Philadelphia has surpassed 25,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, the city announced on Monday, as it moves toward the modified “green” phase of reopening slated for July 3.
“Some may think that the pandemic is no longer a big deal,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “But passing this 25,000 mark is a sobering reminder that COVID-19 remains a serious threat.”
As the Philadelphia region prepared for its own reopenings starting Friday, New Jersey hair salons, barbershops, outdoor swimming pools, and outdoor sports practices restarted on Monday, and the governor announced a pre-July Fourth opening date for casinos and indoor dining.
Gov. Phil Murphy cautioned residents against letting “their hair down too much,” echoing officials in Pennsylvania, who said wearing masks consistently — required in all businesses in the “yellow” and green phases of reopening — “could have lasting benefits” in staving off a second surge of cases in the fall.
The seven-day moving average for new cases of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania and New Jersey has continued to fall, though Monday marked the third day of a very slight increase in Pennsylvania’s average after a low on Friday.
New cases are increasing in Delaware and about 22 other states, according to data tracked by the New York Times. As of Monday, more than 2.3 million Americans had contracted the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 120,000 had died. The country’s new cases accounted for 20% of all new cases globally, the Times reported.
In South Jersey, the rate of positive tests was above 5%, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday, higher than the less-than-2% rate in the north and central regions. She said it could be partially attributed to increased testing of seasonal workers in the region, and said the state also needed to determine whether the overall amount of testing had decreased.
New Jersey is in the “middle phases” of its second stage of reopening, Murphy said, and will “soon” set a date for entering Stage 3.
In spite of several encouraging trends in the state’s health metrics, Murphy tweeted a reminder to residents: “We’re still a Top 10 state in terms of total hospitalizations, and we remain in the Top 5 in the number of deaths,” he said. “Social distancing is the only way we drop in these rankings.”
The governor announced Monday that the state’s nine casinos, all located in Atlantic City, would be permitted to reopen at 25% capacity on July 2, as will indoor dining, also at 25% capacity. Shopping malls will open next Monday.
Murphy also approved outdoor gatherings of 250 people on Monday, increasing the limit from 100. He criticized people who were seen on social media partying in tight quarters at the Shore this weekend, saying the state is discussing how to tighten enforcement of safety protocols.
In Pennsylvania, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery Counties will move into the “green” stage of reopening on Friday. Philadelphia will keep some restrictions in place until at least July 3. But on Friday, city salons, barbers, spas, residential pools, and outdoor zoos will be allowed to reopen.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority on Monday resumed charging for on-street parking at meters and kiosks throughout the city. It also resumed enforcing all on-street signage and parking regulations, which were relaxed due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
SEPTA also reopened some stations that had closed amid the virus’ spread, including Tioga, Somerset, Second Street, and Dilworth Park on the Market-Frankford Line, and Spring Garden and Lombard-South Stations on the Broad Street Line.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that the state has reduced the number of people in prison by 3,471 since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Less than 1% of the population in state correctional facilities has contracted the coronavirus, his office said.
The reduction, achieved by various measures including expediting certain releases and increasing parole releases, kept the virus from “spreading widely” among people in prison, Wolf said.
In New Jersey, Atlantic City’s nine casinos have been closed since March 16, putting about 26,000 employees out of work. They and advocates for casino workers greeted the reopening date enthusiastically.
“We’re delighted that they’re reopening casinos, especially that the state has been open-minded enough to include food and beverage on the inside,” said Unite Here Local 54 casino workers union president Bob McDevitt. “We think it’s a great place to start.”
Murphy and others said the state would be stricter with safety protocols than Nevada has been in operating its casinos.
Borgata and Hard Rock have already released detailed reopening plans outlining new safety and sanitizing protocols, including distancing in slot machines and table games.
Marie Jones, a gaming attorney with the Atlantic City branch of Fox Rothschild LLP, predicted customers would return to casinos and quickly fill them to the 25% capacity.
“I think the casinos are ready to reopen,” she said. “They have their protocols. They’ve all been working on them quite diligently. Most have operations in other jurisdictions and have some operational experience in place with the reopening.”
In Bensalem, Parx Casino will open with safety and distancing measures in place next Monday, three days after Bucks County moves into the green phase, its owners said in a statement Monday.
Restaurant owners were also contemplating how to return to indoor dining with low capacity.
“It’s like trying to hit a moving target,” said Cookie Till, owner of Steve & Cookie’s in Margate, N.J., which has been offering takeout and, more recently, sit-down service outdoors. “We’re still trying to figure out outdoor dining and how to structure that with the takeout. I’m not complaining, because I have more seats than most, but is it worth it?”