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Pettit takes bench as Washington County’s newest judge

Jesse Pettit couldn’t hide his enthusiasm as his mentor in the law, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher, helped him pull on a black robe moments after he was sworn-in to serve as Washington County’s next judge on the Court of Common Pleas.

“He’s been a personal friend,” Pettit said of Fisher after Monday’s swearing-in ceremony at the Washington County Courthouse. “He’s given me guidance and advice throughout my career, and he’s played an important role in my career.”

Fisher, who served as state Attorney General in the late 1990s and early 2000s, hired Pettit right out of law school to work in his office and helped propel his legal career that began as a state prosecutor.

“He learned the law quickly and he worked hard and he was good with people,” Fisher said. “Those three things are usually a good combination.”

Fisher wasn’t surprised that Pettit would eventually be elevated to judge after getting to see him work in his office. Pettit, who lives in Peters Township, has served as magistrate for the past four years in the district centered around his hometown until he was elected a judge in the county courthouse last year and took his seat on the bench Monday.

“It’s a happy day, it’s a great day for Washington County,” said Fisher, who is also a Peters Township resident. “It’s no surprise to me the people of Washington County elected him. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”

During a short speech, Pettit thanked his family for helping him through his legal and political career. However, he did not mention the name of his late father, John Pettit, who served as the county’s district attorney for 24 years before he lost reelection in 2007.

“Thank you for being right here by my side throughout this journey,” Pettit said to his wife, Rebecca, and their four children. “Thank you for the sacrifices that you all have made over the last year of this journey. ... I hope to make you all proud. I hope to make the citizens of Washington County proud.”

Pettit will handle family law and protection-from-abuse cases as the court’s newest judge.

After Fisher helped him pull on his robe, Pettit breathed a sigh of relief and then said, “OK,” before he was immediately thrust into his first official duty as Court of Common Pleas judge and administered the oath of office to District Judge Curtis Thompson for another term. Newly elected magistrates Kelly Stewart, Louis McQuillan and John Bruner also were sworn-in during Monday’s ceremony.

After a short recess for a reception following the judiciary ceremony, the gathering reconvened to swear-in three new row officers to county government. Sheriff Tony Andronas, Controller April Sloane and Recorder of Deeds Carrie Perrell each took the oath Monday after winning their first terms in their respective row offices in November.

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AHN changes visitation policy amid latest COVID surge; Washington County COVID cases continue to climb

Allegheny Health Network is reinstating temporary restrictions on patient visitation due to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in Western Pennsylvania.

“With the emergence of the highly infectious delta and omicron variants, COVID-19 is once again spreading rapidly throughout every community we serve and filling our hospital beds,” said Dr. Brian Parker, AHN’s Chief Quality and Learning Officer. “It is essential that we continue to take every measure that we can to protect our patients and caregivers from this virus, and we greatly appreciate the support and cooperation of our patients’ loved ones with those efforts, including limited visitation privileges at this time.”

Beginning immediately, AHN, which includes Canonsburg General Hospital, will allow just one inpatient visitor in its facilities per day during regular hospital visitation hours, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The visitor/support person cannot change throughout the day.

In Washington County, COVID-19 cases climbed to the highest point of the pandemic over New Year’s weekend, but no deaths were recorded over the three-day period from Dec. 31 to Jan. 2. The death toll remains at 514.

Hospitalizations remained high, with ICU beds at all Washington County hospitals more than 94% full.

According to the state Department of Health, 1,022 new cases were reported in Washington County over the three-day span, including 457 new cases on Dec. 31. In Fayette County, 306 new cases were recorded over New Year’s weekend. One additional COVID-19 death brought the total number to date to 539.

At AHN, clergy visitation is also permitted, in addition to the one support person.

Some exceptions to the temporary patient visitation policy may be made for those in certain areas or special circumstances, including: labor and delivery; neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU); pediatrics; end of life care; the Emergency Department; and patients who have an intellectual, developmental, cognitive, or physical disability, communication barrier, or behavioral concerns.

Visitors must be age 18 or older and must present a valid identification.

AHN will screen visitors for COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive, and visitors must wear masks.

The hospital is encouraging families and friends to connect with patients digitally, with FaceTime and Snapchat with loved ones during their stay at the network’s hospitals.

Parker also recommended more people get vaccinated to avoid additional COVID surges and to reduce the opportunity for variants to occur.

“The single most important thing that we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated,” said Parker, noting the vast majority of those getting sick and hospitalized are unvaccinated.

“Low vaccination rates are also contributing to the development of increasingly transmissible variants like delta and omicron and preventing us from bringing this pandemic to an end,” Parker said.

Also, as a result of the significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, combined with record-breaking surgical volumes at AHN facilities, increasing patient transfer requests to AHN from non-affiliated hospitals, and the staffing shortages impacting the health care industry, AHN is “limiting our operating room cases that require an inpatient bed to those prioritized by a combination of clinical condition and surgical indication.”

Ambulatory surgical cases at AHN facilities are continuing as scheduled.

“We are committed to ensuring the safest clinical environment for our patients and caregivers, and this temporary scaling back of our surgical volumes will help us meet that high standard during this latest pandemic surge,” a hospital spokesperson said via email.

Size, mass estimate of New Year's Day meteor released
  • Updated

PITTSBURGH – Scientists have released a size and mass estimate of an exploding meteor believed to have caused a loud boom and shaking of the ground across portions of suburban Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day.

NASA’s Meteor Watch social media site said a nearby infrasound station registered the blast wave from the meteor as it broke apart – and the data enabled an estimate of the energy released as equivalent to 30 tons of TNT.

Officials said a “reasonable assumption” of the speed of the meteor at about 45,000 miles per hour would allow a “ballpark” estimate of its size as about a yard in diameter with a mass close to half a ton.

If not for the cloudy weather, they said, it would have been easily visible in the daytime sky – maybe about 100 times the brightness of the full moon.

National Weather Service meteorologist Shannon Hefferan said satellite data recorded a flash over Washington County shortly before 11:30 a.m. Saturday and officials believed it was because of a meteor “falling through the atmosphere.” Hefferan said a similar event occurred Sept. 17 in Hardy County, W.Va.

Residents in South Hills and other areas reported hearing a loud noise and feeling their homes shaking and rattling.

Allegheny County officials said they had confirmed that there was no seismic activity and no thunder and lightning.