LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, April 20-26

Apr 20, 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.

For more information about our blog sponsor, The Pittsburgh Foundation, and its Coronavirus Emergency Fund, click here.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

7:10 p.m.  Health secretary: quick return to 'normal' unlikely amid reopening

The health secretary of Pennsylvania says people shouldn’t be expecting a quick return to the pre-pandemic way of life even after pandemic restrictions begin to ease in some counties next month. Dr. Rachel Levine, asked how crowds and social distancing might mix in the months ahead in places such as restaurants, playgrounds and carnivals, said “I think there will be a new normal." Levine earlier said it was too soon to tell whether social distancing measures would continue during the summer. State health officials on Saturday announced that a total of 1,537 deaths associated with the coronavirus have occurred in Pennsylvania.

6:53 p.m. — Wolf administration offering second round of funding for PA businesses

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration doled out $13.5 million in funding to 160 Pennsylvania businesses during the second round of the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program.

“These loans will help businesses in the commonwealth quickly access capital to address their critical needs while we continue to follow the governor and health secretary’s orders,” said Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin. “Small businesses are the fabric of our commonwealth, and the Wolf Administration is committed to supporting them to the fullest extent during this unprecedented time.” 

Three Allegheny County businesses received funding in the second round. Find the full list of businesses here.

1:58 p.m. —  Latest COVID numbers

Allegheny County health officials report an increase of 13 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 1,211. The number of deaths in Allegheny County remains at 73.

Statewide, Department of Health officials report 1,116 new cases, bringing the total to 41,165. The state also reports 1,550 COVID-19 deaths.

9:20 a.m. — Outbreak leads to fewer dead opossums, shower of squirrels

Credit Alberto Pezzali / ap

You know who’s enjoying Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic? Opossums. With more of us working from home, there are fewer cars on the road, so opossums — and other animals — aren’t getting run over as often on the Lehigh Valley’s highways. Baby squirrels and rabbits are being rushed to the center in record numbers though, as stuck-at-home residents putter around their yards and disturb bunny nests to plant victory gardens.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

2:39 p.m. — Lamb worries Pennsylvanians 'are on our own' when it comes to COVID-19 supplies

Federal officials have told state officials that due to dwindling supplies, Pennsylvania can no longer expect to draw on federal supplies for hospital gowns, gloves and masks. State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a Saturday press conference that there should be little immediate impact on the state's ability to combat the coronavirus. But western Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb says the shortfall reflects a failure of long-term planning by the Trump Administration. "We’re essentially flying blind in the face of a national crisis," he told WESA. 

Pennsylvania has largely avoided the worst-case scenarios many feared, and hospitals have bed space and other resources to spare. But Lamb said the hospital gowns, gloves and masks that are needed must also be available for testing, and most experts say more testing will be needed as states begin trying to restart their economies. 

12:46 p.m. State reports 45 COVID-19 deaths, 1,397 new cases 

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported 1,397 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 40,049 cases. The state also reported another 45 deaths from the illness, bringing the total to 1,537. A clear majority of those deaths, 942 cases in all, have taken place in nursing homes and personal-care facilities.

Secretary of Health Director Rachel Levine said that 2,746 Pennsylvanians were currently hospitalized, but that 47 percent of hospital beds, and 40 percent of intensive-care beds, remained available.

The Department of Health also released more guidance about the level of testing that would be needed for regions to have restrictions on movement and business lifted. The move comes a day after a WESA-FM story that showed the state had offered conflicting accounts about how many new cases a region would be allowed to show for restrictions to be eased.

As the state made clear, a region must keep the number of cases below 50 per 100,000 people over a period of two weeks. That means Allegheny County, with its population of 1.2 million people, will have to report fewer than roughly 600 cases over a 14-day period. The county is well under that total, but health experts note that other factors will also be considered – and that decisions will be made on a regional rather than county-by-county basis.

11:18 a.m.  County reports 2 new COVID-19 deaths, 21 new cases

Allegheny County reported 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday morning, bringing the total number of cases to 1,198. That’s slightly lower than the previous six days’ average of 28 cases, and less than half the total volume that was typical earlier this month.

The county also reported three new patients being hospitalized with the disease: 211 county residents either were hospitalized or have been hospitalized previously for the disease. Two new deaths were also reported, raising the toll to 66 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 7 deemed “probable” – cases in which the victim exhibited symptoms of the disease and was known to have been in contact with a carrier, but was not tested for the virus.

9:25 a.m. — COVID-19 cases now at seven among county jail inmates

Seven inmates at the Allegheny County Jail have now tested positive for the coronavirus, up from 6 on Thursday, according to county website tracking the illness. Test results for another inmate are still pending. Fully one-third of inmates tested for the disease behind bars have tested positive. Two jail staffers have also tested positve. 

The conditions in prisons and jails are known to be conducive to disease transmission, and county officials have released some 1,130 prisoners from the facility since concern about the disease took hold in mid-March. Over 1,600 inmates remain, however, and there are still concerns about conditions inside the facility.

Friday, April 24, 2020

6:44 p.m. — Tenth Port Authority employee tests positive for COVID-19

The Port Authority says another employee who worked at the West Mifflin garage tested positive for the coronavirus. This is the sixth case at that location.

The transit agency says the number of employees working at that location will be limited to no more than 10, and that each worker's temperature will be tested before they start their shift. 

6:42 p.m.  Will PA run out of unemployment money?

Since March 15, nearly 1.6 million Pennsylvanians have filed for traditional unemployment compensation. Thousands more have applied for help under a new federal program for self-employed and contract workers. But the unprecedented volume of applications may still not reflect the true number of people in need.

It’s unclear how long Pennsylvania’s money will last. This year the state had $1.6 billion in its Unemployment Compensation Benefit Payment Fund. Not every person who has filed an initial claim — 1.58 million state residents as of April 23 — will qualify for unemployment insurance. But if they did, and if they were awarded the state’s maximum weekly benefit of $573, the fund would already be $2 billion dollars short.

Read more here.

5:11 p.m.  PA website revision includes signficant wording change in reopening plan

The state is providing conflicting information about how it’s determining when an area could be considered for reopening.

On Wednesday evening, Gov. Tom Wolf began rolling out details of his plan for reopening Pennsylvania.  “The initial benchmark we're setting is for the population to have an average of less than 50 cases per 100,000 individuals over the course of 14 days in order to return to work," Wolf said.

On Wednesday evening, the state website mirrored that statement. But by Thursday morning, it was changed to say “50 or less new cases per 100,000 residents per day.”

In Allegheny County, with its roughly 1.2 million residents, the slight wording change is the difference between allowing about 42 new cases per day or 600 cases per day.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says it’s the former, the two-week time frame. “We did revise that on our website, and it was really just a clarification," she said. But at the time of Levine’s statement, the wrong information was still listed on the state website.

5:06 p.m. PWSA extends moratorium on water shutoffs

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority extended its moratorium on water shutoffs through July 1. In a release officials acknowledged the current climate of "economic uncertainty and hardship" and said all customers should have access to clean water to ensure good sanitation and hygiene.

The agency also made it easier for residential customers to acquire cash assistance to help with bills. Until the end of the calendar year an income verification requirement has been waived. 

 

4:15 p.m.  Pitt to hold virtual commencement ceremony this weekend

The University of Pittsburgh will celebrate the nearly 8,000 students graduating this year with a virtual ceremony this weekend. According to the university, an in-person commencement will be rescheduled. In the meantime it will stream a ceremony with music and speakers Sunday, April 26 at 11:30 a.m. on Pitt’s Facebook and YouTube pages. 

 

4:02 p.m.  Geography and population complicate PA's reopening

Some regions of Pennsylvania are tantalizingly close to escaping some pandemic restrictions. Other parts could have a long way to go before residents and businesses begin getting back to normal.

An analysis by The Associated Press shows how Pennsylvania's sprawling geography and highly variable population density are playing a huge role in determining when to allow a gradual reopening. Gov. Tom Wolf has said rural northern Pennsylvania is likely to begin moving out from under his shutdown orders on May 8. It’s a different story in densely populated eastern Pennsylvania, where new virus infections are happening at a much higher rate.

3:25 p.m. — Curbside booze expands next week

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board says nearly 400 additional Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores across the state will introduce curbside pickup for customers. 

In Allegheny County, more than 70 stores will now offer the service. All state stores are currently closed for in-person sales due to the statewide COVID-19 shutdown. 

 

1:43 p.m.  Wolf pushed to let garden centers open as planting begins

With outdoor planting season here for parts of Pennsylvania, Republican state lawmakers are pressing Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to allow garden centers to open even while the state is shut down to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On Friday, four Republican state senators said they'll introduce legislation to force Wolf’s administration to issue waivers for garden centers to reopen. Meanwhile, hundreds more state-owned liquor stores will open for curbside pickup starting Monday, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced. Also Friday, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 reported death toll rose by 71 to 1,492, with about 1,600 additional people testing positive for the virus that causes the disease.

1:04 p.m.  Efforts to reopen economy rely on testing, but path forward is unclear

Credit Nati Harnik / AP

As Pennsylvania looks to restart at least some of its economic activity, everyone agrees more testing for the coronavirus is necessary. But almost no one seems to know yet how exactly it is going to happen, or what the expansion will look like.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to reopen the state, unveiled Wednesday evening, asserts that “diagnostic testing capacity will be a critical factor” in tracking new outbreaks of the virus. Testing “will consist of a multilayered approach” that involves hospitals, doctors, health officials and other providers like pharmacies.

Chris Potter looks at the complicating factors around creating a testing policy.

12:02 p.m.  Statewide COVID-19 cases increase by 1,599

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports the total number of COVID-19 cases is now at 38,652. The number of deaths is now at 1,492.

11:07 a.m.  Allegheny County COVID-19 cases increase by 28

The number of cases in Allegheny County is now at 1,177, which includes 31 probable cases. County health officials also report two more deaths, bringing the total to 71.

10:29 a.m.  Food Bank, Food Rescue holding drives today

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is holding a drive-up emergency food distribution today at the PPG Paints Arena parking lot.  Each vehicle will receive two boxes of food. The food bank is planning to serve up to 2,000 vehicles.  The distribution runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  412 Food Rescue is also holding a distribution today. The event begins at 11 a.m. at Heinz Field.

8:04 a.m.  Pittsburgh Explainer: looking at what it'll take to reopen PA's economy

In two weeks, Pennsylvania’s economy will see a gradual reopening. Gov. Tom Wolf set May 8 as the target date for certain regions of the commonwealth to begin easing social distancing measures.

There will be three phases in the reopening process: red, yellow and green. Currently the state is operating in red phase, with only life-sustaining businesses operating. The administration says it will focus on north-central and north-west regions of the state where case counts of COVID-19 have been lower.

On this week's episode of our podcast, Pittsburgh Explainer, we look at what it'll take to reopen the economy and how it'll work. Listen here.

7:47 a.m.  Cubicle culture may be gone forever

Cubicle culture has gone dark. Open floor plans stand empty.

Offices around the world are shut during the pandemic, making work from home the new normal for millions of white-collar employees.

In the United States, remote work is still being encouraged under guidelines outlined by the federal government.

But in webinars and conference calls, business leaders and management strategists are discussing what steps must be taken to bring workers back to America's offices.

NPR's Uri Berliner looks at how the office as we know it won't be back to normal anytime soon, and how it may be changed forever.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

6:34 p.m.  County Board of Elections votes to drastically cut in-person voting locations for June primary

Officials plan to cut the number of polling places from more than 1,300 to less than 200. There will be nine poling places in the city of Pittsburgh, and just one in most other municipalities. 

Poll workers will have masks, gloves, sanitizer and other equipment. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says some polls may be staffed with county workers -- or younger volunteers who have less to fear from the virus. "One of the things we might want to do is reach out to maybe our colleges and universities," Fitzgerald said. "It's a good way for young people to get involved and may feel a little more secure about being willing to do something like that." The county is urging residents to vote by mail instead, and began sending out vote-by-mail applications to registered voters this week. Nearly 90,000 residents have already applied to vote by mail. Officials say that's already about half of all the voters who would ordinarily turn out for a noncompetitive presidential primary.

6:19 p.m.  Food distribution to take place at Heinz Field Friday

412 Food Rescue, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be passing out produce and dairy items on the North Shore. The distribution will take place beginning at 11 a.m. at the Gold Lot 1A. The organizations say they anticipate passing out about 9,000 pounds of food.

5:03 p.m.  Ninth Port Authority employee tests positive for COVID-19

The employee worked at the agency's West Mifflin garage, where four other maintenance workers previously tested positive. PAT says the employee last worked on Monday, April 20 and has since been home in quarantine.

In response to the number of cases at the garage, the agency says it will reduce the number of individuals working during each shift and will again bring a contractor to clean the facility.

Also, beginning Sunday West Mifflin garage employees will have their temperature taken before each shift. Anyone with a temperature exceeding 100.4 degrees will be sent home with pay.

3:24 p.m.  Drive-through testing site opens in Natrona Heights

Allegheny Health Network is opening a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Heights Plaza in Natrona Heights. This will be AHN’s seventh drive-through testing location. Starting next week, the Heights Plaza site will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

However, on Friday the site will also be accepting COVID samples. Only patients who have been evaluated by an AHN-affiliated provider will be tested. On-demand or walk-up testing is not available.

 

3:18 p.m.  CMU map helps predict spikes of COVID-19 around the U.S. 

Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Research Group has published several interactive maps that provide insight into the coronavirus’s spread at the metro area and county levels. This information could be useful as state and local officials consider easing social distancing restrictions.

The maps reportedly display “real-time" data on doctor visits, medical tests and browser searches related to COVID-19 in the United States. Delphi says its maps can also provide advance warning ahead of a COVID spike in a given area, which could help hospitals prepare for surges of patients.

Read more about the mapping project here.

3:04 p.m.  Andean Condors Lianni has an egg

The 36-year-old Condor housed at the National Aviary on the North Side, unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic happening around her, is caring for a fertile egg with her partner, Lurch. 

36-year-old Lianni, an Andean Condor housed at the National Aviary on the Northside of Pittsburgh, cares for her egg that she laid in early April, Thursday, April 23, 2020. The egg is expected to hatch in late May or early June. The Condor Court is the one habitat that people can still safely see from the outside of the aviary during the current COVID-19 shutdown
Credit Gene J. Puskar / AP

The Aviary announced the couple's egg, which could hatch in late May to early June, saying that Lianni was also celebrating her birthday today. In 2012 she had to undergo a blood transfusion and now lives a normal condor life.

1:27 p.m. — Pittsburgh dental group launches COVID-19 test pilot

Pittsburgh-based North American Dental Group has launched a pilot program in New York to test patients for COVID-19. The company "wants to provide testing in all of its facilities across 15 states," according to Reuters.  Most dental practices have seen a sharp drop in their normal number of office visits, and the American Dental Association says allowing the tests "will expand the nation's medical surge capacity."

12:15 p.m.  Pennsylvania sees increase of 1,369 COVID-19 cases

The number of COVID-19 cases across the state jumped to 37,053. The state Department of Health also reported a total of 1,394 probable and confirmed deaths. 

In Pennsylvania personal care homes, there are a total of 6,352 COVID-19 cases among residents and staff. 

11:02 a.m.  Allegheny County death toll decreases, due to duplicate reporting

The number of confirmed or probable COVID-19 deaths in Allegheny County decreased by five, to 69, due to duplicate reporting, officials said. The number of positive cases increase to 1,149.

9:56 a.m.  PA unemployment claims reach 1.5 million

More than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment, more than any other state but California, since business closures began in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In all, 23 percent of the commonwealth’s workforce has submitted claims, the fifth-highest share in the nation, according to PA Post’s analysis of the latest numbers from the federal Department of Labor.

Nearly 200,000 claims were submitted last week alone in Pennsylvania, according to the DOL stats released today.

Those numbers don’t include gig workers and self-proprietors in most states, pending the creation of new filing systems.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry launched its web portal for self-employed workers last weekend. Users reported confusion over how to complete some sections of the application and an inability to complete the process if they indicated receiving a W-2, an issue state officials say they’re working to fix.

9:33 a.m.  Eat'n Park offering groceries to go

Eat'n Park is now offering groceries to go. Customers can order items online or by phone for pick-up at Eat'n Park restaurants. Groceries include Cellone's bread, Heinz ketchup, as well as toilet paper. A full list is posted on the company's website.

7:12 a.m.  Wolf lays out coronavirus reopening

Residents of northcentral and northwestern Pennsylvania are projected to be the first in the state to be released from Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order, and many retail stores in those areas should be able to reopen by May 8. That's according to a statewide reopening plan released Wednesday. Wolf wants to begin easing some pandemic restrictions in areas of Pennsylvania that have been lightly impacted by the new coronavirus. His reopening plan says that a region must average fewer than 50 new positive cases of the virus per 100,000 residents to begin to move out from under his statewide lockdown.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

9:15 p.m. — Wolf details metrics that will guide reopening of state economy

Gov. Tom Wolf says the north-central and northwestern regions of Pennsylvania are being targeted as the first areas that could see coronavirus restrictions eased.

Wolf made the announcement during a news conference Wednesday evening. He said the state will follow red, yellow and green phases as it lifts restrictions on business operations, with significant easing of restrictions coming no sooner than May 8.

“Ultimately, the virus is going to set the timeline, not us,” Wolf said.

8:00 p.m. — Data are sparse as Allegheny County considers social distancing restrictions

State and county officials have started to discuss relaxing social distancing mandates, though the head of the Allegheny County Health Department says there are still many unknowns.

“Remember, this is a novel virus, and all of those who have not yet been infected are at risk,” said Debra Bogen, the Health Department's director. “We don’t know what proportion of our community has had the virus, and therefore might be protected by immunity. But we think it’s very low, no more than a few percent based on our hospitalizations in our region.”

Only about 1 percent of Allegheny County residents have been tested for COVID-19, which means the data that officials will use to decide when or how to relax social distancing is limited.

Bogen said not only must there be more testing, but results need a quicker turnaround. Recently the large health systems in western Pennsylvania increased testing capacity, but Bogen said she would like to see this expanded further to pharmacies and independent community health centers.

6:39 p.m.  Eighth Port Authority employees tests positive for COVID-19

The transit agency said in a statement Wednesday evening that the employee worked in mainenance at the garage in West Mifflin and has been in self-isolation since April 10. 

The same garage was where three other PAT employees who tested positive for coronavirus worked, however "none have been inside the facility since Saturday," when the agency said an outside cleaning crew was brought in.

6:35 p.m.  Pittsburgh City Council wants to create more urban farms

The coronavirus has raised concerns about food insecurity in some Pittsburgh neighborhoods. 

City Council took a preliminary vote Wednesday to partner with Grounded Strategies, a nonprofit that supports using vacant land for community use. The idea is to focus on quickly getting sites ready for planting. A pilot location has been identified in Brookline Memorial Park, with a second site being considered in the city's East End.  Ariam Ford, with Grounded, said getting the public engaged is key to developing the farms. "Community engagement is very central to this effort," Ford said. "And we have found strong community engagement is the number one factor for sustained stewardship efforts." Council has been discussing urban agriculture this month, as Council President Theresa Kail-Smith says the pandemic has increased concerns about food security. Councilors are set to take a final vote on the partnership with Grounded next week. 

5:04 p.m.  State Agriculture Secretary says food supply chain is confronting challenges

Agriculture  Secretary Russel Redding says previously one of the biggest difficulties facing producers during the pandemic was re-packaging items that would normally be sent out in bulk, but haven't been in-demand lately. 

"We’ve had issues with the beef that had to be repackaged to small household items and relabeled," Redding said. "Some of the canned products, I would say, continue to be a challenge just because you can’t repackage to meet all of the safety requirements."

Redding says dairy producers have actually been scaling up their packaging from sizes like half-pints to half-gallons to meet the needs of school systems. He says some farmers are also resizing their packaging to meet the needs of grocery stores and food banks. 

4:33 p.m.  Port Authority adjusts to new mask rules

Some people have taken to social media to report instances in which Port Authority riders did not wear a mask and forced buses to stop moving. Effective Sunday, anyone using public transit must have a face covering.

Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph says he can confirm only one incident: in North Versailles Monday morning. A road operations supervisor was dispatched, gave the rider a mask, and the bus continued its route. Brandolph says the agency will not allow what happened in Philadelphia. Last week police pulled a rider off a Philly bus because he was not wearing a mask. 

People can claim a medical or economic exemption, and the bus or train will continue. 

 

4:24 p.m.  Department of Labor and Industry processes unemployment claims, but some freelancers and gig workers are still frustrated

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry announced it had “successfully processed” around 50,000 claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a federal program which expands jobless benefits to workers who are usually ineligible, such as temps, freelancers and the self-employed, including gig workers.

While the launch makes progress towards offering a new form of assistance, it falls short of users’ expectations and needs, leaving some frustrated. For starters, the state is not ready to actually give out the funds, and errors in the application and technological glitches have locked out eligible applicants.

One common problem? If a worker has also received a W-2 tax form, the state portal will tell them to apply for traditional unemployment compensation even if they don’t qualify.

Read more here.

12:52 p.m  Pennsylvania boosting efforts to promote voting by mail

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is boosting its efforts to get voters to cast their primary election ballots by mail and says it would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The administration said Wednesday it has sent 4.2 million postcards to primary voters and is mounting a public awareness campaign on radio, television, social media, streaming services, mobile apps and email. More than 462,000 voters have applied for a mail-in ballot, and over 139,000 have applied for an absentee ballot so far. Some county officials fear the virus will make it difficult to find polling places and get poll workers to staff them. 

12:07 p.m.  PA Health Department reports 1,156 new COVID-19 cases

The new cases bring the statewide total to 35,684 positive COVID-19 cases. Officials also reported 58 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,622. 

11:06 a.m.  Allegheny County reports 7 new COVID deaths

The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Allegheny County is now at 74, while 15 of those deaths are considered probable. Health officials report the number of cases has reached 1,088, which includes 36 probable cases. 

10:06 a.m.  Parks Conservancy offering virtual Earth Day celebration

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is marking this year's Earth Day with an interactive digital celebration.  Naturalists will hold live Q&A's at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Story time for kids starts at 1 p.m., and a nature-in-your-neighborhood session kicks off at 2:30 p.m.  More information is available at pittsburghparks.org.

7:53 a.m.  CMU partners with Facebook, Google to predict coronavirus spread

Carnegie Mellon University researchers say they will soon be able to predict coronavirus transmission up to a month out. The team is collecting data from Facebook, Google and other private companies to create predictions for every county in the United States. Initial maps will be released Thursday, showing symptom prevalence and coronavirus-related internet searches, which previous flu research has shown are correlated with rates of infection.

Credit Facebook & Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

7:04 p.m.  UPMC to increase non-emergency surgeries

UPMC says it will begin performing some of the procedures it postponed due to the coronavirus. The hospital system says that the number of COVID-19 patients continues to be low and manageable. Additionally, both county and hospital data suggest the virus, while still present, is less prevalent.

UPMC says it will be up to physicians and patients as to which procedures go forward. All patients will be tested for COVID-19, even if they are without symptoms. WESA receives funding from UPMC.

 

6:26 p.m.  Telemedicine bill sent to governor 

The state Senate approved legislation that requires insurers to cover health care services delivered remotely by audio and video, though the bill’s fate is in limbo because Democrats say it would interfere with abortion rights.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines to approve the bill that Democrats say faces a veto by Wolf, who supports abortion rights.

The abortion pill is not available at pharmacies, and Planned Parenthood says women who visit a clinic are sometimes prescribed it after a video consultation with a physician who is not physically present. Democrats say the bill that passed Tuesday would ban doctors from prescribing the abortion bill via telemedicine. Republicans say it wouldn’t change anything.

4:44 p.m.  Pittsburgh starts to recruit lifeguards

The City of Pittsburgh is recruiting lifeguards in anticipation of public pools being opened this summer. Due to the coronavirus, there is no set date on which the pools are set to open. But the city says it is taking applications now, so that lifeguards can be trained when they are needed. Applicants must be at least sixteen years old and live in the city. And candidates can become certified by taking two training classes that the city will provide for free.  

4:36 p.m.  Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship fund receives $1.3 million to help students

The grant will go toward helping high school seniors and college students who were most impacted by COVID-19. The money will help high schoolers who were planning to go to college, finish their applications. The grant will also support college students who no longer have the financial help they need to continue their education. The Promise estimates that 1,500 students need financial relief. 

 

4:31 p.m.  State Health Department says it will look into data on nursing homes

Two days after the federal government said it planned to collect and release data on COVID-19 at individual nursing homes, the state health department said it would look into doing the same.

For weeks, state health officials have refused to publicly release the names of long-term care facilities with virus cases. Statewide, 796 residents of these facilities have died — over half the state’s COVID-19 death toll. Advocates and some lawmakers say the agency’s reluctance to name names endangers residents, staff and the public at large.

Late Sunday, following a request from Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ron Wyden of Oregon, the federal government said it would track virus infections and deaths at nursing homes nationwide and release that information to the public.

Levine, the state health secretary, said Tuesday that Pennsylvania might follow suit.

“I think we will strongly consider doing that," she said. "We’ll have to figure out the right way to do that so that we get the most information to the public but also protect patient privacy. So we’ll be working to look at that over the next number of days.”

2:44 p.m.  Wolf says some less-impacted areas of the state could reopen soon

Gov. Tom Wolf says that regions of Pennsylvania that have seen a relatively low number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus might be able to reopen “in a fairly robust” way on May 8.

Wolf said Tuesday he intends to loosen restrictions on people and businesses in much the same way they were imposed: Gradually, and county by county. More than half of all people who have tested positive for the virus statewide live in Philadelphia and its four suburban counties. Many rural counties, by contrast, have been minimally impacted.

2:06 p.m.  Pennsylvania publishes coronavirus data by ZIP code

Pennsylvania health officials are releasing ZIP code-level information about coronavirus cases. They/ve published an interactive map with the numbers of confirmed cases, negative virus tests and COVID-19 deaths. Health Secretary Rachel Levine says even residents in communities with a relatively low number of confirmed cases should continue to heed social distancing rules. She says a lack of widespread testing means the actual number of people with the virus is far higher than the statistics show. More than 34,000 people statewide have tested positive, and the state reports more than 1,500 deaths.

1:01 p.m.  Port Authority buses will stop, and not move, for riders without a mask

Some people have taken to social media to report instances in which Port Authority riders did not wear a mask, and forced buses to stop moving. On Sunday, Port Authority of Allegheny County required all riders to wear masks or cover their faces while on public transit vehicles. The rule went into effect following the issue of an April 15 order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health that created new guidelines for operating businesses.

Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph said there was one incident in North Versailles, but said other reports were unconfirmed. On Monday morning a road operations supervisor was dispatched to the scene in North Versailles, the rider was provided a mask, and the bus continued on its route.

“There’s not going to be an incident like we saw in Philadelphia,” said Brandolph, referring to a video last week in which Philadelphia police can be seen pulling a man without a mask off a city bus. “We would rather stop service than for that to become an issue.”

Instead, riders who do not cover their faces, and do not claim a medical or economic reason for doing so, will be asked to get off the bus. If they refuse, the bus will idle.

“It’s not a perfect system,” said Brandolph.

A lot of people were not aware of the change, said Laura Wiens, executive director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit. The governor’s mask order did not make it clear transit riders would be affected, so Port Authority had to issue its own release Sunday, the same day the order took effect.

“My suspicion is that most riders that are not wearing masks also don't know that they can cite economic or physical hardship for not wearing one,” she wrote in an email.

Port Authority does not have a large supply of masks it can hand out to riders, Brandolph said. It is hard to find masks for sale and some people may not have the resources to make one, Wiens wrote.

Brandolph said the agency just requires people to cover their faces. A bandana or a t-shirt tied around the nose and mouth is fine, he said.

12:01 p.m.  Statewide COVID cases jump by 360

The total number of cases across Pennsylvania increased by 1,296, to a total of 34,528. State Department of Health officials also reported 360 new and probable deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,564.

11:08 a.m.  Allegheny County COVID cases increase by 25

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Allegheny increased to 1,034. The number of deaths also increased by 12, to 67. That number includes confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. 

8:55 a.m.  Food Bank expecting biggest turnout yet

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will hold an emergency distribution tomorrow at Pittsburgh International Airport.  The group is expecting one the largest turnouts yet for a distribution during the pandemic.

7:31 a.m.  CMU using data to predict coronavirus transmission

Carnegie Mellon University researchers say they will soon be able to predict coronavirus transmission up to a month out. The team is collecting data from Facebook, Google and other private companies to create predictions for every county in the United States. Initial maps will be released Thursday, showing symptom prevalence and coronavirus-related internet searches, which previous flu research has shown are correlated with rates of infection.

WESA recieves funding from CMU.

Monday, April 20, 2020

4:50 p.m.  Allegheny County Health Department addresses downtown protests

The agency said in a statement: “Large groups do raise the concern of potential spread, which is why the Allegheny County Health Department has stressed avoiding large groups and maintaining physical distance between yourself and others. In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, we should all stay home and only go out if it is essential. If you do leave the home, please keep at least 6 feet away from others and wear a mask to protect others from you if you have the disease but are not showing symptoms.”

4:06 p.m.  Some pandemic restrictions could be slowly lifted beginning May 8

Gov. Tom Wolf is setting May 8 as the date he wants to begin easing some pandemic restrictions. Wolf said Monday that Pennsylvania had made sufficient progress against COVID-19 to warrant a gradual reopening of the economy. He says all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians will have to stay home at least through May 8. But he says his stay-at-home order might then be lifted in areas of the state where the virus does not pose as great of a threat. 

4:00 p.m.  College mascots make video to spread message about connecting with friends

The University of Pittsburgh Panther is included in the video:

3:18 p.m.  State Democrats say protests to end shutdown can be harmful

Democrats in the state legislature say protests to end the the shutdown of nonessential businesses and stay-at-home orders in Pennsylvania follow a dangerous national trend. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said statewide re-openings would be premature, but that conversations at the county level could happen in the coming weeks.

 

“This week you'll start to see some of those discussions along those lines,” Costa said. “When we began to do the stay at home orders it was done incrementally and by counties, and I think you'll start to see as we go forward some of that conversation playing out where it's appropriate.”

 

Gatherings in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Monday came after Republicans in the state legislature passed a bill last week to reopen more businesses. Democrats say efforts to reopen the economy before the virus is contained could put even more people at risk, especially in counties that don't have health departments.

 

But health experts say the rallies could spread the virus more and trigger new clusters of cases.

 

“If there is any disease circulating in that group of protesters, and of course we know a lot of cases of coronavirus are asymptomatic, that is a really terrific way to spread virus around a group,” said Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

3:13 p.m.  Arts programming deeper into summer continues to fall victim to the coronavirus shutdown

A crowd listens intently to James Johnson III and his band in Katz Plaza in 2015, one of the summer jazz concerts typically played every Tuesdays.
Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The annual showcase is presented by the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, which announced the postponement today in a statement. The festival draws thousands of music fans Downtown for three days of mostly outdoor concerts. This year's festival was scheduled to start June 18 -- immediately after the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which has been canceled. The Center says Jazz Fesival will be rescheduled at a later date to be announce shortly, but that the line-up will remain the same, including headliners Chaka Khan, Dianne Reeves, and Chico Freeman. 

And Pittsburgh CLO has canceled its summer season, which was to include Tony-winners "The SpongeBob Musical" and "Once on This Island," alongside classics "Cabaret" and "Guys and Dolls." The CLO says current season-ticket-holders can transfer tickets to the newly announced 2021 summer season, which includes "Jersey Boys," "Kinky Boots," "A Chorus Line," and "Sister Act."

1:14 p.m.  Wolf to ease some restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf says Pennsylvania will ease some restrictions on building construction and vehicle sales. Wolf announced a first, tentative step toward reopening the state’s economy after weeks of social distancing. As he spoke Monday, hundreds of protesters defied a ban on mass gatherings to stage an anti-shutdown rally at the Capitol. Meanwhile, both chambers of the Legislature are planning to return to session, as Republicans push legislation that would take away some of Wolf’s power to determine which businesses must remain closed during the pandemic. More than 33,000 people statewide have tested positive for the virus, and more than 1,200 have died.

12:50 p.m.  Protesters gather outside of City-County Building, state Capitol

Hundreds of protesters are gathering outside the state Capitol to demand that Gov. Tom Wolf reopen Pennsylvania’s economy. The protest got underway Monday even as new social-distancing mandates took effect at stores and other commercial buildings.

Protesters also took to the streets outside of Pittsburgh's City County Building downtown.

Meanwhile, both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature are planning to return to session, as Republicans push legislation that would take away some of Wolf’s power to determine which businesses must remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic. 

12:43 p.m.  Washington County GSA cancels inaugural Pride celebration

The organization says it will postpone the June 27 event until June 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Pittsburgh Pride events have not yet been canceled, but other major cities, including San Francisco and New York City have decided not to hold the annual LGBT celebration. 

12:18 p.m.  Pennsylvania reports 33,232 COVID cases

The state Department of Health reports an increase of 948 cases from the previous day. The number of deaths rose by 92 to 1,204.

11:11 a.m.  Allegheny County COVID-19 cases reach 1,042

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County increased by nine from Sunday. The number of confirmed or probably deaths went up by five, to 55. 

10:29 a.m.  Peduto sends letter to Trump asking for $250B in aid

Bill Peduto's office says the mayor has issued a letter to the White House asking for $250 billion in emergency fundind for Pittsburgh and other cities fighting coronavirus. The city says it expects a loss of $127 million in projected revenue this year as a result of the pandemic. It expects a loss of $239 million over a five-year period. 

“As your administration has stressed since the outbreak of COVID-19, while the emergency response effort is federally supported, it must be locally executed. The City of Pittsburgh is working hard to meet the needs of our residents, while suppressing the spread of COVID-19. As Pittsburgh continues to grapple with this crisis, I strongly urge you to support the inclusion of $250 billion in flexible funding for local governments in a future emergency coronavirus relief package,” Mayor Peduto wrote in his letter.

10:14 a.m.  ‘Right-To-Repair’ Advocates Worry That Hospitals Can't Fix Broken Ventilators

Credit Beth LaBerge / AP

Pennsylvania state treasurer Joe Torsella has joined other officials to demand that manufacturers release information needed to fix the ventilators used to treat COVID-19. The officials say hospitals should be able to fix broken machines, rather than wait for manufacturers to send their own repair people. A trade group for device makers says there's no shortage of approved repair people. And UPMC, for one, says it has obtained the right to make its own repairs.

8:21 a.m. — Rallies expected to take place today

Rallies against the state-ordered shutdown of many businesses in Pennsylvania are scheduled to take place in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg today. Organizers claim the shutdown order amounts to government overreach and are calling on the state to allow more businesses to reopen. Gov. Tom Wolf has urged Pennsylvanians to "stay the course," saying the state must make "data-driven decisions" about when to ease the shutdown order.

6:54 a.m.  What you missed over the weekend

  • Port Authority riders must wear masks, as of 8 p.m. Sunday.
  • New reporting practices led to Pennsylvania's death toll jumping to 1,112.
  • Allegheny County saw modest increases of confirmed COVID-19 cases, while deaths rose to 50.
  • Some 176 Pennsylvania liquor stores – including 17 in Allegheny County – will begin offering curbside pick-ups of wine and liquor today.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.