LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, May 11-17

May 11, 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, May 17, 2020

5:09 p.m -- CMU celebrates graduates remotely

Carnegie Mellon University celebrated its spring 2020 graduates on Sunday, in a virtual ceremony that included surprise cameos from celebrity alumni, including Ted Danson, Billy Porter and Ming-Na Wen.

Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees were conferred on more than 5400 graduates. The university has said it will hold an in-person ceremony at a later date.

12:26 p.m. -- State extends unemployment compensation benefits

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry announced a new unemployment compensation program, extending the length of time people can receive benefits. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 13 weeks of income for people who exhaust their state unemployment benefits before July 6, 2020.

More information is available at the state website.

12:18 p.m. -- The latest COVID-19 numbers from Allegheny County & PA

Allegheny County reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total case count to 1,603. There were no additional hospitalizations or deaths, with those numbers standing at 292 and 143, respectively.

Statewide, 4,418 people have died from COVID-19, an increase of 15 since Saturday. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 623 additional positive cases, for a total of 62,234 since the pandemic began. More than 270,000 people have tested negative.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

12:22 p.m. -- PA reports 61 new COVID-19 deaths, 989 new cases

The state Department of Health reported another 61 deaths as a result of COVID-19 on Saturday, raising the death toll to at least 4,403 cases since the pandemic took hold this spring. Roughly two-thirds of those deaths, 3,043, involved residents of nursing homes or personal care facilities. The state also reported another 989 new COVID-19 cases, lifting the running total to 61,611 cases to date. It is the sixth day in a row where the number of cases has remained in the three-digit range, although the past three days have seen an uptick in cases since the earlier part of the week. 

12:00 p.m. - Allegheny County reports 2 deaths, 13 new cases of COVID-19

Allegheny County reported two new deaths and two new hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Saturday morning. To date, 143 county residents have died from the condition, most of whom have been elderly. Some 292 people have been hospitalized since the outbreak began: Another three of them were moved into intensive care since Friday, county statistics show. 

The county reported an additional 13 cases of COVID-19, 9 of which reflect positive test results for the virus. The remaining four are “probable” cases which have not been tested but reflect a strong likelihood of the illness.

In all, the county reported 482 test results Saturday, a typical daily testing volume.

11:39 a.m. - County releases pared-down list of polling locations

Allegheny County plans to conduct the June 2 primary with just one-eighth of the polling places it usually offers to voters, with a total of 147 consolidated voting centers -- 18 for the city of Pittsburgh and one for each of the county's other 129 municipalities.

County officials released the list of polling places late Friday. Most are housed in schools or other civic buildings. That doesn't mean every voter who shows up in person will be stuck waiting in the same line: A county statement said some sites “may include multiple polling places so that physical distancing and other mitigation measures may be followed.”

The move is an effort to protect poll workers – many of whom are elderly – and the general public from spreading the coronavirus. The state has informally approved the approach, but some critics in both parties worry that the cuts go to far, and leaves vote-rich communities with disproportionately limited access to polling locations. More on the story here.

10:03 a.m. - Lamb breaks with Democrats on coronavirus relief bill

Democrats in Congress passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill Friday night, but without the support of western Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb, one of just 14 House Democrats to oppose the bill.

"We need to go back to the negotiating table immediately and work on a bill that can actually pass," Lamb said in a statement. Republicans control the Senate, where the bill is a dead letter. Lamb is facing a re-election challenge in a swing district, and Republicans made clear they would use a vote for the bill against moderate Democrats. More Lamb's vote and other local reaction to the bill here.  

 

Friday, May 15, 2020

5:46 p.m. - Some commissioners want to open Lebanon County on their own

Governor Tom Wolf is easing coronavirus restrictions on several midstate counties, but Lebanon County isn’t one of them.

Instead, two Republican commissioners have taken formal action to encourage businesses to reopen on their own. The resolution says commissioners will expand access to county government offices.

But, for private businesses, GOP Commissioner Bob Phillips acknowledges the message is symbolic. He warns businesses could still lose licenses from the state.

“That’s why this is a personal decision for everyone, but at least it gives people the idea that we’re getting our rights back to decide for ourselves to take a chance,” Phillips said.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Lebanon County is more than double the state’s threshold for reopening.

Democratic Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz was the lone vote against the resolution

“We have no formal plan,” Litz said. “We don’t have enough PPE For all of the hospitals, much less rest of the businesses.”

Commissioner Bill Ames voted in favor of the resolution but says businesses could still face penalties if they open their doors.

Wolf plans to ease restrictions on several midstate counties on May 22nd – including Adams, Cumberland, Perry and York.

4:19 p.m. - Test site opens up on the North Side

North Side Christian Health Center has set up a testing site for the coronavirus in the parking lot of its East Deutschtown location. It is one of seven federally funding health centers in Allegheny County that are now providing this service.

These clinics have struggled to access testing for their patients because they are not connected to major health systems. And because community health centers are more likely to serve marginalized populations, their patients have been underrepresented in county testing data.  For example, Dr. Matthew Yu of North Side Christian says a majority of his patients live below the federal poverty level."And historically haven’t had great access to care. So this is, to me, an opportunity where they can be represented in some of the data that’s guiding the decision makers," Yu said. Yu says anyone who has symptoms or has been near someone with the virus can get tested his clinic.   

3:44 p.m. - Airport expands health and safety measures

The Allegheny County Airport Authority launched its "PIT Safe Travels," an initiative to "increase confidence in air travel through enhanced protocols." The program mandates that masks be worn by all throughout airport property and emphasizes social distancing.

It also outlines frequent cleaning measures, protective shields at high-traffic areas and reconfigured seating at places including gate areas and the food court. 

Credit Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

3:19 p.m. - Hickton takes leadership post on Congressional committee overseeing coronavirus spending

David Hickton, founding director of Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, has been appointed to serve as staff director and senior council for the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

In that role, he will help to monitor the spending of more than $2 trillion in fiscal relief. Subcommittee Chair James Clyburn, a Democrat, said he chose Hickton for the position because of his “unique abilities to identify and weed out fraud and abuse.”

Hickton, who said he “could not say no" to the opportunity “to do this important work,” served as the U.S. Attorney for western Pennsylvania from 2010 to 2016. He was involved in high-profile investigations, including one that exposed nation-state hacking by the Chinese and Russian governments.

 

3:15 p.m. - Beaver County allowed to enter "yellow" phase

Gov. Tom Wolf says Beaver County will move into "yellow" status and see some easing of coronavirus restrictions next week. Beaver was the only part of southwestern Pennsylvania not to be placed in yellow status today, due to high per-capita rates of infection there.

Local officials were outraged by the decision and said last week they would not enforce shutdown rules on local business. Wolf says those threats played no role in today's decision, which the state says was driven by declining case rates there. 

 

3:08 p.m. - Farmers markets return, and emphasize safety

Farmers markets are beginning to return to the Pittsburgh region and like most entities, COVID-19 has changed the way they operate. Some markets have pushed back opening dates to make time to figure out what needs to change in order to maintain social distancing and keep vendors safe. 

The Downtown farmers market will open for the season Sunday, but in a new location; organizers have moved it from Market Square to 11th Street near the Convention Center. Attendees are asked to wear masks, to preorder selections online when possible and limit parties to one or two people. 

Read more about the markets.

 

Market manager Abi Gildea hopes market goers can stay patient as more lines are expected this year to keep in line with social distancing requirements.
Credit ELENA SHAHEN / Bloomfield Saturday Market

1:59 p.m. — Nurse union alleges rationing of PPE

One of Pennsylvania’s largest nurses’ unions alleges that hospitals have “resorted to severe rationing” of personal protective equipment even as they resume elective surgeries. The 8,400-member Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals says that Pennsylvania state health officials are “being misinformed” about the availability of PPE inside hospitals. The union said in a letter to the state health secretary that working conditions inside hospitals remain unsafe because of lax COVID-19 guidance issued by the state Health Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Health Department says it has sent vast quantities of medical-grade face masks, gloves, gowns and other supplies in nearly 500 shipments to hospitals statewide.

1:03 p.m. — Wolf to ease restrictions in 12 more counties

Another 2.6 million people across western Pennsylvania are emerging from pandemic restrictions Friday as Gov. Tom Wolf prepares to announce that 12 more counties will soon join them in a partial easing. The Associated Press has learned that Wolf is planning to announce Friday that effective May 22, Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York will be the next batch of counties moving to the “yellow” phase of his reopening plan. That means the governor's stay-at-home orders are lifted and retailers and other types of businesses may reopen.

12:10 p.m. — Latest COVID-19 numbers

The state Department of Health reported 986 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 60,622. Officials also reported 124 new deaths, 89 of which were the result of data reconciliation, bringing the total to 3,432.

In Allegheny County, officials reported 1,582 cases, an increase of 31 from the previous day. They also reported two new deaths, bringing the total to 141.

11:06 a.m. — Swimming pools, spray parks and playgrounds to remain closed through summer

Public swimming pools in the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County Parks will remain closed this summer, an announcement government officials made just as coronavirus restrictions were eased by the state. Fourth of July festivities and other big draws to the city are also cancelled. 

The city said that while swimming itself was safe the locker rooms and other areas around the pools “are too cramped to allow for appropriate distancing.” The move backs away from a course the city seemed to be setting last month, when it announced April 21 that it would begin recruiting lifeguards “in anticipation of pools opening sometime during summer 2020." Read more here.

9:47 a.m. — Some Catholic churches can open for prayer and confession

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced that churches in Allegheny, Butler, Greene, and Washington Counties will open for private prayer and confessions now that the region has entered "phase yellow."  Weddings and funeral masses can now include crowds of up to 25 people.  The attendance limit also applies to baptisms.  Live-streaming of masses and prayer services will continue. 

7:39 a.m. — We answer your questions about the "yellow" phase

Today marks most of southwestern Pennsylvania's transition from the most restrictive "red" phase of the state's shutdown to the "yellow" phase of reopening. The "yellow" phase allows more businesses to open up, but many restrictions are still in effect.

To help clear up confusion, 90.5 WESA asked listeners for their questions about reopening. Here are answers to some of those questions

 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

6:47 p.m. — Port Authority restores many bus routes to regular weekday schedules

A number of routes will return to their typical schedules on Monday, May 18, Port Authority said in a release today. Workers will continue to monitor ridership levels and take measures and precautions in terms of safety and sanitization.

Riders still must wear masks while on PAT vehicles and "should allow for additional travel time and physically distance themselves from other riders and employees."

6:40 p.m. — CMU rolls out phased-approach plan

Carnegie Mellon University plans to return students and staff to campus in the fall in what leaders call a phased in approach. In a release issued  Thursday, the school said some students will continue learning online while others will receive in-person instruction. Leaders say more details will be shared in the coming weeks. The University of Pittsburgh previously tasked a group of faculty to develop a fall plan. Details have not been released. 

5:10 p.m. — Restaurants defiantly offering dine-in services will face enforcement actions

According to a statement today from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, under orders from Governor Tom Wolf, restaurants in counties in the “red” or “yellow” phase of reopening during the coronavirus pandemic may offer only take-out or delivery.

Restaurants found in violation are subject to actions ranging from a warning letter to a suspension of their licenses, and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day of violation. 

 

4:50 p.m. — Zoom to open office in Pittsburgh

The San Jose-based video conferencing app company said today that it would open hubs in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, hiring 500 software engineers in the process. 

It cited Pittsburgh's diverse tech talent pool as one of the main attractions to the city. Initial hires will work remotely while under COVID-19 restrictions.  

Zoom hasn't announced where its Pittsburgh office will be located.  

4:46 p.m. — What's next for Pittsburgh? Mayor Peduto looks ahead at opportunities for the city

On Friday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will announce the next steps for the city as the region moves into the yellow phase of the coronavirus pandemic. During an interview with WESA on Wednesday afternoon, he said Pittsburgh is prepared for the region’s slow reopening -- but that the city will be contending with the virus and its impact for years to come.

Peduto said leaders have been working the last few months to plan how it will handle any resumptions of indoor and outdoor activity. 

Read more from the mayor's interview. 

4:09 p.m. — Health secretary urges parents to vaccinate their kids

Next week, the state will begin working on criteria for counties to move from the yellow to the green phase of COVID-19 reopening. That’s according to Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health. 

Levine urged parents to make sure children receive routine vaccinations for diseases like measles and polio. The secretary's comments come after a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that childhood vaccination rates have declines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pennsylvania pediatricians, said Levine, have taken steps to not expose healthy patients to the coronavirus.

"This includes scheduling well visits and sick visits at different times of the day," Levine said. "[And] separating patients by placing those with sick visits in different areas of the primary care office, or another location."

Levine said it's important to avoid a secondary health crisis caused by people delaying vaccinations. 

3:45 p.m. — Restaurants say food delivery fees are too high

Third-party food-delivery apps like Grubhub, Doordash and Uber Eats can seem great to diners who don’t want to cook for themselves but don’t want to leave home, either.

The services are less beloved by many restaurant owners, who say the fees are too high – especially during the coronavirus shutdown, when basically every restaurant still operating must rely more heavily on delivery services.

Iron Born Pizza in the Strip District is among the restaurants utilizing third-party services for delivery.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

“It’s pretty much usury,” said Eric Carroll, co-owner of Napoli, Pizza, in Squirrel Hill, of the services’ fees. “But they bring me business that I wouldn’t have otherwise most of the time. So I’d rather have some of a little bit than nothing.”

Read more from restauranteurs and third-party deliver services. 

3:14 p.m. — Pride celebrations rescheduled

Pittsburgh's two largest LGBT Pride events have been postponed until later this year. SisTer's PGH, which organizes People's Pride, has rescheduled to October 9-11 in Allegheny Commons on the North Side.

The Delta Foundation, which heads Pittsburgh Pride says the event will take place sometime in the fall, although a specific date was not given. Pittsburgh Pride will take place at Point State Park.

2:52 p.m. — Child care centers asked to follow CDC guidelines

The guidance calls for fewer students in a classroom, lower child to teacher ratios and requiring children two and older to wear masks. The Department of Human Services cannot enforce the guidance, but leaders say they have asked the Governor’s office to grant the department that authority. The state has not changed child care regulations.

 

About 1,500 centers were operating throughout the state with waivers before any county moved into the yellow phase. Those centers received waivers to care for children of essential workers. Some child care providers say they’re looking at what those centers have learned to help centers reopening.

 

2:42 p.m. — Lawrenceville Memorial Day Parade, Allegheny Cemetery commemoration canceled

The 112-year-old Lawrenceville celebration will not take place this year, according to the neighborhood groups that organize it.

"It's is a difficult time for us all, but the defining character of Lawrenceville has always been its people, weathering difficult times together and emerging stronger," a release from Lawrenceville United read.

The parade is expected to happen in 2021.

Allegheny Cemetery's annual Memorial Day commemoration will not be open to the public this year. The event celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.

The Memorial Day parade enters Allegheny Cemetery, led by G.A.R. (Civil War Union) Veterans in 1918.Credit Allegheny CemeteryEdit | Remove

1:09 p.m. — Pennsylvania increases COVID death toll by 275

The state says there were 44 deaths since yesterday, but the other 231 were the result of reconciling data. The number of positive cases increased by 938 to 59,636.

While the numbers increased, Chris Potter reports the overall statewide and county numbers still paint a bright picture.

11:28 a.m. — Allegheny County COVID cases increase by 6

The number of cases in the county is now at 1,474, including 77 probable cases. County health officials also reported no new deaths. The total remains at 139.

10:21 a.m. — PA attorney general asks Amazon to hand over COVID data

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is asking Amazon to provide data on COVID-19 infections and deaths among the company's staff, as well as evidence of Amazon's compliance with paid sick-leave laws.  Shapiro is one of 13 attorneys-general making the request. The group asked the company to improve its sick-leave policies in March.

Amazon said it has implemented more than 150 new protocols that include distributing face masks to warehouse workers, according to Reuters.

8:48 a.m. — Trump to visit medical equipment company today

President Trump is scheduled to appear today at a medical equipment company in the Lehigh Valley.  Owens and Minor is one of five firms chosen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to supply 600 million N-95 respirator masks.  Trump is expected to continue urging Gov. Tom Wolf to allow more businesses to reopen.  Earlier this week the President tweeted that Pennsylvanians are "fully aware" of the implications of pushing for increased business and social activity during the pandemic.

7:55 a.m. — Why did a hair and beauty products company receive a 'life-sustaining business' waiver?

DaViece Haim Team & Day Spa in Harrisburg was among the nearly 6,000 businesses to receive such a waiver. PA Post's Ed Mahon looks into the store, where he finds the company indicated it would be selling bulk hand sanitizer, and explores the other businesses that were allowed to remain open.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

6:20 p.m. — Wedding dress shopping will look and feel a little different now

Jan Winner's Carlisle's Bridal of Pittsburgh is among the hundreds of small businesses reopening this weekend as Allegheny County moves into a “yellow” phase—the second in Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-phase plan.

Just off McKnight Road in Ross Township, Carlisle's was founded in 1888, so it withstood the Spanish flu a century ago, the Great Depression, local economic downturns in the 1980s and 90s and more. Winner says she remembers hearing stories of her grandmother and great grandmother pawning their personal jewelry and China dishes to keep the shop open 90 years ago.

WESA's The Confluence talks with Winner about her plans to reopen and changes to the shopping experience.

5:00 p.m. — PSO cancels remaining concerts in current season

The cancelation includes all Pittsburgh shows through July, because of the pandemic, the group announced today, in a statement. The PSO has also canceled its 11-city European tour, scheduled to begin in late August (including a date as the only American orchestra invited to perform at the 100th anniversary of the prestigious Salzburg Festival.)

Canceled shows in Pittsburgh include BNY Grand Classics: Bronfman Plays Beethoven; PNC Pops: Bugs Bunny at the Symphony; and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" in Concert. Ticket-holders can donate their tickets (and receive a tax deduction); apply the value of the tickets to next season; or contact the PSO for other options, including refunds.

WESA receives funding from the PSO.

4:05 p.m. — Community colleges help students pay rent, buy groceries

When Westmoreland County Community College transitioned to remote learning due to the coronavirus, the school asked students what they needed to stay in school.

“‘Do you need a computer? Do you need a hotspot? Do you need money for food? Do you need money for your rent?’” said President Tuesday Stanley.

Many said they did. A majority of community college students are considered non-traditional, which means they are retraining for a new career, they are parents or members of the military.

So far, the college has spent about $10,000 to cover costs that it isn’t technically responsible for. WCCC has paid landlords directly, loaned computers and hotspots and distributed grocery store gift cards.

“If they can’t feed their family, the last thing they are doing is taking care of themselves,” she said. “Which means the last thing they are doing is getting on their Zoom sessions and studying and be successful in school.”

Stanley calls it an investment in the future workforce.

Read more about the response from community colleges in southwestern Pennsylvania.

3:51 p.m. — PPS to purchase more laptops for students

Pittsburgh Public Schools will buy 7,000 Chromebooks for students in second through fifth grades. The board approved the purchase Wednesday during a special legislative meeting. The district doesn’t have a timeline for when those devices will be distributed, though they say they will try to get them out by the end of the school year.

PPS has already spent $1.5 million dollars to buy 5,000 laptops for middle and high school students. A majority of the district’s 23,000 students have been completing paper homework packets since the district started remote learning three weeks ago.

The board also approved a $100,000 partnership with Neighborhood Allies to connect 1,000 families to the internet.

 

Brashear High School staff sort computers to distribute to students.Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESAEdit | Remove

3:24 p.m. — State health officials discuss potential effective COVID-19 treatment

Pennsylvania health officials say an antiviral medication shown to be a potentially effective COVID-19 treatment has been distributed to 51 hospitals across the state.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the state received the 12-hundred doses of remdesivir from the federal government Tuesday and sent them to targeted health facilities today.

"The hospitals that received the first shipments were selected based upon their number of COVID-19 patients over a recent seven-day period and the severity of the illness of those patients," Levine said.

A clinical trial demonstrated the use of remdesivir shortened recovery time in some patients. The Food and Drug Administration authorized its use as an emergency treatment earlier this month.

3:12 p.m. — SCI Huntingdon struggles to prevent spread of COVID-19

The State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon reported Tuesday that 136 inmates and 38 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, the largest number among all Pennsylvania state prisons. 

Statewide, 202 inmates and 142 state prison employees have tested positive, according to the DOC. The department began a statewide inmate quarantine in March and said it has implemented temperature checks for anyone entering state prisons and improved on the turnaround time of test results, which is now within 24 hours.

Since the number of cases started increasing at SCI Huntingdon, the department converted the prison’s gym into an infirmary where inmates with COVID-19 are treated. 

State Representative Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, said he believes the department and the staff there are doing the best they can to slow the spread, but concerns the virus will spread to the outside community remain.

“Many of those employees have already taken those precautions, whether they're pitching a tent in their backyard or staying in a camper right outside, to stop that spread from their family and protect their families at home,” Irvin said. 

Read more about how the prison is handling the outbreak.

2:32 p.m. —  Local amusement parks delay opening, extend season pass benefits

Pittsburghers will have to wait a little bit longer to take a ride on Kennywood’s Steel Curtain roller coaster this year.

Idlewild, Kennywood and Sandcastle haven’t announced when they’ll allow visitors this year, but say people who have purchased season passes will be able to use them throughout the 2021 season. Parque Reunidos owns the parks and spokesperson Nick Paradise says it’s too soon to commit to an opening date, but the parks are planning on how to ensure safety when they do.

"It’s adding more and more areas for hand sanitizing and hand-washing, it’s personal protective equipment for staff and guests. It’s keeping a close eye on our attendance and making sure that, you know, social distancing is possible," Paradise said.

 

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Paradise says construction within the parks is taking place, however Sandcastle will delay opening its newest ride, Bombs Away until next season.

People who purchased 2020 season passes (or plan to) will be able to use them throughout this year and the 2021 season.

As for the park's mascots? Paradise said they're all doing well, but missing visitors.

"Kenny [Kangaroo]'s doing alright. He's adhering to protocols and keeping an eye on the park," Paradise said. "Same with Ricky Raccoon out at Idlewild and Duncan the Dragon at Sandcastle."

2:17 p.m. — State and county report spikes in COVID deaths

Both Allegheny County and the state of Pennsylvania reported a spike in deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday. In Allegheny County, 12 residents died – tying the highest one-day total logged in the county since the start of the pandemic. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, meanwhile, reported 137 new deaths statewide, bringing Pennsylvania’s toll to 3,943 deaths. That’s a higher-than average toll, and the state noted that it reflected “deaths [that] have occurred over the past several weeks.” More on what today's numbers mean.

12:17 p.m. — State COVID cases increase by 707

The number of positive COVID-19 cases statewide is now at 58,698, an increase of 707 from the day before. The state also reported 137 new deaths, bringing the total to 3,943.

In Allegheny County, the number of cases increased by 19 to 1,545. The number of deaths increased by 12 to 139.

11:48 a.m. — City revenues down 25 percent

Even as researchers struggle to understand how the coronavirus affects the human body, its impact on municipal finances is no mystery. The city of Pittsburgh says that from March through the first week of May, tax revenues are down by 25 percent from the same period one year ago. The shortfall is just under $32 million. The city has cut spending by about $7.7 million in that time -- a reduction of 7 percent. But in a Wednesday morning statement, Mayor Bill Peduto acknowledged that "the gaps between our revenues and expenditures are likely to widen further." 

The city has so far avoided layoffs, which City Controller Michael Lamb has described as very likely. But the mayor's office has initiated a hiring freeze that could save $3 million this year, and hopes to cut non-personnel spending by 10 percent across all its departments. 

10:54 a.m. — More liquor stores to offer in-store access

The state Liquor Control Board announced that 155 additonal Fine Wine & Good Spirits stres will offer limited in-person access starting Friday. That means 232 stores statewide will offer in-person shopping. No more than 25 people will be allowed in the store at a time and the first half-hour the store is open is reserved for customers with a high risk of contracting COVID-19. The stores with in-person shopping will also still offer curbside pickup.

The full list of stores is available here.

10:17 a.m. — Republicans demand protections for businesses that defy Wolf's orders

Pennsylvania House Republicans  -- including one from Allegheny County -- are calling on every district attorney in the state to intervene on behalf of business owners who want to reopen in counties where Gov. Tom Wolf’s business closures are still in place.

The group said that district attorneys should withdraw any citation issued against a business operating in defiance of state orders. Such action, they said in a letter to the state's 67 district attorneys, will let business owners make their own decisions “without having to be afraid of their government that is supposed to be serving them.”

Read more here

8:34 a.m. — Tuba isn't quite the same over Zoom

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

It’s one thing to learn economics or world history off a lecture on Zoom. But try it with dance, acting – or tuba.

Online connections, useful as they are, are not yet of high enough quality to allow real-time playing or practice with other musicians.

Bill O’Driscoll looks at the challenges performance art students and teachers face while being limited to virtual interactions.

7:29 a.m. — Some rural hospitals may never recover

“Ghost town” is a phrase that’s been used to describe medical facilities in both urban and rural Pennsylvania. Sarah Boden reports as health systems across the state canceled non-emergency care to prepare for a coronavirus influx that didn't necessarily happen, many rural hospitals will struggle to make up for the losses.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

5:50 p.m. — City Council extends emergency declaration for Pittsburgh

City council extended a nearly two-month-old emergency declaration until next Tuesday, May 19. But on Friday, the state will move Allegheny County from red status to yellow. That means stay-at-home orders will be lifted and some in-person shopping will be allowed again, although many restrictions will remain in place. 

During a Tuesday morning press call with Allegheny County officials, Mayor Bill Peduto said he will announce how the city will move forward on Friday, including plans for the Fourth of July. He said bulk trash pick-up would resume next week, but asked residents not to put out all their trash at once.

Credit 90.5 WESA

4:41 p.m. — Libraries won't reopen for in-person visits this week, but will continue services

Much of southwestern Pennsylvania is moving into the “yellow” phase of reopening this week. Library staff in those counties can begin to plan to resume in-person operations, as well as order supplies such as gloves and masks to protect employees and patrons. However, it will be a while until they can open their doors, said Suzanne Thinnes, communications manager for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, or CLP.

“Safety is paramount,” she said. “Opening up our system’s physical spaces is going to be very slow, it’s going to be deliberate, and it’s going to occur in stages that are in accordance with the commonwealth’s guidelines.”

Libraries will have to take particular caution with children and teenagers who “may not understand social distancing or may forget about social distancing when the stay at home orders are lifted,” said Thinnes.

Read more about the preparations. 

4:02 p.m. — Civic leaders prepare for Allegheny County to enter the "yellow phase"

As Allegheny County prepares for coronavirus restrictions to ease on Friday, civic leaders held a Tuesday press call to praise local efforts to fight the virus. But County Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen and others say those efforts will be more important as restrictions lift.

"As Allegheny County reopens under yellow, we really expect to see an increase in cases as people come together. But we really want to keep that to a bare minimum," Bogen said. 

Officials also announced a new website, readypittsburgh.com, to help businesses operate safely. Most officials said they thought employers would want to do the right thing and follow social-distancing rules and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said businesses that don't do so could lose state licenses or face lawsuits. But Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Matt Smith and others said efforts must continue if the local economy is going to rebound. "We can do three things: we need to keep our residents safe, we need our economy to thrive, and we need to stay open and ultimately fully open," Smith said.  

3:45 p.m. — Pennsylvania AG opens criminal probe into nursing homes

Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor has opened criminal investigations into several nursing homes amid a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 2,600 nursing home residents.

Nursing home deaths account for more than two-thirds of the state's death toll. The attorney general’s office isn't saying how many facilities it is investigating, or revealing their names or any other details about the specific allegations.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday his office will hold "nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones." 

3:14 p.m. — Gas prices begin to rise as stay-at-home orders lift

Gas prices tumbled over the past two months as the economy shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

But they’re starting to go back up as some states, including Pennsylvania, take steps to reopen.

The commonwealth’s average price at the pump was $2.68 a gallon in late February. That fell to $1.96 by early May before rising to $2.05 as of May 11, according to the price-tracking website GasBuddy.

“This may be the trajectory that we stay on, an upward trend, unless we get some sort of second wave of shutdowns,” said Patrick DeHaan, the site’s head of petroleum analysis.

Read more on the cost of gasoline.

2:18 p.m. — County, state report modest number of cases

Both Allegheny County and the state as a whole posted only modest numbers of new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Allegheny County reported just 15 new cases on Tuesday, days before Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is set to begin easing some restrictions designed to limit the spread of the disease. Statewide, an additional 75 deaths from COVID 19 were reported Tuesday, bringing the toll to 3,806 deaths.

WESA's Chris Potter breaks down the numbers

1:05 p.m. — Pennsylvania plans widespread virus testing in nursing homes

Gov. Tom Wolf says his administration plans to begin testing every resident and employee for the coronavirus in nursing homes and other facilities caring for older adults. Wolf said Tuesday his administration will undertake the surveillance testing with a goal of testing every resident and employee once a week. Wolf’s health secretary had previously said there wasn't enough available testing to test everyone in a nursing home. The virus is reported by Wolf’s administration to have killed more than 2,600 residents of nursing homes or personal care homes. That constitutes about two-thirds of the state’s overall death toll.

12:47 p.m. — We want to know your questions

Most of southwestern Pennsylvania will move into the "yellow" phase of reopening Friday. Tell us what you want to know about this change.

12:17 p.m. — Pennsylvania COVID cases increase by 837

The total number of cases statewide is now at 57,991. The Pennsylvania Department of Health also reported 75 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 3,806. So far, 237,989 patients have tested negative. 

In nursing and personal care homes, 12,130 residents have tested positive, while 1,724 employees have tested positive. 

11:40 a.m. — Allegheny County COVID cases increase by 15

The total number of positive cases now stands at 1,526, of those cases 75 are probable. County health officials also say the number of deaths increased by four to 127. Ten of those deaths are considered probable.

9:08 a.m. — Employees who opt not to return to work Friday can still get unemployment

Employees of businesses that begin reopening without a green-light from the state will still qualify for unemployment if they choose not to go back to work, said Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak.

“If a business opens in defiance of the governor’s and secretary of health’s stay-at-home order … then those employees may stay home and not lose their unemployment compensation benefits,” Oleksiak said.

Businesses in 13 counties in the Pittsburgh area are permitted to begin reopening this Friday.

7:42 a.m. — Port Authority prepares to resume normal service

The Port Authority is preparing to restore normal service to some of its bus routes starting this Sunday, as the Pittsburgh area moves into "phase yellow" of the state's plan to allow businesses to begin reopening.  Riders must still wear masks, enter through the rear doors, and practice social distancing. The maximum capacity of all Port Authority buses will increase by five riders apiece.

Monday, May 11, 2020

6:16 p.m. — Students expected to return in the fall, ed chief says

Gov. Tom Wolf’s education secretary says he expects students to go back to school in the fall, and the Department of Education will provide information in the coming weeks to prepare teachers and staff to return to school buildings.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, testifying in a Senate committee hearing Monday, downplayed the notion that students might not return to school buildings in the fall.

The department intends to reopen schools, but keeping students and staff safe might mean changes that involve following state Health Department recommendations, he said. Rivera said he expects to allow school districts to choose from multiple strategies to meet social distancing guidelines.

5:41 p.m. — New Jersey company takes over operations at Brighton Rehab

New Jersey-based Allaire Health Services will take over temporary management of Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County. The Pennsylvania Department of Health said on Monday that the company will remain in place until the rate of infection at the facility is “substantially reduced.” Allaire Health Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The news comes as National Guard troops arrive at the skilled nursing facility, where hundreds of residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Troops are providing patient care and serving in other support roles, until more nursing staff can be brought in from Texas next week, according to the state. It’s unclear why more staff are needed at the facility. 

Read more about the company and the operations at Brighton Rehab.

4:43 p.m. — County sales-tax revenue for arts groups, libraries, parks, significantly down

County sales-tax revenue has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, and that’s bad news for groups that depend on funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, or RAD.

RAD, funded by the county’s 1 percent sales tax, reported today that revenue for March, the month the shutdown hit, was down 23 percent compared to March 2019.

RAD issued its 2020 budget in November; based on projected revenue at the time, it planned to award some $109 million to libraries, parks, arts groups and more. January and February exceeded expectations. But revenue for March was just $7.18 million – 20 percent below the projected figure. RAD officials said that now – much as it did during the 2008 recession – the group must cut promised funds.

Read more about RAD funding's impact.

4:30 p.m. — Guidance on reopening child care facilities unclear

Child care providers in 13 Western Pennsylvania counties are preparing to open this Friday as they shift into phase yellow of the governor's recovery plan. The state has about $100 million dollars of federal stimulus funding that it plans to spend on child care.

Department of Human Services secretary Teresa Miller said Monday that she can’t comment on how or when the money will be distributed. The state asked providers to follow CDC guidelines at day care centers, though, it doesn’t have the authority to enforce its recommendations. 

Read more from Sarah Schneider on the challenges child care providers have faced throughout the COVID-19 shutdown.

3:24 p.m. — Allegheny County has received more than 130,000 mail-in and absentee ballot applications

More voters in Allegheny County have requested mail-in and absentee ballots for the June 2nd primary than any other county in the state.

None of the state's 66 other counties had cracked six digits as of last week. And four times as many ballots have been requested by Allegheny Democrats as Republicans.

But Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says everyone's a winner with voting by mail, because it reduces the danger of spreading coronavirus to voters and poll workers alike.

"We've been promoting this for months and months, just making it as easy as we can because we want to limit the amount of folks who have to go out and vote on Election Day," Fitzgerald said.

Voters have until May 26th to apply for a mail-in ballot. But elections officials hope they will apply as soon as they can. An online form is available here, and some officials worry about a last-minute tidal wave of applicants.

3:15 p.m. — COVID-19 testing to take place in Homewood on Tuesday

Allegheny Health Network will begin testing for the coronavirus out of a mobile unit in Homewood Tuesday. The testing will take place Tuesday and Thursday outside the Alma Illery Medical Center on Hamilton Avenue.

Patients are not required to have a provider’s recommendation, but they need to make an appointment. Homewood is a majority black neighborhood; in many cities, a disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths have been among black residents.

 

WESA receives funding from AHN. 

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

1:13 p.m. — Wolf warns "cowardly" counties, businesses that defy shutdown order

Gov. Tom Wolf is blasting local elected officials who plan to reopen in defiance of his shutdown orders, threatening to yank coronavirus aid and declaring they are “choosing to desert in the face of the enemy.” The normally mild-mannered Democrat fired back Monday after several counties declared themselves in open rebellion against Wolf’s restrictions on businesses and movement. Republican elected officials in a growing number of counties are planning to move on their own to lift some of Wolf’s restrictions, including his stay-at-home orders and shutdown of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.” The counties assert they have enough testing, equipment and hospital capacity to deal with the coronavirus.

12:20 p.m. — Statewide COVID-19 cases increase by 543

The total number of positive cases statewide now stands at 57,154. State Department of Health officials also said the number of deaths increased by 24, bringing the total to 3,731. 

In nursing and personal care homes, 11,801 residents are positive for COVID-19, while 1,655 employees are positive. 

12:01 p.m. — Republican protest against Wolf's stay-at-home order goes national

Republican elected officials from Lancaster County say they will open the county this Friday, May 15— without or without the blessing of Governor Tom Wolf. As LancasterOnline reports, the group sent a letter to Wolf on Sunday, saying they were moving to the “yellow” phase; several local Democrats have expressed their disagreement.

 

President Donald Trump got into the action on Monday morning, tweeting “The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails.”

 

11:30 a.m. — Allegheny County reports 8 new COVID-19 cases, 1 new hospitalization, 1 new death

As southwestern Pennsylvania moves closer toward Friday's "yellow" phase of reopening, Allegheny County is now reporting a total of 1,511 positive cases of COVID-19. There have been a total of 274 past or present hospitalizations, and 123 deaths. Nearly 60 percent of positive cases are for individuals over 50 years old.

Here's what you can expect for the start of the "yellow" phase on Friday.

6:36 a.m.  What you missed over the weekend

  • State health officials on Sunday reported 1,295 additional positive cases of COVID-19. The latest Pennsylvania Department of Health figures push the total number of positives to 56,611 statewide. 
  • "Many regional libraries in the 'yellow phase' of reopening Pennsylvania are still waiting for more guidance by the state on what a realistic reopening may look like," reports the Post-Gazette.
  • Gov. Tom Wolf's decision to move much of southwestern Pennsylvania from "red" to "yellow" status will offer some relief from coronavirus restrictions, but it won't be business as usual when the order goes into effect Friday. Here's a look at some of the changes you can expect — and some you will have to wait for.
  • Thousands are still struggling with the unemployment system, reports the Post-Gazette.
  • "A Beaver County nursing home where at least 61 people have died from covid-19 is getting help from the Pennsylvania National Guard to respond to the outbreak," reports the Tribune-Review.