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Blue Ride raises money for local charities

Since 2004, the hills around the city of Washington have been alive with a distinctive sound on the last Sunday in July.

The sound of motorcycles.

That’s when the Blue Knights International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Chapter 16 has its annual Blue Ride from the North Strabane Township Volunteer Fire Department station on Route 19 to the American Legion post on Park Avenue. A fundraiser for an array of local charities, it has raised more than $500,000 since its inception.

This past Sunday, there were 474 cyclists that participated, according to Dave Richards, the ride’s chairman. Consisting of current and former law enforcement officers, the number of participants was somewhat lower this year as a result of the coronavirus.

“Everybody that attended was provided with a mask,” Richards said.

The charities that benefit from the Blue Ride include the Salvation Army, Blueprints, and Washington City Mission, among many other organizations. Given the toll the coronavirus has exacted on both the health and economic well-being of many people in the region, the money raised by the Blue Ride will be particularly important this year, Richards said.

“That’s why we tried to get the event in,” Richards said. “It’s been a tough year for everybody. And the Blue Riders like to do good things.”

The Blue Knights was formed in Maine in 1974 with the idea of promoting the use of motorcycles and creating a bond between retired and current law enforcement officers and the public. The organization now has chapters as far afield as Canada and Australia, with all its chapters estimated to have raised more than $18 million for charity over the last 46 years.

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COVID-19 cases stabilize in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s surge in COVID-19 cases that forced the July 3 closure of bars in Allegheny County has stabilized, state Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday.

However, the Gov. Tom Wolf administration has no plans “at this time to roll back” reduced occupancy rates at restaurants statewide under an order he issued two weeks ago that also closed bars that don’t sell food.

“Today’s cases are still increasing,” Levine said during a Tuesday briefing on COVID-19.

Amie Downs, spokeswoman for Allegheny County, agreed that the new case counts in that county were “pretty level,” but higher than officials there would like to see.

There were 1,120 new cases of the virus announced that day in Pennsylvania, 119 of which were in Allegheny, marking the sixth straight day of new cases having been in three digits in that county.

The daily case counts were still inching up locally. There were 18 new COVID-19 cases in Washington County, taking its total to 699. There was one new case in Greene County, whose number rose to 100. Fayette County experienced 22 new cases to its total that rose to 336, according to state Health Department records.

Levine said all of the state’s 693 nursing homes have complied with a mandate to test all residents and employees for COVID-19. The report on the testing is due in 41 days.

The homes have been hit extremely hard by the disease, with infections having come from the communities where they are located, Levine said.

The seven new deaths announced Tuesday in Allegheny were all associated with long-term care facilities, its health department said.

Levine, a transgender woman who has been mocked for her sexual orientation during the pandemic, also responded Tuesday to the transphobia that has been directed at her.

She said her critics may think they are only expressing their displeasure at her, but their actions “perpetuate the spirit of intolerance.”

“To the young people it is OK to be you,” Levine said.

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National teacher union supports strikes over reopening plans

One of the nation’s largest teachers unions is authorizing its members to strike if their schools plan to reopen without proper safety measures in the middle of the global pandemic.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million school employees, including some in Washington and Greene counties, issued a resolution on Tuesday saying it will support any local chapter that decides to strike over reopening plans.

In providing its blessing, the union is also offering local chapters access to its financial and legal resources as they navigate a return to the classroom. Union officials said they will provide legal support, communications support and staffing to local chapters that vote to strike.

Although the measure says strikes should be considered only as a “last resort,” it lists conditions the organization wants met for schools to reopen. It says buildings should reopen only in areas with lower virus rates, and only if schools require masks, update ventilation systems and make changes to space students apart.

In announcing the measure, the union’s president blasted President Donald Trump for pressuring schools to reopen even as the virus continues to surge. Randi Weingarten called Trump’s response “chaotic and catastrophic,” saying it has left teachers afraid.

“We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” Weingarten said. “But if authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, nothing is off the table.”

The union’s leaders approved the resolution Friday but announced it Tuesday at the group’s convention, which is being hosted online amid the pandemic.

The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, separately said its members will do “whatever it takes” to protect students.

“Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators, but when it comes to their safety, we’re not ready to take any options off the table,” the group’s president, Lily Eskelsen García, said in a statement.

For weeks, Trump has pressed for a full reopening of the nation’s schools. Last week he acknowledged that some schools may need to delay a return to in-person instruction, but he’s still asking Congress to withhold future virus relief to schools that fail to reopen.

Some of the nation’s largest public school districts are starting the school year online, including in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston.

In Ohio’s largest district, about 2,700 Columbus City Schools educators had previously signed a letter calling on leaders to start the fall term online, with the union arguing that the stakes “are too high for experiments.”

They got their wish Tuesday as the district announced it will start the year with virtual learning for all students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

In Massachusetts, nurses represented by the Boston Teachers Union are planning a sit-in at City Hall on Wednesday over the city’s reopening plan. The nurses are calling for rapid testing in schools to identify COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They also want more protective equipment for nurses and teachers and assessments of air quality in school buildings, among other measures.

For other districts planning to reopen, the federation’s safety demands could be difficult to meet. The union says schools should open only in areas where the infection rate among those tested for the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, is below 5%, and where the transmission rate is below 1%. It also says local authorities must have plans to close schools if cases spike.

Along with mask requirements, the union is also pushing schools to keep people 6 feet apart, to keep buildings and buses clean, and to make accommodations for teachers at greater risk of health problems if they contract COVID-19.

For many schools, more funding will be needed to reopen safely, the union said. It estimates the average school will need at least $1.2 million, amounting to $116 billion nationwide. The resolution says Trump and Senate Republicans have “have failed to negotiate and pass a new stimulus bill to address the resources vitally needed for reopening our schools.”

The latest stimulus proposal from the White House and Senate Republicans includes $105 billion for schools and colleges, though some of the money is only for schools that reopen for in-person classes. In May, the Democratic-led House included $100 billion for schools – none of it limited to those holding on-site classes – but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said even more money is needed.

In her speech, Weingarten said teachers want schools to reopen. Children need in-person instruction, she said, adding that remote instruction is “no substitute for it.” But she said teachers need to know they’ll be kept safe.

Before Trump began pressing schools to reopen, she said, a union poll found that its members were comfortable returning if proper safeguards were in place.

“Now they’re afraid and angry,” she said. “Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills.”

Along with strikes, the union said it will fight unsafe reopening plans through lawsuits and labor grievances. The union’s Florida chapter filed a lawsuit last week attempting to block the state’s plan to reopen schools, which the suit called “reckless and unsafe.”

Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.