WESA Daily Briefing: August 18, 2020

Aug 18, 2020

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.

 

9:43 p.m. — Protest continues outside of Peduto's house

A protest that started in East Liberty Tuesday early evening moved to Point Breeze, setting up in front of the home of Mayor Bill Peduto. Several protesters indicated they planned to stay the night.

 

6:24 p.m. - East Liberty protest is in reaction to Saturday arrest of bike marshal

Demonstrators are circling up near the Target at Penn and Centre avenues. The action comes days after plainclothes police officers in an unmarked white van arrested a bike marshal during a Civil Saturday’s demonstration organized by the group Black, Young and Educated.

Organizers here have been critical of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. Namely for his response to the arrest Saturday which initially cited limitations to organizers’ right to protest. He later condemned the arrest, saying footage of it made him “livid.”

5:27 p.m. - Poor People’s Campaign bolstered by 2016 data as it urges voter participation in 2020

Every election year, the country has the chance to reimagine who speaks for the people: What if more voters of color came outMore naturalized citizens? More young people?

In Pennsylvania, if 55% of low-income eligible voters who didn’t turn out in 2016 had voted, the outcome could have been different for the state’s 20 Electoral College votes, according to a new report from the Poor People’s Campaign, a nonpartisan group that has largely found support among Democratic candidates.

While swing voters are often talked about as those who shift between the two major political parties, the campaign frames the label as a distinction between who votes and who doesn’t, in hopes of changing the ideological platforms politicians support.

“Our democracy is in trouble” when large proportions of the public are not voting, said Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, which has roots in Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy during the 1960s.

Low-income eligible voters are “about 22% less likely to vote in national elections than those with higher incomes,” according to the report, the research for which was conducted by Columbia University professor Robert Paul Hartley. “Low-income” is defined as at or below twice the federal poverty line.

Read more here

4:55 p.m. - CMU students to quarantine, get tested upon arrival

Carnegie Mellon University students will be required to start the fall semester remotely for the first week of classes, which start August 31st. The university announced Tuesday that students must quarantine for 14 days once they arrive to Pittsburgh and before they can begin in person classes. The university is also paying for all students living on campus to be tested upon arrival. CMU estimates that about 45 percent of students will not return to Pittsburgh this semester.

3:35 p.m. – Health secretary explains school children mask recommendations

Clarifying a statement made last week, Department of Health Doctor Secretary Rachel Levine says all school children should wear masks during class -- and she recommends against youth sports until next year.

As parents plan for their children to return to school, confusing, often conflicting information abounds on social media over what is expected of students.

Health Secretary Levine says it’s simple: With very few exceptions, students should be wearing masks while in class. 

It’s okay to take mask breaks, Levine notes, and there are guidelines for how to safely do that.

Levine is also urging parents to follow the state’s recommendation not to participate in youth sports until next year, noting that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is acknowledging the risks of contact sports like football to spread COVID-19.

“So the idea that children don’t get COVID-19 is incorrect, and the idea that children can’t get sick from COVID-19 is incorrect,” Levine said. “They can.”

Levine’s guidelines have rankled some state lawmakers who have sought to relax rules around coronavirus precautions.

3:07 p.m. - Pittsburgh City Council to have meeting on Saturday protest

​Although Pittsburgh City Council is on a recess during the month of August, Council President Theresa Kail-Smith has called for a meeting with the public safety department on Wednesday to discuss tactics used during a protest.

Councilor Erika Strassburger, who represents the district where the arrest took place, wants an explanation for using plainclothes officers and unmarked vehicles during protests.

"I don't understand why an unmarked vehicle needs to be at a protest," Strassburger told WESA on Tuesday. "So as of now I'm calling for an end to that."

Black Young and Educated have had weekly protests for the past several months. This past weekend a biker was arrested by plainclothes officers and put into an unmarked white van. The arrest sparked outrage from elected officials and activists. And some called the incident a "kidnapping."

  

1:27 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

Allegheny County reported 45 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the result of 810 tests taken between July 14 and Aug. 17. Two-thirds of those tests have been conducted since Friday. Those infected range in age from 17 to 91 years old. Allegheny County also reported one new death – a person in their 70s.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 735, bringing the total to 125,579. Today’s report includes 208 cases from Philadelphia over the last two days, since there was a delay in reporting. The state also reported 31 new deaths.  

10:15 a.m. - PA prisons to offer virtual visits

The Pennsylvania prison system is rolling out modified video visiting procedures designed to make it simpler to schedule the online meetings between inmates and their families and others. The Corrections Department plans to let people who are already on inmate visiting lists start scheduling future virtual visits as of Wednesday. Video visitation has been done since March, but this will make it possible to set up the free online visits without necessarily involving prison system staff directly. The new system goes live on Sept. 1. Six visitors, all approved beforehand by the Corrections Department, can participate in each call.  

 7:51 a.m. - PA launches mental health hotline

Thousands of Pennsylvanians have reached out for free, state-provided mental-health counseling since the start of the pandemic, according to the Department of Human Services.

And officials there are promising to keep the service running.  

In April, Pennsylvania launched the Support and Referral Helpline. It's a free, 24/7 hotline available to counsel Pennsylvanians who are struggling, whatever the reason.

Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller says the line is staffed by dozens of state-certified counselors who talk people through their problems, and can refer them to other mental health resources.

"It's there for anyone who needs help for whatever reason. If you're struggling with your mental health, you can call this hotline, and someone will be on the other end to listen to you."

The office has fielded nearly 10,000 calls since the hotline launched in April, but Miller wants more Pennsylvanians to use it.

The Support and Referral Hotline number is 1-855-284-2494.