On a day when the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped yet again and New Jersey imposed its stiffest restrictions yet in response to the pandemic, officials with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and legislators discussed a proposal to push back the April 28 Pennsylvania primary to June 2, The Inquirer has learned.
The proposal was discussed in a telephone conference Saturday. .
“It seems like it’s all coming together. … I think that it’s working, that we all agree,” said Rep. Garth Everett (R., Lycoming), chair of the House State Government Committee.
Meanwhile, the numbers of confirmed cases continued to escalate. “We are still seeing an exponential rise in Pennsylvania and the United States,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Saturday.
Across the river in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the strictest measures yet to try to tame the pandemic in the Garden State, banning public gatherings of any size and ordering all nonessential businesses to close by 9 p.m. Saturday.
Murphy’s order came days after Gov. Wolf required the closure of all businesses that were not “life-sustaining” in Pennsylvania.
New Jersey businesses still permitted to operate include grocery stores, food banks, marijuana dispensaries, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, and laundromats. A full list can be found at covid19.nj.gov.
Murphy threatened prosecution for anyone ignoring his order.
“For the folks monkeying around,” he said, “we will take action.”
Amtrak plainly is not fooling around: The rail company used by so many Philadelphians for fast travel to New York and Washington said it needs $1 billion in supplemental funding to battle an “unprecedented” drop in ridership. Daily ridership is down 90% systemwide, while future bookings are down 85% year-over-year, according to the rail system.
Amtrak has now taken “aggressive” steps to cut the pay of top staff as a money-safety measure, the company confirmed.
On Saturday, Pennsylvania stepped deeper into the battle against the growing pandemic, as hundreds of people registered at a new testing center in Montgomery County.
A Bucks County police officer tested positive. So did three inmates at a Delaware County jail. Playgrounds emptied of children. And in Philadelphia, proving the resilience of life and love, a family matriarch serenely turned 100 years old, blowing out the candles on her cake.
“Oh I feel fine,” said Marjorie Wilson.
Others across the Philadelphia region were more disconcerted as the daily reality of the contagion continued to shift from inconvenient to life-altering.
Delaware Gov. John Carney ordered public beaches closed at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Still, amid the cascade of governmental closures and restrictions, life in a time of pandemic went on, if not as normal then at least in a new, socially distanced normal, as people dug into gardens and yard work on a spectacular spring day.
Bicyclists pedaled across a now-closed-to-cars MLK Drive in Philadelphia, and others trod dusty trails beside the glittering Tookany Creek in Cheltenham Township. Philadelphia looked to have been built for social-distancing socializing, as people sat on their front stoops, conversing with their neighbors some feet away.
Everywhere on Saturday, people seemed to stay the prescribed six feet apart while reveling in fresh air and sunshine that offered a brief, welcome respite from what has become ceaseless, disturbing news:
Italy, the new epicenter of the global pandemic, recorded 793 deaths in one day. In the United Kingdom the number of confirmed cases climbed past 5,000. In Iran the deaths were coming so fast that bodies were being consigned to mass burial pits. And in this country some 75 million residents of Connecticut, Illinois, New York, and California have been told to sequester, with only essential workers allowed to leave home.
“We are still seeing an exponential rise in Pennsylvania and the United States,” state Health Secretary Levine said Saturday.
She confirmed the Allegheny County Health Department report of the state’s second COVID-19 death, described only as an adult who had been hospitalized.
The state reported 103 new cases Saturday, and the spike was the result of more people being infected, rather than greater access to testing, she said.
Pennsylvania now has 397 cases, New Jersey 1,327.
“Each day we tell you how important it is to stay calm, to stay home, and to stay safe,” Levine said. “This is more than just a catchy phrase. This virus is deadly. And we need to practice social distancing to minimize its spread and its impact.”
The City of Philadelphia announced 18 more presumptive cases, bringing the total to 85. One is a person living in a nursing home, the first case in a residential facility.
City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley called on all nursing homes, residential facilities, and hospitals to institute strict no-visitor policies.
“We know that residents of nursing homes are particularly vulnerable,” he said. “I would expect there will be more cases in these facilities.”
The drive-through testing site that opened Friday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, was joined on Saturday by a second in Montgomery County. Some 540 people quickly registered — even as testing became an issue, amid news reports that some hard-hit areas were urging people to forgo being tested, as a way to ration health-care supplies.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the Trump administration’s response to the crisis, said he and his wife, Karen, would be tested for coronavirus after a staff member came up positive.
In Pennsylvania, Levine said, it’s not necessary for people with no or mild symptoms to be tested. The priority must be for those who have symptoms, along with health-care workers, senior citizens, and people with preexisting conditions.
Many health officials had earlier advised that testing was key to tracking the spread of the virus.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney criticized the federal government’s handling of the crisis as slow and deficient, and called on Congress to send aid directly to American cities.
“States and cities across the country have been stepping up,” he said at the city’s first virtual coronavirus news conference.
Kenney has joined 303 mayors in signing a letter to Congress which asked that $250 billion in aid be sent directly to municipalities.
There was no indication of whether their request might be granted.
Meanwhile, people across the region tried to adjust to closures and cancellations that put a stop to everyday enjoyments like music concerts and restaurant dining.
In Collingswood, musician Pauline Worusski invited everyone to stop by her home, to listen safely from outside as she threw open doors and windows and played piano songs from Bach to the Beatles and, of course, Elvis. About a dozen friends and neighbors came to hear selections from “You’ve Got a Friend” to “Here Comes the Sun.”
Worusski, who is music director at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Haddonfield, offered to take requests. And she promised to stage concerts every Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m. — until the pandemic is over.
Staff writers Sean Collins Walsh, Patricia Madej, Tom Gralish, Jonathan Lai, Chris Brennan, Julia Terruso, Allison Steele, and Andrew Seidman contributed to this article, along with Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA.