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Pittsburgh’s Restaurant Scene Has Been Hit Hard By Pandemic

Some restaurants in Pittsburgh and across the country have been forced to close temporarily or permanently due to the coronavirus.


On today's program: An investigative report shows no support for a UPMC claim that the Pittsburgh region is seeing a “less severe” strain of the coronavirus; during the pandemic, the outlook for most of Pittsburgh’s independent restaurants is dismal; and a 94-year-old Rosie the Riveter is on a campaign for national recognition for the World War II heroes on the homefront.

UPMC’s claim of “less severe” strain of coronavirus not supported by other scientists
(00:00 — 6:02)

Last week, after a weekend of rising COVID-19 case numbers and stagnant hospitalizations, UPMC announced that Allegheny County was seeing a “less severe” strain of the coronavirus. At a July 9 press briefing, Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention, told reporters: “You may have heard in the news that there is a dominant global strain, one that seems to transmit easier but is less deadly. That’s the strain we’re detecting. And our data supports those characteristics.”

But anew investigative report shows that some virologists disagree with UPMC’s claim that the region is seeing a less severe strain of the coronavirus, citing science that wasn’t peer reviewed and a need for further research.

Sara Simon, an investigative data reporter for Spotlight PA, says that while there maybe more than one strain of the virus, “There’s still many questions about this mutated strain that’s now become the dominant global strain of the coronavirus; we just don’t have the evidence that it’s either more or less severe.”

According to virologists and epidemiologists interviewed for the report, Pittsburgh could be seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases without similar increases in deaths and hospitalizations because new cases are concentrated among younger people, who are less likely to show symptoms immediately. Delays in symptoms can lead to delays in testing, which can skew “real-time view” of the disease.

“What I do know from talking with the experts is that there is no scientific proof to back up what [UPMC is] saying,” says Simon.   

Simon says she hopes UPMC will respond to her requests for further comment. “They have a huge platform, they have a huge influence on public health policy and perception in this state. I think this is an important conversation and I hope they know that I am interested in getting to the bottom of it.” 

Without support, "a lot more restaurants that we love" may close
(6:03 — 12:32)

For the first few months of the pandemic, restaurants in the region have been shut down except for takeout. Then, just a few weeks after reopening, indoor dining was prohibited.


The Independent Restaurant Coalition reported last month that as many as 85% of independent restaurants could close permanently by the end of the year, and Pittsburgh restaurants have not been immune. In recent weeks, some staples of the local restaurant scene have shut down for good, including Union Standard, Alexander’s Italian Bistro, and Spoon.


The outlook for other independent restaurants in the city is dire, saysHal B. Klein, Pittsburgh Magazine’s dining critic. Pittsburgh had been drawing visitors from across the country for a decade.

“People were coming from other cities to spend a weekend in Pittsburgh, and the reason they were doing that, in part, at least, was to go to all these great restaurants. Because restaurants are such an important part of the landscape of Pittsburgh and of any city, really,” he says.


A lack of clear guidance from state and federal officials, paired with intermittent openings, closings, and re-openings, has made operating during the pandemic more difficult for restaurants, says Klein.

“If things continue the way they’re going, and there isn’t federal support, state support, and local support, I think we’re going to see a lot more restaurants that we love closed in six months.”


“Rosie the Riveter” on making masks, fighting for recognition

(12:35 — 18:03)


“Rosie the Riveter” is the name that was given to thousands of women who went to work in factories in Pittsburgh and across the country during World War II. They fought the war on the home front, building planes, trucks and tanks. 


Mae Krier was a Rosie. She worked on an assembly line at Boeing that made B-17 and B-29 bombers.  She’s 94 now and still on the job, working from her home in Levittown, sewing masks for another battle: the fight against COVID-19. 


Her masks use red and white polka dot fabric—reminiscent of the bandanas Rosies wore in factories to keep their hair out of the machinery.


“We had to wear the bandanas—that was a must,” says Krier. “And now we’re wearing the masks.”


She says she wants her masks to remind people of the contributions women made to the war effort. The masks are part of a campaign to gather support for legislation that would honor all Rosies with the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill passed the House, and Krier says she hopes that the Senate will approve it next. 


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.

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.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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