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Philadelphia officials tell protesters to get tested for coronavirus or stay home

Philadelphia and its four suburban Pennsylvania counties remained on track for partial reopening Friday.

Christopher Aziz Johnson of Philadelphia passes out face masks to protesters on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pa. on Monday, June 1, 2020.
Christopher Aziz Johnson of Philadelphia passes out face masks to protesters on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pa. on Monday, June 1, 2020.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

As Philadelphia tried to reestablish calm after three days of demonstrations and unrest, city health officials on Tuesday advised people who were “at or near a protest” to get tested for the coronavirus or stay home for two weeks.

While Mayor Jim Kenney has questioned whether the city has the resources to begin reopening this week, the rest of the region moved forward with plans to gradually lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders.

Officials in the four suburban Pennsylvania counties said they are on track to move out of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s most restrictive “red” phase and add more business activity in the intermediate “yellow” phase beginning Friday.

The state of Delaware, meanwhile, spent a second day under a limited reopening that covered beach rentals, and some restaurants and businesses. Over the next two weeks, personal care shops such as hair salons, as well as child care and camps, are slated to open with various precautions.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy urged caution as the state prepared to allow outdoor restaurant dining and other limited commercial activity on June 15.

“Our economic restart cannot come with a restart of COVID-19,” he said.

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The cautious reemergence after more than two months of staying home and social distancing reflects success in curbing coronavirus infections and deaths, as the number of confirmed cases continued to fall. Pennsylvania on Tuesday reported 612 new cases for a total of 72,894, including 5,667 deaths. New Jersey reported 708 new cases, bringing its total to 161,545, of whom 11,770 have died.

Even in hard-hit Philadelphia, the trend in recent weeks has been steadily downward. The city reported 153 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 23,034, including 1,290 deaths. But it remains to be seen whether the trend will reverse because of mass gatherings. Tuesday’s primary election, while conducted with precautions, brought a steady stream of voters to the polls. And peaceful protests against George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis turned into days of mass riots and looting in Center City and beyond.

“Those who were at or near a protest — even if they wore a mask — should follow these recommendations to combat the spread of the virus,” the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said Tuesday in a news release.

In addition to monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, the department recommended staying home for 14 days — believed to be the maximum incubation period for infection — or getting tested after seven days.

“Those seeking testing do NOT need to identify that they were at a protest but instead should say they were near someone who may have had COVID-19,” said the advisory.

In Montgomery County, officials remained confident that businesses could proceed to the “yellow” partial-reopening phase on Friday, said Val Arkoosh, chair of the county’s board of commissioners.

While case counts and hospitalizations have been falling, the county’s testing capacity has been increasing from about 250 tests a day to 350. The county also has stepped up its ability to track and quarantine new cases that may emerge as people resume more normal activities, she said.

“We have the infrastructure in place to manage what will come next in the yellow phase,” said Arkoosh, who is a physician. “What I can’t control is people’s behavior. I am just imploring the people of Montgomery County and anyone coming here to please follow the social-distancing guidance.”

Also Tuesday, the economic fallout of the pandemic spread to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as commissioners voted to lay off 500 fare collectors and other toll workers.

In March, the agency temporarily adopted an all-electronic, cashless toll system to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With the layoffs to begin June 18, that switch is now permanent, the agency said.

Motorists who pay through the E-ZPass system will continue to do so. Those without it will get bills in the mail, generated by automated license-plate readers.

Traffic has fallen by almost half compared with a year ago, and the agency said it also wanted to avoid having to shut down entire interchanges when a worker has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press.

“I deeply regret that we have reached this point, but the world has been irrevocably changed by the global pandemic,” chief executive Mark Compton said in a statement. “This pandemic had a much greater impact than anyone could have foreseen.”

Staff writer Sarah Gantz contributed to this article.