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Pittsburgh police chief fed up with governor over unclear coronavirus order


Left: Gov. Tom Wolf / Right: Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert
(Source: Twitter / Facebook)

Megan Guza
The Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said Friday the bureau learned about Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to shut down non-life-sustaining businesses on the news Thursday night and said communication from the state has been lackluster.

The governor’s order stating “non-life-sustaining” businesses in Pennsylvania close to help slow the spread of the coronavirus took effect at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Businesses that refuse to close will face “enforcement actions” beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

“Like many people, we saw it on the news last night,” Schubert said during a public safety news conference. “We have not had the level of communication that I think a lot of us on the law enforcement side wish we would have had.”

Schubert said the bureau is working Friday with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and other chiefs of police around Western Pennsylvania to see what enforcement powers they have.

“It would have been nice to have more communication with law enforcement on expecting us to do something to ensure that we have the powers to do it,” Schubert said.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich noted that police have the authority to break up groups of 50 or more.

“We don’t want to arrest anyone,” Hissrich said. “Arresting any individual or citing any individual is basically taking time from the police for their essential day-to-day routine.”

Beyond that, all branches of the city’s Public Safety Department are working to balance their functions with keeping themselves and others at as safe a distance as possible.

For police, that means ramping up the reports that can be taken via the bureau’s telephone reporting system. Schubert said more officers are able to take calls, which include nonviolent complaints and others that don’t need immediate attention, and more than 100 reports have been taken through the system this week.

Paramedics and EMTs have made the most changes, including restrictions about who is allowed to ride in the back of an ambulance with a patient.

“If someone can get a ride to the hospital on their own with a private vehicle, that’s what we’re going to recommend,” said EMS Chief Ronald Romano.

Calls for illness will also be screened before paramedics even get to a patient’s location, he said. Symptoms will be screened, and callers will be connected with a health care professional via phone. If they are young, otherwise healthy and have mild symptoms, it will be recommended they just stay home.

“Transporting low-risk patients to the hospital with mild symptoms has multiple negative consequences in the current situation,” Romano said. “It ties up limited EMS resources, it uses up our limited … personal protection equipment, and it potentially (exposes) patients and others to the virus.”

Assistant EMS Chief Mark Pinchalk stressed that doesn’t mean anyone who is ill will be left on their own. Those who are sick but not suffering from severe symptoms will be placed into active monitoring, and health care professionals will be in daily contact.

“Eighty percent of us who get this are going to be fine,” Pinchalk said. “If we transport everyone person who thinks they’re sick to the hospital, we will collapse the pre-hospital and hospital care systems.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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