Philadelphia’s ban on indoor dining will continue until at least Sept. 1, city officials announced Tuesday, as they warned that coronavirus spikes elsewhere appear to have begun spreading to the Philadelphia region.
New daily case numbers and averages keep rising in Philadelphia and its four neighboring counties, in many cases making a fairly steady climb in July, state data shows. That means progress made in May and June in flattening the curve of infections appears to be eroding.
Two weeks ago, Philadelphia’s weekly average of new cases per day was 111; in the last week, the average reached 164 and will likely increase after delayed reports come in, said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. The positivity rate reported Tuesday was about 5.2%.
“The epidemic is likely to be worse before it gets better,” Farley said.
The School District acknowledged the same reality — and the fears of teachers and parents — as it announced public school classes will be fully virtual until November at the earliest. The Norristown Area School District made a similar call, saying classrooms will stay closed until at least January.
And the city continued to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins, whose infections caused Phillies games to be suspended at least through Friday. City health officials are working with the Marlins as they test and contact-trace players and staff members who tested positive for the virus after playing the Phillies over the weekend, Farley said, and Phillies players will be repeatedly tested for the next few days.
The risk to Philadelphia residents from the outbreak is small, as Marlins players should not have come into contact with any residents if the team followed its safety protocol, Farley said. He said he had been assured by Major League Baseball that any players and visiting teams would be effectively in quarantine during their time in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania reported 1,120 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a significant number of them in the Philadelphia region. The average number of new daily cases has at least doubled in Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties in the last month, and more than quadrupled in Delaware County, according to state data.
Nationwide, the United States has confirmed 4.3 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, and a White House report said 21 states were now in the “red zone” — meaning high infection rates — and needed to impose more restrictions, the New York Times reported.
At an appearance in York County, Gov. Tom Wolf called on Republicans in Congress to extend the program that provides an additional $600 weekly to people receiving unemployment compensation. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have sparred in recent days over a GOP proposal that would vastly reduce the weekly benefit, with a deal before August looking unlikely.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time for Washington to act,” Wolf said.
Delaware schools will likely reopen in the fall with a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning, Gov. John Carney said Tuesday. But the state will allow fully in-person instruction if the percentage of people who test positive for the virus drops below 3% by next week, when officials plan to make a final decision.
Carney predicted the state would need to use the hybrid model but asked residents to try to decrease the virus’ spread, suggesting that kids might have a better chance of attending classes in the fall if Delawareans wear masks and abide by social distancing for the next week.
“We can take our destiny in our own hands by flattening that curve more. That’s what we’re suggesting today,” Carney said. “For the benefit of our economy and for the benefit of our schoolchildren.”
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced an additional $15 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding would go to small businesses. The money will boost an existing grant program through the state Economic Development Authority.
According to Murphy’s administration, more than 10,600 state businesses have been approved for grants totaling more than $44 million.
As New Jersey expanded its quarantine advisory to include the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico, Philadelphia officials advised city residents to avoid the Jersey Shore.
Of sick Philadelphia residents interviewed by city contact tracers in the past week, 27% reported traveling out of state, the most common destination being the Shore. Fifteen percent reported traveling to other counties in Pennsylvania.
Mayor Jim Kenney noted Shore trips may be done safely by Philadelphia residents who own beach homes and stay in them because “that’s not the same as going to a 150-person party, or a kegger in some bar somewhere or somebody’s house.”
Philadelphians are most commonly catching the virus through family members or social events with friends or relatives, said Farley. Nearly half of people interviewed with COVID-19 cases said they had a known exposure to the virus. Of those, 36% said they were exposed by a family member and 40% said they were exposed at social events with friends and relatives.
Half the cases reported Tuesday were in people under 40.
“We all tend to trust our relatives and our friends, so those are times when people neglect use of masks or neglect to distance from people, even if they’re sick,” Farley said, urging people not to become lax around family members.
The city has not yet seen an increase in people admitted to hospitals with the virus, Farley said, but there has been an uptick in the number of people coming into city emergency rooms with fevers and coughs — a sign of increased spread of the virus.
Daily case reports were also rising in all four of the collar counties, particularly Delaware County, where the seven-day average number of new daily cases climbed from about 16 near the end of June to about 75 in the last week, according to state data analyzed by The Inquirer.
Overall, about 4% of people tested statewide from July 21 to 27 were infected with the virus, the Department of Health said Tuesday.
Pennsylvania’s skilled nursing facilities have completed testing all of their staff and patients, meaning they are closer to being able to allow visitors and resume group activities, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday.
“This was an essential step to further protect residents and staff inside these vulnerable communities,” she said. “Our goal with implementing universal testing in nursing homes was to rapidly detect asymptomatic residents and staff to prevent further spread.”
Levine also responded to transphobic harassment some have levied at her since she became the face of the commonwealth’s response to the pandemic. In recent weeks, an activity at a fund-raiser for the Bloomsburg Fair mocked the secretary — the first transgender person appointed to the Pennsylvania cabinet — and a central Pennsylvania tavern derogatorily named her in a menu item.
“To all LGBTQ young people: It is OK to be you, and it is OK to stand up for your rights and your freedoms,” Levine said at a Tuesday news briefing.
She urged Pennsylvanians to work towards “a spirit of acceptance and welcoming.”
“I have no room in my heart for hatred, and frankly I do not have time for intolerance,” she said. “My heart is full with a burning desire to help people, and my time is full with working toward protecting the public health of everyone in Pennsylvania from the global pandemic.”