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Pittsburgh Public Could Be Out 8-20 Weeks, If State Accepts Guidance From The CDC

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
An empty Pittsburgh CAPA High School in downtown Pittsburgh.

On today's program: How the state accelerated Pittsburgh Public Schools’ plan to close; why some hospital workers worry they don’t have enough protective gear; what the U.S. Census is doing to mitigate exposure to COVID-19; and a peek into the decision-making process behind public restrictions in Allegheny County.


Local students and educators take the outbreak one day at a time
(00:00 — 17:06)

Employees of Pittsburgh Public Schools are still preparing lessons and grab-and-go meals for the district’s 23,000 children, despite a mandatory 10-day closure just weeks before the start of end-of-year standardized tests.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet says he’s still waiting for guidance from state and federal officials, but the latest recommendation he’s heard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest schools could be out between eight and 20 weeks. What that means for the end of one school year and the start of the next remains an open question, Hamlet says.

"We don't know how that's going to play out," he says. "That was just a suggestion from the CDC. We don't know how our governor, our (state department of education), is going to take that up, whether they'll heed that or not. We'll see."

Staff and students were permitted to grab their belongings Monday and Tuesday before the district went into full lockdown on Wednesday. Hamlet says study packets will soon be available at all meal pickup points, though those locations may be in flux as additional cleaning crews are being scheduled to prevent potential exposure. Check back to the WESA live blog for more information on which schools are open day to day.

WESA’s Sarah Schneider says she, too, is looking for guidance from state and federal administrators, who may soon need to waive testing requirements altogether. It’s still unclear how a more prolonged closure may affect students with special education plans, parents seeking early learning opportunities, afterschool activities, organized sports and more.

Hospitals are rationing protective gear for staff
(17:44 — 21:23)

Hospitals across Pennsylvania are drastically limiting the use of eye protection, gowns and N95 respirators out of fears that a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases could diminish reserves and cause a dangerous shortage. 

The rationing comes as the state Department of Health maintains that it has personal protective equipment available and is working with health systems to make sure they have what they need. Still, the head of an advocacy organization for the state’s emergency room physicians said there’s fear the situation could rapidly change. 

If COVID-19 persists, the U.S. Census Bureau has a plan
(22:23 — 27:25) 

Recruiting enough U.S. Census workers to poll 13 million Pennsylvanians was already a big undertaking. Now with the spread of a new coronavirus—should Census workers still follow up with residents door-to-door? 

Spokesperson Michael Cook encourages Pittsburghers to fill out their forms online or by phone to help limit the need for home visits. 

He says the bureau is still moving on pace for a nationwide finish mid-July, but if the outbreak persists, they have a $2 billion contingency plan that would allow for more workers and advertising throughout the summer.

So far, he says the bureau has received about 6.5 million forms through its online portal alone.

Allegheny County likely to see a big rise in COVID-19 cases soon
(27:27 — 38:53)

Allegheny County officials have implemented new restrictions almost daily since the first local COVID-19 cases were reported last week. Did the limitations come soon enough? And what more could officials enforce? 

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says if it looks like the county is overreacting, that’s exactly what is required. He says local governments have taken the lead on prevention and containment measures. 

“Early on the reaction by people is described as overly alarmist, and then afterwards people wonder if it has been enough,” he says. “The Federal Government was way behind and still hasn’t really done a lot in other parts of the county.”  

Tuesday, County officials echoed calls by Governor Tom Wolf for businesses deemed as non-essential to close for a 14-day period. Fitzgerald says many businesses have complied with the recommendation. 

“One of the things in the Governor’s order was to give local law enforcement, local permitting agencies the ability to go in and fine people,” Fitzgerald says. “Now obviously we don’t want to throw people in jail,” he adds. 

Fitzgerald says there has been a delay in getting needed equipment like medical supplies and testing kits. He applauds the work and collaboration among UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, Heritage Valley Health System and Saint Clair Health. But says the Food and Drug Administration hadn’t approved certain testing materials soon enough. 

Tuesday, the FDA gave states the authority to approve their own coronavirus tests. A move Fitzgerald says the move should speed increased testing access. 

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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