Baseball is back, so is basketball. Museums are reopening, as are public gardens. And water parks, and amusement parks. But on the eve of the July Fourth weekend, neither the region nor the nation appeared close to declaring independence from COVID-19, a tenacious and insidious enemy.
With cases creeping up locally — and surging in some states — Gov. Tom Wolf ordered that masks must be worn in all public places where people cannot stay reasonably apart, saying upticks were occurring where people “were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.”
The state on Wednesday reported 636 additional cases, the biggest increase in its daily updates since June 5. The coronavirus-related death toll in the eight-county Philadelphia region has nudged past 5,000, and nationally it tops 125,000.
Health officials in Philadelphia, where coronavirus numbers have been plateauing rather than declining, said that reopening plans would proceed with caution. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said it was possible that some reopened businesses would have to close if the numbers go up. And the city issued quarantine requirements on travelers from 15 states in the South and West where case figures were increasing significantly.
“We’ll never be able to stop people from bringing the virus from other places into Philadelphia,” Farley said. “What we can do is try to reduce the likelihood that once people have it in Philadelphia, that they spread it to others.”
The edict would require 14-day quarantines for all arrivals from California, which just ordered a three-week closure of bars and a ban on inside dining in restaurants, and Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
That is similar to the policy in New Jersey, where concerns have flared over crowd behavior in beach towns. Gov. Phil Murphy postponed allowing indoor dining indefinitely and said the state wouldn’t tolerate violations of its restrictions.
“No one should get a pass for putting public health at risk,” Murphy said. “Even one knucklehead bar can ruin it for everyone.”
Murphy did point to a “positive one-day sign that we need to turn into a trend.” After slowly rising over the last two weeks, Wednesday’s figures showed a slight decrease in the rate of transmissions.
Ahead of the July Fourth weekend, the state was planning to allow the reopening of various attractions, including water parks, playgrounds, amusement parks, museums, and libraries.
Across the Delaware River, Philadelphia’s indoor shopping malls and casinos will be permitted to open on Friday, with masks required and indoor eating and drinking banned.
The Franklin Institute announced it would open its doors on Wednesday; the Barnes Foundation and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, later in the month; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in September. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, and the Eastern State Penitentiary are expected to announce their reopening plans soon.
Farley said the city will reevaluate opening decisions weekly.
By the end of the month, the Philadelphia School District will announce its plans for how it will proceed with the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said.
Parents and teachers have shared their thoughts, and although they acknowledge their preferred model would create child-care issues, the largest number, about a quarter, of the 34,000 surveyed said the best option would be for students to come to buildings in shifts on alternate days.
In the survey results, released Wednesday, the respondents expressed concerns about safety precautions, how transportation would be handled, what provisions would be made for special-education students, and whether children will be required to wear masks when in school.
At the higher education level, Swarthmore College said only 900 of its 1,500 students would be invited to return to campus for the fall semester. That would allow for single dorm rooms and social distancing, the school in Delaware County said. Under the plan, freshmen, sophomores, and transfer students will be given the option to return to campus, president Valerie Smith said in a message to the campus. All classes would be offered online, even for those who are on campus.
And while many schools are debating how they will handle their athletics, Swarthmore announced it would not participate in fall intercollegiate sports.
The coronavirus-related closings continue to extract staggering economic tolls. Pennsylvanians have received better than $20 billion in unemployment assistance since the shutdowns began in March, according to state figures. In the first eight days after the shutdown was announced on March 16, over a half-million state residents filed claims; by the end of the month, the numbers exceeded the total for all of 2019.
The 76ers and Phillies both resumed training on Wednesday, but when everyone else would be back working again remained as unclear as how long restrictions would remain in place.
Farley said he remained concerned about the impact that a national surge in cases could have on Philadelphia. “I want the businesses to reopen as much as anybody,” he said, “but at the same time I think officials in Florida and Texas are regretting it right now, and I don’t want us to be there in the future.”