage had tested positive for the disease. The agency said it will, therefore, shift the site’s maintenance team to a holiday work schedule this weekend, while an outside company completes “a deep clean of the entire facility.”

Port Authority that 59 of its 2,600 employees are being held out of work pending COVID-19 testing as of Saturday. But it said transit service will not be impacted.

1:55 p.m. Self-employed, 'gig workers' now eligible for unemployment benefits

Workers who are self-employed, or who have jobs as independent contractors or “gig workers” can now apply for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania, the state Department of Labor and Industry formally announced Saturday.

Such workers ordinarily aren’t entitled to those benefits. But a $2 trillion federal aid package passed last month funds unemployment benefits for up to 39 weeks. And under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, recipients can receive benefits if they are unemployed, partially employed or unable to work because of the pandemic.

Those who are eligible can receive payments of up to $572, depending on income. And the benefits can be backdated to January 27, if loss of work can be attributed to the virus.

To file for the unemployment compensation, workers must be able to and provide proof of previous work, which could include 1099 tax forms, paycheck stubs, invoices or other records, or statements from recent customers.

Information about the program, and how to apply for it, can be found here.

1:25 p.m. Health secretary offers few new details on state plans to emerge from lockdown

Although Gov. Tom Wolf said this week that the state is laying the groundwork for restarting some areas of the economy, he has offered few specifics about how that process would work. And in a Saturday press briefing, his health secretary, Rachel Levine, did little to shed any additional light.

Levine did not say much about when the state would roll back shutdown orders in individual counties. Rather, she said officials will use “internal modeling” to decide when to relax social distancing and reopen portions of the economy.

Those models would not be made available to the public, she said, although parameters would include public health, social, and economic factors.

Asked about reports that people plan to protest in Harrisburg Monday to demand that the state reopen, Levine did not directly respond to the message beyond acknowledging that “people have the right to protest.” Still, she said, “with a global pandemic of a respiratory virus like COVID-19, [demonstrations] could facilitate the spread, and I would actually worry very much about the health of those people.”

12:32 p.m. -- State reports highest one-day total for COVID-19 deaths

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported 80 new deaths from COVID-19 Saturday morning, the largest one-day total since the state began recording deaths from the disease. A total of 836 have died from the disease. More than half of those – 462 cases – have taken place in nursing homes or persona-care facilities.

The fatality count may actually understate the problem: In a noon press conference on Saturday, several reporters asked about cases in which counties were reporting higher totals than the state numbers reflected.

“We’re working to make sure that we reconcile all data discrepancies,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine told reporters.

The department reported 1,628 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of positive cases to 31,069 statewide. That’s an increase of roughly 6 percent from the day before: The case total has grown by roughly that amount each day for the past week.

11:34 a.m. -- New reporting standards push Allegheny County COVID cases over 1,000 

Allegheny County reported a spike in new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, bringing its total over the 1,000 mark. But the rise in part reflects changing federal standards for reporting the spread of the disease.

The county showed 62 cases of the disease – among the largest one-day jumps since it began reporting totals in March. It now reports 1,009 cases of the disease. But a spokeswoman said that 16 of those cases were “probable” – cases where there has been no test, but where someone is showing symptoms and has had close exposure to a known carrier of the disease.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began factoring in such cases to its totals earlier this week, on the advice of epidemiologists.IIn a statement, Allegheny County said it had begun to include the number of probables as well “to better assess the level of community spread” going forward.

Even subtracting the 16 probable cases, there were 42 positive test results confirmed Saturday morning – a notable increase after several days in which the number of new positives was roughly half that. The county attributed the rise to labs reporting batches of new results, and an increase in testing of people in communal living sites like nursing homes, which have been hotbeds for the virus.

The county also reported just two new hospitalizations of the diseases, increasing the total number of 178 past and present hospitalizations. Of those, 66 are intensive care. There were four new deaths, raising the county’s toll to 47. The county says those who have died range from 56 to 103 years old, with 83 being in the median.

9:54 a.m. -- Toomey named to panel overseeing federal coronavirus bailout efforts

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey has been named to a Congressional panel charged with overseeing a half-trillion-dollar effort to shore up the American economy amid the coronavirus.

The Republican was named to a bipartisan five-member Congressional Oversight Commission by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Friday. Toomey said his goal will "be to protect the taxpayers by ensuring those resources are used in an appropriate, equitable, and pro-growth manner.” Toomey is a laissez-faire conservative who has opposed previous bailout efforts but has said the coronavirus represents an external threat to the economy.   

9:15 a.m. -- Diocese reports Glenshaw youth minister tests positive for COVID-19

A youth minister at Glenshaw's Saint Bonaventure Parish has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Friday-evening statement from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. The diocese said the minister was diagnosed Thursday and is now quarantined at home. The minister has not participated in any in-person gatherings since March 15, when his parish shut down, the statement said. But the diocese said the parish center will be closed for cleaning until Monday, because the minister had previously visited the building to pick up work.

Friday, April 17, 2020

4:40 p.m. - City distributes more than 4,000 meals this week

The City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works, in partnership with local businesses and nonprofits, said it distributed 891 meals to children, 2,171 to seniors and 1,100 meals to other needy families this week.

3:52 p.m. - County to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters

Registered voters in Allegheny County who have not already applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot for the June 2 primary election will receive a mail-in application. 

 

The Division of Elections on Friday announced its staff is finalizing the mailings to be sent out in the coming days, which will include the application and a postage-paid return envelope. 

 

The decision, according to a county press release, is part of an effort to protect the county’s poll workers, many of whom are seniors and have already canceled plans to work Election Day due to concerns for their health. 

 

“[Last month] I asked the County Manager to begin exploring what it would take to be able to send mail-in ballot applications to every voter, including what supplies would be necessary for such a large undertaking,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, in a statement accompanying Friday’s announcement. 

 

The move comes days after Fitzgerald urged Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to expand the state’s emergency declaration to allow the primary be conducted strictly by mail. As of Friday afternoon, no state-level action had been taken on the matter. 

 

“Without that authority, we’re moving forward with our plans to mail the mail-in ballot applications,” Fitzgerald said. 

 

According to the county, as of Friday, the Division of Elections had already received over 71,000 absentee and mail-in ballot applications from county voters. 

 

“We hope that voters will continue to seek mail-in ballots as it is the safest option for them, and for all of our residents, during this pandemic,” Fitzgerald said.

3:06 p.m. - Fifth Port Authority employee tests positive for COVID-19

The agency said in a release Friday that the employee worked in maintenance in the West Mifflin garage and last worked on April 10 before going into self-quarantine. 

Port Authority said it conducted a deep clean of the garage and employee's work area. Fifty-nine employees are being held out of work pending COVID-19 testing as of Friday.

3:02 p.m. - Wolf to offer "framework" for reopening Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania will gradually reopen its economy using a “regional, sector-based approach” and a modeling tool that will help public officials decide when it’s safe. That's according to a plan outlined by Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday. The plan does not include a timetable or many details about the metrics that Wolf and his administration will use to decide that Pennsylvania can begin emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.  

Wolf says more details will come next week. He adds, “There is no magic wand to wave to get us back to where we want to be.” Wolf’s plan comes a day after President Donald Trump, pressing to restart the ravaged U.S. economy, gave governors a road map for economic recovery. 

1:38 p.m.   Wolf to unveil economic reopening plan Friday afternoon

Gov. Tom Wolf is planning to outline how he sees Pennsylvania emerging from the coronavirus pandemic and gradually returning to normal after weeks of social distancing. Wolf's spokesperson says the governor “will unveil Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 relief, reopening and recovery plan” Friday afternoon. Wolf’s plan comes a day after President Donald Trump, pressing to restart the ravaged U.S. economy, gave governors a road map for economic recovery. Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has shot up to 6%, up from 4.7% in February. Revenues dropped by more than half last month in the state's 12 casinos and other gambling outlets.

12:01 p.m.  Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases increase to 29,441

The state Department of Health reported an additional 1,706 positive COVID-19 cases. The department also reported 49 new deaths statewide, bringing the total to 756.

11:25 a.m.  Allegheny Co. COVID-19 cases increase to 43

The number of cases increased from 38 the previous day. The total number of positive cases increased to 947.

9:58 a.m.   Sheetz offering free meals for children at all locations

Credit Photo courtesy of Jenn Donahoe/Sheetz

Children can get a free meal consisting of a turkey sandwich, chips and a drink at any Sheetz location, including stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. 

An adult does not need to present for a child to get a meal.

9:22 a.m.  Liquor and wine sales double

The number of liquor and wine orders filled by the state's online Fine Wines and Good Spirits store more than doubled this week.  The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board says it will soon have the capacity to fill at least 10,000 orders a day.  Workers at 106 state stores are heading back to work to help process orders.  The locations remain closed to the public and are not engaging in retail sales.

7:48 a.m.  Ford says it's on track to make ventilators next week

Ventilators have been in short supply as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, and corporations are shifting production capacity to help fill the gaps.

Last month, Ford Motor Co. announced plans to build simple medical ventilators, with a goal of producing 50,000 of the devices over the next three months.

NPR's Rachel Martin checked in with Adrian Price, Ford's director of global core engineering for vehicle manufacturing, for an update on those plans. He said Ford should be able to make its target by July 4.

 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

6:42 p.m.  Nuclear plants say they're taking additional precautions

Pennsylvania’s nuclear operators said they are taking extra steps to safeguard the health of workers involved in springtime shutdowns for refueling, following the positive testing of two workers for COVID-19 at Exelon’s Limerick plant in Montgomery County.

The cases of the two workers – who Exelon said Monday were resting at home – raised concerns that the hundreds of contractors who are needed to refuel the plants every 18-24 months would be unable to effectively practice social distancing, and would end up infecting each other and the wider community.

4:52 p.m.  Emergency SNAP benefit distribution begins in PA today

The state Department of Human Services says emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be increased to eligible households through at least the end of April. The payments will be distributed through a staggered schedule and placed directly onto recipients EBT cards.

The department said in a statement that it also created a Feeding Task Force, which connects charitable food networks, state agencies and other local partners to families in need. So far the task force has delivered 143,616, as of Thursday. 

“As we navigate this challenging and scary time, the partnerships that support the Feeding Task Force represent the best of all of us – people helping people,” said DHS Sec. Teresa Miller said. 

4:43 p.m. — Peduto thanks workers, praises city's resiliency, during online speech

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the city has so far avoided the worst of the coronavirus – but that the effects of the pandemic will last for years.

“Once we saw this global pandemic coming our way, we made the tough sacrifices together, to do what was necessary to keep our neighbors safe,” said Peduto.

Peduto thanked city residents, public-sector employees and unions, and an “eds and meds” industry that he said “has long been at the heart of Pittsburgh, and that continues in the planning and preparation for the coronavirus.” He said that as of Wednesday, there were still 327 ICU beds available countywide, and 835 ventilators, which are used to treat those with the most advanced and dangerous symptoms of the illness.

Read more about his speech here.

2:57 p.m.  Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to speak about the city's COVID-19 response efforts

2:45 p.m.  Liquor Control Board continues to increase e-commerce sales

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said it's fulfilling orders from 49 facilities across the state and has increased the number of orders it accepts daily.

Credit Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

“Today, we’re accepting 6,500 orders through our website, an 850 percent increase since April 1, when limited e-commerce sales resumed, and a 261 percent increase over the 1,800 orders we had been consistently accepting each day for a number of days," said Tim Holden, board chairman.

The PLCB says it expects to be able to process about 10,000 orders daily.

2:14 p.m.  Transit advocates call for more Port Authority buses during pandemic

 

Port Authority of Allegheny County has overhauled its operations to protect riders and transit operators during the coronavirus pandemic. Advocates and union leadership commend the agency for the changes, but say more interventions are needed. Pittsburghers for Public Transit, a nonprofit, conducted a survey that found some bus routes remain overcrowded. 

 

“While it was the right decision for Port Authority to limit passenger loads to allow for social distancing, it must be coupled with a plan to increase service frequency on crowded lines,” said Laura Weins.

 

PPT said if a bus passes a rider by because it’s reached its cap, it creates crowding at bus stops, and can delay essential employees going to or from work. Most people still riding the bus have no transportation alternative.

 

Union advocates and PPT are also supporting a proposed bill from state Rep. Jake Wheatley to increase pay for all frontline workers to $15 per hour. Those earning $15 or more would see get $3 hourly bump. The hazard pay, Wheatley said, is an “attempt to say to them, we understand the stress and strain, and although that is not enough, we at least want to try to compensate you.”

 

More than 65 transit workers across the country have died due to complications from COVID-19, according to New York City’s MTA and the Amalgamated Transit Union. 

1:29 p.m.  PA to use liquor stores for online fulfillment

Credit Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Pennsylvania’s liquor agency says workers will be back on the job at more than 100 shuttered state-owned liquor stores to help process online orders. Gov. Tom Wolf’s office gave the OK to reopen 106 of the state system’s 600 stores for online fulfillment but not for public retail sales. The store closings have been a source of widespread complaints, especially since the state’s online ordering system has been unable to meet overwhelming customer demand in a state where the liquor board controls the overwhelming majority of retail sales of hard alcohol.

12:35 p.m.  One in five Pennsylvanians has filed for unemployment compensation

Last week, more than 238,000 Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment benefits, according to the latest data published by the U.S. Department of Labor.   That brings the total new claims filed since coronavirus shutdowns began to more than 1.3 million, which puts Pennsylvania at No. 2 in the nation in total number of claims. But, while claims are still surging, they have slowed. Fewer people filed new claims last week than in each of the previous three. The state says that’s due to fewer layoffs in the transportation, warehousing, accommodation, food services, and manufacturing industries. 

12:01 p.m.  Statewide COVID-19 total reaches 27,735

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports an increase of 1,245 COVID-19 cases from the previous day. The department says there have also been 60 new deaths, bringing the total to 707.

11:57 a.m.  Monroeville Rite Aid offering drive-through testing

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, "Drive-thru testing for the coronavirus is now available at a Rite Aid in Monroeville — and the services are expanding across several states."

Those who want to get tested can do a self-swab nasal test. The service is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Read more here.

11:31 a.m. — Wolf backs states' call for $500B in additional federal aid

Gov. Tom Wolf has written to President Donald Trump to back calls from other leading governors for another $500 billion in federal aid for states fighting the spread of the coronavirus. Wolf says he's projecting a budget deficit of up to $5 billion. The letter, dated Wednesday, was issued with two other Democratic governors, Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. In the letter, they acknowledge that the federal government is making an initial $71 billion available to meet some immediate cash flow needs of state and local governments. But, they write, “the magnitude of the crushing economic impact this virus has had on our states and residents cannot be overstated.”

11:08 a.m.  Allegheny County reports 12 new deaths

The number of COVID-19-related deaths in Allegheny County jumped from 26 to 38. However, officials say the "increase in the number of deaths does not reflect a jump in deaths in the past 24 hours. Instead, it reflects a delay in deaths being added to the surveillance system. The department is working on a graph that will reflect deaths by date of death which will be added to the dashboard once complete."

The number of confirmed cases rose by 21, bringing the total 925.

10:02 a.m.  Mayor Peduto to give online speech in response to COVID-19

Mayor Bill Peduto is scheduled to give a speech today at 3 p.m. about the city's response to COVID-19. Streams will be available via:

https://www.facebook.com/city.of.pittsburgh/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-YfIv9wvBjGT3LMxo9hLoQ

http://pittsburgh.granicus.com/player/camera/1?publish_id=4

https://twitter.com/CityPGH

8:23 a.m.   500 construction workers to go back to work on Shell's ethane cracker

Credit Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Hundreds of construction workers will be returning to work on Shell’s ethane cracker in Beaver County, after state officials told the company that parts of the construction project don’t need a waiver to stay open.

The company suspended construction last month, after workers raised concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The company then applied for a waiver from the state to be able to resume some work. 

7:46 a.m.   What's it going to take to end the shutdown?

Public health experts say social distancing appears to be working, and letting up these measures too soon could be disastrous. Until there is a sustained reduction in new cases — and the coronavirus' spread is clearly slowing — we need to stay the course.

NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin and Allison Aubrey break down five keys to containing the coronavirus, from rapid testing to isolating the sick and vulnerable

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

5:41 p.m.   Wolf mandates masks

Going to a Pennsylvania business that remains open during the pandemic? Be prepared to wear a mask. That goes for workers, too.

Many commercial buildings that serve the public will be required to make sure customers wear masks — and deny entry to anyone who refuses — under an order signed Wednesday by the state health secretary.

Employees will also have to wear face coverings, including those who work in warehouses, manufacturing facilities and other places that remain in business but aren’t open to the public.

The mask mandate was included in a wide-ranging order that will govern many aspects of how a business operates — from how it arranges its break room to how many patrons it can allow inside at any one time — as the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf confronts a pandemic that has killed at least 647 in Pennsylvania and sickened thousands more.

Wolf said the latest order is meant to protect supermarket cashiers, power plant operators and other critical workers who can't stay home and are at heightened risk of contracting the virus.

5:12 p.m.   PPS plans virtual commencement ceremonies

Pittsburgh Public Schools seniors will graduate online this year. A district administrator confirmed Wednesday that a committee is planning virtual commencement ceremonies.

 

The district moves to remote learning this week. Seniors were the first to receive laptops and online instruction. All 23,000 students will be learning remotely by April 22.

 

Other regional districts have postponed commencement until late summer.

3:59 p.m.   Gender Equity Commission highlights disparities for Pittsburgh families

Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission says the city’s marginalized communities are disproportionately feeling the effects of COVID-19. Representatives from the LGBT community, maternal health care, and domestic violence shelters say issues of inequity are being exacerbated by financial insecurity and lack of access to resources.

During a virtual town hall today, Tammy Thompson with the nonprofit Circles Greater Pittsburgh said families in poverty are struggling.

“It’s tough in normal circumstances,” Thompson said. “But to add trying to survive and maintain and care for your children and make sure your children are safe and secure during a global pandemic is something that most of us would hope that we never have to imagine.”

The commission also said it’s increased virtual doula support for pregnant women, as well as resources for people experiencing intimate partner violence.

3:37 p.m.   Many COVID-19 deaths are in long-term care facilities

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine says roughly half of all COVID-19 fatalities in Pennsylvania are in long-term care facilities. That includes 16 of the 26 total deaths in Allegheny County.

“We continue to work closely with these facilities to provide infection control support and personal protective equipment.”

Neither the county nor the state has released the names of nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living facilities with COVID-19 cases. There are 54 confirmed cases among staff and residents at the county-run Kane Community Living Center in Glen Hazel. Four residents have died.

2:23 p.m.  The residential child care’s dilemma: lose income or potentially expose families to coronavirus?

Most childcare providers in Pennsylvania were closed under state order last month. 

But providers that operate out of their homes are allowed to stay open.

As Keystone Crossroads’ Miles Bryan reports, that’s forced them to make a difficult choice: lose income or potentially expose their families to coronavirus?

12:00 p.m.  Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases increase by 1,145

The statewide total of COVID-19 cases is now at 26,490. The state also reported 63 new deaths, bringing the total across the state to 647.

11:24 a.m.  Allegheny County reports two more deaths

There are now 26 COVID-19 related deaths in Allegheny County. The number of confirmed cases is now at 904, an increase of 11 from the previous day.

10:52 a.m.   City employee dies of complications from COVID-19

A Pittsburgh environmental services worker has died from COVID-19. The city is not identifying the worker at this time, but officials say he did not contract the virus while at work. He is the first city employee to die from complications of the coronavirus. He had worked for the city since 1995.

During today's city council meeting, councilors offered their condolences to the family.

“I am praying for his family, friends and co-workers in these tragic times,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “The pandemic may be global but it’s still hitting us very close to home.”

10:46 a.m.  Mapping the invisible spread of coronavirus through simulations 

Credit Ansys

While some cities and states are using police to enforce social distancing, a team of scientists and engineers at Canonsburg-based Ansys are hoping to encourage the public to follow safety measures by showing how they work. 

The company created 3D simulations that show how respiratory droplets travel, so people can visualize why distancing measures are so important.

8:39 a.m.  Councilors want to turn vacant lots into urban gardens

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Some Pittsburgh City Council members want to turn city-owned vacant lots into plots for urban farming. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, councilors say there are increased concerns about a lack of access to food.

7:32 a.m.  Nonprofit partners restaurants with health care workers

The coronavirus pandemic has stressed health care workers and put restaurant employees out of work. New initiatives in Pittsburgh are trying to address both problems at once.

The volunteer-run project called Off Their Plate uses donated money to pay restaurants hit by the shutdown to make meals for health-care personnel. Off Their Plate began in Boston and expanded to cities including Pittsburgh, where it served its first meals April second.

The organization recruited Square Café, in Regent Square, and The Vandal, in Lawrenceville, to prepare about 1,000 hot meals so far for doctors, nurses, and other staff at hospitals run by UPMC, Allegheny Health Network and more.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

7:20 p.m.  COVID-19 appears to be slowing, but precautionary guidelines aren't easing quite yet

 

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the state has managed to flatten the curve of the virus significantly. Though the state has more than 25,000 COVID-19, Levine says the numbers could have been much higher without stay at home orders. 

 

“We have to continue those efforts until the time is right in a slow progressive fashion to start to open businesses and cancel stay at home orders in a regional, maybe countywide basis in an iterative fashion," Levine said.

 

Since Monday, there has been a 4.7 percent growth in new cases. That rate is the lowest it has been since before the state’s stay-at-home orders began in March.

6:19 p.m. - Voters seek record number of mail-in and absentee ballots

Pennsylvania counties have processed about 283,000 applications for mail-in and absentee ballots, and nearly three times more applicants are from Democrats compared to Republicans. The state’s primary has been moved back to June 2, so the numbers are likely to continue to climb. Four years ago, before mail-in balloting was allowed in the state, about 84,000 Pennsylvanians cast primary votes by absentee ballot.

4:48 p.m.  Health experts urge lawmakers not to rush into easing COVID-19 rules yet

Partisan tensions are growing in Harrisburg over the appropriate way to respond to the coronavirus pandemic — with many Republicans hoping to scale back business closures and get the economy back up and running, and Democrats largely urging a more cautious approach.

“We recognize the severity of the disease and what the immediate quarantine did in terms of buying us time,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, a Republican. “Our concerns looking to the future though, and really what has driven some of the discussion this week, is what will the next steps be?”

Medical experts are also wrestling with the question of when it will be appropriate to start returning to normal life. But asked to weigh in on several bills moving through Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled legislature, two doctors — one from Pittsburgh, one from San Francisco — had similar responses: it isn’t time yet to start relaxing restrictions.

Read more here.

3:59 p.m.  U.S. Department of Transportation will send millions to Pennsylvania airports

 

Pittsburgh International Airport will receive $36 million in emergency support from the federal government. Airports across the state will see a combined $239,219,867, according to a release Tuesday from the Federal Aviation Administration. The money is expected to cover operating costs such as payroll, as well as capital projects and debt payments.

The $2.3 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress in March included $10 billion for the nation’s airports affected by response to the coronavirus. The appropriation is intended to “fund the continued operations of our nation’s airports during this crisis and save workers’ jobs,” department secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

Pittsburgh International planned to begin work on its $1.1 billion terminal project this spring, but the work was put on hold

Airports are encouraged to spend the money “immediately” to counter the effects of the public health crisis.

 

 

3:07 p.m.  Three Rivers Arts Festival canceled 

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced today in a statement that because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has suspended all events through June 14, including what would have been the 61st annual arts festival. It is the first time the festival has ever been canceled. The annual Children’s Theater Festival was also canceled.

 

"We are working diligently to bring good news about what is to come when we can all gather again and to reschedule as many of our affected events as possible, but in the current pandemic we must first protect the health and safety of our guests, staff, volunteers, and artists," read the statement, in part.

 

The arts festival, founded in 1960, draws hundreds of thousands to Point State Park and a swath of Downtown each June for music, arts and crafts. The Cultural Trust said it would provide digital spaces to mark this year’s arts festival and children's theater festival.

 

In this image made with a fisheye lens, an array of umbrellas covers a walkway at the annual Three Rivers Arts Festival on Saturday, June 3, 2017, in Pittsburgh.
Credit Keith Srakocic / AP

2:26 p.m.  Coroners, state health officials at odds over who counts COVID-19 deaths

The Pennsylvania Coroners Association wants to work more closely with the state Department of Health to make sure doctors and other medical staffers get an accurate count of the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sara Simon of Spotlight PA tells 90.5 WESA's The Confluence that medical examiners and coroners disagree with state officials about what their role should be in the crisis. They’re citing a statute that says their role is to investigate deaths known or suspected to be due to contagious disease or constituting a public hazard. The state health department disagrees, Simon says. COVID-19 deaths are currently considered “natural,” or not suspicious, and not beholden to those rules.

Health care professionals currently have four days to enter a confirmed or suspected case into the Electronic Death Registration System, which coroners and medical examiners already use to communicate data directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coroners tell Simon that if state officials truly want fast and accurate reporting, they should yield those responsibilities to people already familiar with the technology.

1:50 p.m.  Some black-owned businesses worry about how they'll survive pandemic

As small businesses across the country continue to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, some of Pittsburgh's black business owners fear for their financial futures and ability to access relief. 

Ariel Worthy talks to business owners to see how they're feeling.

12:04 p.m.  Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases reach 25,345

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports 1,146 new cases of COVID-19 and 60 new deaths. 

So far, 108,286 people have tested negative for COVID-19.

11:19 a.m.  Allegheny County reports three more deaths

The Allegheny County Health Department reports three more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total to 24. The total number of confirmed cases is now 893. 

9:52 a.m.  Fourth resident dies at Kane Center in Glen Hazel

A fourth resident of the Allegheny County-run Kane Community Living Center at Glen Hazel has died from COVID-19. Thirty-four other residents have tested positive at the facility, with two tests pending; 24 residents have tested negative. Nineteen staff at Glen Hazel have also tested positive. No residents or staff at Kane's other Centers in Scott, McKeesport, and Ross have tested positive, though a total of ten tests are pending at the facilities.

8:43 a.m.  Mellon Foundation to give out $15 million in emergency funding

The Richard King Mellon Foundation approved a $15 million pandemic solutions package, which will distribute grants to organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania. The foundation says the package will include "health-innovation grants" that aim to help find a cure for coronavirus, including almost $200,000 for the University of Pittsburgh's vaccine research. The organization will also give grants to struggling nonprofits and provide economic-development grants to "prevent further job loss and stimulate recovery."

8:12 a.m.  How to get your $1,200 emergency payment faster

Those $1,200 federal payments to help Americans through the coronavirus crisis have started arriving in some people's bank accounts via direct deposit. But many people will have to wait longer — and there could be pitfalls, such as debt collectors grabbing the money before you do.

Those who'll be getting checks in the mail may not see them for weeks or even months. To get the money faster, millions of people will have to provide direct-deposit account information to the IRS.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports on what to expect.

7:35 a.m.  Food Bank holding distribution in Butler today

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is holding a drive-up emergency food distribution this morning in Butler. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Alameda Park. The Food Bank will provide two boxes of food to each vehicle — no more than 1,000 vehicles will be served. Yesterday the Food Bank held its third weekly distribution in Duquesne at the group's headquarters.

Monday, April 13, 2020

6:16 p.m.  City councilors introduce urban agriculture pilot program

City Councilors Erika Strassburger, Deb Gross and Theresa Kail-Smith introduced a series of legislation that would create a pilot program that "identified publicly owned parcels" to "be made and used to foster Urban Agriculture." The Department of Finance, under the proposal, would identify properties owned by the city that would be used for the pilot program.

The legislation was introduced "to minimize the negative affect of COVID-19 and previous cuts to hunger programs."

5:52 p.m.  How Meals on Wheels programs are adjusting to COVID-19

People who provide essential services are changing the way they interact with others to minimize risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meals on Wheels volunteers are essential to the people they serve, even outside of a pandemic.

Demand for meals is increasing slightly, as more people find themselves stuck indoors. There’s also heightened interest in volunteering. But some volunteers have had to take a break for now—often at the urging of their children.

Read more here

3:45 p.m.  Gov. Wolf announces plan with six other states to restart the economy

Wolf joined the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware to announce that they will share information and form a task force to help guide the reopening of the states' economies once the crisis recedes.

President Donald Trump asserted Monday that he is the ultimate decision-maker for determining how and when to reopen the country.

Wolf, however, said that considering governors had the responsibility for closing states down, “I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up.”

Wolf also asserted that it is a "false choice" to choose between public health or the economy.

“I think this regional compact is premised on the idea that you’re not going have a healthy economy if you have an unhealthy population,” Wolf said on a conference call with the other governors. "So we’ve got to do both. We’ve got to get people healthy. The sequence is you’ve got to get people healthy first and then you can reopen the economy, not until, or the economy’s not going to work.”

3:30 p.m.  Congress struggles with what to include in next aid package

Republicans want narrow legislation to boost funding for small business loans, while Democrats want to add to the small business loan program as well as boost funds for local efforts and hospitals. On Monday, Democrat Conor Lamb said there's more than just one issue that needs more attention.

“We absolutely should give more money to small businesses, I agree with that,” he said in an interview with WESA. “It's just that hospitals need a lot of money, and we're still not testing nearly enough people every day, and there's record lines of people at food pantries and food banks all around the country.”

 

The drastic increase in people filing for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the agencies in charge of processing applications. Lamb said federal officials need to prioritize the issue.  He said instead of holding daily press briefings at the White House, the Trump administration should be making sure people are getting unemployment checks.

 

“You don't need to stand in front of a camera for two hours every single day when instead you could be making people all around the country accountable for the failure of these systems,” he said.

 

Lamb said there's no good explanation for why it's taken so long for people to get their money. Last month, Congress boosted unemployment benefits, so those who have filed will get an extra 600 dollars a week.

 

The Democrat said he's the lack of tests and equipment supply shortages show that the White House's efforts have fallen short. Lamb says officials should be held accountable for the administration's inaction, but he said it's hard to do so when most members of Congress are not in Washington.

2:46 p.m.  State police academy closed, cadets to continue training online

The Pennsylvania State Police training academy in Hershey, Pa. will be closed for two weeks after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The 100 cadets currently in training will continue instruction online. 

All other PSP-related activities have been suspended.

2:41 p.m.  State Correctional Institution at Phoenix, Montgomery County has first COVID-19-related inmate death

The Department of Corrections announced an inmated died at the medical facility on the prison's campus on April 8 due to acute respiratory distress related to COVID-19. The inmate was 67 years old.

1:21 p.m.  Allegheny County Exec seeks all-mail primary

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The top official in Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county is pushing for the authority from the state to conduct the June 2 primary election entirely by mail. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Monday said holding an in-person election in the midst of the coronavirus crisis would be a “disaster.” He wants Gov. Tom Wolf to expand the state’s emergency declaration to allow the move. Officials in a pair of suburban Philadelphia counties, Montgomery and Chester, are also backing the idea of an all-mail election. And Philadelphia is making preparations for it in case an all-mail election is ordered.

12:06 p.m. — 1,300 new COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania

The state Department of Health reports 1,366 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringng the statewide total to 24,199. Additionally, the health department reports 17 new deaths, bringing the total to 524. 

11:21 a.m.  Allegheny County reports two more COVID-19 deaths

Allegheny County reports two more people have died from COVID-19, bringing the total number to 21. There are now 876 confirmed cases, up from 857 on Sunday.

10:33 a.m.  Blood donation organization looking to collect plasma from those who recovered from COVID-19

Blood-donation non-profit Vitalant is planning to begin collecting "convalescent plasma" from people who've recovered from COVID-19.  The organization says the plasma may contain immune-boosting antibodies that could be used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients.  Last week the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidance on the collection and study of convalescent plasma, which the agency regulates as an "investigational product."

8:52 a.m.  Coronavirus creating a hotbed of disinformation

Researchers are seeing more than five times as much disinformation online related to the coronavirus than to the average natural disaster. A team from Carnegie Mellon University has found that these stories also have a longer shelf life, because they are continually rebroadcast around the globe. Instances of disinformation range from the silly – like you don’t have COVID-19 if you can hold your breath for ten seconds – to the serious – like that the virus is a U.S. biological weapon.

7:01 a.m.  Catching up from the weekend

The Associated Press contributed to this report.