WESA Daily Briefing: September 3, 2020

Sep 3, 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.

 

4:35 p.m. - Teen spreads virus to more than 40 people 

One teen in Allegheny County with COVID-19 spread the infection to more than forty people over two weeks. 

The case was discussed during an Allegheny County Board of Health meeting this week to highlight the risks of infection for children and young adults. Health Department director Dr. Debra Bogen says that while many children can handle the infection well, it’s still a risk.

“Young people can get very sick, although in much smaller numbers than if you were older,” Bogen said.  

Bogen says 14 young people have been hospitalized in the county, including two who spent time in the intensive care unit. According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are less likely to spread COVID-19 to other children, but can still pass it to adults. 

UPMC’s Dr. Megan Culler Freeman, an infectious disease fellow at UPMC Children’s Hospital, said in a statement that “teens are a special population” because the virus manifests relatively mildly and with a usually low hospitalization rate. 

However, “this puts them in a position to easily spread the virus to other people if they are still feeling well enough to be out in the community,” Freeman wrote. 

Freeman said the best way to prevent the spread is to follow recommended safety protocols: wear a mask, wash your hands and stay six feet apart.  

4:18 p.m. - Health care system says COVID-19 patients are faring better than months ago

UPMC reports that its COVID-19 patients are experiencing better outcomes than what was seen at the start of the pandemic, but it’s not clear why.

UPMC says hospitalizations have increased since the spring, which makes sense as there is more virus circulating in the community.

But the medical system also reports that patients are spending less time in the hospital, are less likely to need intensive care or be put on ventilators, and are less likely to die. That’s even though current patients are similar in age and levels of health when compared those who were hospitalized in the spring.

It’s possible these improvements are due to better treatments, more effective clinical protocols and various public health inventions. It’s also plausible that the virus is becoming less deadly, though the evidence of this is limited.

Dr. Donald Yealy is UPMC’s senior medical director.

“It’s impossible to separate what we do as humans from what the virus does. It depends on us for propagation and for illness,” Yealy said.

Despite better these outcomes, Yealy says it’s not time to go back to normal, and people must still wear masks.

3:02 p.m. - A state House effort to overturn Gov. Tom Wolf's emergency authority fails

Republicans have been leading a weeks-long effort to limit or rescind the orders and declarations the Wolf administration put in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Wolf vetoed a formal resolution to do so in July.

If it had been successfully overturned, Pennsylvania could have been disqualified from federal disaster money.

Democratic Rep. Mike Zabel of Delaware County spoke against the override attempt, apologizing to the families of those who have died during the pandemic.

"I am sorry that you have to hear in a legislature someone tell you that this crisis is over,” Zabel said. “It is very much not, and it is our responsibility as a legislature to help keep Pennsylvanians safe."

A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll showed 54 percent of respondents approve of how the governor has handled the pandemic.

3:29 p.m. - Federal agents search Brighton, Mt. Lebanon rehabilitation facilities

Federal agents searched two area nursing homes with a history of major coronavirus outbreaks this  morning. The Post-Gazette reports Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County, as well as at the Mount Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center were the focus of the probe. More than 330 residents at Brighton tested positive for the virus since the end of march. The U.S. Attorney's office didn't give more information about the searches. 

Read more here.
3:21 p.m. - Allegheny County reports 105 new COVID-19 cases

The Health Department said the new cases were out of 1,338 test results. The median age of cases was 29 years old. Since March 14, there have been 10,549 cases of the coronavirus in Allegheny County.

2:47 p.m. - Local abandoned mine land projects receive $25 million from the state

Abandoned mine land restoration projects in Allegheny and other western Pennsylvania counties are getting $25 million in new state funding.  The money will allow the Gladden acid-mine drainage treatment plant in South Fayette Township to remove nearly 700 pounds per day of iron pollution from Millers Run and Chartiers Creek.  The plant will provide clean water for streams where fish are stocked.  More information on other projects is available at the Department of Environmental Protection's website.

2:43 p.m. - Latest COVID numbers

Statewide, the Department of Health reported 1,160 new cases across Pennsylvania. There have been 136,711 cases since the pandemic began.
 

2:02 p.m. - State Department of Health releases new testing guidance for nursing homes

The Pennsylvania Department of Health released new guidance for testing asymptomatic nursing home residents and staff today.

 

The guidelines are directly linked to the degree of COVID-19 transmission in a given community. For example, asymptomatic staff in counties with low transmission activity should be tested every four weeks. But in counties with substantial spread, staff should be tested twice a week.

 

“The prevalence of cases in nursing homes is directly proportional to the prevalence of cases in the county in which they're located,” said State Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

 

Levine says staff and residents experiencing symptoms should be tested immediately.

 

The State of Pennsylvania will allow nursing home residents access to “compassionate caregivers,” provided they meet certain criteria.

 

A “compassionate caregiver” can be a family member, friend or other individual whose presence helps maintain or improve a resident’s mental well-being.

 

“We have heard from many stakeholders, from families and others about how the pandemic has affected the emotional and mental health of the residents of nursing homes, which has a significant impact on their physical health,” Levine said.

 

Caregivers must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous seven days, undergo a temperature screening and wear a mask while at the facility.

12:11 p.m. -Temple University moves classes online

Temple University has announced that the majority of classes will shift online through the end of the semester because of rising numbers of coronavirus cases. School officials said in an emailed statement Thursday that the university said they had tried in-person classes because students had overwhelmingly expressed a preference to come back to campus. But after talking to city health officials, the university’s leadership decided to shift about 95 percent of classes online. The cases at Temple have been the cause of a recent uptick in cases recorded at the city. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said many students testing positive live off campus.  

11:09 a.m. - PLCB reports record income

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reported record net income yesterday despite the first annual drop in sales in almost 30 years. 

The PLCB recorded a surplus of more than $208 million, about 9 percent higher than the last fiscal year and $23.6 million more than the PLCB's contribution to the General Fund. The gain is due mostly to decreased operating expenses related to pensions and retirement benefit costs, according to the agency. 

7:56 a.m. - Trump to visit Latrobe today

President Trump is scheduled to make a campaign stop tonight at 7 p.m. at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden visited Pittsburgh on Monday and plans to return to western Pennsylvania next Friday. 

Biden is leading Trump by only 4 points among registered voters in the state, according to new polling from Monmouth University. The race has tightened since the school's previous survey. 

When Monmouth polled Pennsylvania in July, Biden led by 13 points. Nobody expected that to be the final result – but it’s still a big drop for Democrats, one driven partly by weaker support among voters under the age of 50, and softening support among people of color. 

The poll is the first statewide survey since the party conventions. Republicans featured a number of Black speakers, even as the GOP stoked fears of urban violence and supposed threats to the suburban way of life. Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray says the new numbers show the GOP has planted doubt in some voters’ minds – at least for now.