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Masks now mandatory as coronavirus rises again

The Investigator

Your guide to the Capitol & stories holding the powerful to account

July 2, 2020 | spotlightpa.org

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court handed Gov. Tom Wolf a victory this week, ruling that the legislature cannot unilaterally end his executive powers and terminate the state's coronavirus disaster declaration. 

While Wolf and other top state officials have repeatedly said they have no immediate plans to reinstate the strict lockdown and closures seen this spring, it's clear that the pandemic is not done with us yet. 

Spared the worst of the spring surge of the coronavirus, the Pittsburgh region is now showing signs of an uptick. On Tuesday, Allegheny County reported its largest single day increase, with 109 new cases. Today, the health department reported a daily increase of 233 new cases and said things will get worse.

According to our statewide tracker and county trend indicator, Allegheny County and the surrounding counties of Beaver, Butler, Armstrong, Washington, and Westmoreland are all showing rising case numbers in the past 14 days. The state's new early warning dashboard is showing similar trends.

All of them remain in Wolf's least restrictive "green" reopening phase.

As of Monday, five of the six counties were also showing week-over-week increases in the percent of COVID-19 tests turning up positive, as well as average daily hospitalizations. Both are important indicators, and it's worth noting that hospitalizations — and deaths — tend to lag behind case counts.

Health officials in the region are blaming crowded bars (with many patrons lacking masks) and out-of-state travel as the cause of the increase, and have already banned all on-site alcohol consumption for bars and restaurants. They also said the recent widespread protests do not appear to be a big factor.

Christopher Baxter


"I just don’t see how it’s possible that people who need the rental assistance to avoid eviction will receive it in time.”

— Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, on how Pa.'s eviction moratorium may end before relief checks will be cut
THE CORONAVIRUS IS RISING AGAIN: Today, Pennsylvania recorded its highest single-day increase in new coronavirus cases since May 22. We provide our data tracker and trend analysis as a free public service, but we need your help to keep it going. If you value it, please consider a gift today.

More from Spotlight PA

» Evictions could begin before Pa. rental assistance program can provide relief
» Mask up! Pa. mandates masks for anyone who leaves their home
» A promising year for Pennsylvania’s state budget ends with a $3.2 billion thud

Pa. is rolling out more coronavirus assistance programs. Here’s what you need to know. 

As part of a $2.6 billion spending plan lawmakers passed in May, Pennsylvania is rolling out several new coronavirus relief programs. Some of them are now taking applications, and demand is expected to be overwhelming.

Here's what you need to know to act fast and get the help you need: 


What is it: Rental and mortgage assistance

Who qualifies: Tenants or homeowners who have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. To be eligible, you must have either filed for unemployment or lost more than 30% of your annual income since March 1. Your income also can’t exceed the median in your county. 

More info: The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which is overseeing the program, has put out detailed guidelines, including a list of the local organizations in each county that will be handling applications for the rental assistance program. The application window opens Monday, and paperwork will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.


What is it: Grants of up to $50,000 for small businesses to cover losses and expenses related to the coronavirus 

Who qualifies: Businesses with fewer than 25 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenue. Priority will be given to businesses operating in areas with high poverty and in sectors that have been hit the hardest by the outbreak. At least 50% of the grants will go to businesses owned by people who are Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.

More info: The program is now taking applications. The first application window closes July 14.


What is it: Grants for museums and other cultural institutions

Who qualifies: Museums, orchestras, zoos, and historical sites. Applicants must have previously received funding from either the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission or the Department of Community and Economic Development. 

More info: The maximum grant amount is $500,000. Applications are now open, with more detailed guidelines available here.

Charlotte Keith

From across the state

» Despite suffering few coronavirus setbacks, Pa. cyber charter schools are eligible for millions in federal stimulus aid, PublicSource reports. Some advocates and parents say the funds are better served in public schools, while charter school advocates contend it's not a waste.

» Communities across Pennsylvania — including Erie, State College, and Wilkinsburg — are demanding police departments release the names of officers who have used deadly or excessive force. Certain police misconduct will now be tracked in a confidential database to prevent bad officers from job-hopping, although the effort does nothing to improve public transparency.

» The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will take down four Confederate monuments and markers in Fulton County “as soon as possible,” The Incline reports. The decision comes after conversations between Gov. Tom Wolf and the commission about the symbols, two of which were erected decades ago by a neo-confederate group.

Best of the rest across Pa.

» BUCKS COUNTY COURIER TIMES: Nursing homes that don't report data may be fined

» INQUIRER: Trump sues Pa. over mail ballot drop boxes

» LNP: Officials say reopening and keeping schools open won’t be easy

» PA POST: Disbanding small departments could put additional burden on State Police

» PUBLIC SOURCE: How COVID-19 disrupted traditions for immigrants and refugees

» WHYY: Pa.’s environmental groups are committing to racial equality

Yaasmeen Piper


Send your answers to newsletters@spotlightpa.org.

Coin counter (Case No. 45): What's the largest amount of money in U.S. coins you can have without having even change for a dollar?
Stumped? Get a hint. Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: The two masked people were the umpire and catcher.

Congrats to George S. who will receive Spotlight PA swag (when we reopen our office!). Others who answered correctly: Jonathan N., Donald L.H., Hagan H., Joseph H., Erik K., Drew C., Karen K., Keith V., Paul D., Joseph M., Judy A., Dennis F., Joyce L., Philip C., Dave D., Joesph S., Kenneth J., Chuck S., Michael H., William G.D., Tom G., Sharon S., Robert K., Michelle P., Matthew B., Jonathan T., Jaymes D., Norman S.A., Joseph A., Mike L., Lucy B., Brett H., Rebecca D., Jeff W.
» This week's Riddler hint: Stay away from the nickels.

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