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LIVE BLOG: Coronavirus In Pittsburgh, March 23-29

News on the coronavirus pandemic, including the responses of local governments, health departments, hospital systems, schools and other institutions. For information from the previous week, click here

For information the week of March 30 - April 3, click here.

Helpful coronavirus links:

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.



Sunday, March 29, 2020

5:13 p.m. - Diocese confirms coronavirus diagnosis of area priest; church lockdown in effect 

The Pittsburgh Diocese has confirmed that one of two priests exposed to the coronavirus has indeed tested positive for the disease. Father Adam Potter, a parochial vicar in Pittsburgh and the Chaplain of Oakland Catholic High School, received a positive test result Sunday. The diocese announced Saturday that Potter and another priest, Father Thomas Gramc, had been exposed to someone with the virus and were showing “mild symptoms” of the illness. Father Gramc, who was the chaplain for Seton La Salle High School, is still awaiting results of his test.

The diocese noted that neither priest had had contact with students or school faculty since the schools were closed over two weeks ago. They and other members of their clergy teams are in 14-day quarantines. Bishop David Zubik shuttered church buildings and suspended sacraments Saturday as a result of concerns about the virus’ spread within the church.

4:22 p.m. - Inmate at SCI Phoenix tests positive for COVID-19

The state Department of Corrections said the inmate, who it said has "underlying health conditions," tested positive for the novel coronavirus and has been isolated at the prison's infirmary. 

SCI Phoenix, located in Montgomery County, reportedly has special isolation rooms and inmates near the patient are under quarantine. Staff and inmates have also been given protective equipment. The prison has also extensively been cleaned, according to DOC Secretary John Wetzel.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union said it had heard about a diagnosis at the facility, but walked back that claim, saying it had “since learned  that the prisoner in question has not been tested but is exhibiting the symptoms of the virus.”

12:55 p.m. - State posts biggest one-day jump in new coronavirus cases so far 

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported another 643 positive test results for the coronavirus Sunday. That brings the state’s total to 3,394 cases, with at least one case in 58 of its 67 counties.

The state also reported four new deaths among those who tested positive, bringing the death toll to 38 people.

Sunday’s total was the biggest one-day jump since the state began tracking cases, and overall daily case counts have roughly doubled since Wednesday.

“Our notable increase in cases over the past week indicates we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” said Secretary of Health Rachel Levine. She urged Pennsylvanians to stay home and maintain a “social distance” from others to limit the spread of the disease.

In a daily press briefing, Levine said that “it takes weeks for social distancing to work” and show up in test numbers. “We need to see a sustained plateau [of new test results] and then a decrease. And that will show that our efforts are succeeding.”

11:02 a.m. - Allegheny County reports 265 positive cases of COVID-19

The Allegheny County Health Department says there are 265 confirmed cases of coronavirus, a 21 percent increase from Saturday. Two county residents have died so far from the virus, and 35 are hospitalized -- up from 31 the day before. Since Thursday, the daily number of new cases has averaged in the mid-40s.


Credit Allegheny County

10:16 a.m. - Wolf requests major disaster declaration from federal government

The Pennsylvania governor asked President Donald Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the declaration to unlock what he calls "resources needed to respond to the virus." 

The state is already eligible for some emergency assistance through the nationwide emergency disaster proclamation, but the "major" declaration would provide Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program, and Statewide Hazard Mitigation.

In Wolf's letter to Trump, he said Pennsylvania is still recovering from severe storms and flooding in 2016 and 2018, as well as flash floods last year, and the declaration would provide needed resources.

Credit Matt Rourke / AP

9:53 a.m. — Toomey backs "Masks4All" camapaign in bid to limit virus spread

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for Americans to wear masks in public as a means of reducing the spread of coronavirus. In social-media posts Saturday, Toomey said that in addition to following “stay in place” restrictions and keeping distance from others, “We also could be wearing just a homemade mask, or even just a bandana. Something that we can put over or nose and mouth.”

Toomey’s call comes amid increased discussion of whether the United States should join other nations in encouraging use of the masks. The masks, which experts say can be effective at screening out droplets that contain the virus,  have been deployed in various parts of East Asia where coronavirus has largely been controlled. Some health experts, including the World Health Organization and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, originally urged Americans not to purchase masks – at least partly due to concern that the masks should be prioritized for healthcare workers. But those recommendations have come under increased criticism, and a “#masks4all” social-media campaign has taken root online.

The idea is not new: In 2006, for example, University of Pittsburgh researchers found a mask made from t-shirt material could have some effectiveness in reducing disease transmission.

In joining the #masks4all campaign, Toomey appears to be among the earliest adopters of the approach among elected officials. He stressed that medical workers did need higher-end masks like the N95. But experts have said even simple bandanas or homemade masks could have a positive impact. DIY crafters and hospitals have posted designs online, though experts stress that care should be taken handling the mask, since there can be transmission of the coronavirus when hands touch the face.

“Masks for all – it’s a great idea,” said Toomey.

6:49 a.m. — Pittsburgh Diocese shutters church buildings, suspends sacraments

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has locked down its churches and suspended sacraments including marriage, funerals, and baptisms as two priests reported contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Adam Potter and Thomas Gramc are parochial vicars in Pittsburgh and the South Hills respectively. While neither have received test results back, the diocese says both have shown mild symptoms of the virus. They and members of their clergy teams are now in isolation.

“My fear is that these two situations could be replicated in other parishes,” wrote Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik in a letter Saturday.

Masses within the diocese had already been canceled, replaced by livestreamed ceremonies. The new order goes further, shuttering all church buildings and suspending sacraments like weddings and baptisms. Confession “must also be suspended in all its forms: in church buildnigs, outside of church buildings, in parking lots, etc.,” Zubik wrote.

Zubik called the decision to suspend such activites "excruciating” but said, “We must work hard to protect the safety of our people. In reality, this is a significant Pro-Life issue at the time of this serious pandemic.”

Saturday, March 28, 2020

4:12 p.m. — Staff member at PPS Brookline K-8 positive for COVID-19

Pittsburgh Public Schools alerted families on Saturday that while the employee was reportedly exposed outside of school, the individual was at the school during the first week of closure. The school has been closed for grab-and-go meals since March 18 because of a separate potential exposure.

3:17 p.m. — Pennsylvania receives waiver to help with food distribution

A recently-approved waiver from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will allow Pennsylvania to provide more food at hundreds of locations across the state for those impacted by statewide closures. The waiver temporarily waives the need to verify household eligibility to receive food from food banks, food pantries, and pop-up sites.

Governor Wolf's office announced Saturday that the approval also allows the department to more efficiently distribute a wide variety of foods – including meats, vegetables, fruits, canned goods, cereal, rice, pasta, eggs – to those most affected by the closure of non-life sustaining businesses in the state.

1:45 p.m. — PA health secretary says the state has the protective equipment it needs as long as people stay home

Seventy-five percent of the 4,000 ventilators across Pennsylvania are currently available if needed, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Saturday during a news briefing. She said 40 percent of the 3,400 ICU beds across the state were also available. 

Levine said models that predict the need of protective equipment comes down to assumptions made about how quickly the virus will spread.

“If we are able to successfully prevent and mitigate the steep rise of cases, the peak of cases, then we will certainly have enough capability in our health care system to deal with the small wave as opposed to the very large wave,” she said. 

She again urged Pennsylvanian’s to stay at home and only leave if it’s absolutely necessary.  The state announced 533 new cases Saturday. Levine said she is hopeful and optimistic about limiting the spread thanks to closures and stay in place orders. 

“I know it is not easy, but [staying home] is truly our most important job right now,” she said.

Governor Tom Wolf also said that he is working with representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to determine how much funding Pennsylvania will receive from the stimulus package. He said he believes state and local governments will get somewhere around $5 billion of the $2 trillion package.

12:36 p.m. — 'Stay at Home' order expanded to Beaver and Washington counties

Governor Tom Wolf added the two southwestern Pennsylvania counties to the list on Saturday; the order takes effect at 8 p.m. this evening. A total of 22 counties are now under the order, which limits most travel to "essential" tasks such as shopping for groceries, working at physical locations of businesses deemed "life-sustaining," and exercise.  

12:30 p.m. — Coronavirus continues to spread in southwestern Pennsylvania

In addition to Allegheny County reporting 219 positive cases and 2 deaths, Butler County is reporting 41 cases and 2 deaths, Westmoreland has 41 cases, Washington has 23, Beaver has 22, Fayette has 10, Greene has 6, Lawrence has 8, Armstrong has 2, Indiana has 2, Somerset has 2, and Cambria has 1. Click here for a state map.

12:05 p.m. — Pennsylvania reports total of 2,751 positive cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported an additional 533 positive cases on Saturday. That's a similar increase in new cases reported on Friday (531) and Thursday (560). However, testing has declined over the past two days. On Thursday, the state reported 5,808 new tests conducted; that dropped to 5,106 on Friday, and 4,771 today. 


Credit 90.5 WESA

11 a.m. — Allegheny County reports 219 positive cases of COVID-19

The county's total positive cases increased 39 percent since yesterday, when the Allegheny County Health Department reported 158 positive cases. A total of 31 individuals have been hospitalized, and two have died.


Credit Allegheny County


9:25 a.m. — Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra posting archival concerts online

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra kicked off its new "Extraordinary Measures" concert series last night. The first performance in the weekly curated series, a May 2016 performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, is free to access on the symphony’s website for 45 days. Music director Manfred Honeck hosts the series as a way to continue to provide music to the community while Heinz Hall is closed.


The symphony is also offering free educational videos for young children and videos encouraging middle and high school students to continue practicing their instruments.

Friday, March 27, 2020

6:46 p.m. - PennDOT extends expiration date on additional documents

The state agency said the expiration dates for drivers licenses, IDs, learner's permits, persons with disability placards, vehicle registrations and safety and emissions inspections have been extended while people are advised to stay at home. 



5:55 p.m. - Trump signs $2 trillion economic recovery package

The package will offer relief to state and local governments, individuals, small and large businesses, and hospitals affected by the coronavirus crisis.

The bipartisan legislation, known as the CARES Act, is the third aid package from Congress this month to address the growing pandemic.

This relief package includes direct payments to Americans, an aggressive expansion of unemployment insurance and billions in business loans and aid to hospitals.

5:27 p.m. - Garbage collection will continue Saturday

The city announced collection will happen throughout Saturday after pick-ups were suspended due to refuse workers' concerns over protections from COVID-19. The Department of Public Works asked residents to make sure "their refuse is properly bagged with all bags fully tied."

Credit Department of Public Works


5:10 p.m. - County jail employee tests positive for COVID-19

The Allegheny County Jail says the employee "did not provide critical care to inmates at the jail" and has been off of work since last week. There are no other positive cases at the jail, the statement read, and anyone with access to the facility is being screened for symptoms of the new coronavirus.

As of Friday afternoon, 545 inmates were approved for release from the jail. 


4:32 p.m. - Republican Congressman Mike Kelly tests positive for COVID-19

Kelly said he began having flu-like symptoms earlier this week, and got a test at a drive-through site. Kelly said in a statement that he stayed at home in his district while he waited for his results.


“My symptoms remain mild, and I will serve the 16th district from home until I fully recover,” he said.



He did not go back to Washington DC to vote on the multi-trillion dollar aid package the House passed Friday, but had he been present, he would have voted for it. Kelly represents Northwestern Pennsylvania, his district stretches from Butler to Erie counties.


4:25 p.m. - Pitt to delivery summer courses remotely

The University of Pittsburgh said in a release that it would "have certainly liked to return to in-person classes," but decided that under the circumstances it would make more sense to continue virtual learning. Some exceptions may be made for clinical or field experiences. 

3:17 p.m. - Online tool helps essential workers find child care

The state Department of Human Services launched the tool Friday to connect parents with providers who have been issued waivers to remain open. The centers are being asked to only care for children of workers whose jobs have been deemed "life-sustaining." 

The tool, which includes a map of locations, can be found here

2:16 p.m.  Governor expands "stay at home" order

Gov. Tom Wolf expanded the "stay at home" order to nine more counties to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The order now includes Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

1:40 p.m.  Residents at community living center test positive for COVID-19

Kane Community Living Centers announced that two residents of the Glen Hazel facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Allegheny County says the individuals were tested due to unexplained fevers and are now in isolation.

The county says the facility will also be testing patients whose rooms are nearby the two positive residents; others will be screened for fevers at each shift change. Staff will be monitored for symptoms and potential COVID-19 exposures.

Earlier this week, Kane said a Glen Hazel staff member who did not have direct contact with residents had also tested positive.

12:34 p.m.  Shuttered reform school eyed as medical overflow facility

Credit Matt Rourke / AP

  A shuttered reform school for boys in suburban Philadelphia is expected to be used as a medical overflow facility as coronavirus cases grow and hospitals are pressed for space. The Glen Mills School has medical and dental facilities, an air field, a generator and an 85,000 square-foot athletic facility that could be used as an overflow space for patients from hospitals and other health care facilities. State officials say the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, along with federal and local government agencies, is assessing a number of sites across the state to become housing or medical facilities. It says no plans or agreements have been finalized. 

12:12 p.m.  Statewide COVID-19 cases top 2,200

State Department of Health officials report the current number of COVID-19 cases has reached 2,218 -- an increase of 531 from the previous day. The state also says there have been six new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 22. 

11:04 a.m.  158 positive cases in Allegheny County

The Allegheny County Health Department released the latest COVID-19 case count and there are currently 158 positive cases. The number of deaths remains at two and there have been 25 hospitaliztions to date. 

The also released the follow information regarding the age breakdown of those who tested positive:

00-04 – 1 (less than 1%)
05-12 – 1 (less than 1%)
13-18 – 3 (less than 1%)
19-24 – 22 (13%)
25-49 – 66 (41%)
50-64 – 41 (25%)
65+ - 24 (15%)

9:44 a.m.  REAL ID enforcement postponed

The Department of Homeland Security says it has pushed back the enforcement date for REAL IDs from Oct. 1, 2020 to Oct. 1, 2021. 

"We are very pleased that the Department of Homeland Security has listened to our concerns, as well as the concerns from our fellow states regarding the need for a postponement on REAL ID enforcement in the midst of this national emergency," said PennDOT Acting Secretary Yassmin Gramian.

9:08 a.m. — How coronavirus affects people using food stamps

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, many people order groceries online and have them delivered, or pick them at the curb to practice social distancing. But that's not possible for most people on food stamps. Pennsylvania is among 45 states where the federal government does not permit people to use food stamps for online purchases. Activists say that's a special concern for the sick and elderly, whose health may be at risk in a crowded grocery store.

8:07 a.m.  Mine workers ask for emergency rules

The United Mine Workers of America is asking the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue emergency rules to curb the spread of COVID-19 inside coal mines. Phil Smith of the United Mine Workers Association says miners should have access to sanitizer and protective gear like face masks and gloves.

"What we're seeing out there is while some companies are trying to do the right thing, there is no consistent standard in place."

Smith says miners are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because they suffer higher rates of respiratory problems like Black Lung Disease.

7:48 a.m.  Sheetz gives employees $3/hour raises

The Sheetz convenience store chain is giving hourly pay raises of $3 to roughly 17,000 workers in its stores, the company announced Wednesday in response to the coronavirus crisis. It's one of the most aggressive moves yet by companies that are boosting pay to retain, attract and motivate employees, reports NPR's Bill Chappell.

Giant Eagle also announced it would give out $10 million in bonus pay to employees. Target is also paying an extra $2, until at least May 2.

7:31 a.m.  A sweet moment on the North Side

Residents of the Mexican War Streets stood outside their homes last night and sang together. Katie Blackley captured the sweet moment.



Thursday, March 26, 2020

7:14 p.m. - Council does not pass bill to release inmates from county jail

An emergency bill that would have mandated the release of inmates from the Allegheny County Jail died in a county council committee Thursday evening. The measure aimed to limit the spread of coronavirus behind bars. But most councilors concluded that they didn't have the authority to interfere with the court orders that detain people at the jail. Council is expected to consider a non-binding motion that encourages the courts to continue efforts to free as many jail inmates as possible.

6:23 p.m. - County data shows tests by age group

1,614 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Allegheny County and most of those tests were performed over the last week according to the County Health Department. Of those tested, 133 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus and 20 of those cases resulted in hospitalizations. The majority of those hospitalized are 50 and older, but according to data released from the County Health Department Thursday, most of the cases fall in the age bracket 25 – 49.


5:25 p.m. - About 380,000 Pennsyvlania have filed new unemployment claims

The numbers are from the last week alone, according to new federal labor data released today. It's shattered previous records and is right in line with every other state enforcing widespread shutdowns to try and slow down the spread of coronavirus.


But Chris Briem, a regional economist with the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research, says it's not all bad news.


"I think one of the more remarkable things is that Pennsylvania is reporting one of the largest numbers in new claims in unemployment, and I think that might be a reflection of the fact that they are able to get folks into the system better than other states."


Among the hardest-hit industries are food service, construction, education, manufacturing and retail. Briem says some sectors are likely to grow, like hiring at grocery stores and at regional health systems, but it won't be nearly enough to make up for so many jobs lost. About 650,000 thousand people have filed statewide since the first wave of businesses closed earlier this month.


More detailed state-level data is expected out April 8.

3:11 p.m. - Attorney visits to jail suspended

Allegheny County officials said lawyers will no longer be permitted at the county jail "for the protection of those incarcerated." Attorneys can meet with their clients by telephone and those calls will not be monitored or recorded. 


Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

2:22 p.m.  Peduto returns to his office

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto returned to his office this week after a precautionary self-quarantine, during which he said he suffered no symptoms.

"We've done a better job than many and as good a job as most," Peduto said Wednesday of collaborative efforts with the other 129 municipalities in Allegheny County. He told 90.5 WESA’s The Confluence that combatting the coronavirus “really can't be done without a concentrated statewide effort."

Peduto said state, county and city officials are making strides at procuring enough masks for health care professionals, but ventilators have been harder to come by. Some older models may be able to be refurbished, he said, and officials are exploring what it would take to convert property owned by the city, universities and hospital systems into emergency medical space, should the need arise.

Peduto said he does not support an economic restart by Easter, which President Donald Trump suggested earlier this week.

Hear more from Peduto in his first hours back Downtown here.

12:06 p.m.  More than 500 additional cases statewide

The state Department of Health released the latest numbers, saying 560 additional COVID-19 cases have been confirmed since yesterday. That brings the statewide total to 1,687 cases in 48 counties. Five additional deaths were also reported, bringing the statewide total to 16. 

11:14 a.m.  45 more positive COVID-19 cases reported in Allegheny Co.

There are now 133 positive cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County. Of those cases, 20 have been hospitalized. The number of deaths remains at two.

Officials added, "The department continues to conduct contact tracing with those who have tested positive, making recommendations for self-quarantine as appropriate. Residents are encouraged to comply with the Governor’s stay-at-home order in order to slow the spread of the virus in our community."

9:53 a.m.  Pennsylvanians continue to file unemployment claims at staggering rates

Pennsylvanians filed about 650,000 unemployment compensation claims over the past 11 days as the coronavirus has spread and thousands of businesses closed or laid off employees. That's according to information released Thursday. The single highest day was Friday, when more than 90,000 people filed claims. That was the day after Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled an order for “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus. In the seven days through Saturday, Pennsylvanians filed about 379,000 claims, smashing the record for an entire week in the state. In the four days since then, Pennsylvanians have filed another 271,000. 

Here's more on knowing if you qualify for unemployment due to coronavirus.

8:15 a.m.  How rural hospitals are affected by COVID-19

Experts say that rural Pennsylvania health systems will likely be among the last in the state to receive additional N-95 masks, ventilators and other supplies that are critical to caring for patients with COVID-19. That’s because the current need is greatest in more populated communities. So while small towns may have more time to prepare for COVID-19, some rural health systems are concerned they may not be properly equipped when a surge hits.

7:40 a.m.  Don't dash for cash

Toilet tissue isn't the only paper product that Americans are hoarding these days. Paper money is also in high demand, NPR reports.

Banks are seeing more cash withdrawals as nervous customers try to protect themselves from the uncertainty of the coronavirus clampdown.

There are reports — especially from wealthy neighborhoods — of people pulling tens of thousands of dollars out of their bank accounts. 

While stocking your pantry with pasta and canned goods may provide some measure of security, officials say there are risks to keeping too much cash on hand.

7:20 a.m.  State police issue warnings to business owners

The Pennsylvania State Police have issued 44 warnings - but no formal penalties - to businesses who haven't complied with Governor Wolf's shut-down order earlier this week.  State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski says officers are acting with restraint as they enforce the order.

"They realize this is a tough time for business owners. Nobody is looking to get anybody unnecessarily involved in the legal system.”

Tarkowski says if businesses don’t comply, authorities will impose escalating penalties that could lead to jail time.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

6:39 p.m.  State suspends requirements for inactive/retired doctors, nurses and other medical professionals

The Department of State already waived other rules for nurses, pharmacies and telemedicine during the pandemic.

Now it’s announced medical professionals can temporarily reactivate their licenses without paying the typical fees or completing continuing education requirements.

Doctors, physician assistants, respiratory therapists and pharmacists can reactivate if they’ve been inactive or retired for four years or less.

It’s five years for nurses.

6:03 p.m.  Pennsylvania school districts encouraged to teach remotely

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera is “strongly encouraging” school districts to find ways to teach students while schools across the state are shut down.

Some have already begun to do so while others, including both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, have resisted because of equity concerns. Districts are worried about meeting the needs of students with disabilities, English language learners, and those who don’t have access to the internet or devices needed for online learning.

5:31 p.m.  Hand-sanitizer exposures up at a poison control centers, but effects are mild

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said hand sanitizer-related exposures are up more than 80 percent, compared to this time last year, at poison control centers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the state’s two largest cities.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
A bottle of Purell hand sanitizer sits on a desk in a mostly-empty Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

This may not be surprising. Nationwide there’s a shortage of hand sanitizer now that people are trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus by frequently cleaning their hands.

Pittsburgh’s center reports 75 percent of hand sanitizer-related calls involve children, the majority age five or younger.

5:02 p.m.  Wolf announces funding for small businesses impacted by COVID-19

The administration said a new program under the Pennsylvania INdustrial Development Authorit's Small Business First Fund called the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program will help businesses grants of up to $100,000. Funds are expected to be available next week and companies can apply here.

4:22 p.m.  Lawmakers vote to delay Pennsylvania primary

Pennsylvania lawmakers voted Wednesday to delay the state's primary election by five weeks to June 2, potentially past the spike of the state's spreading coronavirus cases.

The measure passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled state Legislature on Wednesday and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said he will sign it.

As a result, Pennsylvania will join more than 10 states in delaying primaries.

2:52 p.m.  Wolf extends stay-at-home order to Lehigh and Northampton counties

Gov. Tom Wolf's office said the order will take effect at 8 p.m. for the two counties, home to more than 670,000 people.

Before Wednesday, Wolf's orders covered eight counties, including Philadelphia, Allegheny County and Philadelphia's four heavily populated suburban counties. The 10 counties account for half of Pennsylvania's 12.8 million residents.

2:08 p.m.  Seattle public radio station won't air White House briefings live

The station said via Twitter that it would not air the briefings live "due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time."

1:06 p.m.  First responders worry about equipment shortages

Credit Keith Srakocic / AP

  Earlier this week, Maggie's Farm Rum Distillery donated 70 gallons of hand sanitizer to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. And while leaders are glad to have the help, they're afraid they'll need more of it down the road  in addition to items like N-95 face masks, which are in demand by hospitals and other first responders around the country.

12:08 p.m.  Statewide COVID-19 cases pass 1,100

Pennsylvania Department of Health officials report 276 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases across the state, bringing the total to 1,127 in 44 counties. There have now been 11 coronavirus-related deaths statewide.

“Our notable increase in cases over the past few days indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Pennsylvanians have a very important job right now: stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We have seen case counts continue to increase and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home.”

More than 11,000 people have tested negative so far.

11:44 a.m.  Hundreds of thousands file for unemployment

More than 400,000 Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment compensation benefits last week amid a tidal wave of coronavirus-related business shutdowns, eclipsing the high-point during the recession a decade ago, the state's top organized labor leader said Wednesday.

Even before the shutdown, unemployment compensation filings in Pennsylvania and many other states had skyrocketed, underscoring how many businesses had already closed or shed workers.

A review of weekly data going back to 1987 shows a high-point of 61,000 in early 2010, when the effects of the Great Recession were taking hold.

11:34 a.m.  County Council delays action on emergency jail-release measure

Allegheny County Council voted 9-5 Tuesday not to fast-track emergency legislation that seeks to slash the number of inmates at the county jail. The bill, which aims to limit transmission of coronavirus behind bars, will instead go to council’s public safety committee for review. The committee is scheduled to review the bill Thursday. A central question is whether the council has authority to order the release of inmates as a health and safety measure. Some councilors say only the courts have such power.

All but two of council’s 15 members called into the body’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, in an effort to avoid exposure to the virus. In addition to taking up the jail-release proposal, they heard concerns from Allegheny Controller Chelsa Wagner that some county workers have not been able to work from home or take time off despite the threat of COVID-19. Wagner said she has received private complaints from workers across government that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's administration is insisting employees report to work. County officials say they've made it easier for workers to take time off, but add government services are necessary and should be kept open.
11:22 a.m.  County sees biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 cases

Allegheny County released the latest count of COVID-19 cases Wednesday, reporting 88 cases  an increase of 30 from the day before, making it the largest singe-day jump in cases so far. There have been two deaths so far. County officials also released a breakdown of cases by age. 

10:48 a.m.  Senate reaches $2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue package

Senate leaders have struck a historic deal to inject the U.S. economy with about $2 trillion in aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic, NPR reports.

Among the deal's key provisions:

  • The plan will rush financial assistance to Americans with direct checks to households in the middle class and in lower income levels, McConnell said. Previously, Republicans said this would amount to $1,200 to most American adults, among other payments.
  • An extended unemployment insurance program that will extend benefits to laid-off workers that will allow for four months of full pay rather than the usual three months for most. It will also raise the maximum unemployment insurance benefit by $600. It will apply to traditional workers for small and large businesses as well as those who are self-employed and workers in the gig economy. This was a key Democratic initiative, which Schumer dubbed "unemployment insurance on steroids."
  • More than $150 billion for the health care system, including funding for hospitals, research, treatment and the Strategic National Stockpile to raise supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment. Of that, $100 billion will go to hospitals and the health system and $1 billion to the Indian Health Service.
  • $150 billion to state and local governments to address spending shortages related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • $350 billion for small businesses impacted by the pandemic in the form of loans; some of those loans could be forgiven.

10:15 a.m.  Measure to delay primary could end up on governor's desk today

A measure to delay Pennsylvania's primary election by five weeks, potentially past the spike of the state's spreading coronavirus cases, could fly through both chambers of the state Legislature to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk on Wednesday.

9:05 a.m.  Social distancing scoreboard


Want to know how Pittsburgh ranks with social distancing? Unacast has this interactive social distancing scoreboard. You can also see the top and bottom states and counties for social distancing. Check it out here

8:42 a.m.  Pitt opens residence hall to UPMC staff

The University of Pittsburgh has opened a residence hall to UPMC medical staff. A university spokesman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Lothrop Hall in Oakland had been "cleaned and sanitized, and several area healthcare workers have taken up residence." The facility can house up to 723 people.The school's main campus will soon provide only essential functions such as housing and carry-out meals for students who can't go home, according to officials.
8:25 a.m. — Port Authority goes free for cash customers

Cash customers on Port Authority buses ride for free starting today, as the Authority begins service cutbacks on buses and trolleys amid the coronavirus outbreak. About 25 percent of trips have been eliminated, mostly during rush hour. The Authority is also requiring all passengers to board via the rear door. Ramps and priority seating will be available for disabled passengers. Officials say passengers on all vehicles should seat themselves away from conductors and other riders.

7:51 a.m.  Amazon employees test positive for COVID-19

Workers in at least eight Amazon warehouses across the country have tested positive for coronavirus, just as the e-commerce giant ramps up hiring to meet surging online sales.

In recent days, warehouse workers at two separate sites in New York City, in Staten Island and Queens, in addition to employees at warehouses in Jacksonville, Fla.Oklahoma CityBrownstown, Mich.Katy, Tex.Wallingford, Conn. and Shepherdsville, Ky., have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to media reports and Amazon officials.

In response, Amazon temporarily closed down facilities in some cases in order for the centers to be sanitized.

7:08 a.m.  Airport delaying terminal upgrade project

Pittsburgh International Airport is delaying its $1.1 billion terminal project due to the coronavirus pandemic. The project had been slated for a spring groundbreaking.

Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis told 90.5 WESA's The Confluence that the project would struggle to raise funding in a volatile U.S. stock market, especially as the aviation industry struggles worldwide.

"We are going to see some delays," she said by phone Tuesday. "We don't know what they look like yet, but we're on top of the situation. In the meantime, we are continuing with design and we are continuing to get ready."

Cassotis said hundreds of employees are still working at the airport, which remains open to the public. Passenger traffic nationwide is at record lows. Hear more from Cassotis on The Confluence today  at 9 a.m.



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

8:52 p.m.  Allegheny County courts go remote

Judges and court staff will handle virtually all matters by phone, email, and video under new rules released Monday. The court administration announced the change just hours after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered residents of seven Pennsylvania counties, including Allegheny, to stay home for at least two weeks to limit transmission of the new coronavirus.

Temporary and emergency protection from abuse petitions will continue be handled at the Pittsburgh Municipal Court Building, but will be conducted using "advanced communication technology," according to the new rules. Magisterial district judges, meanwhile, will be available remotely beginning Wednesday to accept criminal complaints, issue search warrants, and hold bail hearings.

Evictions, foreclosures, and jury trials remain suspended. Allegheny County President Judge Kim Clark put a hold on such proceedings when she declared a judicial emergency last week.


6:26 p.m.  Social distancing in the park

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy sent recommendations about how people can use the city's many parks while still being safe and social distancing. Gov. Tom Wolf's stay-at-home mandate still allows people to leave their homes to engage in outdoor activity, such as walking or running. 


Credit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The Conservancy emphasized the health benefits of being outdoors, but added that all city playgrounds will be closed to decrease the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

5:38 p.m.  Wolf and Health Secretary expand stay-at-home order to Erie County

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine added Erie County Tuesday afternoon. The order takes effect at 8 p.m.

Residents are advised to only leave their homes to get medicine, necessary supplies, exercise or other absolutely necessary activities. 



4:03 p.m. - Federal energy assistance program still accepting applications

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, helps low-income utility customers with heating bills. Income eligibility for residents is 150 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, so a family of four can earn up to $38,625 annually. LIHEAP has been around since the 1980s, but some utility companies are encouraging residents who might have recently lost work due to the coronavirus spread to apply.

The deadline to apply is April 12, 2020.

1:56 p.m.  County sees uptick in exposure to toxic alcohols

Allegheny County officials say "there has been an increase in reported exposures to toxic alcohols with liquor stores closed. Many individuals who struggle with alcohol use will look to alternatives when their primary source is not available. This has included drinking of household liquids that can be dangerous including antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, cooking oils, rubbing alcohol and even hand sanitizer as a substitute. Understanding that these are very risky and potentially life-threatening is critical. Residents who live with or who know someone who struggles with alcohol use should be aware of these issues as well."

In the last two weeks, the Poison Center has also seen an 82% increase in hand sanitizer exposures as compared to this time last year.

12:36 p.m.  City amends meal distribution schedule

The City of Pittsburgh is distributing meals provided by Pittsburgh Public Schools at five locations. The locations below will be open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for meal pickups for city schoolchildren.

  • Arlington Rec Center – 2201 Salisbury St., 15210 
  • Paulson Rec Center - 1201 Paulson Ave. 15206  
  • Warrington Rec Center - 329 E. Warrington Ave. 15210  
  • Salvation Army Homewood location- 8020 Frankstown Ave. 15221  
  • Salvation Army Westside location - 1821 Broadhead Fording Rd. 15205 

The district is operating 30 additional sites at schools and community centers. Students will receive multiple meals on Tuesdays and Fridays to last until the next distribution. Pittsburgh Public Schools will remain closed through at least April 14. It announced Monday that the district would close through its scheduled spring break.

12:10 p.m.  851 cases in Pennsylvania

More than 200 additional COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the last day, bringing the total number of positive cases in Pennsylvania to 851 in 40 counties. So far, there have been seven deaths related to COVID-19, including two in Allegheny County.

“Our notable increase in cases over the past few days indicate we need everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Pennsylvanians have a very important job right now: stay calm, stay home and stay safe. We have seen case counts continue to increase and the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home.”

12:05 p.m.  PA business owners say restrictions go too far

“We certainly don’t want our health care system to be overrun,” says one business owner. “But the damage caused by a full stop to the American economy will be devastating, as well.” PA Post's Ed Mahon talks to business owners who say the current restrictions go too far

11:19 a.m.  State Police begin issuing warnings to businesses violating PA governor’s order

Pennsylvania State Police issued 27 warnings to non-life-sustaining businesses yesterday, the first day that Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to close physical locations of many businesses went into effect. A total of seven warnings were issued for the 13 counties in the western and southwestern part of the state. No citations were issued.

11:13 a.m.  Second death reported in Allegheny County

County officials say a second person has died from COVID-19. She was in her late 70s and had not been hospitalized. The total number of positive cases is now 58, and six of those people are currently hospitalized. 

8:37 a.m.  FEMA fighting disinformation

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is trying to knock down a series of rumors and falsehoods that have been spreading along with the coronavirus pandemic.

It launched a page on its website called Coronavirus Rumor Control to fight the misinformation, as officials work to assure the public there is, in fact, no "national quarantine," nor has FEMA has deployed "military assets."

7:42 a.m. — Childcare a top concern for health care workers

Childcare is the most pressing issue next to access to personal protective equipment like masks for health care industry workers and nearly 45,000 people are looking for long-term solutions.

7:11 a.m.  Where to get tested

You can now get tested for COVID-19 at multiple locations, though not all are open to the public. If you'd like to get tested and want to know where to go or what you need, check out our comprehensive list here.



Monday, March 23, 2020

7:50 p.m.  Pittsburgh Public Schools will reopen no earlier than April 14

The district made the announcement Monday, a few hours after Gov. Tom Wolf extended statewide school closures through at least April 6.

According to PPS the district will remain closed through its planned spring break of April 6-10. Grab ad Go meal distribution will continue this week and next at 30 locations on Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. District spokesperson Ebony Pugh said students will receive multiple meals on Tuesdays and Fridays. On Friday April 3 they will receive a package of meals for spring break. All locations will close during spring break.

The district is launching a survey Tuesday to “understand the technology needs of our students and staff to ensure we are adequately prepared to continue learning and operations during this closure,” Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said in a statement Monday. So far the district has sent home work packets not to be graded but rather for enrichment.

7:08 p.m.  Enforcement of shutdown order prompts few issues

Enforcement of Gov. Tom Wolf's shutdown order for non-life-sustaining businesses got underway Monday. Local police forces said they are not actively searching for violations but that they will investigate complaints from residents. Pittsburgh-area departments said they have received a few complaints, but they included businesses that are exempt from the order. Penalties for non-compliant businesses could include the loss of disaster relief, state funding, or operating licenses.

5:42 p.m.  Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit arguing that gun shops are "life sustaining"

The lawsuit, filed Friday, was brought on behalf of a Lancaster County gun shop, a Bucks County firearm owner, a gun-rights policy group, and a firearms-focused law firm.

It challenged Governor Wolf’s authority to close businesses deemed “not life-sustaining” and claims the shutdown order violates due process and the second amendment. The suit says amidst growing uncertainty, the right to self-defense is quote “the epitome of life-sustaining” and that with gun stores shuttered, Pennsylvanians are being denied that right.


The Pa. Supreme Court disagreed, dismissing the lawsuit without comment in a split decision Sunday. 


Any business violating the shutdown order is now subject to warnings, fines, license suspensions or even criminal charges.

4:19 p.m.  Port Authority will cut bus and rail service by 25 percent starting on Wednesday

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

In the last two weeks, Port Authority saw its ridership drop more than 50 percent. Saturday and Sunday service will remain the same, but for weekday travel, riders are encouraged to check the agency’s website for changes. Officials say the cuts were made after consulting with union leadership and area health care providers.

3:44 p.m.  Local workers feel the economic impact from coronavirus-related shutdowns. 

The largest union council in western Pennsylvania says more than 70,000 of its 100,000 members have lost their jobs.


Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
A sign at Mi Empanada in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood urges people to order take-out or delivery and support small businesses.

“So many aspects are being affected,” said Darrin Kelly, President of the Allegheny Fayette Central Labor Council. “That’s why it’s so important that [Washington D.C.] gets some stuff done. When we’re dealing with unemployment, we need to take care of the workers on the ground and that’s the most important thing that needs to be done right now.”


But he said Democrats were right to oppose an aid package defeated in the Senate Monday.


“This was a bailout bill for Wall Street once again,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”


Kelly said Congress must prioritize money for workers and shore up unemployment benefits in its next financial aid package.

3:38 p.m.  Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh extends closure

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh announced today they will remain closed at least until late May due to the coronavirus crisis. The museums, which on March 13 had announced they were closing for at least two weeks, will also furlough about half of their 1,000 staff members, including those who cannot work from home or who are not needed during the closure.

Most of the furloughed staff will be part-time, according to a spokesperson. Remaining staff will receive temporarily reduced pay. The Carnegie says its four museums anticipate deficits of nearly $1.4 million for every month they are closed.
The Carnegie Museums are the museums of Art and Natural History, along with the Carnegie Science Center and The Andy Warhol Museum. The organization becomes, after City Theatre, the second large arts group to announced it was furloughing staff due to the shutdown. It is unlikely to be the last.
2:13 p.m. — Wolf's stay-home order to take effect tonight at 8 p.m.

As anticipated, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for seven counties, including Allegheny. The order takes effect at 8 p.m. tonight and residents are asked not to leave their homes unless "someone's life depends on your leaving," Wolf said. Pharmacies, grocery stores and other life-sustaining businesses will remain open. 

1:57 p.m.  Wolf to issue stay-home order

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf plans to order residents of the state's hardest-hit areas to stay home to help combat the spread of the new coronavirus that has already sickened hundreds and caused three deaths statewide. His spokeswoman says that Wolf will issue the stay-at-home order for Philadelphia and its surrounding counties; Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh; and Monroe County in the Pocono Mountains. 

12:53 p.m.  165 new positive cases in Pennsylvania

State officials released the latest numbers, saying there are now 644 positive cases of COVID-19 in 34 counties. There have also been six deaths statewide related to COVID-19. So far, more than 6,000 patients have tested negative. 

12:00 p.m.  CMU to host virtual commencement

Carnegie Mellon University will host virtual commencement ceremonies this spring. The university announced Monday that it would not hold graduation ceremonies on campus May 17 as had been planned.

In a letter to students CMU president Farnam Jahanian said the university is also “exploring ways we can celebrate the Class of 2020’s outstanding achievements together on campus in the next academic year.”

Last week the University of Pittsburgh postponed all of its spring commencement ceremonies. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in a letter that new dates for in-person ceremonies will be scheduled and “announced once circumstances allow and with enough notice for graduates and their families to return to campus for the celebration.”

Both Pitt and CMU have confirmed cases of at least two students who have tested positive for COVID-19. The schools have moved to virtual learning and shut down most campus facilities.

Carlow, Chatham and Point Park Universities have also postponed commencements.

11:09 a.m.  48 positive cases in Allegheny County

The Allegheny County Health Department released the latest information regarding COVID-19 cases, confirming there are now 48 positive cases. Six of those people are currently hospitalized. 

10:29 a.m.  State park and forest facility closures extended

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced that all state parks and forests will be closed until April 30. You can still go hiking, as well as access trails, forests, roads, parking areas and lakes. You won't be able to access campgrounds, cabins, visitor centers, restrooms and reservable facilities.

9:14 a.m.  What you need to know/lo que necesitas saber

Side Effects and Indiana Public Broadcasting have partnered to answer questions about coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Now, to reach a broader audience, they've also put together a Spanish version of their coronavirus FAQ.

8:59 a.m.   High court dismisses challenge to Wolf shutdown order

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a gun shop that challenged Gov. Tom Wolf’s authority to shutter businesses determined to be “non-life-sustaining,” paving the way for enforcement to begin Monday.  The state’s high court late Sunday denied the petition by a gun shop, a gun purchaser and a law firm to have Wolf’s shutdown order thrown out. The lawsuit had claimed Wolf’s edict violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms and other constitutional rights. Wolf has ordered all nonessential businesses to close their physical locations, saying the measure is needed to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

7:25 a.m. — PA eyes later primary

Legislation is being drafted to delay Pennsylvania's primary from April 28 to June 2, and could make it through the Republican-controlled Legislature and get to Wolf's desk by the end of the week.

A first vote was expected Monday in the House State Government Committee. House State Government Committee Chairman Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, said support for it is bipartisan, with overwhelming backing from counties and county election directors.

6:56 a.m. — What you missed over the weekend

-Officials confirmed the first death related to COVID-19 in Allegheny County.

-The University of Pittsburgh confirmed a positive COVID-19 case on campus.

-Allegheny County court operations were scaled back further.

-State officials say a shelter-in-place order is being considered.

-A Cranberry-based manufacturer will provide 65,000 masks to Allegheny Health Network.

-St. Clair hospital closed to visitors.



WESA receives funding from UPMC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.