Pittsburgh's spread helps drive up state COVID-19 infections

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The rising number of COVID-19 infections in the Pittsburgh area helped drive Pennsylvania's number of confirmed new cases to 667, the state Health Department said Friday.

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Pennsylvania's death toll from the coronavirus pandemic rose by 34 to more than 6,700 since the infection began to spread in the state earlier this year. There have been nearly 89,000 people diagnosed with the disease in the state so far.

The number of cases in Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, rose by 166, the department said. Allegheny County put the increase in confirmed cases at 177 on Friday.

In response to a spike in cases there, the county's Health Department closed bars and restaurants for a week, starting Friday, although they can still provide take-out and delivery.

Allegheny County also ordered the casino there to close and banned gatherings of more than 25 people for the next week, while encouraging residents to stay at home to help stem the spread.

Health officials in Philadelphia and Allegheny County have said they've noticed that many of those recently infected have been socializing in bars or traveling to beach vacations or coronavirus hot spots in other parts of the country.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

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RETURNING TRAVELERS

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is joining health officials in Allegheny County and Philadelphia in recommending that people returning to Pennsylvania from a coronavirus hot spot to stay at home for 14 days.

The Democratic governor's administration singled out the following 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Wolf's administration has not singled out any neighboring states yet. The recommendation comes as the infection curve has risen in 40 of the 50 states heading into the July Fourth holiday weekend, in particular in states in the South and West.

With the number of daily confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide climbing past 50,000, 36 states saw an increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus.

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MASK LAWSUITS

Giant Eagle is facing a consolidated lawsuit from more than 30 plaintiffs in federal court over how it has complied with the state's requirement that businesses ensure that customers wear masks.

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Thomas Anderson, said the grocery store chain is stopping everyone who isn't wearing a mask from entering their stores, regardless of whether those people meet a medical exception in the state's policy.

That policy allows people to enter a business with no obligation to provide that they have a qualifying medical condition.

Anderson said he is suing under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Some of his clients, he said, have been thrown out of stores by armed guards or arrested after employees called police.

In a statement, Giant Eagle said the lawsuits have no merit. It said it is committed to protecting the health and well-being of employees and customers, and that it has acted in line with federal and state guidance.

“We have numerous options in place to accommodate guests who do not want to wear a face covering or cannot wear a face covering due to a medical condition,” it said. "This includes offering to have one of our team members shop for them, suggesting use of our Giant Eagle curbside pickup and delivery service, and offering courtesy masks to those able to shop while wearing one.”

Gordon Denlinger, director of the National Federal of Independent Business' chapter in Pennsylvania, said he is aware of other businesses that have been sued over the mask requirement.

However, the state's guidance to business owners is confusing and forcing more potential liability onto them when they try to enforce it, Denlinger said.

Denlinger said the NFIB is backing pending legislation that would protect business owners from lawsuits when trying in good faith to comply with health orders under the state's pandemic emergency declaration.

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MASKS IN GYMS

With the governor's more expansive mask requirement issued this week, the state released new guidance on Friday to explain it.

One of the new, very specific points it addresses is mask-wearing while indoors and exercising at a health club or gym. The order requires it of people who are exercising, unless they meet one of the medical exceptions in the order.

Previously, many operators of gyms, exercise facilities and yoga studios across Pennsylvania have allowed people exercising to work out unmasked.

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