Baxter Parklet.

Pittsburgh’s parks tax that prioritized equity likely won’t be collected this year, despite equity protests and a rise in park use

The political context of the parks tax has changed considerably since March. The original debate over the tax centered around what it meant to spend the money equitably. Since then, Black Lives Matter protests across Pittsburgh have put the issue of equity front-and-center, drawing attention — and often support —  from council.

(Illustration by ah_designs/iStockphoto.com)

Allegheny County hoped the tide had turned on the opioid epidemic. Early data suggests it may be surging again

The number of Allegheny County residents dying of opioid overdoses is rising again, after a drop of 40% in 2018 had many health experts hoping the tide of the epidemic had turned. The most recent data shows that the county had a 15% increase in overdose deaths in 2019. The 564 overdose deaths in 2019 were the third highest yearly total, according to data from Overdose Free PA. In 2016 and 2017, there were 650 and 737 total overdose deaths respectively. And the epidemic may only be getting worse in 2020, according to overdose data provided by the city of Pittsburgh, the county health department and the nonprofit Prevention Point Pittsburgh. 

During the first five months of 2020 Allegheny County recorded a 28% increase in the total number of times emergency responders administered naloxone for an overdose compared to the first five months of 2019. 
Pittsburgh recorded a 50% increase in overdose calls during that same time period.

‘Time for playing it safe is over’: City report calls for swift action on inequities between Black and white Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission last week presented to the City Council a report with 11 recommendations on how to eliminate some of the city’s long-standing inequities.

The new report’s first recommendation points to the need to stop police violence in the city. Other recommendations, such as increasing sick leave, are specific and build upon work the city has already done with its new sick leave policy that was enacted in March and requires up to 10 days of sick leave for medium and large companies and three days for smaller ones. Some recommendations, such as a push for a universal basic income trial program, are new and would likely take substantial resources, even as the city faces a budget shortfall greater than $120 million due to falling revenue during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

(Image via iStock)

Pittsburgh researcher says potential vaccines are being undermined by misinformation

The state of COVID-19 vaccine research is currently in a Catch-22 dilemma, according to Dr. William Klimstra, an associate professor in the Immunology Department at the University of Pittsburgh, who is currently working on a potential vaccine. The dilemma is this: The reason the development of a vaccine takes so long is that scientists have to be careful the vaccine does no harm in animals first and then in humans, before it even begins to test whether it’s effective. But at the same time, many Americans are not convinced that a vaccine would be safe and have said they wouldn’t take it even if it was developed. “We’re in an environment right now where longstanding accepted truths are being challenged through social media,” Klimstra said. "It’s very difficult to fight that kind of stuff."

Worry, joy, ambivalence, relief, dread: Pittsburgh-area residents describe the first days of life in ‘yellow’

Allegheny County moved from phase red, which required everyone to adhere to a strict “stay at home” order, to phase yellow. Now some nonessential activities and businesses could open.

The number of coronavirus cases had fallen over time but there were still dozens of new cases each week. It was unclear how many people would risk venturing out into public and whether those that did would adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Four environmental issues in the Pittsburgh region to keep your eyes on in the age of COVID-19

COVID-19 cost jobs, closed businesses and limited travel. But the economic ruin has also led to record low levels of pollution and huge reductions in climate change emissions globally.

Some of the changes, such as remote work, could have lasting benefits for the environment, even after the economy restarts. Other changes, such as a decrease in the use of mass transportation, could make environmental problems worse. 

Fact-check: Has PA seen 7,000 deaths beyond the state’s norm during the pandemic?

One model from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] estimates that, during the first five weeks of the pandemic, there were around 7,000 more deaths than would be expected over a similar time period in the past.

This count above the norm would be among the highest for any state in the country, but PublicSource reporting shows that number is still quite uncertain and could be higher or lower.

Dan Wonders, the Transportation Resource Coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach, helped distribute 125 meals in Millvale recently, more than double what the site normally gives out. (Photo by Jeff Geissler/North Hills Community Outreach)

12 Pittsburgh-area food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens say how COVID-19 has impacted need

Some food pantries have reported serving three times as many people as before the crisis, but a few dozen pantries and soup kitchens had to close entirely out of safety concerns created by the pandemic. The largest distributor of food aid in the region, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, believes more people need food assistance than what’s been initially reported by its food network.