LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, March 30 - April 3

Mar 30, 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.

 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

12:01 p.m.  State reports more than 1,200 new cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says there are now 7,016 positive COVID-19 cases statewide, up 1,211 from the previous day. The department also says there have been 16 new deaths, bringing the total to 90. 

“The continued rise in cases combined with our increasing deaths from COVID-19 reflects the seriousness of this situation,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We need everyone to listen to the orders in place and to stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We know that these prolonged mitigation effects have been difficult for everyone, but it is essential that everyone follows these orders and does not go out unless they absolutely must.”

The department says most of the COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people who were age 65 or older. 

11:03 a.m.  Allegheny County sees 63 new cases

County health officials released the latest numbers, saying there are now 419 positive COVID-19 cases, up 63 from the day before. There have also been 70 hospitalizations and the number of deaths remains at two. 

10:19 a.m.  Coronavirus threatens indie bookstores

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

Independent bookstores have been an unexpected comeback story of the past decade. Since the 2008 recession, their numbers have grown nationally by about 50 percent, according to industry statistics – something most observers wouldn’t have predicted in the age of Amazon. Pittsburgh alone now has a dozen or more such bookshops.

But like many retail businesses, independent bookstores face an existential threat in the coronavirus shutdown. 

While roughly half of all U.S. book sales happen online, a majority of actual bookstores do most of their business in person. Now – like stores all over the country, including iconic names like Powell’s and the Strand – most of them are carrying on with online sales, greatly reduced revenue, and, in some cases, layoffs.

8:53 a.m.  Latrobe priest tests positive

A Roman Catholic priest based in Latrobe is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Diocese of Greensburg.  The Reverend Daniel Mahoney is pastor of the Holy Family Parish and last was in contact with parishioners during Mass on March 17.  The diocese says Mahoney is experiencing mild symptoms of the coronavirus and is expected to recover.

8:06 a.m.  Second state prison inmate tests positive

A second inmate at a state prison has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Department of Corrections. The inmate is at the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix in Montgomery County. The department imposed a system-wide quarantine earlier this week after another inmate at the facility tested positive. The quarantine means that inmates are largely confined to their cells. Four staffers in the state prison system have also become infected.

7:15 a.m.  AHN turning auditorium into COVID-19 test production center

Allegheny Health Network is turning the Penn Avenue Place Auditorium into a COVID-19 test production center with the goal of creating 6,000 new kits by the end of the week. It will be an ongoing operation and AHN spokesperson Dan Laurent says, "it's a good example of some out of the box thinking to get more kits to the front lines as we prepare for the surge."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

6:20 p.m.  Penn State students should be counted at school address

April 1 is Census Day. That means it’s usually where you live on April 1 that you give as your address when you fill out the census

But coronavirus means Penn State students who would usually be in State College are spread far and wide. Penn State and the U.S. Census are trying to get word out that students should still be counted at their school address.  

4:50 p.m.  Firefighter tests positive for COVID-19

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire said one of its firefighters experienced "flu-like symptoms" last week and has been in self-isolation ever since. The agency has identified seven other firefighters who came into contact with the individual and officials are checking in daily with all those possibly affected.

4:46 p.m.  Online booze ordering resumes, with limited options

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board which operates the state’s fine wine and spirits stores resumed online sales Wednesday. The agency says it will accept up to six bottles per transaction and only one order per address will be filled each day. PLCB’s 600 stores statewide are not expected to be re-opened until Gov. Tom Wolf and public health officials say otherwise.

The stores had closed two weeks ago, as per state recommendations.

A pedestrian walks past a boarded up Wine and Spirits store, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Upper Darby, Pa.
Credit Matt Slocum / AP

4:39 p.m.  Children's Museum furloughs more than half its staff

The Museum, on the North Side, announced today that it plans to furlough most part-time and some full-time employees during what it expects to be an extended closure. Gov. Tom Wolf is requiring all non-life-supporting businesses to close their physical locations through the end of April.

 

The Children's Museum, including its new MuseumLab -- which opened in May -- has more than 50 full-time employees, but a spokesperson declined to provide numbers of staff affected. The museum is also suspending major capital expenditures, though it continues to offer online resources for children and families.

 

4:13 p.m.  Port Authority modifies lost and found procedures

The agency said customers will only be permitted to pick up wallets, IDs and passports, credit cards, personal electronic devices and items valued at more than $300. The temporary move goes into effect Thursday, April 2 and will continue until further notice.

Customers are encouraged to call ahead to arrange pickup of any items. 

3:00 p.m.  Airbnb to be banned after the Poconos became a coronavirus hotspot

 

After a surge of coronavirus cases in the Poconos that some attributed to out-of-state travelers, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration says it is moving to remove short-term rentals such as Airbnb from the state’s list of “life-sustaining” businesses during the shutdown.

Local officials blame the spread on people from New York seeking heading there to wait out the pandemic. 

2:21 p.m.  City offers COVID-19 updates in multiple languages

The city of Pittsburgh's website for COVID-19 updates now translates into six languages, including Nepali and Swahili. The site also lists community resources needed by the public, including mental health resources.

1:21 p.m.  All of Pennsylvania now under orders to stay home

Gov. Tom Wolf has placed all of Pennsylvania under an order to stay at home, dramatically expanding the geographic footprint of the quarantine as state officials combat the coronavirus pandemic. In one stroke, Wolf added 34 counties to his stay-home edict, meaning that residents of all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties must now  stay home as much as possible to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Coronavirus infections are continuing to rise dramatically in the state, with nearly 1,000 new confirmed cases reported Tuesday. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania State Police will no longer respond in person to some types of calls.

12:41 p.m.  Social distancing is our best tool, but how long do we have to do it?

Credit Sarah Lewis / Instagram, @hotdoglou

The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true for COVID-19. The disease has no cure, and right now, the only way to avoid completely overwhelming our medical system is to prevent the virus’s spread by isolating ourselves from each other.

It does seem that Allegheny County’s rate of growth of confirmed cases is starting to slow, but there is still wide variability from day to day, which makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions

12:04 p.m.  Pennsylvania sees another big increase in COVID-19 cases

The state Health Department reported another 962 cases since the previous day, bringing the statewide total to 5,805 cases. Additionally, there were 11 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 74. So far, 42,427 people have tested negative. 

11:06 a.m.  Allegheny County cases at 356

Allegheny County Department of Health officials released the latest numbers, saying there are now 356 positive COVID-19 cases, including 61 hospitalizations. The number of deaths remains at two. 

10:07 a.m.  Giant Eagle confirms new cases of coronavirus

Employees of the Pine Creek store in McCandless and the Robinson Market District have tested positive for COVID-19, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The newspaper reports employees at five other stores in New Kensington, North Huntingdon, Wexford and two Ohio stores also previously tested positive. 

9:01 a.m.  AG says residents can't be evicted

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is warning landlords and mortgage lenders they cannot evict tenants during the pandemic.  Last month the state Supreme Court suspended all eviction proceedings in an order that applies to landlords, lenders, and property owners and managers. Tenants who believe they've been wrongly evicted can file complaints with the Attorney General's website.

8:15 a.m.  Why Is Pennsylvania Leading The Nation In Unemployment Claims?

Unemployment claims have reached historic levels nationwide as coronavirus mitigation efforts effectively shutter the national economy, and it’s Pennsylvania that is outpacing the nation in the number of claims filed.

Chris O’Leary, a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute in Michigan, said one reason is the state’s early steps to halt or slow the coronavirus outbreak. Pennsylvania leaders were stressing “social distancing” measures well ahead of many other states, he said, which could have slowed the economy and led more businesses to lay off workers sooner than in other states.

7:38 a.m.  Residents and staff test positive at area nursing homes. 

Six residents and a staff member of the Ligonier Gardens Personal Care Home in Westmoreland have tested positive for COVID-19, according to announcement from Bethlen Communities, the non-profit that operates the facility.  Two other Bethlen employees not stationed at Ligonier Gardens have also tested positive.  In Beaver County, at least 26 residents of the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center have tested positive.  As many as 44 residents are under quarantine, according to the Beaver County Times.  Two residents of the Center died earlier this week.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

6:17 p.m. — Allegheny County Jail has released more than 600 inmates since March 16

According to a release from the county, a total of 622 inmates have been released from the county jail as of Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The ACLU has previously praised Allegheny County for the action.

6:04 p.m. — Allegheny County will use convention center as backup hospital space if necessary

‪If a surge of COVID-19 patients overwhelms local hospitals, Allegheny County plans to use the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh to accommodate patients. 

“The purpose of this site would be to allow hospital systems to transfer their least acute patients to open up additional hospital space for acute COVID-19 patients,” said ‪Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown in a statement. “To be clear, this work is anticipatory at this time. There is not a current need for an alternate care site in our community. We are preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best, as is often the mantra of emergency services personnel.‪

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen said the county’s medical reserve corps is also standing by: “A group of professionals from a variety of backgrounds, including practicing or retired medical and non-medical professionals, and support staff is prepared to provide additional support if needed.”

‪Bogen says the best way to prepare for a surge is to prevent a surge by staying home as much as possible and practicing good hygiene, including frequent hand washing.

4:43 p.m. — Pittsburgh Public Schools will purchase 5,000 computers as it prepares to begin virtual learning April 16

About 46 percent of families that responded to a district-wide technology survey said they do not have enough devices for the children in their home. About 41 percent of the district’s 23,000 students were accounted for in the returned survey, so the need could be larger.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the first round of devices will cost about $1.2 million. He said some foundation support has been committed, and through a partnership, the district is purchasing another nearly 600 refurbished computers from the University of Pittsburgh.

Hamlet said paper packets will be distributed at 30 meal sites across the city because not all students will receive devices by the time virtual learning is set to begin. He said the district is working on a plan to meet the needs of all students, but high school seniors will be prioritized to make sure they graduate on time. He said the district is considering moving to a pass or fail system.

The state department of education hasn’t issued new guidance for graduation requirements. Last week, the state strongly encouraged districts to begin remote instruction. This week, Governor Tom Wolf said schools would remain closed indefinitely.

Pittsburgh Public is training teachers this week to use Microsoft Teams to connect with students.

3:40 p.m. — Pennsylvania schools can now provide free meals to all children during statewide shutdown

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a waiver to Pennsylvania to ease requirements for free meals community-wide. Since schools have been closed, only students who met free and reduced meal requirements had access to free meals from schools.

Now as schools are closed indefinitely, school leaders can use recent economic data including unemployment claims and business closures to qualify as an open meal site. Once approved, the school can provide free meals to anyone under 18 in the community. There are currently about 1,600 food distribution sites across the state. A map of open locations can be found here.

3:25 p.m. — Health secretary explains expansion of "stay at home" order

At a press conference on Tuesday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the decision to expand the Pennsylvania's "stay at home" order to seven new counties isn't just about the raw number of cases: "We’re taking into consideration the recommendations of people in the county—perhaps their county officials or state representatives, in terms of what they feel is best for their county." The “stay at home” order now applies to 33 counties until April 30th. Some, like Somerset County, have reported only one or two cases of COVID-19; others haven't recorded any. 

1:57 p.m. - First responders to get more COVID-19 info before going on calls

Allegheny County first responders are now being given more information about their risk of being exposed to COVID-19 when taking emergency calls.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Debra Bogen sent a letter to county Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown on Tuesday proposing that he will be provided a daily list of addresses of known positive cases for COVID-19. The addresses would be entered into the county’s 9-1-1 database with a COVID flag, so that dispatchers can relay them to first responders.

12:52 p.m.  Wolf places 7 more counties under stay-home order

Gov. Tom Wolf has added seven more counties to his order to stay at home as the new virus expands its reach and Pennsylvania reports another big jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Wolf is telling residents of Lebanon, Franklin, Somerset, Lawrence, Cameron, Crawford and Forest counties to stay home at least through April 30. That brings to 33 the number of counties under the governor's order. 

12:04 p.m.  Statewide COVID-19 cases increase by more than 700

The statewide total of positive COVID-19 cases is now at 4,843 -- up 756 from the previous day. There have also been 14 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 63. The state Health Department says most of those deaths have occurred in people who are 65 years old or older. 

“The continued rise in cases combined with our increasing deaths from COVID-19 reflects the seriousness of this situation,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We need everyone to listen to the orders in place and to stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We know that these prolonged mitigation effects have been difficult for everyone, but it is essential that everyone follows these orders and does not go out unless they absolutely must.”

So far, 37,645 patients have tested negative. The largest group of positive cases are from people aged 25-49.

11:18 a.m.  Allegheny County up to 325 cases

Allegheny County health officials released the latest information, saying there are now 325 COVID-19 cases, as well as 51 hospitalizations. The number of deaths remains at two. 

10:42 a.m.  No more basketball 

One of the city's rimless basketball hoops, seen at Armstrong Park on the South Side. Public works crews have been removing them to discourage group sports and large gatherings of people amid social distancing efforts. 

Credit Doug Shugarts / 90.5 WESA

9:27 a.m.  Stocks up for Pittsburgh companies

Stocks of Pittsburgh-based companies saw modest gains yesterday. Shares of PPG Industries were up just more than 1 percent, Dick's Sporting Goods rose nearly 2 percent, while PNC Financial Services Group posted the trading day up about three-quarters of a percent. Retail giant Macy's announced yesterday it will furlough nearly all of its 130,000 workers.  The company operates five stores in the Pittsburgh area.

8:58 a.m.  Former WYEP host dies

A beloved former DJ at our sister station WYEP died yesterday from coronavirus. Stephen Chatman hosted The Soul Show from 1995 to 2009. He moved to Phoenix after leaving WYEP and remembered running into a fan of his old show back in Pittsburgh.

"And I said 'you're not my fan, you're just a friend that took all these years to meet. We lived together for 14 years.' I was in their homes. Helped them clean and helped them party."

8:05 a.m.  No pothole blitz

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports the city's typical spring pothole patching schedule is on hold in light of coronavirus precations. 

“If there is a giant pothole causing major damage it will be filled, but (we’re) not sending crews to do small patches citywide,” Mayoral Spokesperson Tim McNulty told the newspaper.

7:33 a.m.  PA unemployment hits new record

The number of unemployment claims in Pennsylvania hit another record high last week. Nearly 405,000 people applied, surpassing the previous week's record of 379,000, according to data from the Department of Labor and Industry. Nearly 835,000 people have filed claims since March 15, the highest number in any state. Yesterday, Gov. Tom Wolf extended the closure of physical locations of non-life-sustaining businesses indefinitely, as the number or COVID-19 cases continues to climb.

Monday, March 30, 2020

5:49 p.m.  Health Department continues to monitor air quality

The Allegheny County Health Department says it will continue enforcement of federal air quality standards despite an EPA policy relaxing environmental rules because of COVID-19. 

The EPA had announced a temporary suspension of some fines and enforcement for some violations.

Under the policy companies can apply for a waiver for some environmental rules by demonstrating their inability to comply is caused by COVID-19. But the policy, which has been criticized by environmentalists as a "license to pollute," only affects facilities the EPA regulates directly.

ACHD, which enforces federal air quality rules within the county, will continue its normal oversite. The department said that includes processing air quality complaints and monitoring air pollution.

5:35 p.m.  Food bank discourages food drives

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is discouraging traditional food drives until further notice. Each food drive donation requires staff to unpack and sort the delivery, but the food bank has temporarily restricted volunteers due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

With fewer hands on deck, the food bank is encouraging monetary donations instead, which allows them to purchase in bulk and reduce physical contact between staff.

 WESA receives funding from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. 

4:47 p.m. — All schools will remain closed indefinitely

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that all schools will remain closed indefinitely as Pennsylvania reported nearly 700 new cases of the coronavirus.

“We’re going to keep our schools and businesses closed as long as we need to keep them closed to keep Pennsylvania safe. Right now, it isn't safe," he said.

4:40 p.m.  Scientific modeling tries to figure out how many people in Pennsylvania will be infected with coronavirus

More than three weeks after Pennsylvania reported its first coronavirus cases, no data has been released on how many coronavirus cases the commonwealth expects to see -- despite claims from the state Health Department that it’s working on determining an estimate.

University of Pennsylvania Chief Data Scientist Mike Draugelis said data is needed to help hospitals prepare for a surge in Intensive care unit patients.  

Credit MICHAEL BRYANT

“I think what our models have shown right now, is with our uncertainty, we have to gather better data now. And that’s why you’re not hearing from any policy maker what that time frame is," Draugelis said.

Draugelis says he’s working to feed data into a model that helps hospitals prepare -- and leaders make decisions.  

California-based researcher Doctor Leo Nissola says health-care companies face the difficult task of throwing significant resources at treating people with the coronavirus while also continuing to care for patients with other illnesses. 

3:27 p.m.  Stay at home order extended to four more counties

Gov. Tom Wolf is asking residents of Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin and Schuykill counties to stay inside except for essential travel. Twenty-six Pennsylvania counties are now under the order, including Allegheny. 

1:34 p.m.  City closes more amenities to encourage social distancing

The city of Pittsburgh will close basketball courts and the overlooks in an effort to further enforce social distancing, officials said. 

Public Works crews are removing the basket ball hoop rims today and will close off the Mt. Washington overlooks.

City parks, however, are still open. Public safety officials will also be monitoring soccer fields and other areas to make sure people are not congregating or participating in group sports. 

1:09 p.m.  ACLU urges PA Supreme Court to order release of inmates

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania urged the state Supreme Court today to order the release of inmates from county jails. In an emergency petition, the civil liberties group said the facilities are poised to become a breeding ground for COVID-19. And it asked the justices to direct local courts to free certain inmates, including those charged with low-level crimes or at high risk of severe illness or death. Inmates and staff at some Pennsylvania jails have already tested positive for the virus.

12:54 p.m.  Street sweeping postponed

No need to run out and move your car first thing in the morning, the city announced it has postponed street sweeping, which was scheduled to start April 1. The city did not say when street sweeping will start, but said that some cleaning and catch basin cleaning will still take place to help with weather-related events. 

12:24 p.m.  Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases pass 4,000

The state Department of Health confirmed there are now 4,087 positive cases in 59 counties -- up 693 from the day before. 

“The continued rise in cases combined with our increasing deaths from COVID-19 reflects the seriousness of this situation,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We need everyone to listen to the orders in place and to stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We know that these prolonged mitigation effects have been difficult for everyone, but it is essential that everyone follows these orders and does not go out unless they absolutely must.”

So far, 33,777 people have tested negative.

11:58 a.m.  Layoffs continue for Pittsburgh journalists 

Pittsburgh Magazine staff members say the publication's parent company is laying off most of its staff starting Tuesday. 

Since March 12, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has laid off 35 people and cut additional reporter salaries, and the Pittsburgh Catholic, which has been publishing for 175 years, has suspended operations. Several other local media outlets have since opted into membership models, including the Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Current, Jewish Chronicle, The Incline and NEXTPittsburgh.

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, says it’s a frightening time for journalism.

“A lot of the news outlets are seeing more clicks than ever before,” he says, “but at the same time revenue has just evaporated.”

11:36 a.m.  Latest: 290 cases in Allegheny County

Health officials say there are now 290 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County. The number of hospitalizations is 38 and the number of deaths remains at two. 

11:15 a.m.  Cultural Trust announces Broadway season

Eva Noblezada, Andre De Shields, and Reeve Carney star in a touring production of "Hadestown.
Credit Matthew Murphy / Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

While Pittsburgh's performing-arts venues are likely to remain shuttered for weeks to come, the show will go on — eventually, at least according to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

The Trust, the region's biggest presenter of live theater, recently canceled all its programming into early May. But today, it announced its 2020-21 slate of touring Broadway shows. The PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh Series is scheduled to begin Aug. 25 with the Pittsburgh-premiere run of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg — The Life and Times of the Temptations."

The eight-show season also includes the local premiere of the Tony- and Grammy-winning "Hadestown" (Oct. 27-Nov. 1), and the return of "Hamilton" (Jan. 5-Feb. 7). For the complete season, see here

10:25 a.m.  Map lays out COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County

The Allegheny County Health Department now has a map where you can see the number of COVID-19 cases by municipality.

8:52 a.m.  Poconos a coronavirus hotbed

A major hospital system has declared the Pocono Mountains a coronavirus hotbed.

The determination from St. Luke’s University Health Network comes as northeastern Pennsylvania officials grow increasingly vocal in expressing concerns about a surge in the region, given its proximity to New York and New Jersey, Where the virus has already overwhelmed health systems.

"We can discuss with the federal government the possibility of setting up other federally subsidized mass testing sites, but the decision will be theirs,” said secretary of health Rachel Levine. “But we certainly will be working with the hospitals and health systems in the Pocono area, about having testing sites and being able to handle the increased number of cases."

Meanwhile, some public officials want the state to release county-level testing data.

They believe the small number of positive test results in rural regions has more to do with lack of testing, than the relatively sparse population.

7:41 a.m.  Can't get it at the grocery store? Grow it in your backyard

Credit COURTESY SOUL FIRE FARM

With shelves emptying faster than usual at local stores, many people are taking the opportunity to create their own gardens and urban agricultural spaces. WHYY's Alan Yu reports local agricultural organizations say they're being "flooded" with orders for vegetable seeds.

6:50 a.m.  COVID-19 cases still on the rise

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania is still on the rise and four more people have died. The state's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said during a video news conference on Sunday that confirmed cases jumped by more than 640 to nearly 3,400 over the past day. There have now been 38 deaths in Pennsylvania. Most of the people who have died or required hospitalization in Pennsylvania have been 65 or older. Pennsylvania's governor says the state's COVID-19 outbreak response would be helped by a federal major disaster declaration. Gov. Tom Wolf made a formal request for the declaration on Sunday, saying it would provide additional help to governments responding to the crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.