New Jersey added 72 coronavirus deaths to its rapidly rising total on Tuesday, Philadelphia reported five more fatalities, and officials say they still can’t be sure when the wave of the pandemic might crest in the region and the nation.
The Garden State’s case total was approaching 19,000, with 270 virus-related deaths, 72 of those reported on Tuesday, officials said. At least 67 deaths have occurred in Pennsylvania, which has just under 6,000 cases. At least 53 have died in the Philadelphia region.
Pennsylvania hasn’t seen “quite the exponential rise and the doubling that we had seen before in certain areas,” said Rachel Levine, the state health commissioner, adding that it might be the result of social distancing. But she said it was too early to tell if the trend would continue.
She warned that in forecasting the arc of the outbreak, so many variables are in play that computer models are bedeviled by some of the same problems they have in predicting the future of a snowstorm. We are all familiar with how that can turn out.
The White House said Tuesday that the U.S. coronavirus-related death toll could range from 100,000 to 250,000, based on models.
“We are in a global pandemic," Levine said. "This is an emergency. Under these circumstances, please stay at home.” Similarly, Gov. Phil Murphy urged New Jerseyans to “stay at home before it hits home.”
The pandemic’s impacts have been almost unimaginably wide-ranging and the psychological effects immeasurable, as the region, like most of the rest of the country, confronts at least 30 more days with the business of life in suspension.
Some blocks in Center City, weathering the worsening economic crisis, appeared braced for a hurricane Tuesday, with liquor stores and restaurants, even an upscale cosmetic shop, blocking off windows and doors with sheets of wood.
Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have acquired “major disaster” declarations, which could loosen significant streams of federal dollars. But it remains uncertain how the money will be allocated. Responding to a pandemic is hardly standard fare for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the nation’s disaster agency; this is far more insidious, elusive, and complicated than a weather disaster.
For millions of schoolchildren and their parents, the rhythms of the school year have been hopelessly disrupted. In a surreal turn, the Philadelphia School District announced Tuesday that students and staff would get their spring break next week, even though schools have been closed indefinitely.
“I understand that this will not look or feel like a traditional spring break," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. wrote to parents, “but we do want to recognize that our educators need time with their families and away from work.” He said that he expected virtual instruction to begin April 13, and that principals would be contacting families about the distribution of loaner Chromebooks for those who need them.
Hite has said he expects instruction to begin the following week, by April 17.
The state announced that starting next week, school districts can apply for grants to buy laptops or other materials for online instruction, with priority given to schools that have the most need.
Meanwhile, the ranks of the furloughed continue to swell. As of Friday, new unemployment claims in Pennsylvania reached 830,000 — surpassing the total for all of last year.
In another sign of these extreme times, Philadelphia police are warning they are seeing an increase of car break-ins by thieves seeking items that have disappeared from store shelves — the likes of bottled water and cleaning products.
For the region’s religious communities, this year’s Holy Week and Passover observances, which would begin next week, will be like no others, as houses of worship won’t be able to hold conventional services until at least the first week of May.
All Catholic churches have suspended regular Masses; however, several people who attended a livestreamed Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Sunday lined up to receive Holy Communion, with the wafers placed on their tongues.
The Rev. Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Divine Worship, defended the practice: “That’s the traditional way of receiving Holy Communion."
The archdiocese, however, may be having second thoughts. “The whole idea is to prevent the gathering of people — that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Gill said. “And if that’s still happening, we may need to reevaluate the policy.”
And the outbreak has changed the rules at area nursing homes.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that more than 80 of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities now have a positive coronavirus patient.
She is ordering all individuals entering nursing homes and long-term care facilities to wear masks, and for seniors to wear them when receiving care from staff. Persichilli said that a little less than half the state’s residents who have died were over 80.
In Philadelphia, which reported five deaths Tuesday, half of the 14 coronavirus-related fatalities have occurred in nursing homes, according to Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. He said that an increasing number of cases have occurred among African Americans.
To enforce social-distancing rules, the city is authorizing police officers to issue disorderly conduct or failure-to-disperse citations to those who violate Mayor Jim Kenney’s stay-at-home order, Managing Director Brian Abernathy announced Tuesday.
Both infractions could carry fines of $100, Kenney spokesperson Mike Dunn said.
The city had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this, that it could persuade people to cooperate, or rely on police to break up outdoor gatherings informally. However, violations in some neighborhoods, including Kensington, forced the city to alter its strategy, Abernathy said. City officials also say that those who want to report violations of social distancing orders may call 311.
In New Jersey, 24 people have been arrested for violating the order prohibiting large gatherings, according to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
The region did receive some encouraging words from a local celebrity. He kept his social distance, but the internet’s favorite mascot, Gritty, emerged with a social media message Tuesday. “I recognize there’s a lot going on, and I rightfully assume my duty to be the orange light of hope in this COVID-19 covered world," he wrote.
"After all, laughter is the best medicine. Next to medicine.”
Contributing to this article were staff writers Mensah M. Dean, Stephanie Farr, Joseph A. Gambardello, Kristen A. Graham, Maddie Hanna, Erin McCarthy, Laura McCrystal, Justine McDaniel, Jeremy Roebuck, Ellie Rushing, Rob Tornoe, and Sean Collins Walsh, along with Sarah Anne Hughes and Rebecca Moss of Spotlight PA.