LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, June 1-7

Jun 1, 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.

 

Friday, June 5, 2020

6:21 p.m. - Toomey, Reschenthaler say COVID response and police reform calls have gone too far

At a Friday-morning appearance outside a Washington County bakery, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and local Congressman Guy Reschenthaler hailed the state’s economic re-opening while complaining that much of the state’s shutdown had never really been necessary in the first place. And while they denounced the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, they showed little enthusiasm for protesters' calls to reform policing in its wake.

Standing maskless before a press corps whose members were all wearing masks, Toomey and Reschenthaler said the shutdown efforts went too far and took to long to be reversed.

Toomey acknowledged that “we didn’t fully understand the nature of the virus” in the early days of the pandemic. “But folks, it’s been a long time now that it’s been abundantly clear that we aren’t going to overwhelm our hospital systems” as happened in other countries. He said the worst impacts of the disease was “massively, overwhelmingly concentrated” among the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, who could be protected with less extensive measures.

Read more.

4:27 p.m. - State launches online dashboard to show county progress during reopening

The state Department of Health created the website to show how determinations are made for when a county can enter a new phase of reopening. It includes case counts and comparisons to previous weeks, hospital bed use and contacts of cases, among other data.

“As the dashboard shows, there are several metrics used to determine if it is safe for a county to reopen to the next phase,” Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement. “We too, want to get back to a normal life. However, we need the help of all Pennsylvanians to make that happen. By taking simple steps, like continuing to wear a mask, staying home when sick, and implementing social distancing, we can help eliminate the spread of COVID-19 and help Pennsylvania fully reopen in a safe and efficient manner.”

3:37 p.m. - Twelve more counties will enter green next week

Gov. Tom Wolf will allow 12 more counties that are home to 1.3 million people to join the nearly 4 million who are now in the least-restrictive phase of his three-step pandemic reopening plan, even as he warned Friday of an outbreak in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Wolf said that the counties — Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Northumberland, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York — can join the “green” phase of his stoplight-colored reopening plan next Friday.

Sixteen more counties entered the “green” phase Friday, joining 18 others. That means that gyms, barbers and hair salons can reopen, as can indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Overnight camps and organized youth sports can begin or resume, and gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed, although large demonstrations over the past week around Pennsylvania protesting police brutality routinely exceeded 250 people.

Read more about the new counties entering the green phase.

2:55 p.m. - Allegheny County reports three new COVID-19 deaths

The county now has a total of 168 deaths, according to health officials. Eight new cases were also reported, bringing the total to 1,973.

8:03 a.m. - Your green phase questions answered

Allegheny County moves into the green phase of reopening today. While many restrictions will be lifted, there are still quite a few in place. We asked WESA listeners for their questions around this move. From wearing masks to what's open, we answer those questions here

Thursday, June 4, 2020

6:52 p.m. - Hair salons, spas, gyms and tattoo shops prepare to reopen

Salons, gyms and spas can reopen Friday after months of restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Some businesses are taking the weekend to ready their locations for appointments and social distancing beginning next week.

Businesses that fall under the personal care category like gyms, hair salons and tattoo shops can operate at 50 percent capacity in the green phase of Governor Tom Wolf's reopening plan.

Read more about how businesses have altered operations. 

5:20 p.m. - UPMC says fewer patients need ventilators 

UPMC says not only has the number of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization declined since late April, but fewer of these patients need to be put on ventilators. Pennsylvania’s largest medical system says this might be because patients appear to have lower viral loads than what was seen in previous months. It’s unclear why this is happening. Though doctors say recent warm, humid weather could play a role. 

 

3:33 p.m. - County health officials worry about COVID-19 spread during protests

Allegheny County officials say they are concerned that people are being infected with the coronavirus during protests against police violence. County health department director Dr. Debra Bogen says protesters should work to stay six feet away from others and wear masks.

"For an added level of protection while in a crowd, please consider wearing an eye covering such as goggles, glasses or a face shield," Bogen said. Goggles and face shields also provide some protection against tear gas, which Pittsburgh police released during a Monday protest. 

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
  

3:13 p.m. - County Executive urges caution as region enters green phase

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is urging residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing as most of the Pittsburgh region moves into the green phase of reopening this Friday.

"We still don't have a vaccine.  We still don't have a cure," Fitzgerald said. "And until one of those two things comes along, we're still gonna have to be very vigilant in how we go about our daily lives."

Fitzgerald says the Allegheny County Health Department will monitor test results and hospitalizations for spikes in new cases of COVID-19.

"We've been cooped up.  We have this pent-up wanting to get out, obviously the weather gets nicer."

Restaurant dining rooms and gyms across Pittsburgh are set to partially resume business. 

2:15 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports 537 new COVID cases

The state Department of Health reports the total number of cases is now at 73,942. Of that total, 5,601 cases are among health care workers. Another 18,588 are among nursing and personal care home staff and residents.

The state also reported 75 new deaths, bringing the total to 5,817.

11:49 a.m. – Allegheny County reports 13 new COVID deaths

The total is now at 165. The county health department says “all but one appear to be linked to long-term care facilities" and occurred between May 8-25.

The number of positive cases increased by 13 to 1,965. That total includes 1,841 confirmed cases and 124 probable cases.

7:55 a.m. - Pittsburgh restaurants approach reopening with caution

As of Friday, bars and restaurants in Allegheny County can again offer dine-in service. But not all restaurants are choosing to re-open right away, and those that do will look a bit different because of state mandates intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Among the key changes: Restaurants can operate at only 50 percent of their legal capacity, so tables might be rearranged, or booths taped off, and if demand is high expect longer waits and difficulty getting reservations. Staff and diners alike are required to wear facemasks unless they are eating. Physical distancing is also required, and bars and other areas might feature new partitions. Soup, salad and fruit bars are temporarily closed, and reusable menus will be replaced by disposable paper menus. Some restaurants are also temporarily streamlining their menus.

Read more here

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

5:51 p.m. - No significant increase in coronavirus infection in Allegheny County

Allegheny County officials said at a Wednesday press conference there has not been a significant increase in the coronavirus infection rate since the transition to the yellow phase nearly three weeks ago.

“We have looked at the numbers of new cases ensuring that our positivity rate is not increasing,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, head of the county health department. “We are looking at hospitalizations, we are looking at deaths, we are looking at the availability of bed space over time. In all respects we’re doing very well.

Bogen cautioned that some the data are preliminary. It can take a couple weeks for a spike of coronavirus infections to be reflected in county reports.

County officials said they were concerned that people are catching the coronavirus during protests against police violence and the death of George Floyd. Bogen advised that protesters work to stay six feet away from each other and wear masks.

“For an added level of protection while in a crowd please consider wearing goggles, glasses or a face shield,” she added.

Goggles and face shields also provide some protection against tear gas, which Pittsburgh police released during a Monday protest.

4:59 p.m. - Black-led social justice groups ask for pause on protests for health and safety

A coalition of Allegheny County black-led social justice organizations say they will not be hosting any collective demonstrations until after June 18th. 

The coalition includes the Alliance for Police Accountability, 1 Hood, Take Action Mon Valley and others.  In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the groups cite both concerns related to COVID-19 and a need to allow space for healing.  The past week has seen days of local demonstrations protesting police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and others due to police use of force.  

3:28 p.m. - Zoo to reopen Friday

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will reopen Friday after a three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the zoo is requiring visitors to buy timed tickets to limit traffic onsite, and some features are temporarily closed, including playground areas, the tram, and the zip line.

Guests are encouraged to wear facemasks and required to keep six feet apart. The zoo is among the first major recreational attractions in Pittsburgh to resume operations as Allegheny County enters the green phase of reopening.

Credit Paul A. Selvaggio / Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium

1:58 p.m. - Schools could reopen in PA this summer

Elementary and secondary schools in the state’s yellow and green phases of the state’s reopening plan could resume in-person instruction as early as July 1. Higher education institutions may be able to do so on June 5, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced Wednesday.

The department released preliminary guidance for a phased reopening that requires each K-12 district to develop a reopening plan with input from local health officials. That plan must first be approved by districts’ school boards and then posted to the districts’ websites.

Read more here

12:39 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports 511 new COVID cases

The total number of positive cases statewide is now at 73,405. That total includes approximately 5,557 cases among health care workers, as well as 18,471 cases among nursing and personal care home staff and residents.

The number of COVID-19 deaths across the state increased by 75 to 5,742. 

11:40 a.m. – No new COVID deaths in Allegheny County

The county health department reports the total number of deaths remains at 152. The number of positive COVID-19 cases increased by 24 to 1,952, which includes 1,829 confirmed cases and 123 probable cases.

10:19 a.m. - Is it safe to get your physical or dental check-up?

Many hospitals, clinics and dental offices in some places around the U.S. are beginning to open now for routine, preventative care that was postponed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. But still, patients wonder: Is it safe to go?

NPR's Alan Yu explains what you need to know.

8:07 a.m. - AGH chosen for COVID-19 study

Allegheny General Hospital has been chosen as one of 20 academic health centers nationwide to participate in a CDC-sponsored COVID-19 study. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported yesterday that the three month study, funded by a $3.7 million grant, will identify best practices for reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission and infection among front-line healthcare workers. The newspaper reports 74 emergency health workers are currently enrolled for the study at Allegheny General, and about 1,600 health care providers are expected to participate across the country.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

5:17 p.m. - DHS issues guidance for child care facilities beginning to reopen

As counties across the state move into the green phase of the reopening plan the Department of Human Services has changed guidelines for child care centers. 

The state will not require children to wear masks. That decision is left up to providers. DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said Tuesday that staff are required to wear masks, and children don’t have to social distance but should remain with the same class in the same room daily. The state is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that advises staff to take the temperatures of all children before they enter facilities.

“In the event of exposure of staff or children, a general communication from the child care facility will be shared to inform parents of enrolled children when there’s a suspected outbreak of any communicable disease including COVID-19.”

However, Miller says the decision to ask the child with a fever to stay home will be left to providers. 

Since March, 18 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among staff or children at 13 child care facilities in 8 counties across the state.

3:45 p.m. - Turnpike to lay off hundreds of toll collectors

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission voted Tuesday to lay off 500 fare collectors and other toll workers and make the entire interstate network a cashless system.

The cuts are the latest development in the agency’s multi-year transition from a system that largely relied on workers stationed in toll booths to collect cash to one that uses E-ZPass as well as automated license readers that generate mailed bills.

Messages seeking comment were not returned by Teamsters officials at union offices in the Philadelphia suburbs and Pittsburgh. The turnpike said employees were notified earlier Tuesday.

The agency said a conversion to all-electronic tolling that was adopted in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic will become permanent.

Traffic has fallen by almost half compared to a year ago, and the agency said it also wanted to avoid having to shut down entire interchanges when a worker has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I deeply regret that we have reached this point, but the world has been irrevocably changed by the global pandemic,” chief executive Mark Compton said in a statement. “This pandemic had a much greater impact than anyone could have foreseen.”

The job losses will begin June 18, and the commission said some health benefits will remain in place for two years.

1:53 p.m. - Fresh Fest cancels in-person beer festival

The Fresh Fest beer festival is the latest summer attraction to transform from an in-person event to a virtual one because of the pandemic. The first two years of the nation’s first festival for black-owned craft breweries and the people who love them drew thousands to the North Side. Organizers announced Monday that its third year will be a live-streaming event broadcast from Work Hard Pittsburgh and other venues in Allentown. The Fresh Fest Digi Fest will features live art, music, deejays, podcasts, brewing, cooking, and speakers. The event remains on Aug. 8. Organizers are developing an app for patrons. Tickets for the Digi Fest will be available June 8; those who have already purchased full-price tickets are automatically registered and can redeem their tickets for future festivals. Find more on their website here

12:47 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports 612 new COVID cases

The state Department of Health reports there are now 72,894 positive cases in the state. The total includes 5,523 cases among health care workers. Another 18,356 cases are among nursing and personal care home staff and residents.

Pennsylvania also reported 100 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 5,667.

12:01 p.m. – Allegheny County reports first new COVID death in five days

After five days without any new deaths, the county health department reported one new COVID-19 death, bringing the total to 152.

Nine new positive cases were also reported, bringing the countywide total to 1,928. That number includes 1,807 confirmed cases and 121 probable cases.

 

7:56 a.m. - A pandemic primary

Today marks the Pennsylvania primary and, like most things, it'll be a little different. If you need to vote in person, many of the polling places have been consolidated. And if you haven't mailed in your ballot, you still have options. In fact, Gov. Wolf extended the deadline for Allegheny County yesterday. Get everything you need to know via our primer here

Monday, June 1, 2020

6:18 p.m. - Wolf extends deadline for mail-in ballots

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that the deadline for returning mail-in ballots for the June 2 primary election will be extended by one week from when polls close at 8 p.m.

Wolf made the announcement from Philadelphia, where he was touring parts of the city damaged during the weekend’s protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The seven-day extension, he said, is necessary in part because of the disruption caused by protests and violence in cities across the commonwealth.

He offered few details about the deadline extension, such as the mechanism that would be used to achieve it.

Last week, Wolf said he wouldn’t use his executive powers to move the deadline. Only the legislature can do so, he said at the time.

 

A drop-off location in downtown Pittsburgh.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

5:20 p.m. - AI helps students navigate housing risks

Many college students don’t know when they’ll return to campus due to COVID-19, but when they do, they will need a place to live. Some might feel pressure to commit to housing despite the uncertainty, and Pittsburgh lawyer Marcy Smorey is using artificial intelligence to help students be smart about signing apartment leases.

Through Smorey’s recently launched company, CloverContracts, renters can upload their leases to be reviewed automatically. The software uses machine learning and natural language processing to scan the document and then offer guidance based on what it finds. Smorey said the tool can help tenants to decide whether to sign a rental agreement or to learn their rights under an existing one.

“And in both cases, we’ll provide legal interpretation, some general advice, and sample language that can be inserted into the lease … to improve the tenant’s rights in situations like [the COVID-19 pandemic],” Smorey said.

CloverContracts provides users with text for these types of lease terms, called “force majeure” provisions, that help to shield renters from things like the coronavirus.

Under those provisions, Smorey said, “Even though there’s a contractual obligation, one party can be forgiven their responsibility if there’s an outside force. And in many cases, pandemics or government restrictions, government orders, can all trigger that relief.”

Read more about the technology.

4:16 p.m. - Allegheny County updates cases, citing issue with data

The total of COVID-19 deaths remains at 151. The number of cases increased by eight to 1,919. The total number of positive cases includes 1,798 confirmed cases and 121 probable cases.

This number was updated. A previous version did not include seven confirmed cases.

3:47 p.m. - Pa. businesses push for protection from consumer lawsuits during COVID-19

Leaders from Pennsylvania’s business, manufacturing, and health care industries are calling on the state to broaden liability protections to companies during the pandemic, saying without them economic growth will be hampered by an onslaught of lawsuits. 

“[We need] targeted, temporary, safe harbor protection for those health care facilities, professionals, and businesses who are following the guidelines,” said Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr on a press call Thursday. “So they can begin to bring their businesses back, so we can put the economy back together.”

Earlier this month Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order providing temporary immunity from lawsuits to health care providers. Those on the call Thursday said those protections were insufficient, because they don’t extend to businesses themselves. 

Read more about the recent efforts.

1:07 p.m. – Pennsylvania reports 356 new COVID cases

The total number of positive cases is now at 72,282. Of those cases, 5,463 are among health care workers. Another 18,208 are among nursing and personal care home staff and residents.

The state Department of Health also reported 12 new deaths, bringing the total to 5,567.

11:38 a.m. – Allegheny County reports no new COVID deaths for fifth day

The total of COVID-19 deaths remains at 151. The number of cases increased by eight* to 1,912. The total number of positive cases includes 1,798 confirmed cases and 121 probable cases.

*This post has been updated to reflect updated numbers from the Allegheny County Health Department. 

10:16 a.m. - Three Rivers Arts Fest goes virtual 

For 60 years, the Three Rivers Arts Festival has been held largely outdoors. Recent festivals have drawn some 500,000 visitors to Point State Park over 10 days, making it Pittsburgh's biggest public arts event.

This year, as with so much else during the coronavirus pandemic, the fest will be a bit different.

The festival is going virtual, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which produces the event, is trying to represent as much of a “real” festival as possible in the online incarnation. Motto: "The Festival is Virtual. The Art is Real." Read more here.  

7:42 a.m. - What you missed over the weekend

  • Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said city officials will evaluate what further reopening means for any restrictions that have been imposed at the local level.
  • Gov. Tom Wolf said he is confident that Pennsylvania students will return to their schools this fall.
  • The state has now recorded nearly 72,000 positive cases, as well as a total of 5,555 deaths. Allegheny County, meanwhile, has a total of 1,911 positive cases and a total of 151 deaths—the fourth straight day the county did not record any new deaths.