State flags in New Jersey were lowered to half-staff on Friday to honor the 646 residents who have died of the coronavirus, while Gov. Phil Murphy said the state’s grim toll may only be about a week behind that of New York, where nearly 3,000 people have died.
In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the number of new cases continued to rise. Gov. Tom Wolf urged all residents to wear cloth masks when they leave their homes. He said projections show that the commonwealth could avoid overrunning its hospital capacity if people keep taking protective measures and staying home.
Pennsylvania reported 8,420 cases and 102 deaths Friday, an increase of 1,404 cases. About 10% of Pennsylvania’s patients have required hospitalization.
New Jersey confirmed 29,895 cases and said 4,372 more people had tested positive for the disease since Thursday, with 113 dying overnight. About 3,000 Garden State residents are hospitalized with the virus. The governor’s call to lower the flags was the first time any state had done that for its coronavirus casualties, a Murphy spokesperson said.
"This is one of the greatest tragedies to ever hit our state,” Murphy said. “Since families at this time cannot even hold funerals for their loved ones, this is a small … important way to show their loss is not forgotten.”
He said the estimate that the state could be but days behind New York’s infection and death tally came after conversations with Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health. New York has been ravaged by the virus more than any other state, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases.
Delaware, too, saw its infections quadruple the number reported last week, passing 400. “The situation in Delaware is getting worse,” Gov. John Carney said.
Delaware warned Pennsylvania residents not to cross the border for an alcohol run or other nonessential reason after Carney imposed travel restrictions on out-of-state drivers. Philadelphia received some large donations of masks and protective equipment. SEPTA said it would receive $643 million in federal stimulus relief to help stem the losses from the coronavirus.
Wolf’s recommendation to wear cloth masks — not paper, surgical, or N95 masks, which are needed for essential workers — came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the same. But Wolf and his health secretary, Rachel Levine, stressed that wearing a mask should not provide a false sense of safety, and is not “a pass to go back to work or visit friends.”
Masks help prevent the wearer, the governor said, from inadvertently infecting “innocent bystanders … like the grocery store cashier, or the pharmacist or someone stocking shelves” but don’t protect the wearer from catching the virus.
It remains “critical that our first act … is to ask ourselves whether we really need to leave our house,” Wolf said.
State officials urged people to make their own masks, posting instructions on the Health Department website, or to find neighbors or businesses making them for the community.
Philadelphia officials announced nine more deaths in the city Friday, bringing the total to 26 out of 2,430 confirmed cases of the virus. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said 356 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Philadelphia, and 656 hospitalized in all of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
While initial cases of the virus were primarily among white people, most recent cases are in African Americans, Farley said.
“The virus is in every neighborhood. It’s in every population,” Farley said. “Everyone needs to take our recommendations seriously to avoid getting the infection or passing on the infection.”
The city announced changes to its recycling collection — moving to pickup every other week starting Monday through at least May 15 — while Common Pleas Court said it would start fast-tracking a review of inmates for potential release. That came as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court directed judges to monitor county jails’ virus protection efforts and, if necessary, intervene to facilitate the release of prisoners from facilities that can’t comply with guidelines.
As of Friday, 31 inmates in Philadelphia were infected with the virus, and half of the city’s 26 deaths had been nursing home residents. To combat the spread of the virus in group settings, city officials announced new protocols for both prisons and homeless shelters.
Inmates in city facilities will all be given masks and only let out of their cells for phone calls and showers, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. They will receive meals and medications in their cells.
Abernathy said the city’s homeless shelters are “doing extraordinary work against extraordinary odds,” and are working to reduce density and space beds six feet apart, offer “grab-and-go” instead of sit-down meals, teach residents about the virus, and provide screenings and care for people showing symptoms of COVID-19.
In Montgomery County, where confirmed cases reached 778, officials said a Specialized Medical Assistance and Response Team of 500 medical-care providers and volunteers would arrive Sunday to help boost the county’s “surge capacity” as available hospital beds dwindle.
County Commissioner Val Arkoosh said the county still has open beds, but that “every day, those beds get a little fewer.”
“Our goal, with our first responders, is to get through this with availability for everyone,” she said.
With the statewide stay-at-home order in place and holidays including Passover and Easter approaching, Wolf asked religious leaders and residents not to gather for celebrations. Pennsylvania does not plan any new enforcement of the order, but Wolf said he hopes Pennsylvanians will continue to heed the prevention measures.
He also urged Pennsylvanians to report any anti-Asian discrimination and said the Pennsylvania State Police would press charges for hate crimes.
“We’re going to win or lose this battle based on what each and every Pennsylvanian decides to do on their own,” he said. “If we don’t do the right thing, if we congregate, if we spread the disease … we’re going to overwhelm the health-care system and the peak, when it comes, it’s just going to be awful.”