LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, May 4-10

May 4, 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 10, 2020

2:45 p.m. -- New positive COVID-19 cases push Pa. statewide total north of 56,000

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. To date, 227,772 Pennsylvanians have tested negative. 

 

In Allegheny County, health officials reported two additional virus-related deaths. Countywide, 122 residents have now died. 

 

Beginning Friday, Allegheny and 12 other counties will move from the “red” to “yellow” phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan. You can read more about the county's phased reopening here

Saturday, May 9, 2020

6:33 p.m. -- Wolf releases information about controversial waiver program, critics seeking more

Late Friday, the Wolf Administration released a list of 6,123 Pennsylvania companies that were granted waivers from a state shutdown order closing all non-life-sustaining businesses. The late-day disclosure came amid mounting calls for transparency about the program, though it seems unlikely to silence them.

The list includes 675 businesses in Allegheny County – the county which had the most waivers granted at the time the program was shut down a month ago. While many of those local businesse provide essential services, in others the connection is less clear. More coverage of the release is here

12:33 p.m. -- Allegheny County reports 1 new death, 14 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, growth in cases steady statewide

One day after Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans to ease restrictions in Allegheny County, local health officials reported that growth in cases of the disease remain well within the state's requirements. A bump in reported hospitalizations, officials said, reflected efforts to address a lag in compiling numbers. Meanwhile, the growth in cases statewide appears to be stuck in the low four-digits, with another 1,078 cases and 72 deaths reported across Pennsylvania. More on today's daily reports can be found here

10:49 a.m. - Coronavirus restrictions to ease, not be lifted entirely

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 May 15. Here's a look at some of the changes you can expect -- and some you will have to wait for.

Friday, May 8, 2020

6:04 p.m. - SWPA businesses ready for adjustments, glad to reopen

Business owners in the region are eager to reopen their doors next week, even in a limited capacity. Laura Knopf, with Serenity Bead shop in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, said it’s been a challenge to pay bills during the shutdown. Her store relies heavily on customers coming in to take a class or see the beads and she said it’s just not the same shopping online.

“There’s a lot of people who need a specific color or shape and online monitors on your computer, they don’t match reality,” Knopf said.

She was able to sell some products online and received a Small Business Loan, but said because many of Greensburg’s downtown cultural events were canceled, she might struggle throughout the summer. Still, she’s optimistic she can start to hold some instructional sessions.

“My classes will be suffering, yeah, but I have enough space where I can separate everybody to their own table,” Knopf said. “So I could do three or four with six feet distance, if I have to.”

Read more local reactions here.

5:00 p.m. - Diocese of Pittsburgh announces reopening plan

Catholic churches in Allegheny, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties will start to reopen on Friday, May 15, according to a press release from the diocese. Churches that meet cleaning and sanitizing guidelines will be allowed to open for private prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation. Limited funeral masses and weddings will continue, with no more than 25 people allowed, while masses will continue to be livestreamed. Beaver County is not being included at this time, since it remains under the state’s stay-at-home orders.

4:03 p.m. - Allegheny County Executive responds to region's forthcoming reopening

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says he's glad the state will ease some local coronavirus restrictions next week. But he says some parts of managing the pandemic will get harder.

"There are things now that will make it more challenging than it was when most of us were at home, as people leave their homes more often, to go to more workplaces, to go to retails, to go to all the things that opened up," Fitzgerald said.

Many restrictions will remain after Allegheny and nearby counties are upgraded to yellow status next Friday. Fitzgerald says the county will urge employers to stagger work schedules, and take other steps to limit the spread of the virus.

Employees cut and weigh cheese at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittsburgh's Strip District on Friday, May 8, 2020. The store requires customers wear masks while shopping, and has provided gloves at its entrance.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

2:50 p.m. - CCAC to offer course in contact tracing

In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the U.S. will need thousands of contact tracers, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Later this month the Community College of Allegheny County will launch an online course to train individuals to track people who have had contact with those diagnosed with COVID-19. The training will take two weeks and is free to those who qualify. 

 

2:36 p.m. — Changes at county-run nursing homes could continue even after pandemic is over

An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Kane Community Living Center in Glen Hazel could change how the facilities operate, even after the coronavirus pandemic resolves. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mario Fatigati said they might need to rethink how space is used inside the four Allegheny County-run facilities.

 

“We’re probably going to need to spread out a little more in these buildings, because double rooms are tough to manage when you have something as infectious as COVID-19,” he said.

 

Officials have implemented temperature checks for everyone who enters the facilities, and said those will likely continue as well.

 

So far 72 residents and 45 staff members have tested positive for the infection across the four centers. All but four are at the Glen Hazel facility.

 

2:05 p.m. — Governor confirms Allegheny Co., and much of western PA, will move into "yellow"

As was suspected, Gov. Tom Wolf confirmed Friday at his daily press briefing that most of western Pennsylvania, including Allegheny County, will move into the "yellow" phase of the shutdown next week. 

1:31 p.m.  — Western PA firm's handling of ventilator contracts draws congressional scrutiny

As the U.S. races to produce protective and medical equipment to combat the coronavirus, a western Pennsylvania company that makes ventilators has come under scrutiny – and now faces a Congressional investigation – for its potential role in the shortage. 

Before the pandemic, Murrysville-based Philips Respironics received a federal grant to develop a low-cost ventilator for use in national emergencies, according to reporting by online news outlet ProPublica. After the design of the ventilator, called the Trilogy Evo Universal, was approved in 2019, the federal Department of Health and Human Services ordered 10,000 of them for a national stockpile, at $3,280 each. 

But instead of fulfilling that order, ProPublica reported, Philips began selling more expensive versions of the same ventilator overseas. Read more here.

12:31 p.m. — AP reports shutdown to lift around western PA

Gov. Tom Wolf will announce that 13 western Pennsylvania counties, including the heavily populated Pittsburgh metropolitan area, can shed his most restrictive pandemic orders on movement and businesses. The counties to be announced Friday for reopening in a week are Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Those comprise nearly 2.7 million residents. The only western county held back, Beaver County, is home to perhaps the state’s worst nursing home outbreak. Also Friday, people in 24 counties across a swath of northern Pennsylvania began emerging from pandemic restrictions. 

12:17 p.m.  Pennsylvania COVID cases increase by 1,323

The number of cases statewide is now at 54,238. The state Department of Health also reported 200 new deaths, bringing the total to 3,616. More than 216,000 patients have tested negative so far. 

11:02 a.m.  Allegheny County COVID cases increase by 16

The number of COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County now stands at 1,455, including 16 probable cases. The number of deaths increased by two to 119. 

9:53 a.m. — Rite Aid opens testing sites to anyone

All COVID-19 testing sites run by Rite Aid are now open to anyone, including those who do not have symptoms.  Patients must be at least 18 years old, register on the Rite Aid website, and bring a government-issued ID.  The company currently operates six testing sites in Pennsylvania, including one in Monroeville, and plans to open another 46 no-charge sites nationwide starting next week.

8:10 a.m.  Jail Oversight Board rejects calls for mass COVID-19 testing

Credit 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County’s Jail Oversight Board on Thursday voted down a motion that would have directed the jail to test all inmates for the novel coronavirus. 

The 5-3 vote came after mass testing at corrections facilities elsewhere in the country revealed enormous levels of asymptomatic cases. The board did, however, back a move to give inmates a $50 boost to the money they can spend inside the facility.

Democratic County Councilor Bethany Hallam, the board member who introduced the mass-testing motion, worried that limited testing at the Allegheny County Jail masks the full scope of infection behind bars. Read more here.

7:50 a.m. — Northwest counties move to "yellow" phase of reopening

Twenty-four northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania counties move into the “yellow” phase of Governor Tom Wolf’s reopening plan today. That means daycares are allowed to open, as are churches and most retail businesses. 

“They must abide by the underlying message of yellow: proceed with caution,” said Wolf last Friday, when he announced the move. “The yellow phase recognizes that outbreaks of COVID-19 are still possible … and all businesses will still need to operate under the orders and guidance that establish social distancing and cleaning protocols.”

This week, the Wolf administration released a document outlining those protocols, but some businesses are still unclear on what they need to do. Read more here

Thursday, May 7, 2020

9:50 p.m. — Pennsylvania extends stay-at-home order to June 4 for red phase counties

Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine have extended the stay-at-home order for counties that are currently in red, which includes southwestern Pennsylvania. The order, originally signed April 1, was set to expire after midnight on May 8. The amended order lasts until June 4. The guidelines of the order remain unchanged and do not impact the 24 counties set to transition to a partial reopening (yellow phase) on Friday. More information on the amended stay-at-home order and yellow phase order can be found here.

6:21 p.m. — UPMC and state give conflicting social distancing advice on Mother's Day visits

At a UPMC press conference today one of the health system's doctors appeared to make a recommendation that contradicts social distancing directions from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

UPMC’s Dr. Donald Yealy said people should be able to safely meet with their moms on Sunday.

“Having a visit with your mother, in a small group, with appropriate distancing and all the usual hygiene precautions makes a lot of sense,” Yealy said.

Yealy says he doesn't think this contradicts the state Department of Health, which has repeatedly told Pennsylvanians that under a stay-at-home order, people should only leave home for life sustaining activities.

“The safest thing you can do for yourself, the safest thing you can do for your mother and your family and your community is to do that visit virtually,” said Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

Both Yealy and Levine agree that people should not be visiting nursing homes on Mother's Day, regardless of whether a stay-at-home order is in place.

5:23 p.m. — Family of meat factory worker who died from COVID-19 files wrongful death lawsuit against employer

Enock Benjamin worked at a plant in Montgomery County owned by JBS USA, one of the country's largest meat processing companies.

He died in early April from respiratory failure caused by COVID-19.

He was 70 years old and married with two adult children.

Robert Mongeluzzi is one of the attorneys representing the Benjamin family. He says his client died because JBS ignored federal coronavirus guidelines and worker safety.

"They had a work-while-sick culture, a culture where people are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, people are even discouraged from going to bathroom so they could keep their production up, produce as much meat as possible, and make as much money as possible."

JBS has dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks at seven of its meat processing facilities during the pandemic, including the one in Montgomery County.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

4:50 p.m.  Gov. Wolf and Attorney General Shapiro announce foreclosure, eviction protections

Through at least July 10, a newly-signed executive order from Gov. Tom Wolf will prevent Pennsylvanians from being foreclosed upon or evicted.

The order is an effort to extend the effects of a rule the state Supreme Court entered early in the pandemic, which closed court eviction proceedings — and functionally, evictions themselves — through May 11.

Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who joined the announcement in support of Wolf, noted that homeowners and renters are, in most cases, required to keep making their monthly payments, and will eventually have to provide back pay if they’re temporarily unable.

“The governor and I have been very clear that, look, rent is still due,” Shapiro said. “And landlords will work with you if you need some type do of relief. The key here is making sure that an eviction cannot happen, not only during this crisis, but in the weeks and months thereafter.”

Shapiro also urged landlords to seek federal aid if their rent income dries up. He added, landlords cannot retaliate against non-paying tenants — for instance, by turning off utilities.

Wolf, in turn, said that tenants should “sit down” with their landlords and work out an arrangement if they are unable to pay rent.

The administration had been under mounting pressure from renters and homeowners to come up with a longer-term solution to prevent housing loss during the nation’s sudden economic crisis. To date, more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment, and many of those job losses are likely to be permanent.

Some have expressed a desire to see relief efforts go further. A group of Philadelphia renters, for instance, have spent roughly the last month organizing for a possible rent strike.

The city had already put evictions on hold through May 29, and City Council is considering a package of measures aimed at preventing a potential avalanche of evictions when pandemic mitigation efforts eventually end.

Wolf and Shapiro said they’re also working with the PA Housing Finance Agency, which has temporarily stopped foreclosures and evictions, and is waiving late fees to homeowners who have PHFA mortgages and have been hurt financially by the coronavirus pandemic.

4:02 p.m. — Nursing homes hit hard by coronavirus

Residents living in Pennsylvania nursing and personal care facilities account for around two-thirds of the state's more than 3,200 COVID-19-related deaths.

The state Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual hearing on the impact of Covid-19 on nursing and veteran’s homes.

They heard from doctors like Valarie Arkoosh - who chairs the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. She warns the nature of nursing homes makes for a rapid spread.

“We need to get these places connected to testing, testing all the residents and, in my view, all of the staff,” Arkoosh said. “I don’t really know how we get a handle on this without knowing everyone who’s positive.”

Arkoosh says hospitals often get first priority for things like Personal Protective Equipment and masks -- leaving nursing homes to fend for themselves. She notes nursing home staff were not trained on how to safely reuse PPE or how to properly fit an N95 mask until after the outbreak began.

COVID-19 infections among residents and staff at long-term care facilities in Allegheny County account for almost half of all cases reported by the County from April 20 - May 5.  That's according to new data from the Health Department. One hundred twenty-three residents and 36 employees have tested positive - nearly 70 percent of those infections have occurred at the County-owned Kane Community Living Center in Glen Hazel.  Twelve residents there have died from COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, UPMC says that so far, there have been no COVID outbreaks at any of its 36 senior living communities. One action UPMC says might have made a difference is its lower threshold for temperature screenings; precautions are taken when a resident has a temperature of 99 degrees.

WESA receives funding from UPMC.

 

3:27 p.m. — Gig workers can finish applying for federal assistance

Pennsylvania gig workers can finally finish applying for a new federally-mandated assistance program, announced the Department of Labor and Industry Monday.

More than 174,000 state residents have started the process since the commonwealth launched the first step on April 18, and will now be able to file weekly claims to receive between $195 and $572 dollars a week. Part-time employees, gig workers and others who work on short contracts are often in a more precarious financial situation to begin with are barred from accessing traditional assistance.

Those applications will be retroactive to January 27, 2020, or the first week that work was lost. Applicants should also automatically receive an additional $600 per week in special federal assistance through July 25.

A guide to filling out the paperwork is here.

Read more here.

3:19 p.m. — Wolf introduces New Deal-eqse program to help with COVID-19 response

Some of the more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians who have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began may get a chance to join a new civilian workforce program to help the state conduct mitigation efforts.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced his plan for a “Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps” at Wednesday’s daily press briefing. The name is reminiscent of a popular program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Great Depression-era New Deal, which focuses on the preservation of state parks and forests.

And that is no accident, according to Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for the administration.

“The governor will announce more details in the coming weeks, but the corps would be a 21st-century approach to historic programs like those in the New Deal,” Kensinger said.

Wolf said he’s angling for a broad program to train workers to test for COVID-19 and conduct contact tracing to track infection rates, while also reducing unemployment.

Read more about the program.

 

Credit 90.5 WESA

2:58 p.m. — Duquesne to hold virtual ceremony on Friday

Duquesne University announced that the livestreamed commencement will take place Friday, May 8 at 2 p.m. The university said it plans to hold in-person celebrations at a later date.

1:39 p.m.   Wolf extends moratorium on evictions and forclosures

The moratorium was extended once before and was set to expire Monday, but Gov. Wolf today said he signed an executive order extending the moratorium until July 10.

12:23 p.m.   Pennsylvania COVID cases increase by 1,070

The total number of positive cases statewide is now 52,915. The state Department of Health also reported 310 new deaths as it continues to reconcil data, bringing the statewide total to 3,416. 

11:21 a.m.   Allegheny County COVID deaths increase by 6

The number of deaths now stands at 117, 10 of which are probable. The number of positive cases increased by 45 to 1,439, which includes 64 probable cases. 

10:27 a.m.  Nearly 70 Brighton rehab center residents have died

More than 300 residents at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County have now tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, 69 have died and county commissioners are calling for an investigation into the state's oversight of the facility. Commissioner Chairman Daniel Camp said yesterday the Pennsylvania Department of Health has failed "residents and families who have lost loved ones" at the Center.  Earlier this week Beaver County representative Rob Matzie introduced a bill that would require the Department to conduct inspections of infection-control and testing procedures for COVID-19 at all nursing homes in Pennsylvania.  The daughter of a resident at Brighton recently filed a federal class-action suit against the Department, calling for similar measures. 

8:31 a.m. — Businesses open in defiance of shutdown order

As swaths of Pennsylvania prepare for a limited reopening Friday, some fed-up business owners are jumping the gun and have resumed serving customers in defiance of Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown order. A salon and a gym in Blair County both reopened last week, declaring Wolf had no right to keep them closed during the pandemic. Blair County has reported only 25 coronavirus infections and no deaths. In hard-hit suburban Philadelphia, barber shop owner Nichole Missino says she and her six employees are running out of money and collectively decided to reopen this Saturday. Wolf and other officials say that businesses that ignore his shutdown order risk spreading the virus.

7:40 a.m. — One-third of Allegheny Co. COVID cases at long-term care facilities

Of the 352 COVID-19 cases reported between April 20 and May 5, more than one-third can be attributed to residents of long-term care facilities, according data on infections among its high-risk populations released by Allegheny County Wednesday.

Health care workers comprise another 14 percent, the majority of whom work at those facilities.

Thirty percent of Allegheny County residents who were infected during this period are not linked to another known case, indicating that after a month and a half of living under a stay-at-home order, community spread continues.

“This is one of the most severe challenges,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who encouraged people to wear masks in public and continue to practice social distancing.

Overall the county’s case count has remained well under the benchmark set by Gov. Tom Wolf for the stay-at-home order to be lifted. During a two-week period, an area must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents. Read more here

 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

6:01 p.m. — Skaters won't be catching air at the Polish Hill skate park for a while

This week, the Polish Hill skate park looks more like a sandbox than a place to try out new tricks. Pittsburgh Public Works has dumped pounds of sand around the park’s bowl and at the base of the park’s ramps.

The Polish Hill skate park in West Penn Park on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.
Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

The skate park was decommissioned along with basketball courts and other outdoor recreational facilities at city parks in March. But recently, according to Public Works Director Mike Gable, numerous tips came in about groups of skateboarders ignoring social distancing guidelines and skating in the park. Then came the sand.

“We don’t take any pride in closing facilities. They’re great assets,” Gable said. “But there is a directive out there and when it’s not being followed, it creates a problem.”

Read more about the measures here.

 

4:45 p.m. — Wolf signs executive order to provide civil immunity for health care providers

The order protects against liability "for good faith actions taken in response to the call to supplement the health care provider workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a release from the state.

Throughout the coronavirus shutdown, health care professionals who were retired or lived out of state were called to help in local hospitals and clinics, the statement read, and may not have the same liability coverage as currently working professionals. 

The executive order goes into effect immediately.

4:34 p.m. — Street resurfacing begins Monday

Street resurfacing season begins Monday in Pittsburgh, after paving and other outdoor work had been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year, the city will spend more than $15 million to resurface about 27 miles of Pittsburgh streets.  With COVID-related restrictions still in place and many residents remaining in doors, the city hopes to notify residents ahead of time about moving their vehicles to accommodate road work. A schedule of upcoming projects can be found on Pittsburgh's Mobility and Infrastructure website

An empty Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Garfield neighborhood.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
 

4:16 p.m. — City employees won't return to the City-County building yet

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says he will not have city employees return to the City-County Building until Gov. Tom Wolf announces plans to reopen southwestern Pennsylvania.

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Peduto said after Wolf moves to ease restrictions, the city will evaluate how to safely permit businesses to reopen.

"No matter who the politician is, no matter what political party they come from; if they're telling you they know what the situation will be in six months, they're not being honest," Peduto said. "You need to be flexible, you need to be open-minded."

During the event, Peduto also honored Emergency Medical Services Assistant Chief Mark Pinchalk for his work during the pandemic. 

 

3:10 p.m. — SCI Huntingdon has 80 cases of COVID-19

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise at SCI Huntingdon, which now accounts for more than half of the cases among inmates across Pennsylvania state prisons. 

There are 52 inmates and 28 staff at SCI Huntingdon who have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the Department of Corrections. Across Pennsylvania, state prisons report a combined total of 87 inmates and 122 staff who have COVID-19. 

The Department of Health said as of Tuesday, there are 59 confirmed cases in Huntingdon County, where SCI Huntingdon inmates are counted as residents. Staff members, who self-report positive test results, are counted in the county where they live, which may or may not be Huntingdon County.

Read more about SCI Huntingdon's situation here.

1:11 p.m. — UPMC says it's testing all pre-op patients

For the past two weeks, UPMC has been testing all pre-operative patients for the coronavirus, including people who are asymptomatic. During a virtual roundtable hosted by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, UPMC chief medical officer Dr. Steven Shapiro said that of the 1,000 patients tested in western Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, zero have been positive. Of the 550 UPMC patients tested in central Pennsylvania, three have been positive.

12:33 p.m. — Pennsylvania COVID cases increase by 888

The number of COVID-19 cases statewide is now at 51,845. The state Department of Health also reported 94 new deaths, bringing the total to 3,106. So far, more than 200,000 people have tested negative.

11:17 a.m.  Allegheny Co. COVID cases increase by 19

The total number of cases, confirmed and probable, is now at 1,394. The Allegheny County Health Department also reported two new deaths, bringing the total to 111. 

10:05 a.m.  Erie woman jailed for refusing to quarantine

An Erie County woman who spent last Friday night in jail for refusing to quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 is now in court-ordered isolation at home and under electronic monitoring.  County officials say the woman attended a party and ran errands after testing positive, according to the Erie Times-News. More than two dozen people are in quarantine after being in contact with her or someone else who was in contact with her.  The county judge in the case warned the woman she could be held in contempt and jailed for longer if she violates the isolation order again.

9:32 a.m.  Casey wants investigation into COVID cases at VA

U.S. Senator Bob Casey and senators from two other states are demanding an investigation of the recent surge in COVID-19 deaths at homes for aging veterans.  The group is asking the Government Accountability Office to look into whether the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and state agencies have systems in place to "capture real-time spikes in mortality rates." 

Last week, Pennsylvania officials reported 16 coronavirus deaths across all six homes in the state, while the Chester County coroner's office said it had received reports of 27 deaths at the Southeastern Veterans' Center alone.

7:47 a.m.  PennDOT centers prepare to reopen

PennDOT is planning to reopen its customer service centers in the two dozen counties slated to move into the yellow phase Friday.

Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services Kurt Myers says the department will prioritize driver’s license and learners permit issuances.

It will also limit the amount of customers allowed in the facility at one time.

He says the moves will help with the backlog and social distancing.

“We are a customer facing, customer interaction business. We want to do that as safely as possible,” Myers said.

All DMV centers have been closed since the governor’s stay at home order was issued back in March. The federal government has also extended the REAL ID deadline to October 2021.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

6:48 p.m.  City councilors want to address racial inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic

Pittsburgh City Councilors Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle want to create a task force to address the inequities. In Allegheny County, black residents make up about 25 percent of cases where a patient's race is known. That's about twice the black share of the population overall. But the county has no race data for roughly one-quarter of cases.

Burgess says another goal is to get more testing in black communities, which may lack access to tests. The third goal, he says, is to ensure those communities have access to resources like loans and grants for small businesses.

"We know that African American populations have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to make sure that resources are proportionately given to those communities to rebuild themselves," Burgess said.

Burgess and Lavelle's bill requires the task force to include public health officials, county officials and university representatives. Burgess says he hopes the legislation will pass within a couple of weeks.

5:55 p.m.  CMU plans to design a low-cost ventilator

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Computer science professors at Carnegie Mellon University are working on creating a low-cost ventilator using existing sensor and robotics technology. The school says the robo-ventilator will be resistant to supply chain disruptions and shortages, with parts that are easily replaced or fabricated. The researchers expect the ventilators to cost $500 to $750, compared to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for existing ventilator models. 

WESA receives funding from CMU.

 

4:25 p.m.  AHN returns to routine care, with some changes

One of western Pennsylvania's largest medical systems is ramping up non-emergency surgeries and other routine care, which have been on hold for the past six weeks due to the coronavirus. But it's not quite business as usual at Allegheny Health Network.

While the region never saw a surge of COVID hospitalizations, Dr. Don Whiting, AHN’s chief medical officer, says he’s concerned that some people are putting off necessary medical care out of fear of exposure to the coronavirus. 

AHN says it has implemented number of changes designed to protect patients and staff. There are separate entrances and treatment areas for COVID patients, facilities are deep cleaned frequently, sneeze guards have been installed, and office hours have been extended so as to avoid crowding.

“We’ve changed our office waiting area seating to accommodate social distancing,” said Whiting. “People may be waiting to be called to come in for their office appointment in their car rather than waiting in the waiting room.”

AHN’s visitation restrictions remain in place, and clinic staff must wear masks at all times.

Whiting estimates that it will take roughly six weeks to work through the backlog of non-emergency surgeries that were put on hold.

Read more about the health care system's changes here.

3:26 p.m.  Wolf administration releases guidelines for businesses as they prepare to reopen

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has released guidance for Pennsylvania businesses as some prepare to reopen. Twenty-four northern counties will be moved into the intermediary, “yellow” phase of reopening on Friday.

Childcare centers and retail stores in these counties will be permitted to reopen. The new guidelines provide further details about sanitization, social distancing and personal protective equipment. For example, businesses must limit in-person meetings and trainings to 10 people, and they must all stay six feet apart.

Masks must be provided for employees and customers must also wear masks. Businesses that operate out of a building or other defined area must designate specific times for patronage by high-risk and elderly populations. They also must establish plans for sanitizing, contact tracing and quarantining if a known or suspected COVID exposure occurs on the premises.

2:54 p.m.  Pitt researcher looks into link between COVID-19 and strokes

A University of Pittsburgh physician is leading an international effort to learn more about the link between COVID-19 and neurological symptoms, including stroke.

Dr. Sherry Chou, an associate professor of critical care medicine, neurology and neurosurgery, said reports have come in from all over the world that some COVID-19 patients are suffering strokes.

The Cathedral of Learning towers over the University of Pittsburgh campus in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh Monday, July 8, 2019.
Credit Gene J. Puskar / AP

“In some cases, people are reporting that folks are coming in primarily with a neurological disorder, and then later on, because of some degree of suspicion, they tested them for COVID and found them to be positive,” Chou said. “Of course, as a medical community, we're both interested and concerned.

Read more about the research here.

2:23 p.m. — Dormont pool not opening this summer

The Dormont Borough Council voted Monday night to not open the Dormont Pool for the 2020 season. 

“Covid-19 presents a unique challenge to municipalities around the globe. As a municipal manager, I must always look for the best way to protect our residents and our employees,” stated Ben Estell, Borough Manager in a press release. “I do know the importance of our pool not only to our residents, but to residents in surrounding communities and really the region,” said Council Vice President Jen Mazzocco. Vice President Mazzocco continued “I think it is very sad because it is the 100th anniversary this year. . . but I think this is the best move for us as far as the safety of our residents.

2:09 p.m.  As number of PA deaths grow, Wolf declines committing to reopening schedule

Pennsylvania reported another 554 deaths from the coronavirus to pass 3,000 total, while Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that he is not committing to a particular schedule to lift stay-at-home pandemic restrictions in the state's counties or regions.

With the economic fallout of the pandemic shutdown growing, Wolf maintained Tuesday that he would stick to a reopening process that relies on what he sees as indicators tied to safety.

Wolf also acknowledged that the state, as it begins allowing many businesses to reopen in 24 counties this Friday, will be unable to investigate or enforce every complaint about an employer not following his administration's safety guidance to protect workers and customers.

1:08 p.m. — Business booms for some manufacturers, dwindles for others

Considered essential businesses, many manufacturers have been exempted from Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown order. Some now find themselves with almost too many orders, while others don't have nearly enough. But almost all are facing unexpected challenges from the coronavirus.

An-Li Herring talks to business owners in western Pennsylvania about how they're faring during the coronavirus pandemic.

12:24 p.m. — Pennsylvania COVID deaths increase by 554

The number of deaths statewide is now at 3,012. State health officials report 865 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total across Pennsylvania to 50,957. 

11:11 a.m. — Allegheny County sees 7 new deaths

The number of deaths is now at 109, 10 of which are considered probable. The median age of those who have died in Allegheny County is 85. The number of positive COVID-19 cases increased by 10 to 1,375. 

8:41 a.m. — Lawrence County prepares for eased restrictions

Much of Pennsylvania remains on lockdown but restrictions will loosen in parts of the state on Friday. Lawrence County, northwest of Pittsburgh, is one of 24 counties where retail businesses can welcome in-person customers. Officials in Lawrence say they are eager to get people back to work while preventing a spike in new cases. State guidance will continue to require masks, disinfection, and social distancing. Restaurants and bars will continue to be carry-out only, and businesses such as gyms and theatres remain closed.

7:39 a.m. — Pitt researcher studying link between COVID-19 and stroke

An international research team led by a University of Pittsburgh professor hopes to illuminate the relationship between COVID-19 and stroke. Dr. Sherry Chou says the study will look at data from COVID patients at dozens of medical facilities across the globe. An alarming number of COVID-19 patients have suffered strokes, but Chou says they must establish a clear link between the two conditions. Initial results are expected in late summer. Read more here.

WESA receives funding from Pitt.

Monday, May 4, 2020

6:01 p.m. — Wolf administration provides guidance for areas entering the yellow phase

The governor detailed procedures companies must follow in order to reopen and provide in-person services. Twenty-four Pennsylvania counties will begin reopening on May 8.

The guidance includes sanitization and disinfecting information, mask requirements and shield or barrier installation. The full document can be found here

4:00 p.m. — Nearly 1 million Pa. voters have applied for a mail-in ballot

Gov. Tom Wolf and state Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar gave the update in a release, saying the Department of State saw a significant increase in applications after COVID-19 shutdowns. New legislation permitted the rescheduling of Pennsylvania's primary election and local municipalities are pushing for voters to apply for mail-in or absentee ballots. 

Registered voters do not need to provide a reason why they will not vote in person. So far, 948,831 applications have been submitted. Voters can apply here.

3:24 p.m. — Advocacy group wants mail-in ballots to get to college students

The Allegheny County Elections Division is sending vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter in the county ahead of the June 2 primary. But those applications may not reach every voter.

The coronavirus forced colleges and universities to move completely online during the pandemic. That means a lot of students have moved off campus, and won't get the mail-in ballot applications that the county sent. 

Larissa Sweitzer is the Pennsylvania state director of NextGen America, a progressive advocacy group that targets young voters. She said NextGen has registered more than 15,000 young people in Allegheny County since 2016.

"We’ve decided to retext all young voters specifically in Allegheny County, and advise them to call the County Board of Elections to request a new ballot application be sent to their current address," Sweitzer said.

It’s unclear whether students will be able to return to campus in the fall. But regardless, legal experts say students registered in Allegheny County will still be able to vote by mail, even if they’re not physically here.

Residents have until May 26 to file an application to vote by mail. The primary is June 2.

  

3:14 p.m.  Elections directors say counties could get overwhelmed by mail-in ballots

County election directors, anxious about how the coronavirus epidemic could affect the June 2 primary election, are calling on state lawmakers to step in to prevent chaos at the polls.

But it may be too late for action by the legislature or Department of State to ensure voting goes smoothly, said Mercer County Elections Director Jeff Greenburg. 

Credit Lucy Perkins / 90.5 WESA

“Counties were not built for this either administratively or through human capital,” Greenburg said. “There aren’t enough people or enough hours in a day, in many places, to overcome that.”

Read more about the preparations here.

3:06 p.m.  AHN expands testing

Allegheny Health Network is now allowing patients from outside its medical system to get tested for COVID-19 at its drive-up testing sites. Previoulsy, AHN and UPMC were the only medical providers consistently performing testing. This meant independent providers, including community health centers, struggled to get their patients COVID tests.

People getting tested by AHN still need a provider’s recommendation prior to submitting their samples.

 

12:22 p.m. — Pennsylvania passes 50,000 COVID cases

An addition of 825 new COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania brought the state total to 50,092. Officials also report 14 new deaths, bringing the total to 2,458. 

There are 10,569 positive cases among residents and staff of nursing and personal care homes across the state. 

11:14 a.m. — No new deaths in Allegheny County

The number of deaths remains at 102. The number of positive COVID-19 cases increased by 20 to 1,365, including 55 probable cases. That total also includes 194 cases in health care workers.

There were also two new hospitalizations, bringing the total to 240, past and present.

10:56 a.m.  City on hiring freeze

Mayor Bill Peduto announced Monday that the city is on a hiring freeze and will not move forward with filling the current 64 open positions, which is expected to save $3 million.

“The dedication and perseverance of City workers, especially those working on the front lines, has been on full display during this pandemic, and on behalf of all city residents I can’t thank them enough for their public service,” Mayor Peduto said in a statement. “We have to put on hold these new hires, however, to help fill the ever-widening holes showing up in our budget due to this crisis.” 

The city is not implementing any other budget cuts at this time.

10:37 a.m. — The show must go on(line)

Nonprofit City of Asylum is starting Pittsburgh’s first shared online programming channel for the arts. The streaming channel is called The Show Must Go On(line), and it will host nightly concerts, literary readings, and more, curated by partners like City Theatre, the New Hazlett Theater, and BOOM Concepts. Some shows will be live, and others prerecorded. It starts tonight. The first week includes a jazz concert, a play reading, and a dance performance. More information is at alphabetcity.org.

WESA receives funding from City of Asylum.

8:23 a.m. — Parks Conservancy offering online nature lessons

Credit Renee Rosensteel / Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has released a series of environmental lessons that may be helpful for parents running out of ways to keep their kids occupied at home.

“We are aware of the stress people are under and how important it is to stay connected to the outdoors and to moments of true learning,“ said Camila Rivera-Tinsley, the director of education for the Conservancy.

The lessons are categorized by topics including signs of spring, plant survival and native species. Each includes an activity like a scavenger hunt, craft or work sheet.

The free lessons can be found here.

7:03 a.m. — What you missed over the weekend

  • Pennsylvania is nearing 50,000 positive COVID-19 cases. 
  • Allegheny County voters can get their first look at the new paper ballots they’ll be given at the polls this June, but thanks to the coronavirus, they’ll have to ignore a government website’s recommendations about where those polling places are.
  • State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said Saturday that counties in southwestern Pennsylvania were a priority for efforts to reopen the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • COVID-19 continues to blight the Port Authority’s West Mifflin garage: A ninth maintenance employee at the facility has tested positive for COVID-19, and the garage is being deep-cleaned today for the third time in the past two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.