In a normal year, there might be no reason to connect the Pennsylvania Farm Show with Drexel University or a small church in Philadelphia’s Tacony section. One draws hundreds of thousands to the center of the state to gawk at animals and butter sculptures; another trains would-be engineers; the third offers its community a place to worship.
On Wednesday, the coronavirus crashed into all three. The Farm Show will be a virtual event, it was announced, ending the prospect of hundreds of thousands of people converging on the Harrisburg complex this January. Citing concerns over the spread seen in other colleges, Drexel announced it would conduct undergraduate classes remotely this fall. And in Tacony, an outbreak at CityReach Church led the city’s health department to urge parishioners to self-quarantine.
Almost six months since the first infections appeared in the region, new cases in most local counties are dropping, but the virus continues to foster chaos. SEPTA General Manager Leslie S. Richards told the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee on Wednesday that the financial devastation caused by the pandemic could lead to deep cuts in services in the coming years. In New Jersey, political fallout persisted in the battle over mail voting, with President Donald Trump suing the Garden State over Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to mail ballots for November’s elections to every active registered voter.
New Jersey health officials on Wednesday added 399 cases of the coronavirus and 11 deaths from the last several days.
Pennsylvania reported 570 new coronavirus cases and 24 deaths. The commonwealth is averaging 717 new cases a day over the last seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, the number decreasing over the past few days. Philadelphia reported 137 new cases and 18 deaths from over the last two weeks.
Nine members of the CityReach Church on Torresdale Avenue have tested positive for COVID-19, the city health department said Wednesday. The members are from five different households and officials believe more people are infected.
Parishioners and staff should consider themselves exposed to COVID-19 if they attended a service this month, according to the health department, and are being asked to quarantine for 14 days.
Senior Pastor Mark Novalés said in a statement that in-person services have not been held since Aug. 13.
“While we cannot say with certainty where the source of any individual infection began, we as a church have taken extreme measures to protect the health of those who worship at CityReach,” the statement said.
Colleges across the nation have reported hundreds of infections since students returned to campuses. Drexel’s decision to conduct classes remotely and close campus housing to undergraduates was made the same day that Temple University reported two cases among students.
Drexel president John Fry said the school had hoped students could attend classes in person, but added in a statement that “the shifting nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on other colleges and universities has necessitated a change of course.” Fall tuition for undergrads will be frozen.
The week-long Farm Show, now an online-only event, normally features about 6,000 animals and 10,000 competitive exhibits along with entertainment like horse shows, tractor pulls and an annual butter sculpture.
“While this field may lie fallow in January, we are cultivating tomorrow,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding told the Associated Press.
While the number of hospitalizations continues to decline in Delaware, an uptick in new coronavirus cases last week and a small rise in the positivity rate have again landed the state on New Jersey’s travel quarantine list, along with 34 other states and territories.
Delaware Gov. John Carney said he believed a data entry error may be responsible for his state’s inclusion. Over the last seven days, Delaware has averaged 68 new cases per day and a positive rate of 4.4%, both of which would place it below the criteria of what New Jersey considers a high level of community spread, Carney said.
The tri-state quarantine applies to people arriving in New Jersey, New York, or Connecticut from states where the rolling seven-day average of new cases is at 10 or more people per 100,000. Due to Delaware’s small population, a seven-day average of 97 new cases per day automatically lands the state on the list.
“We need to just continue to get better, and then we won’t be there,” Carney said. “What’s frustrating is when we do get better and we end up on the list because of a data glitch, which is just unacceptable.”
In New Jersey, following news of the Trump campaign’s lawsuit over Murphy’s executive order on mail-in ballots, the governor said vote-by-mail plans would keep residents and their votes safe.
“This goes far beyond attempts at weaponizing the United States Postal Service to disenfranchise voters. This is now becoming a full-throated propaganda campaign to undermine the election itself,” said Murphy at his regular coronavirus briefing, noting that mail voting has been used extensively across the country and in New Jersey.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for New Jersey, describes Murphy’s order as “illegal” and claims the state’s new voting flexibility “will violate eligible citizens’ right to vote,” according to Reuters.
“The Trump campaign is embarking on a brazen attempt to sow fear and confusion and to delegitimize our elections and cast doubt on our democratic process,” Murphy said. “They’re trying to distract us from focusing on our future. But we will not be distracted. Our plans for November will move forward. If vote-by-mail is good enough for the president, it’s good enough for all of us.”
“We will defend our rights vigorously and we will not back down,” Murphy added. “So as they say, bring it on.”