WESA Daily Briefing: June 24, 2020

Jun 24, 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.

 

6:30 p.m. - Local health experts offer differing opinions on increased coronavirus cases

The uptick in COVID-19 infections continues in Allegheny County with another 45 cases reported today.

UPMC’s Dr. Donald Yealy says instead of just the number of cases, people should also focus on the severity of illness.

“Systemwide, we’re at the lowest number of hospitalized COVID-19 since early April,” Yealy said.

People getting the infection are now skewing younger and healthier, Yealy added. And the more people who recover from COVID-19, the greater the community’s level of herd immunity.

“Infections have come and gone since the beginning of time,” Yealy said. “And they go for a great many of reasons. In part, because of recovery from very many people who have acquired the infection.”

But Dr. Debra Bogen, head of the Allegheny County Health Department, said herd immunity requires at least 60 percent of the population to have been infected.

“My goal is to keep the number of infections really low until we have both a good treatment, and an immunization that can protect our entire community,” Bogen said.

Also, just because young people generally survive COVID-19, doesn’t mean all of them will.

“It’s sort of an odds game, right?” Bogen said. “The more people who get it, the more you get the rare outcome of a bad outcome.”

5:05 p.m. - PPS Superintendent weighs in on removing police from schools

The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools has heard public comment for the past two days about the possible removal of district police officers from schools. Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet says the officers are necessary because other school staff are not equipped to break up fights and prevent students from bringing weapons into schools.

"Our guidance counselors and social workers are not trained in that area.  Our teachers are certainly not trained in that area, either, so who's actually gonna do it?"

Hamlet told The Confluence that the district would have to rely on city police to carry out arrests in schools if the district eliminated its own police officers.

4:07 p.m. - Bills move on police training, dealing with diverse people

Bills to give police departments information about an applicant’s disciplinary past and to train officers in how to interact with people of different racial and ethic backgrounds were approved unanimously on Wednesday by the state House.

The House voted after an emotional debate to require thorough background checks and to mandate that an applicant’s former department must provide information on the officer’s job history, including disciplinary actions.

One of the bills directs the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission to maintain an electronic database with details about why officers have left employment. Agencies would have to check the database before hiring an officer.

Read more about the measures.

3:06 p.m. – York County nursing home still seeing spike in COVID-19 cases

Manorcare Health Services in York Township is reporting a massive uptick in positive cases, with 55 patients positive for COVID-19, including two who died.

In addition, 40 employees tested positive, and have had to quarantine at home, according to spokeswoman Julie Beckert. At York city’s Department of Health, Director Barbara Kovacs says while she understands people are getting tired of lockdowns and social distancing, she urges people to stay vigilant.

“This isn’t over. And if we are complacent and start going about doing things the way we used to do them, it could get really bad,” Kovacs said. “It's gone on a long time, so I think people are getting a little restless. My concern is people stop social distancing and wearing the masks.”

Kovacs notes, in some instances nursing home outbreaks can be traced back to just one person. At Manorcare, Beckert declined to say what they’ve learned about the cause of this one. She added that the nursing home does a lot to educate employees about how to stay safe in the community.

2:44 p.m. - Kennywood cancels some holiday events

The amusement park said due to the late start of the regular season, Happy Hauntings and Phantom Fright Nights will not happen this fall. The Halloween-themed events typically happened toward the end of October.

2:08 p.m. - Department of Labor & Industry to host virtual town hall

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry will host a live virtual town hall Thursday afternoon from 1 to 2 p.m. Department officials will provide residents with information about the state’s regular unemployment compensation program and other new COVID-19-related benefits programs.

Attendees will also be able to ask direct questions of unemployment compensation experts.

The town hall will be live-streamed at http://access.live/PALabor.

12:59 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

Allegheny County saw another spike in COVID-19 cases, with officials reporting 45 new positive cases Wednesday. The total number of positive cases is now at 2,284. The number of deaths increased by five to 184.

Statewide, the number of positive cases increased by 495 to 83,191. The number of deaths increased by 54 to 6,515.  

11:16 a.m. - Cultural Trust cancels remaining Broadway shows

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust today announced the cancellation or postponement of its two remaining scheduled touring Broadway shows this calendar year at the Benedum Center. That includes September’s local premiere of “Hadestown,” the multiple Tony-winner whose national tour has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Trust also cited factors including state rules limiting gatherings during the pandemic to 250 people, and the health and safety of performers and staff whose jobs would require them to work in close physical proximity to one another.

The news follows last week’s announcement that Pittsburgh Dance Council would delay its season, which usually begins in September, until January. The Trust has also canceled September's Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District. Other major local arts groups, including Pittsburgh Symphony, Pittsburgh Opera, and Pittsburgh Public Theater, have not announced any changes to their fall schedules.

10:14 a.m. – GNC files for bankruptcy

Pittsburgh-based vitamin and supplement chain GNC has filed for bankruptcy. CNN Business reports the company, “has been saddled with nearly $1 billion of debt and has faced declining sales at its brick-and-mortar locations since before the pandemic.”

On Twitter Wednesday, GNC said its stores and website will remain open.  

7:23 a.m. - City suspends algorithim-driven policing

The city of Pittsburgh has suspended use of an algorithm-driven policing program that predicted hot spots of criminal activity. The model only used crime offense data for crimes with victims and 911 calls for service.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports the tool came from a partnership between CMU, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and Pittsburgh's Departments of Innovation and Performance, and Public Safety. It is unclear the extent to which the program was used, and was shut down due to concerns of potential racial bias.

According to Mayor Bill Peduto, any new data-driven programs will be used to deploy social services.