WESA Daily Briefing: August 19, 2020

Aug 19, 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.

 

6:05 p.m. - Pitt and CMU to start school year online 

​Pittsburgh’s two largest universities will begin the semester online. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both announced this week that students need more time to shelter-in-place before in-person learning can begin.

Pitt students expected to be back on campus for class Monday. Now, they won’t return to in-person instruction until at least September 14th. In an email to students Wednesday, the university’s provost said the adjustment will give students more time to shelter-in-place so that all can begin in-person at the same time.

The university developed a reopening plan similar to Pennsylvania’s red-yellow-green phases. The Pittsburgh campus is in the elevated risk phase which is similar to the yellow phase. That phase calls for most activities to be virtual. The provost’s email said more information on which activities can take place during this phase will be forthcoming.

Wednesday the university’s Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner sent a letter to students asking them to socialize responsibly.

Over the past few days, I have been alerted by students, parents and community members that a large number of students are holding and attending parties without wearing face coverings and without observing physical distancing guidelines,” Bonner said in the letter. “Let me be clear: Your behavior is threatening a successful fall term for all of us.”

Bonner noted that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame both suspended in-person classes following a surge of COVID-19 cases linked to off-campus parties.

He told students there will be consequences including disciplinary suspension if students hold or attend parties where physical distancing and face coverings requirements are not followed.

5:50 p.m. - LGBTQ advocacy organization demand changes at the Delta Foundation

Local LGBTQ groups gathered Wednesday afternoon on Pittsburgh's South Side to call for an end to the Delta Foundation. The foundation puts on the annual Pride celebration each year, which was canceled due to COVID-19. The foundation recently turned over an internal review of its finances to legal authorities following the resignation of its embattled former board president.

Critics say the foundation doesn't fully support the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people of color. Dena Stanley, founder of Trans YOUniting and the only Black transgender woman on the Delta board, said other members aren’t listening to the community’s needs.

“Being on the inside and seeing that and fighting for more in a city where there’s really nothing [for Black transgender people],” Stanley said. “Now we are pumped and there are people here willing to do the work and they are shutting things down.”

Dalen Michael with Trans YOUniting and the Pgh LGBTQ+ Coalition said they had delivered a letter to the Delta Foundation with several demands for more inclusive practices, but that was not followed by action from the foundation.

Construction businessman Marty Healey was elected to replace embattled board president Gary Van Horn. Michael said Healey did not represent the community and would not be able to successfully implement measures to improve diversity at Delta.

The group marched from S. 19th and East Carson streets to Healey’s construction company headquarters on Sarah Street near 12th Street.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

5:55 p.m. - Pitt, CMU will begin the semester online

The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both announced this week that students need more time to shelter-in-place before in-person learning can begin.

Pitt students expected to be back on campus for class Monday. Now, they won’t return to in-person instruction until at least September 14th. In an email to students Wednesday, the university’s provost said the adjustment will give students more time to shelter-in-place so that all can begin in-person at the same time.

The university developed a reopening plan similar to Pennsylvania’s red-yellow-green phases. The Pittsburgh campus is in the elevated risk phase which is similar to the yellow phase. That phase calls for most activities to be virtual. The provost’s email said more information on which activities can take place during this phase will be forthcoming.

5:30 p.m. - Data show that coronavirus infections are declining in Allegheny County

Last week, the county’s positivity rate for tests was under five percent, and raw case counts are dropping too.

But Dr. Debra Bogen, head of the county health department, notes that about half the people who tested positive last week don’t know how they contracted the virus.

“This tells me there’s still quite a bit of virus out in our community,” Dr. Bogen said Wednesday at a county health department press conference. “Let’s continue to be vigilant.”

With college students returning to campus and the end of summer, cases numbers could rise sharply if people don’t take preventative measures.

2:05 p.m. - Three Pa. Democrats spoke during last night's Democratic National Convention

Congressman Conor Lamb joined Congressman Brendan Boyle and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta in endorsing Joe Biden for president.

The keynote for the DNC’s second night was split 17 ways, among politicians the convention dubbed “rising stars” of the party.

Boyle and Kenyatta are both from Philadelphia, and Kenyatta is the first openly gay Black man to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature. Lamb is a Marine veteran who represents a Trump-leaning district in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Boyle pitched a vision of a Biden administration that would bring stability and predictability.

“You deserve healthcare you can afford, a job that pays you fairly. You deserve childcare and paid sick leave while you work,” Boyle said. “And when you pay into Social Security and Medicare, you deserve to know it’ll be there when you retire.”

Lamb noted Biden’s role in distributing stimulus money after the Great Recession, and Kenyatta commended the former vice president’s relatively early support for same-sex marriage.

Biden is expected to accept the party nomination tomorrow.

1:52 p.m. - PA farm show canceled

Credit Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania's agriculture secretary says there won't be an in-person Farm Show in January because of the pandemic. Secretary Russell Redding made the announcement Wednesday through an online news conference. The event scheduled for Jan. 9 through Jan. 15 will be held virtually instead, with a theme of “cultivating tomorrow.” The Farm Show bills itself as the country’s largest agricultural exposition under a single roof, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Harrisburg to see about 6,000 animals and take in some 10,000 competitive exhibits.  

1:14 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

Allegheny County reported 27 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the result of 875 tests taken July 31-Aug. 18. The number of new cases is the lowest single-day total since June. The county also reported six new deaths. Four of the people who died were in their 80s, one was in their 90s and another in their 100s.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 570, bringing the statewide total to 126,149. The state also reported 24 new deaths.  

12:31 p.m. - Protesters asked to disperse from outside of mayor's house

Mayor Bill Peduto came back home after police made a few protesters leave from his house. Protesters were outside of Peduto’s house Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to demand answers for a biker’s arrest during a Saturday Black Lives Matter protest. Some neighbors said they were concerned because protesters were still out as late as 2 a.m.

 

Peduto was not home during the protest, but arrived about an hour after police made protesters who were still present disperse. In a statement, he said he supports Black Lives Matter and residents’ First Amendment rights to protest.

 

“What I cannot defend is any neighborhood in our city — and their residents and families — being disturbed through the night and morning, and a peaceful protest devolving into unacceptable conduct in which residents are being harassed and threatened,” Peduto said in an emailed statement. “This crosses a line that cannot be allowed to continue, causing those committing crimes against residents to face possible legal consequences for their actions. Using protests to create conflict and division, as some are doing, only impacts the ability of others to exercise their constitutional rights safely.”

 

Peduto also said he “condemned and halted” the arrest methods Pittsburgh police used during the Saturday protest.

 

“I understand that people are feeling fear, pain and anger in our communities, and that some want to take their frustrations out on me,” he said. “I fully accept that, but I will not accept unjustified actions that threaten neighbors in any part of the city.”  

10:12 a.m. - Masks to be worn at all times in school, state says  

Amid questions over mask-wearing requirements in schools, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is trying to make it clear that masks are to be worn practically at all times by students in school, drawing complaints that school leaders must again change their preparations. The administration this week released additional guidance that Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Tuesday clarifies that masks must be worn in school, even when students and educators are six feet apart. Exceptions are when students are six feet apart and eating or drinking or taking brief breaks, or when wearing a face-covering is unsafe to operate equipment or carry out a task.

Read more here

 7:49 a.m. - Hundreds protests outside of Mayor Peduto's house, call for his resignation

Protesters gathered outside of Mayor Bill Peduto’s home for hours last night.

Hundreds marched from the East Liberty Target to Peduto’s home to call for answers after a protester with a bike was arrested Saturday by plainclothes police officers in an unmarked van.

Organizers from a number of activist groups were present alongside a well-organized group of bike marshals who blocked off traffic along the march route.

Tensions were high when the marchers were met by civil affairs officers outside of Peduto’s home. But protesters stood outside for hours chanting names of those killed in police custody and calling for Peduto to resign.

A spokesman for Mayor Peduto declined to comment on the demonstration.