TIMELINE: Gov. Wolf urging people wear cloth masks when leaving home

Gov. Wolf urging people wear cloth masks when leaving home

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania has more than 8,400 cases of the novel coronavirus and 102 people have died. Keep checking back for the latest COVID-19 updates throughout the day.

Have questions about the spread of the coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Levine are asking people to now start wearing cloth masks in public and when leaving home.

Gov. Wolf and Secretary Levine said people do not need the N95 respirator masks or surgical masks. A simple cloth mask or even a bandana across your nose and mouth can work.

“Wearing a mask will help us cut down the possibility that we might be infecting an innocent bystander, like the grocery store cashier, the pharmacist, or someone stocking shelves,” Gov. Wolf said. “These people are keeping us alive by getting us the supplies we need. We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe. Right now, that means wearing a mask.”

Wolf urged residents to heed his order to remain at home, noting that masks “are not foolproof. So it's critical our first act is to ask if we really need to leave our house.”

The Department of Health posted guidance on masks on its website.

UPDATE 10 p.m.: Wearing a mask has been highly debated even among the medical community, but Friday Pennsylvania stood firm saying it’s added protection – helping prevent the spread by people who have mild or no symptoms at all.

“Universal masking is expected to be recommended by the CDC shortly, and in Pa. we want to be ahead of the nation in slowing the spread. We don’t want to be behind it,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, the Pa. Health Secretary.

So, where do you get a mask? You can't find them on store shelves, and if you buy them online, don't expect they'll be shipped any time soon.

You only need two different things you probably already have at home, such as pillow cases and two hair elastics. If you're not handy, there is no sewing involved.

You take a square piece of fabric and fold it in half. Flip it and fold both sides in half again. Pinch each end with hair elastics. Fold the extra fabric inward, hold it up to your face and fasten the elastics behind your ears.

For more information on masks, click here.

Coronavirus: Channel 11 looks at different options for protective masks

UPDATE 7:39 p.m.: The Superintendent of the Butler Area School District said the Broad Street Elementary School will be prepped for use as an overflow facility for Butler Health System.

The building will be equipped with 50 patient beds to be used only if needed. The school has been vacant since 2017.

UPDATE 5:29 p.m.: Allegheny Health Network announced employees who take reduced hours, take on different assignments or work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak will continue to be paid.

AHN officials said employees will continue to be paid if they are not able to work onsite or at home due to quarantine orders, are self-quarantined as advised by a doctor, are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking treatment or because they are caring for an individual who is quarantined.

There is also a secured lodging near hospitals for employees who choose to distance themselves from their families for safety or convenience reasons.

UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh announced there will be staff reductions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of staff will be retained, but there will reduced hours and reduced pay.

UPDATE 3:57 p.m.: Officials with the City of Pittsburgh said their meal distributions continue to grow. Workers for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation served 2,813 meals this week to kids and seniors.

This week, the program was helped by the Pulaski Club, which delivered 150 bags of food and other essential items to seniors in the West End.

The numbers for this week were:

  • Meals distributed to seniors: 1,475
  • Meals distributed to kids: 1,186
  • Eat’n’Park meals distributed to children: 152

Last week, there were 2,085 meals handed out.

UPDATE 3:26 p.m.: Officials with the IRS and the United States Attorney’s Office are warning people to be on alert for possible scams related to the coronavirus economic impact payments.

The agencies said people should be on the lookout for random phone calls and emails about their checks. The IRS will not call or email people about the payments.

Gov. Wolf Urges People to Wear Masks

UPDATE 2:11 p.m.: Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Levine are asking people to now start wearing cloth masks in public and when leaving home.

Gov. Wolf and Secretary Levine said people do not need the N95 respirator masks or surgical masks. A simple cloth mask or even a bandana across your nose and mouth can work.

“Wearing a mask will help us cut down the possibility that we might be infecting an innocent bystander, like the grocery store cashier, the pharmacist, or someone stocking shelves,” Gov. Wolf said. “These people are keeping us alive by getting us the supplies we need. We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe. Right now, that means wearing a mask.”

Wolf urged residents to heed his order to remain at home, noting that masks “are not foolproof. So it's critical our first act is to ask if we really need to leave our house.”

The Department of Health posted guidance on masks on its website.

UPDATE 2:10 p.m. Slippery Rock University announced campus supplies were donated to local health professionals and first responders. The equipment includes personal protective items.

Officials with the Heinz History Center said the facility’s doors will stay closed until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, more than half of the 130-person workforce will be furloughed. Remaining staff members will have pay adjustments and may be given alternative assignments.

UPDATE 2:05 p.m.: The North American Dental Group announced it donated 5,000 N95 respirators to Allegheny Health Network facilities to keep employees safe while the coronavirus outbreak continues.

The group is based in Pittsburgh and said the masks have become critical during the outbreak.

“We are proud and pleased to be able to help out the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are caring for their patients and battling COVID-19 on the frontlines during this pandemic,” said Andrew Matta, chief medical officer and co-founder of NADG. "Given the significant and increasing demand for PPE across the country, we leapt into action and were able to secure these N-95 masks.

UPDATE 1:00 p.m.: Pennsylvania State Police officials released the latest numbers on non-life-sustaining businesses that did not comply with Gov. Wolf’s shutdown order.

In our region, there were three additional businesses given a warning, bringing the total number to 38.

UPDATE 12:50 p.m.: Officials with the City of Pittsburgh and various city agencies held a news conference Friday to give an update on the fight against coronavirus.

Pittsburgh police will cite people seen not practicing social distancing this weekend

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said with temperatures warming up, people will want to leave their homes to visit places like city parks. He said people have mostly done an adequate job with staying home and maintaining social distance, but last weekend was a different story. He said many of the area parks were packed. He said people need to maintain their vigilance.

Hissrich said parks will remain open, but Park Rangers will be out to remind people of maintaining a proper separation.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said people need to remain vigilant in the face of the coronavirus. He said there will be more deaths if people do not take this seriously.

UPDATE 12:40 p.m.: Westmoreland County officials are continuing to stress the importance of social distancing efforts as the number of coronavirus cases surpasses 100.

Officials said the next two weeks are critical.

“The next 2 weeks are critical to our public health efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Community cooperation is essential to eliminating disease spread. As the weather gets nicer, please continue social distancing and resist the urge to congregate outside in groups,” said Dr. William Jenkins with Excela Health. "It is essential that all families do their part to help us through this difficult and potentially dangerous time. It will take the efforts of everyone to eliminate this disease threat from our communities. PLEASE continue to maintain social distancing during essential travel outdoors and stay at home when at all possible.”

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System is working to make sure veterans and people needing care stay safe and healthy in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

VA Pittsburgh is especially asking veterans use online tools. Veterans with a sore throat, dry cough, shortness of breath or fever should call 412-360-6000 and select option #3 to talk with a nurse before visiting a facility.

The agency is also utilizing telehealth options more frequently.

Home Telehealth – VA Pittsburgh staff have added monitoring for COVID-19 for 20 days to the list of diagnoses monitored through home telehealth, in addition to other conditions like diabetes and depression. Telehealth equipment is mailed to patients’ houses. Veterans can also be monitored for longer than 20 days as needed. Home telehealth allows patients to stay connected to a nurse or doctor from home.

Telephone or Video Appointments – Veterans can receive care at home — either over the phone or via video using VA Video Connect on their computers, smartphones, or tablets. To set up telephone or video appointments, veterans can send their provider a secure message on My HealtheVet by visiting myhealth.va.gov. To learn more about VA Video Connect, visit mobile.va.gov/app/va-video-connect.

Prescription Refills – Veterans can request prescription refills and order and ship medications to their homes using My HealtheVet or the Rx Refill mobile app. Download the app at mobile.va.gov/app/rx-refill.Text Message Reminders – Veterans can use Annie’s Coronavirus Precautions protocol to send automated text messages with information about COVID-19. This application helps veterans monitor for symptoms and can assist if they need to contact their VA facility for care. Enroll at mobile.va.gov/annie.

Additionally, every veteran who receives care at VA Pittsburgh and receives text message clinical reminders through VEText now receives an updated message about the option of converting primary care and behavioral health appointments to VA Video Connect. Through VEText Veterans can cancel appointments.

Secure Messaging – With My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal, veterans can send online secure messages to your VA health care team to ask them nonurgent health questions. Register at www.myhealth.va.gov.

Clinical Staff Training – VA Pittsburgh is training more providers and clinical staff, including specialties like surgery, social work and pharmacy, daily on telehealth equipment and technology to increase capability for telehealth encounters. Primary care and behavioral health staff have already been trained. One training focus is appointment conversions from in-person to VA Video Connect or telephone. VA Pittsburgh clinical staff provide health care services by facilitating telehealth appointments to a large portion of western Pennsylvania, including Altoona, Butler and Erie. VA Pittsburgh even provides health care to veterans in the Clarksburg, West Virginia area, although this area falls outside the catchment area.

UPDATE 12:23 p.m.: Attorney General Josh Shapiro is reminding gyms and athletic clubs that under the Health Club Act, if the facility is closed for more than 30 days, it is obligated to provide refunds to people who cancel their memberships. To receive a refund, people need to send a letter confirming their cancellation to the gym or health club through certified mail or in person. Shapiro is also asking those facilities to accept cancellations by email, phone or regular mail due to the state-wide coronavirus closures.

UPDATE 12:05 p.m.: There are 1,404 additional positive cases of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania, bringing the total to 8,420, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Of the total number of cases, 852 are in western Pennsylvania.

In addition to the new cases, 12 more deaths have been reported. The statewide death total is now at 102.

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Here is a breakdown of cases in western Pennsylvania counties:

  • Allegheny County: 476
  • Fayette County: 20
  • Washington County: 40
  • Beaver County: 65
  • Butler County: 75
  • Lawrence County: 19
  • Westmoreland County: 110
  • Mercer County: 10
  • Greene County: 11
  • Armstrong County: 11
  • Indiana County: 7
  • Venango County: 3
  • Clarion: 4
  • Forest: 1

There are 53,695 patients who have tested negative, the Department of Health said.

Of the people who have tested positive, here is a percentage breakdown by age group:

  • Nearly 1% are aged 0-4
  • Nearly 1% are aged 5-12
  • 1% are aged 13-18
  • 8% are aged 19-24
  • Nearly 41% are aged 25-49
  • Nearly 29% are aged 50-64
  • Nearly 20% are aged 65 or older

UPDATE 11:45 a.m.: With scammers preying on the most vulnerable people in this time of uncertainty, experts are warning to be careful of where you click and what information you give out -- whether when answering the phone or going online.

As unemployment numbers skyrocket and layoffs loom, con artists are taking notice.

The Better Business Bureau says new scams are popping up each day, and the vast majority relate to the coronavirus and financial relief.

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Caitlin Driscoll of the BBB of western Pennsylvania pointed out two scams in particular: fake unemployment filings and shoddy stimulus checks.

With the unemployment scam, fake sites are created that look virtually identical to the legitimate .gov website. Scammers buy domain names that people often accidentally type in.

The stimulus check scam involves a person calling claiming they’re a government official who needs your social security number and address. Sometimes the scammer will pose as a worker who tells you they can expedite the process and get you more cash if you offer a down payment.

“Remember that anyone who is claiming they can get you stimulus money now, that is a scammer. In reality, this money will take several weeks to arrive,” Driscoll said.

Scammers targeting people as unemployment numbers rise during pandemic

UPDATE 11:05 a.m.: There are 57 new positive cases of the coronavirus in Allegheny County, bringing the total to 476, the Allegheny County Health Department announced. Seventy-eight people have been or are currently being hospitalized, and the number of deaths has remained at two.

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Here is a breakdown of cases by age group:

  • 0-4 years: 2
  • 5-12 years: 4
  • 13-18 years: 7
  • 19-24 years: 42
  • 25-49 years: 203
  • 50-64 years: 132
  • 65+ years: 86

Of the cases, 241 are female and 235 are male.

“With the warm weather expected this weekend, many of you will be heading outside. If you feel sick, you should stay home. If you head outside, remember to stay at least 6 feet away from others, avoid touching common surfaces like playground equipment, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often,” the Health Department said in a news release.

UPDATE 10:30 a.m.: A statewide Support & Referral Helpline has been launched by the Department of Human Services.

The helpline is available 24/7, staffed with caseworkers to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other emotions because of the COVID-19 emergency and to refer them to community-based resources that can further help.

The toll-free number to call is 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.

UPDATE 9:15 a.m.: Volunteer fire companies will be able to apply for the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Paycheck Protection Loans as a result of the new federal stimulus program, Sen. Jim Brewster, who serves Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, announced.

CLICK HERE for more information.

UPDATE 9:05 a.m.: Pennsylvania will receive $1.13 billion in new funding from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Sen. Bob Casey announced.

“During this time of great uncertainty and difficulty, Pennsylvania’s rural and urban areas alike need support to respond to COVID-19. I am pleased that the transportation systems in our communities will receive a combined total of $1.13 billion in FTA grants to support transit operations, pay employees who are unable to work due to the pandemic and continue operating for those who rely on public transportation. Our public transit systems are a backbone of our communities and I will continue to work to ensure they receive the resources they need during this time of national crisis,” Casey said in a statement.

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Funding for urban areas is allocated to metropolitan areas. Rural funding is allocated to the state.

In addition to the FTA funding, rural areas will receive funds through the Appalachian Development Public Transportation Assistance Program.

Pittsburgh will receive $162,133,877 in FTA grants from the CARES Act

UPDATE 9 a.m.: Duquesne Light’s payment assistance support for customers in need has been expanded.

There are $750,000 available to help customers facing financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office of Consumer Advocate contributed $375,000 to the Dollar Energy Fund, and Duquesne Light matched that contribution.

CLICK HERE for more information.

UPDATE 8:50 a.m.: WASHINGTON (AP) - A record-long streak of U.S. job growth ended suddenly in March after nearly a decade as employers cut 701,000 jobs because of the viral outbreak that’s all but shut down the U.S. economy. The unemployment rate jumped to 4.4% from a 50-year low of 3.5%.

Last month’s actual job loss was likely even larger because the government surveyed employers before the heaviest layoffs hit in the past two week. Nearly 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March, far exceeding the figure for any corresponding period on record.

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Virus-induced shutdowns have forced widespread layoffs throughout the economy, from hotels, restaurants and movie theaters to auto factories, department stores and administrative offices.

One sign of how painfully deep the job losses will likely prove to be: During its nearly decade-long hiring streak, the U.S. economy added 22.8 million jobs. Economists expect the April jobs report being released in early May to show that all those jobs will have been lost.

UPDATE 7 a.m.: Drive-up coronavirus testing has been suspended by the Central Outreach Wellness Center as officials say testing is not as necessary as it had been in the beginning of the outbreak.

Leaders of the organization based on Pittsburgh’s North Shore said as more and more people become infected with COVID-19, it’s less important to know who has the virus and more important to socially distance.

Central Outreach had been offering drive-up testing at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and in Aliquippa. Those ended earlier this week.

Drive-up coronavirus testing ends at some locations

UPDATE 4:30 a.m.: Confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 7,016 in Pennsylvania on Thursday, when 1,211 new cases were announced by the state’s Department of Health. The statewide death total reached 90.

There were 55 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Beaver County as of Thursday.

As the statewide numbers grew, doctors and researchers from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh announced a potential vaccine that is delivered through a fingertip-sized patch.

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Man dies from COVID-19 at nursing home just days after testing positive