How local officials and institutions are responding to coronavirus

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coronavirus

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As novel coronavirus cases are reported in the Pittsburgh area, PublicSource has compiled information on how local leaders and institutions are responding as public health experts urge residents to practice “social distancing” and avoid large gatherings.

This post will be intermittently updated as a public resource when new, credible and relevant information becomes available. If you have questions, suggestions on useful information, please email juliette@publicsource.org.

Navigate to your area of interest:

Allegheny County

Allegheny County Emergency Services announced March 31 that it has begun working with the Sports & Exhibition Authority to secure the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as an alternate care site if needed. Hospital systems would be able to transfer their least-severe patients to the center, creating space for more severe COVID-19 patients.

The county created a food distribution map for residents to identify available food resources around the county, including school “grab & go” sites, food pantries and more.

On March 20, Allegheny County announced additional operational changes, including increased processing of inmate releases and closing of the county immunization and pediatric dental clinic. The full list of changes can be found here.

Allegheny County Council meetings will be held as scheduled. Council members are encouraged to call in, and members of the public are encouraged to watch the livestream and submit public comment online. The next council meeting is 5 p.m. March 24.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on March 15 called on all non-essential businesses to voluntarily close for at least two weeks. Gov. Tom Wolf has since ordered non-essential businesses across the state to close (hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations will remain open). Restaurants can remain open for take-out and delivery. Dine-in is prohibited.

“We understand that this may cause hardship for some, and frustration for others, but it’s imperative that we work together to do what’s best for our community,” Fitzgerald said on March 15, before the closure was made mandatory.

The Allegheny County Health Department provided guidelines for restaurants, including cleaning and social distancing tips.

Allegheny County has strictly curtailed visitation at county jail and nursing facilities and paused public election preparation events (residents can now vote by mail). New jury selection has also been put on hold. Health officials said residents should feel safe going on walks if they avoid groups and take recommended precautions.

The Allegheny County Jail on Friday reported its first positive test for COVID-19, in an employee, who "did not provide direct care to inmates" and has not worked since March 19, according to a press release. The jail and courts released 622 inmates between March 16 and March 31, in an effort to reduce the risk from any viral spread in the facility.

Precautions are being taken at the jail, including increased cleanings, suspension of all non-essential visits and additional screening for new inmates and incoming jail staff. Due to the temporary suspension of visits, incarcerated people will be allowed two free phone calls per week.

All public voting system demonstrations are canceled through Tuesday, March 31. Demonstrations at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library on April 5 and the Mall at Robinson on April 18 and April 19 are also canceled. All training classes for poll workers have been postponed through Friday, March 27.

To vote by mail, apply online by 5 p.m. on April 21. Completed ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on April 28.

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City of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh on March 26 joined the state and federal governments in extending the deadline for filing personal income tax returns to July 15, from April 15. City property taxes were due Feb. 29, but the Finance Department has stopped all delinquency billings and isn't charging late fees. Treasurer's Sales of tax-delinquent properties are suspended.

The City of Pittsburgh moved to Level 2 emergency operations on March 18. Crews from the departments of Public Works, Mobility and Infrastructure and Permits, Licenses and Inspections will move to skeleton staffing, while still responding to emergency situations. Parking enforcement is suspended. Public safety departments will continue responding to emergency situations as usual. See the city’s press release for the full list of updates.

Beginning March 20, pre-packaged meals will be provided to seniors who are already registered for normal meal service at Pittsburgh’s senior centers. The meals will be available for take-out only between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the city’s Healthy Active Living Centers in Glen Hazel, Sheraden, South Side, Lawrenceville, Homewood and Hazelwood.

The update expands the City’s first set of emergency orders, announced March 16.

Four locations will provide grab-and-go lunches for Pittsburgh schoolchildren. The meals will be provided weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., beginning March 19.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has been among the first to push for limitations on gatherings and travel. On March 15, the city banned gatherings of more than 50 people, following a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city initially banned gatherings of more than 250 people.

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Urban Redevelopment Authority

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] announced in a news release Friday morning, March 13, that it's open to providing relief to affected businesses with outstanding loans. Business owners can email or call their loan officer. At its March 19 board meeting, the URA said that $1.3 million in aid will be available, including loans to small businesses and housing funds for low-income residents.

The URA also emphasized the availability of other resources, including the federal Small Business Administration's guide to responding to the outbreak.

The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh also announced a coronavirus bridge loan program, providing small, interest-free loans, on a nonsectarian basis, to businesses facing financial challenges.

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Pittsburgh and Allegheny County housing authorities

The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh on the evening of March 19 closed its offices and scaled back its operations to comply with guidance on the novel coronavirus crisis coming from health and public safety officials. Authority employees will continue to "provide remote services" by phone and email, according to a press release.

Most social services provided by the authority or by organizations on its behalf are on hold, as are tenant meetings. Common areas in its communities are closed.

The authority board's March 26 meeting will be held remotely and will be streamed online. Instructions on viewing the meeting are to be posted Monday on the authority's website, according to the release.

The Allegheny County Housing Authority has similarly indicated, on its website, that its offices and community rooms are closed, and it is "restricting" gatherings in its residential building lobbies. Authority staff are still answering phones, emails, faxes and mail, and on any given day 30 to 40 employees are cleaning and sanitizing. The county authority’s board has canceled its March 20 meeting.

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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's income tax filing deadline has been moved to July 15, matching an extension announced by the federal government.

On March 19, Gov. Wolf ordered all "non-life-sustaining businesses" to close their physical locations as of 8 p.m. "to slow the spread of COVID-19." (The list of life-sustaining businesses can be found here.)

On March 13, Gov. Wolf announced all schools across the state will be closed for 10 business days, beginning March 16.

On Wednesday, March 25, Wolf announced the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program, a new small-business loan program funded by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority’s Small Business First Fund. Loans of up to $100,000 will be available to businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees.

Following a request for disaster relive from Wolf, the U.S. Small Business Administration [SBA] is making loans available for businesses and eligible nonprofits in Pennsylvania. The federal loans offer up to $2 million per loan in assistance.

However, SBA money will not be immediately available. Kelly Hunt, district director of the SBA’s Pittsburgh District Office, told listeners on a March 20 webinar that the agency’s online loan application system is “very bogged down right now. ... The portal is very crowded. It was really not designed for this much activity at one time." Hunt said initial disbursements likely won't go out for four or five weeks.

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PennDOT

Remember REAL ID, the federal law under which you'll eventually need a special new driver's license or non-driver identification to get into secure federal buildings or on commercial flights? The deadline for compliance has been pushed back from Oct. 1 of this year to the same date in 2021, due to the coronavirus emergency, PennDOT announced Thursday. Driver's license centers in the state are closed through at least April 3.

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The Food Bank

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank continues to operate, but has canceled, starting March 28, several of its distribution channels -- including deliveries to Beaver Falls Middle School, the South Side Market House, Pittsburgh Langley K-8, Braddock Volunteer Fire Department, St. Vitus School and Schenley Plaza -- in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. The Food Share program at the Food Bank and the Oakland Free Food Spot distribution are also suspended. The Food Bank "is finalizing a safe, efficient emergency drive-up food distribution model" which it hopes to launch on March 30, according to a press release.

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State courts

All Pennsylvania courts are closed beginning March 20 through at least April 3. A statewide judicial emergency was declared until April 14. Because many people are experiencing a loss of income due to the pandemic, all evictions and displacements for failure to make payments are on hold.

The Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania on Monday, March 16, declared a judicial emergency that, among other things, suspends civil jury trials, reschedules arbitration hearings and postpones magisterial district court cases. For the full list of court changes, click here.

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U.S. Attorney and PA Attorney General

On March 19, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the formation of a joint federal and state Western Pennsylvania COVID-19 fraud task force. The task force will investigate coronavirus-related fraud, such as treatment, charity and price-gouging scams.

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Testing centers

Allegheny Health Network [AHN] will open four drive-up COVID-19 testing sites, including three locations in the Pittsburgh region and one in Erie. Testing will only be available for patients who have already been evaluated by an AHN-affiliated healthcare provider and given a prescription.

The local sites are in Wexford, Bethel Park and Monroeville. Testing will begin March 18 at the parking garage adjacent to AHN’s Wexford Health and Wellness Pavilion. Testing at other locations will begin within the week. The sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

AHN said tests are available at all of the network’s emergency departments. Patients who think they may have coronavirus are urged to call ahead so safety protocols can be employed. Pittsburgh patients can call 412-687-7348.

UPMC opened a testing site for referred patients on March 17 on South Side. The site is not open to the public. UPMC plans to open additional specimen collection facilities in Harrisburg, Erie, Williamsport and Altoona. An opening date for those facilities has not yet been announced.

Central Outreach Wellness Center is providing free testing for individuals experiencing all three coronavirus symptoms (shortness of breath, cough and fever). The testing is available at its Aliquippa location and at the Pittsburgh Zoo from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. Central Testing, however, reports that it is currently out of tests and last conducted testing on March 30.

Excela Health in Greensburg is working on opening its own testing site. The site's location and opening date have not yet been announced.

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Port Authority

Starting Wednesday, all Port Authority bus passengers will enter and exit through the rear door, away from the driver in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Passengers who use the wheelchair ramp or need the bus lowered to enter may still use the front door. Customers are asked to show to the driver their ConnectCard or other fare product as they enter from afar; cash fare will not be collected.

Port Authority transit will be operating on a reduced schedule beginning Wednesday. Weekend service remains the same.

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Pittsburgh International Airport

American Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways have already announced that they are cutting flights and reducing the frequency of flights at Pittsburgh Airport. Cuts are being seriously considered by Southwest Airlines, the airport's largest carrier.

The aviation industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus as the federal government restricts travel, new bookings drop 65% to 75% and major carriers dramatically scale back routes. Airlines face a dire economic future, and several airline worker unions have begun negotiating the terms of what they expect to be large worker cutbacks. The Allegheny County Airport Authority mentioned on its blog that, as it takes planes out of service, airlines are diverting planes to Pittsburgh because of its excess capacity.

Bob Kerlik, director of media relations for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, wrote in a March 17 email that passengers can check for daily flight cancellations online but said the impact on passenger data wouldn’t be available until the end of the month. There have been no changes to staffing, he wrote.

The airport previously announced that it has increased its cleaning schedules and have been coordinating with county health officials.

“For the past month, we have boosted deep cleaning routines in the terminal, including restrooms, people movers and other common areas,” Kerlik, said in a statement on March 9. “We are also increasing hand sanitizing stations in the terminal.”

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

All 19 locations closed on March 14 and will remain closed until the end of March. All events at the libraries have been canceled through April 19. All late fees will be suspended and due dates extended during this period. Patrons will still be able to continue to enjoy items they have already borrowed.

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City and county parks

The city’s indoor facilities are closed including recreation centers, senior centers, Oliver Bath House, Mellon Park Tennis Center, Schenley Ice Rink and all program related activities. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy said it is closing the Frick Environmental Center, the Parks Conservancy South Side offices, Schenley Plaza maintenance building, and the horticultural and forestry facility on English Lane.

Outdoor spaces remain open but some facilities are closed. On March 30, the City of Pittsburgh announced that basketball courts and overlooks are now closed. The restrooms are also closed.

Outdoor areas and restrooms in all nine Allegheny County parks remain open. Hartwood Acres Mansion, Boyce Park Nature Center and North Park Latodami Nature Center are closed through Monday, March 30.

All county park facility rentals and recreational programs through Monday, March 30, are canceled. Customers will receive full refunds.

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Local universities

On Sunday, March 22, the University of Pittsburgh announced that it confirmed a case of coronavirus in one of its residence halls. The university said it is also aware of other potential cases within its community, according to an email from the university to the university community. All those who were in close contact with the individual have been notified.

The University of Pittsburgh also postponed its spring graduation ceremonies. New dates have not yet been announced. The university also announced that its spring break will continue until March 23 and that classes will be conducted online at its five campuses. It’s encouraging students who can stay away from university housing to do so. Pitt is keeping a list of facilities that are open to the students still on campus, but most places are not open to the general public any longer. The university website is being updated with the latest information.

On March 20, Carnegie Mellon University announced that a student tested positive for COVID-19. The student is being monitored by health officials and is in self-isolation in an off-campus residence, according to a statement from the university.

CMU has transitioned to remote or virtual learning until further notice. CMU is strongly encouraging events of more than 25 people to be canceled and strongly encouraging — but not requiring — students to return home. CMU has strongly discouraged students who visited areas, such as Santa Clara County, Calif.,  from returning back to campus. CMU is keeping track of student plans for their housing through an online form. The university may have to reassign housing for remaining students but has not yet provided details.

CMU announced March 23 that it has had to cancel its May 17 commencement exercises.

“To our graduating students, this decision - like so many of the past few weeks -ranks among the hardest I have had to make,” wrote President Farnam Jahanian, in an email to the University.

The university is still planning to confer degrees at the end of the semester and looking into potential ways of celebrating current students in the future.

Community College of Allegheny County classes have been suspended until March 25 when they are expected to resume either online or through other forms of remote instruction. All noncredit classes have been cancelled. The changes are in effect through the end of term on April 19. All athletic events are canceled.

Duquesne University announced that the university is moving entirely to online instruction for the rest of the semester and canceling all events until further notice. Duquesne is asking students living on campus to return home. Most students are expected to leave by March 22, but the university is extending an extra week for students who cannot. Students who can’t return home at all are being asked to fill out a form to request continued housing.  Duquesne is planning to scale back most of its housing and dining operations. Student housing and meal charges will be prorated. Updates can be found here.

Chatham University on March 11 announced it is switching to virtual learning for the remainder of the semester and asked students to return home by March 21 if they can. Students who want an exemption are being asked to fill out an exemption form by March 17. All university travel has been suspended and summer study abroad trips are cancelled.

Carlow University will resume its classes remotely on March 23, although online classes resume on March 16. All events of 25 or more people have been cancelled or postponed. The latest information on the university’s website, as of March 13, shows the residence halls are opening after spring break. Students can move out early. The university is asking students and faculty to report travel. Community members are asked to self-report potential exposures and illness and self-quarantine.

On March 19, Point Park University postponed its graduation ceremonies. The university is exploring options for virtual ceremonies for each department, as well as an in-person ceremony once conditions allow. Point Park University’s classes will resume remotely on March 18. The university itself is remaining open, including residents halls and dining facilities, but limiting meetings to 25 or fewer people. The university has canceled domestic and international travel. Updates are available online.

Both Robert Morris University and Indiana University have suspended face-to-face instruction.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board Friday discussed taking measures to allay customer fears about an upcoming rate increase. The increase isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2021 but notices are being sent out to customers this month. 

“I’’ve gotten a number of concerns,” said Pittsburgh city councilwoman Erika Strassburger. “This is adding to the stress level for people who do not have a steady stream of income right now.”

The board discussed sending out a reassuring message or delaying the rate increase entirely. 

PWSA’s director of finance, Jennifer Presutti, said it’s preparing for as much as a 30% drop in revenue but that it can weather the decrease for four months. She said some expenses may have to be cut to keep the budget balanced over the entire year.

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Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced the cancellation of spring training and delay of the start of the season indefinitely. The Pittsburgh Penguins said their season is on “pause” indefinitely. PUMP [Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project] says all of its recreational sports leagues have been canceled through the end of March. The YMCA has closed all of its eight locations through the end of March. All of the local universities have said their sports teams are on pause and games are also subject to the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people in Pittsburgh.

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Arts venues

The Carnegie Museums have closed for two weeks and will reevaluate afterward. The Pittsburgh Cultural District said all Pittsburgh Cultural Trust performances, exhibitions, films, and events through April 6 have been cancelled or postponed. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has postponed upcoming performances and is asking ticket holders to hold onto their tickets for rescheduling.

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Pennsylvania Turnpike

The Pennsylvania Turnpike reopened its service plazas on March 20. Restrooms are open 24 hours. Limited food options are available at all service plazas from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. for take-out only.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission told employees to stop accepting cash payments to protect employees and drivers. Drivers are told not to stop, and tolls will be collected electronically.

Nicole C. Brambila is the local government reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at 412-515-0072 or nicole@publicsource.org

Oliver Morrison is PublicSource’s environment and health reporter. He can be reached at oliver@publicsource.org or on Twitter @ORMorrison.

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