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If COVID-19 Hits, Allegheny County Can Quarantine—Not Close

A cultured sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. and released by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020. It shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

On today's program: Allegheny County makes plans for a potential COVID-19 outbreak; why one climate scientist is breaking up with airplanes to decrease his carbon footprint; hear two sides of the debate about government health care; a barber offers political discourse with your monthly trim; an Erie-to-Pittsburgh bike trail could be coming soon; and competition is heating up ahead of the 2020 fish fry season. 

Officials say PA is “up to the task” if coronavirus spreads
(00:00 — 12:17)

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the state has been taking a “proactive approach” in monitoring and preparations for the potential spread of coronavirus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday is likely to hit the U.S. soon.

There have been no cases of the virus or the disease it causes, COVID-19, in the commonwealth, but more than 80,000 cases have been reported worldwide, including more than 2,700 deaths.

"We need to be prepared for community spread of COVID-19," Dr. Levine says. "We are working to make sure our health systems, first responders and county and municipal health departments have the resources they need to respond." 

Dr. Kristen Mertz, medical epidemiologist for the Allegheny County Health Department, says local health professionals are well prepared.

“We’ve had years of experience trying to get ready for flu outbreaks, and there are studies and modeling that should tell us what should help,” Mertz says.

Her team will make recommendations about school or business closures only if the virus seems to be spreading, she says, but ultimately it's up to residents to be good stewards and keep their students, employees and stakeholders safely at home. If cases are confirmed, those individuals could be held in quarantine.

Pittsburgh Business Times reporter Paul Gough says there are two levels of planning among local businesses: “Companies that have international operations in China and other places that have been affected, they are already considering this to be something that’s going to affect their business.” And then there’s telecommuting, which many businesses aren’t as easily suited for.

Mertz says now—before the virus hits—is the time to have those conversations.

Does choosing not to fly or eat meat really help the environment?
(13:51 — 17:51) 

Flying accounts for just 2 percent of global carbon emissions, but it’s growing, and there’s no greener jet fuel on the horizon. So climate scientist and author Peter Kalmus broke up with airplanes

Kalmus tells The Allegheny Front he started the website No Fly Climate Sci in 2012 after realizing he'd recently flown 50,000 miles, mostly for work.

Voters are divided on health care proposals
(17:53 — 22:36)

Polling ahead of the 2020 Pennsylvania primary shows that health care is a top concern. 

For 90.5 WESA Split Ticket series, government reporter Lucy Perkins talked with two voters who want to expand government health care and two who don’t, but still turned to public services for help.

A barber shop that offers a cut, style and political discourse
(22:41 — 28:20)

According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans and Democrats share less common ground now than at any point in the last 20 years.

As a part of Keystone Crossroads’ Embedded 2020 series, reporter Laura Benshoff takes us to a conservative corner of south central Pennsylvania where red, blue and those in between come together in a barber shop

Closing a critical link between Erie and Pittsburgh
(28:23 — 35:05)

Formerly known as The Allegheny Land Trust, Armstrong Trails is using a $35,000 grant to repair the Brady Tunnel in Clarion County, connecting a disjointed 4.5-mile northern section of bike trail and its southern 31-mile neighbor between East Brady and Ford City.

Executive director Chris Ziegler says much of the work involves creating a sluice, which would control the water flow above the tunnel to avoid future damage. Ziegler says reopening the tunnel will bring developers one step closer in building a cohesive trail from Erie to Pittsburgh.

The season of Lent gets frying
(35:11 — 39:09)

Friday marks the unofficial start of the 2020 fish fry season in Pittsburgh. 

Hungry people, religious and otherwise, will flock to church basements, fire halls and local eateries to dig in to a meal that honors the traditionally Christian practice of avoiding certain meat throughout the Lenten season. But where to start?

The Incline returns with its annual March Madness-style fish fry bracket. Readers nominated 120 fish frys; the publication narrowed that veritable sea of competition down to 32 competitors. Director Rossilyn Culgan explains how to get your own bracket and shares what she expects from this year’s competition.  

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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