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State Supreme Court gets recommendation for new congressional districts map

Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence: State legislative districts and congressional districts needed updating following the 2020 U.S. Census — where do these redistricting processes stand with the clock ticking as the May primary approaches?; a recent study looks at how people follow instructions after getting results from an at-home COVID test; and Mayor Ed Gainey promised an end to over-policing — a month in office, how will he proceed?

Fight over Pennsylvania’s redistricted congressional map will go to State Supreme Court
(0:00 - 7:41)

On Monday, Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough suggested a U.S. congressional map to the state Supreme Court.

She recommended the map passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature and vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

In her report, McCullough wrote that the map is “functionally tantamount to the voice and will of the People.”

Citizens groups and elected officials submitted thirteen maps, which McCullough considered.

“She found reasons to discount a lot of these citizen submissions,” says Stephen Caruso, state government reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. “She argued that these maps benefited Democrats.”

Pennsylvania is losing a congressional district this year, which Caruso says makes the redrawing of this map particularly complicated.

“Losing a seat means somebody has to kind of give up their seat,” says Caruso. “They have to come to an agreement, and they have not been able to agree on much.”

The final decision regarding which U.S. congressional map will prevail falls to the state Supreme Court, which has a 5-2 liberal majority. Arguments on the case will begin Friday, February 18.

Last Friday, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission approved a new map for Pennsylvania’s 253 districts for state senate and house seats. The vote was 4-1, with House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff being the sole no vote.

Any challenges to the state legislative map must be filed to the state Supreme Court by Sunday, March 6.

Study finds that users misinterpret what to do after at-home COVID tests results
(7:44 - 17:48)

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Dartmouth Institute found that people taking at-home COVID-19 tests either may not self-quarantine, or will quarantine unnecessarily after misinterpreting their at-home test results.

“I think there's a lot of potential, with tests being given out [by the federal government], for those tests to help stem the pandemic. But really only if the instructions that go with them are giving people clear information that help them to make good decisions,” says UPMC professor Tamar Krishnamurti, an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, co-authored this study.

The study placed 360 participants into three randomized groups. Each group was given a different set of instructions: the instructions that came with the Food and Drug Administration authorized kits, instructions the researchers designed, or no instructions at all.

Participants were then presented hypothetical scenarios about an unvaccinated individual with various levels of COVID exposure, the results of the individual’s at-home test, and what the individual should do based on the test result.

“They could choose from a number of options ranging from taking no precautions, to staying at home and isolating from others,” says Krishnamurti. “We wanted to understand how many people would fail to quarantine, fail to follow the CDC's guidance when it was actually appropriate for them to do so based on the results of the test.”

While the tests are authorized by the FDA, Krishnamurti says the instructions that come with the tests about how to move forward and interpret results don’t go through any approval process. For example, how should you proceed if you get a negative result with an at-home test but show COVID-19 symptoms.

Krishnamurti says many participants who received the instructions that came with the kit chose not to quarantine based on a negative test in the hypothetical scenario, even if the CDC recommended they should. Participants who received no instructions performed better, but the best-performing group used the instructions the researchers designed.

“Our take home with this really is that it's so fundamentally important to design and to test instructions to ensure that they can be understood by as many people as possible,” says Krishnamurti. “Even though these tests are being made available and rolling out, it's certainly not too late to start delivering clear information to people so that they have what they need to make informed choices.”

About a month into office, how will Mayor Ed Gainey address police reform
(17:50 - 22:30)

Mayor Ed Gainey came into office promising police reform. WESA reporter Ariel Worthy reports that he’ll need to move carefully.

His first month in office, Gainey said that he would be tough on the killers of Marquis Campbell, the 15-year-old who was killed outside his school.

“I'm directing my police force to go out there and use all the resources necessary to ensure that we find out what's going on and bring people to justice for this heinous and criminal act,” Gainey said at a press conference.

Community members, however, are divided on whether to welcome the presence of police, and what role they should play.

Sharlee Ellison, president of the Knoxville Community Council, says the police give her neighborhood too much and not enough attention.

“Community members can be the biggest asset to the police, but they don't take you seriously,” she says.

On the other hand, Ellison says the police can be too intrusive, like the time an officer interrogated her son and his friend on her own porch. “They can track down the street and harass our kids when they're really not doing anything, they can do that well.”

Miracle Jones, director of policy and advocacy of 1Hood Media, doesn’t support more police presence in neighborhoods.

“There’s a fundamental disagreement that I hold about having officers show up to things because they're still, you know, agents of the state,” she says. “I think we should go further and basically, really remove the police from so much of our lives.”

Jones is part of a transition team that is scheduled to present Gainey with policy recommendations in April.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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. 

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