WESA Daily Briefing: June 22, 2020

Jun 22, 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.

 

6:33 p.m. - County health officials voice concerns about uptick in COVID-19 infections

On Monday alone, there were 45 new cases, the highest daily total in more than a month.

Monday's spike continues a trend of increased case numbers that started on Friday. Contact tracing data show the new weekend cases don't seem to have been caused by recent protests or this months’ primary election. Instead about half of the cases are related to out-of-state travel. That's according to Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen. She says when people go on vacation, they still need to be thoughtful.

“A walk on the beach separated from other people is totally fine,” Bogen said. “But if you’re then standing on the boardwalk with lots of people at an ice-cream stand close together, that’s not so safe.”

Even when going to areas that don’t require masks, Bogen says people should still wear face coverings in public. The director also notes that the new cases in Allegheny County are increasingly among younger people, who are more likely to be out in the community.

4:47 p.m. - Advocates rally against police in schools

A coalition of advocacy groups is calling on the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Directors to remove police officers from school buildings.

 

An online petition lays out a dozen other demands, including an end to the practice of handcuffing children under 10 years old, increased investment in school psychologists and social workers and public reporting of all interactions between students and police officers.

 

Advocates are rallying in support of the effort outside the district’s administration building in Oakland Monday afternoon, ahead of a virtual public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m.

Two Pittsburgh Public Schools board members plan to introduce such a resolution this month. Directors Devon Taliaferro and Pam Harbin are calling for a phased reduction in the number of officers in schools beginning in 2021

4:37 p.m. - Pennsylvania's prison decreased by nearly 4,000 since March 1

 

The state saw a significant decrease, according to the Department of Corrections, with 3,471 inmates released since March 1. A release from Gov. Tom Wolf said the population inside Pennsylvania prisons currently includes 41,738 inmates. 

 

COVID-19 health and safety measures were the main cause of the decline, officials said. The release process was expedited for many inmates and less than 1 percent of the state's prison population tested positive for the coronavirus. 

3:33 p.m. - PAT launches social distancing tool for riders

 

The Port Authority of Allegheny County has launched a new online tool meant to help riders optimize social distancing. The Room2Ride tool uses historical data to show how crowded different buses have been over the past two weeks. Because it uses historical data, the tool is meant to assist people during the planning phase; riders can already access real-time information about bus capacity via the agency’s TrueTime tool.

 

"As our region opens for business, we want to make sure that our riders are equipped with as much information as possible so they can make the best decisions for themselves," said Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman in a press release about the new offering.

 

The transit agency has limited the number of people who may ride each bus, in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19; 10 people may ride a 35-foot bus, 15 people may ride a 40-foot bus and 25 people may ride 60-foot buses and light rail cars.

3:26 p.m. - CMU faculty and staff pen letter about new senior fellowship offer

More than a hundred Carnegie Mellon University faculty and staff are raising concerns over a Senior Fellowship extended to former acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell. 

In a letter to school administrators, they call Grenell’s appointment a violation of the school’s community standards.

Faculty point to a “well-documented record of sexism and support for racist political movements” as cause for concern. Specifically, they cite Grenell’s past sexist Twitter posts aimed at prominent women. They also call attention to his willingness to meet with far-right and anti-Semitic political figures during his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Germany.

According to faculty, the appointment “discredits C-M-U as an institution of higher learning both by further marginalizing women and people of color in our community.”

Grenell left the Trump administration last month and CMU announced his appointment to the position with the Institute for Politics and Strategy on June ninth. CMU’s provost has pushed back on criticism of the appointment, calling it a matter of academic freedom.

2:19 p.m. - State House votes to make Republican Rep. Cutler its next speaker  

A seven-term Republican is the new speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. State representatives voted Monday for Rep. Bryan Cutler to succeed Speaker Mike Turzai, who resigned earlier this month. Cutler has been Republican whip and served as majority leader for nearly two years. He represents a rural district in southern Lancaster County.

12:41 p.m. – Allegheny Co. sees uptick in COVID cases

The number of positive COVID-19 cases spiked by 45, the biggest single-day increase since early May. The countywide total is now at 2,220 cases. While numbers are reported every 24 hours, they’re not always reflective of real time data. The number of deaths, however, remains at 178.

Statewide, COVID-19 cases increased by 456, bringing the total to 82,186. The number of deaths across Pennsylvania increased by three to 6,426.  

10:07 a.m. - T service returns to normal

Port Authority light rail services will return to its regular schedules today.  Safety precautions to protect employees and riders are still in place.  Single cars will operate throughout the day, so employees can keep up daily disinfecting protocols. Vehicle capacity restriction will remain in place for social distancing and face masks remain a requirement.

However, 32 bus routes are still on reduced schedules.  

7:50 a.m. - Activists to rally over unemployment compensation outside Toomey's office

The Philadelphia Unemployment Project is holding a rally today outside Senator Pat Toomey's office to demand unemployment compensation for those who haven't yet received it, and to acknowledge the racial discrepancies involving people who can't find work.

Organizer John Dodds says those higher jobless rates are connected to big losses of service-sector and hospitality jobs, areas where people of color are more likely to work.

Dobbs is urging lawmakers to extend the $600 a week federal unemployment payments until at least January. More than two-and-a-half million Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment since March. Black and Latin communities face even higher unemployment rates than for the state as a whole.  

 7:23 a.m. - Produce Terminal project to wrap up this fall

The revitalization of Pittsburgh’s historic Produce Terminal is expected to wrap up by mid-September. Developer McCaffery Interests spent $50 million to restore the building’s masonry and roof, put in all new windows and add ADA-accessible ramps to newly widened platforms. The first part of the terminal is now ready to accept tenants, the rest of the building will welcome businesses in the fall. The project manager says they are currently working on lease negotiations.