WESA Daily Briefing: July 9, 2020

Jul 9, 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.

 

5:20 p.m. – Mother of Duquesne student who died goes on a hunger strike

Dannielle Brown has been on a hunger strike in Pittsburgh for six days. Her son Marquis Brown died in 2018 when he was a student at Duquesne University. She is occupying Freedom Corner in the Hill District with supporters.

According to the police investigation, Marquis threw a chair through a window and jumped from the 16h floor. Dannielle Brown said the sequence of events doesn’t add up. She also wasn’t interviewed.

“If I wasn’t contacted to get my viewpoint … then it’s not an independent investigation. It’s a self-serving investigation,” Brown said.

Brown is raising money on GoFundMe for a private investigation into her son’s death. Brown also wants campus police officers to wear body cameras and be trained in de-escalation.

4:51 p.m. - Delta Foundation opens four board seats for community nominations

One of Pittsburgh’s largest LGBT advocacy groups, the Delta Foundation, will open four positions on its board to community nominations.

Delta’s interim board president Jim Sheppard says he’s been listening to the community’s concerns that the foundation doesn’t include the voices of queer and transgender people of color. He hopes the four new open seats will address the issue.

“We can listen and learn from them, Sheppard said. “And listening is so important and that’s why I am emphasizing this because I don’t want to ever claim to speak for or know anyone else’s experience.”

Delta will also create a five-member Youth Community Advisory Commission for people between 18 and 30 years old.

But transgender advocacy group SisTers PGH Executive Director Ciora Thomas says the foundation’s controversial past isn’t erased by the move.

“It's not a nice gesture to invite black and brown people on a board that has historically abused black and brown people,” Thomas said. “And at this point, just let it go, allow the community to celebrate pride in a way that we see fit, especially our Black and brown communities.”

In 2015, the foundation invited singer Iggy Azalea to perform at Pride, who critics said had made homophobic and racist comments on Twitter. It also partnered with the fracking company EQT in 2017, which Thomas said contributes to “environmental racism.”

4:16 p.m. – UPMC releases testing data, opens drive-up testing site

The medical system reports less than one-third 1 percent are positive, during mandatory testing before medical procedures. Dr. Graham Snyder is UPMC’s head of infection prevention and says with rising cases, it’s logical to expect more asymptomatic positive cases.

“We believe we are not seeing this because we are testing patients coming in for medical procedures. And this population skews to an older age,” Snyder said.

While young people are currently more likely to be infected, the greater the level of coronavirus in a community, the more likely someone of any age is to become sick.

Meanwhile, UPMC opened its first coronavirus drive-up testing site this week. Up to 300 people a day can get tested at its South Side location. The service is to open to non-UPMC patients, but people do need an appointment and physician's recommendation. Earlier this year Allegheny Health Network established seven drive-through testing sites. It also has a mobile testing unit it deploys to medically under-served areas.

4:13 p.m. - City council weighs effort to expand police review board powers

Pittsburgh City Council heard from residents about a potential change to the home rule charter Wednesday. During the council meeting, a handful of residents weighed in on a proposal to strengthen the city's police review board.

Right now, officers aren't penalized if they refuse to participate in review board investigations. Councilor Ricky Burgess wants to change that -- a move that would require a voter referendum.

Longtime activist Tim Stevens told council he supports the idea, but thinks the board should be involved in the process.

I think it's extremely important that we do everything possible to strengthen the board,” Stevens said. “So my request is that all of you would get with their board and make sure you're not doing something that is the opposite of what you want.”

Burgess put forth a similar referendum requiring police to live in the city in 2013. Voters approved it, but the courts said it violated the city's contract with police. The new measure could be challenged too. If council passes the bill, the proposed changes could be put before voters this fall.

3:50 p.m. – PPS to present reopening plan this month

The Pittsburgh Public School district will present a plan later this month detailing how it will reopen schools. In a briefing with reporters today, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the district plans to use a blended model of both in-person and online learning. Though, he said families will have the option of keeping students home to learn entirely remotely. By the time schools open, the district expects to have a computer, tablet or Chromebook for every student.

Credit Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA

2:58 p.m. – Eviction moratorium extended through August

A measure to protect Pennsylvania renters and homeowners from eviction or foreclosure will remain in place through August.

Gov. Tom Wolf today signed a new executive order extending the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until August 31. The original order Wolf signed in May was set to expire tomorrow.

The extension applies to tenants and property owners who haven’t already received assistance from state and federal programs. Pennsylvanians having trouble paying for housing can apply for a new Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency program here.

12:29 – Latest COVID numbers

Allegheny County reported another 158 positive COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total number of cases to 4,367. No new deaths were reported, but 12 new hospitalizations were.

At a press conference Thursday, UPMC officials echoed a trend from the hospital giant of providing an upbeat appraisal of the coronavirus pandemic in southwestern Pennsylvania. UPMC officials also said the prominent strain of COVID-19 appears to be less lethal.

 

The state Department of Health reported 719 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total to 92,867. The state also reported 36 new deaths.  

7:35 a.m. - Council debates broadening powers of police review board

Pittsburgh City Council heard from residents about a potential change to the home rule charter Wednesday. A handful of residents weighed in on a proposal to strengthen the city's police review board.

Right now, officers aren't penalized if they refuse to participate in review board investigations. Councilor Ricky Burgess wants to change that – a move that would require a voter referendum.

Longtime activist Tim Stevens told council he supports the idea, but thinks the board should be involved in the process.

“I think it's extremely important that we do everything possible to strengthen the board. So my request is that all of you would get with their board and make sure you're not doing something that is the opposite of what you want,” he said.

Burgess put forth a similar referendum requiring police to live in the city in 2013. Voters approved it, but the courts said it violated the city's contract with police. The new measure could be challenged too. If council passes the bill, the proposed changes could be put before voters this fall.  

 7:28 a.m. - Allegheny County to allow outdoor dining, again 

Starting Friday, a new two-week order from the Allegheny County Health Department will ease some restrictions on area bars and restaurants -- if they have outdoor seating.

The order by Health Director Debra Bogen allows restaurants and bars to serve customers outside until 11 p.m. Alcohol may be served, but there will be a three-drink limit. A ban on indoor drinking and dining will continue -- dining areas can be used only for through traffic -- though takeout and delivery service will still be permitted. 

Allegheny County Health Department officials also reported 230 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the second highest single-day count since the county started tracking cases in March.