Nine more Pennsylvania counties were put under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order on Friday, including Berks and Lancaster, bringing 19 counties in all under some form of lockdown aimed at slowing the rapid spread of the coronavirus. In New Jersey, the death toll passed 100, and Gov. Phil Murphy called on anyone with medical training to help the state’s health-care workers.
As Friday marked three weeks since Pennsylvania’s first positive coronavirus test was reported, layoffs rippled through the region, Philadelphia-area hospitals were bracing for the anticipated — and potentially disastrous — patient surge, and a Pennsylvania member of Congress, Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler County, said he had tested positive for the virus.
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President Donald Trump signed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package intended to help businesses and workers cope with the epidemic and, after days of calls from states for the federal government to provide more equipment, ordered General Motors Co. to make ventilators. The U.S. coronavirus case count passed 100,000, the most of any country.
New Jersey confirmed an additional 1,982 coronavirus cases, bringing the state total to 8,825, Murphy announced Friday. A total of 108 people have died, 27 of them since Thursday. Pennsylvania reported 531 new cases for a total of 2,218 in 50 counties. Twenty-two people have died.
Montgomery County reported its fourth death, and Philadelphia and Delaware County each reported two deaths on Friday. Philadelphia also said a prison inmate and the first employee in the city’s Department of Corrections had tested positive and said five inmates were in quarantine; officials declined to provide specifics about their locations.
Health officials in New Jersey, which has the second-highest number of cases in the country, warned that the peak of the outbreak is still weeks away, and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said officials do not know when the surge is going to be, though they are watching various models. The commonwealth is “no more than two weeks” behind New York City, said P.J. Brennan, chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, on Thursday.
While a peak is inevitable, “the degree of that surge will depend on the effectiveness of our prevention,” Levine said, reminding residents to continue staying home.
It will take weeks for the states to know whether enough people are following social distancing and stay-at-home orders to slow the growth of coronavirus cases, but Bucks County officials said they should know in a matter of days whether social distancing measures are working there.
In Philadelphia, where 637 cases have been confirmed and 50 patients have been hospitalized, officials were “talking to every major institution” in the city about the potential use of their facilities for hospital or quarantine space, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Friday.
Temple University’s Liacouras Center will become overflow hospital space, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Friday, able to hold 250 patients.
“Materials and supplies will be moving into the Liacouras Center over the next few days," Kenney said. “I sincerely hope we never have to use the supplies or this space, but we will be ready if we do.”
The arrangement includes the Liacouras Center; its parking garage; and the student pavilion, an indoor athletic and practice space one block north on Broad Street, Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said. The center would be used for the hospital and the pavilion for storage.
It will most likely be used for patients who do not have the coronavirus but are in need of other care, to free up hospital space for people with the infection, Abernathy said. The university facilities were provided to the city at no cost, Kenney said, adding, “We’re very Temple proud.”
Set to be run by military medical personnel, it will be the second facility in the region to be mounted by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; on Friday, state lawmakers announced that the Glen Mills Schools campus in Delaware County — empty after revelations of abuse — is also slated to become a medical station.
The Holiday Inn Express at 13th and Walnut Streets will open fully this weekend as a quarantine site for people experiencing homelessness and others. It has already hosted some city employees, Abernathy said.
The city is continuing to search for other space. Other cities plan to use convention centers as hospital overflow space, including the Javits Center in New York and the Atlantic City Convention Center. But there are no current plans to use the Pennsylvania Convention Center as hospital space, said president and CEO John McNichol on Friday. Conversations with the city are continuing, but “our focus is on getting back to business as soon as possible so we can save jobs,” he said.
There are coronavirus cases throughout Philadelphia, city data released Friday showed, with fewer than five cases in some zip codes and as many as 35 in others. As of Friday evening, city data showed West Philadelphia, with 35 cases in 19143, and Queen Village, with 33 cases in 19147, had the highest numbers.
Approximately 40% of all intensive-care hospital beds are still available statewide, Levine said Friday. There are 3,400 ICU beds and 3,600 ventilators in the state, the use of which is being tracked by officials. The state is requesting and purchasing more supplies as it works on “contingency plans” for hospitals that may run out of beds and equipment when the case count surges.
Officials in New Jersey expect to see a high demand for critical care beds by mid-April, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Friday. A field hospital was being constructed on Friday at the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus and should be ready within a week to serve as a general facility for treating both coronavirus patients and others, officials said.
Murphy extended a plea to anyone with any medical training from New Jersey or elsewhere: please enlist to help.
“We need to call for experienced backup,” he said, calling on retired doctors and nurses, as well as medical students and EMTs, to volunteer their services through the state. “We need to go to the bullpen.”
As the state hopes to receive supplies requested from the federal government, Murphy also ordered all business and non-hospital health-care facilities to disclose any inventory of masks and other personal protective equipment to the state by Friday evening. All elective surgeries were to be canceled statewide, also beginning Friday evening.
Other provisions to help life continue amid the pandemic came in two laws Wolf signed Friday, one to officially set the state’s presidential primary date as June 2, and one decreeing that Pennsylvania schools must make “good faith efforts” to continue educating students during the ongoing school closures.
While Pennsylvania has not required school districts to provide instruction, the new law requires districts and charter schools to post “continuity of education” plans on their websites and submit the plans to the state Department of Education.
Developing those plans is “the biggest challenge in front of” school districts right now, said Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. He said school leaders are considering whether they are “going to move ahead and teach new content and material,” or focus on review and enrichment activities.
The counties added to Wolf’s stay-at-home order Friday were Berks, Butler, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Luzerne, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland, and York. The order took effect at 8 p.m. Friday, and will remain in place until April 6.
Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, and Philadelphia Counties are already under the stay-at-home order, which directs residents to leave their homes only for essential items such as groceries and medicine.
“I cannot express my gratitude enough to the medical professionals who will be fighting this virus on the front lines," Wolf said Thursday. "When we choose to stay home, we’re thanking a medical professional.”