The number of New Jersey coronavirus patients in critical care dropped below 1,000 for the first time since early April, and progress in slowing the spread of the virus also strengthened in Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf cleared the real estate industry to resume in-person activity statewide, including in counties that have not yet moved into the first phase of reopening.
Pennsylvania also revealed new data Tuesday on coronavirus cases and deaths in long-term-care facilities, and reported the state’s first confirmed pediatric death. A child who was not a Pennsylvania resident died of the coronavirus in the commonwealth, said Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who reported 119 deaths Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 4,624, and 610 newly confirmed cases, meaning 63,666 Pennsylvanians have tested positive in total.
“We do consider this a very positive trend,” Levine said of the commonwealth’s decreasing new case counts. “We have been successful in terms of continuing to bend ... the curve.”
The numbers “are quite encouraging” in Philadelphia, too, said Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
In New Jersey, the governor reported 1,055 new positive tests for a statewide total of 149,013, and 162 deaths for a confirmed death toll of 10,586.
The day after unveiling a three-stage plan for when businesses can reopen, Gov. Phil Murphy cleared New Jersey car dealerships and bicycle shops for in-person transactions beginning Wednesday. He also authorized New Jersey’s 18,000-plus pharmacists to perform coronavirus tests, significantly increasing testing capacity as officials plan how to return to something closer to normal life.
Murphy reiterated that he’ll examine public health data before deciding when the state can move from the first to second stage of reopening. But he said he may approve more businesses to reopen in the coming days, with a priority on establishments that can operate outdoors.
Across the country and world, as some areas remained locked down, others pressed on with openings that brought troubling signs: As virus-ravaged Italy continued taking new steps this week toward lifting shutdown restrictions, the number of deaths and cases reported Tuesday rose sharply, with the number of new cases nearly doubling overnight. Nationwide, more than 1.5 million cases of the virus had been confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, the number is approaching 4.9 million.
In Delaware, retail businesses will be allowed to open for appointment-only business on Wednesday, Gov. John Carney said. Clothing and shoe stores, used merchandise retailers, and florists are among the businesses that are allowed to bring in two customers by appointment per half-hour, subject to social distancing and sanitizing guidelines.
The measure is an interim step leading up to June 1, when Delaware is planning on letting businesses and restaurants open their indoor spaces at 30% of capacity. Restaurants and bars may also apply to expand their outdoor seating capacity.
As Pennsylvania’s first counties to reach the state’s initial reopening stage approach the two-week mark at that milestone Friday, Levine said officials are still finalizing what benchmarks must be met for such yellow-tier counties to proceed to the less-restrictive green.
But the counties in the yellow zone, in the northern and western parts of the state, have not seen outbreaks of the virus except in congregate-care facilities, she said.
The spread of new infections continued to slow in Philadelphia, with the number of confirmed cases reported Tuesday at 179, down from recent daily tallies of about 200 and the city’s daily peak of 500 a month ago, Farley said.
Still, as the city’s number of confirmed cases of the virus passed 20,000, Mayor Jim Kenney said it was “a grim reminder many Philadelphians are still testing positive and all of us are still at risk — so stay home, stay safe, and wear a face cover when you go out.”
Over the next two weeks, the city will test all its jail inmates and juvenile detention residents for the virus, Kenney announced. Previously, the city had tested only those who showed symptoms. When Montgomery County tested all of its inmates last month, officials found 30 times more people were infected than previously known.
“This is an opportunity to see if we are missing a substantial number of cases that should be isolated that were not already isolated,” Farley said.
Three inmates in Philadelphia jails currently have the virus, he said. During the pandemic, at least 197 city inmates have contracted the disease, and one has died.
It remained too soon to set a timeline for when city businesses could reopen, but Farley said residents should begin preparing for life in the next phase of the coronavirus era.
“We've learned how to stay inside. The future will be going outside and wearing a mask,” he said. “Get used to wearing it, because that's what the future is going to look like.”
The state has not seen an expected large spike in applications for Medicaid, food stamps, and other benefits, unlike other states, including New York and New Jersey.
Since February, there has been a 2.2% increase in the number of people on Medicaid and approximately 7% increases in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), said Teresa Miller, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Miller said state officials are working on better outreach to people who may be eligible for assistance and are predicting that applications could increase in July, when unemployment benefits from the federal COVID-19 stimulus package are set to end.
Some relief is on the way for the approximately 500,000 older homeowners, renters, and people with disabilities who are set to receive property tax and rent rebate payments: The money will arrive up to six weeks early, Wolf and Treasurer Joe Torsella said at a briefing Tuesday.
About 111,000 of those payments were going out Tuesday and payments will continue at a pace of about 60,000 a week, Torsella said. Wolf said the deadline for the program has been extended to Dec. 31.
“The message that we’re sending to some of our most vulnerable is, we hear you, understand what you’re going through, and we’re doing everything in our power to help,” Torsella said.