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Pennsylvania Nears One Million Confirmed Cases Of COVID-19, But Expert Hopeful On Future

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
As the state nears a million confirmed COVID-19 cases, more and more people are also getting vaccinated.

On today's program: Infectious disease researcher Dr. Amesh Adalja talks about how although the state is nearing a million confirmed COVID-19 cases, he’s reassured by declining hospitalizations; the lead curator of a new exhibit at the Heinz History Center describes Pittsburgh’s significance to U.S. democracy; and two locals preview their book about the history of jazz in Pittsburgh. 


Infectious disease expert says expected cases are up, but it’s promising that hospitalizations are down

(0:00 — 6:17) 

Pennsylvania is less than 10,000 cases away from one million confirmed cases of COVID-19. The state is confirming a thousand cases or more daily. 

“This country did not have to have the trajectory that it had if there was proactive action taken back in January and February and half of March [of 2020] where many critical actions were not taken, where we made mistakes that we still haven’t been able to recover from,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security 

Adalja says federal, state, and local governments failed to prepare for testing, contact tracing, and protecting vulnerable communities like nursing homes. 

However, the emergence of vaccines has brought down the instance of severe disease, and the number of patients hospitalized by COVID-19.

“The goal has never been to get to COVID zero, that’s not possible,” says Adalja. “It really was only the development of a vaccine and vaccine distribution that was going to be the way out for Pennsylvania or the United States when it came to this pandemic.”

New Heinz History Center exhibit highlights U.S. democracy, and where Pittsburgh played a role
(6:22 — 11:38) 

The salvation of our nation’s democracy continues to be referenced by figures on both sides of the aisle months after a contentious presidential election. Speaking in the Atlanta area after the killing of eight people, six of Asian descent, President Biden said the Georgia election that elected two Democrats to the Senate helped “save our democracy.” 

In reflecting on the nation’s democratic experiment, and this region’s role in it, the Heinz History Center is hosting the traveling exhibit “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. 

“At the time of the Declaration of Independence, [Southwestern Pennsylvania was] not officially a part of the United States,” says Melissa Marinaro, lead curator for the exhibit. “That happens a year later and Fort Pitt plays a big role in that because we’re on the western front. We are a part of the revolution in the sense that we are trying to secure the borders to make sure that what’s happening out east stays in that part of the country.”

Marinaro says, at the time, people in the region wanted to live out the Constitutional promises of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“One of the first tests of democracy is the Whiskey Rebellion,” says Marinaro. She says it was the first challenge of states rights against federal authority. “People are arguing about the interpretation of the law, and we have George Washington, our president at the time, riding in.”

Marinaro says Pittsburgh also shaped the naturalization process. 

“Before 1906, naturalization happened at the state level. You’d see a judge at a courthouse and that judge would determine your commitment to the constitution,” says Marinaro. “We look at the process of how that changed, and how did Pittsburgh inform it? Prior to the creation of a study guide, we had people here in Pittsburgh who were offering classes.”

Other parts of the exhibit highlight Pittsburghers who participated in the Civil Rights movement and advocated for voting rights.

The exhibit is open to visits through October of this year.

A new book highlights the city’s jazz scene
(11:43 — 18:0o) 

Pittsburgh has an uncommonly rich jazz tradition but until now there hasn’t been a single source to learn about it.

Author and investigative journalist Rich Gazarik and retired band director Karen Anthony Cole wanted to satisfy their own curiosity in the region’s musical history, which resulted in a new book, “A History of Pittsburgh Jazz-Swinging in the Steel City.” They spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Bob Studebaker about the research.

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. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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