The percentage of Pennsylvanians testing positive for the coronavirus decreased “significantly” last week for the fourth week straight, Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday.
Philadelphia and its surrounding counties all have moderate levels of community transmission, and only one county in the state — Union — is seeing substantial community spread, the state said in an update using a new data dashboard. Union County is said to have several known sources of outbreaks, though specifics were not provided; state officials plan to talk with school districts there about reopening.
“This is a testament that our actions are working, but we still have more work to do,” Wolf said in a statement. “The virus is still circulating, and we must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings to keep our numbers low, stop the spread, and allow more freedom.”
The community transmission data are meant to help schools determine what educational model to use when reopening. In New Jersey, state data indicate all the state’s regions are safe for reopening, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
About two-thirds of the school districts that have submitted plans to the state Department of Education have chosen hybrid models that combine in-person and remote learning, Murphy said. Of the 745 plans submitted so far, 59 are from districts intending to have fully in-person schooling and 180 are for remote-only lessons.
The rest plan hybrid reopenings, save for 11 that submitted multiple types of offerings.
Some schools that have reopened hit an unexpected snag Monday morning when the videoconferencing platform Zoom had a partial service outage. Some users, including those at Temple University, were able to use the platform again around 11 a.m., and by noon Zoom said service had been restored for “the majority of users.”
It was Temple’s first day of school, with far fewer students expected on the North Philadelphia campus and most classes being conducted remotely or in a hybrid format.
Temple reopened as other universities around the country continued to report outbreaks and risky student gatherings, including Pennsylvania State University, which suspended a fraternity for holding a house party.
As New Jersey reported 225 additional cases and Pennsylvania added 436, the entire country was seeing an ongoing decrease in cases. Those declines in states that previously had high numbers came after the summer spikes in the South and West — and after many states reimposed restrictions, according to a New York Times data analysis.
Still, the United States has had more than 5.7 million confirmed cases and 177,036 deaths as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
More than 33,000 Philadelphia residents have now had confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March. The city reported 263 new cases Monday, representing everything confirmed since Friday.
Garbage collection in Philadelphia will continue to be delayed this week, but residents should put out their trash on their usual day, the Streets Department said. Trash collection is one to two days behind; recycling collection, several days.
In Upper Darby, sanitation workers returned to the job Monday after the department was quarantined for two weeks due to coronavirus cases, Mayor Barbarann Keffer said. School bus drivers and two private waste disposal companies had stepped in to collect the township’s garbage while the staff of more than 60 was sidelined.
As Philadelphia restaurants prepare for the Sept. 8 resumption of indoor dining, New Jersey restaurant owners still don’t know when they might be able to bring back inside service.
Almost two months after Murphy pulled the plug on the resumption of indoor dining — postponing it just days before its scheduled return — he has faced mounting pressure from the owners of restaurants, as well as gyms and theaters. Murphy said he hoped to announce plans soon.
At his regular news briefing, he declined to explain which metrics were informing the decision, which differs from neighboring Pennsylvania and New York, where indoor dining and gym operation have been approved in all or part of those states.
“Sustained data that’s good is what we’re looking for, and we think we’re getting into that neighborhood right now,” Murphy said. “I hope that we’ll be able to get to some indoor steps sooner than later.”
He said New Jersey coordinates with other states, but that “it is much more in the vein of harmony, as opposed to lockstep.” He said a regional approach wouldn’t work for dining because unlike schools, customers don’t necessarily live close to local restaurants and could be coming from other places.
Shirley Tilghman, of the state’s Restart and Recovery Commission, cited New Zealand’s recent outbreak, following months with no cases, as a reason to proceed with caution when it comes to fully reopening.
“I don’t think there’s a single metric that is going to tell us when it’s going to be safe to begin to reopen more generally,” she said.
Pennsylvania released some contact tracing data in its new “early warning monitoring dashboard,” which will be updated weekly. Of people whose coronavirus cases were reported between Aug. 9 and 15 and who responded to a question from case investigators, half said they had been to a restaurant within 14 days before developing symptoms and nearly a quarter said they had visited a different type of business.
Seventeen percent said they had gone to a bar, 8% to a gym, and 12% to a hair salon. Nearly 12% of people who answered another question said they had attended a mass gathering or other large event two weeks before noticing symptoms.
The answers represented an increase in people who had reported visiting a restaurant, business, or barbershop and a decrease in the number of people going to a bar or gym, according to the state.
Pennsylvania’s positivity rate was at 3.4% last week, according to the state’s data analysis, a decrease from 4%. None of the counties in the Philadelphia region had high enough positivity rates to be put on the state’s list of counties of concern.