Philadelphia announced its first presumed case of the coronavirus Tuesday and a senior citizen became the first person in New Jersey to die from the illness, while Montgomery County became the first area municipality to confront a case in which the origin of the infection remained a mystery.
And late Tuesday night, officials announced that Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled.
“After heartfelt consideration and serious conversation with officials from the city,” the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association posted on its Facebook page, the association “has decided to cancel the parade and all events related to the 2020 Philadelphia Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.”
Earlier, city officials and the Observance Association had said that the parade would go on as scheduled, a stance that was later softened by advising people not to attend.
Thus, Philadelphia joined Boston as the only other major city to cancel its parade; New York said that it would go ahead with its parade next week.
Earlier Tuesday in Montgomery County, officials said they were trying to determine when and where a 70-year-old woman contracted the virus, but if they are unable to, it would represent the state’s first instance of community spread — cases where the source of the infection can’t be traced.
“We do not want to experience the type of spread that you’ve seen in Italy or Washington state or other parts of the world,” Montgomery County Commissioners Chair Valerie Arkoosh said at a news conference. “We must all begin to put the greater good of our community ahead of our personal convenience.”
With the single coronavirus case in Philadelphia and one new case in Montgomery County, and two in Bucks County, Pennsylvania’s total reached 14, with all but two concentrated in the southeast. Every affected patient in the state except the 70-year-old Montgomery County woman, who was hospitalized for treatment on Tuesday, contracted the illness through travel to affected areas or close contact with someone else who had.
In New Jersey, three more people — including a married couple in Burlington County — tested presumptive positive for the virus, bringing that state’s total to 15, according to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. The North Jersey man who died had a history of health problems, officials said, and had regularly traveled to New York for work.
Health officials urged people with symptoms to call their doctor immediately to limit possible exposure. Anyone with symptoms should not be walking into hospitals, said Arkoosh, who said EMTs in Montgomery County are trained to handle potential patients.
Across the country, others appeared to be having the same thought. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden canceled their primary night rallies on Tuesday — Biden instead headed for Philadelphia on Tuesday night to await and possibly celebrate the results. A leading health-care organization said nursing homes should restrict almost all visitation. And New York state created a 1-mile containment zone around a synagogue in New Rochelle after a rash of cases.
The stock market rebounded from Monday’s plunge, which represented the worst drop since 2008, while congressional leaders said they would negotiate a bipartisan economic stimulus package and President Donald Trump claimed the virus would “go away.”
But the local impact of the coronavirus continued to grow.
West Chester University became the region’s first institution to cancel all in-person classes for the rest of the semester, closing residence halls and moving courses online for its 17,000 students beginning March 30. Rutgers University also announced it will cancel classes through the end of its spring break and then move all courses online from March 23 to April 3.
American Airlines, which is responsible for about 70% of the traffic at Philadelphia International Airport, said it would cut international and domestic flights and suspend its Philadelphia-to-Rome route until May.
About a dozen more school districts and individual schools disclosed plans to close to give teachers and staff time to plan for potential extended closures or online classes. And event cancellations continued to pile up.
About four hours later, Philadelphia announced its first presumptive case — an adult who was being treated at home after being exposed to another person who tested positive for the virus.
Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, declined to give details about the new patient’s age or gender or where the exposure occurred. He said the city was working to contact and quarantine people who may have interacted with the patient.
Farley did not offer a scientific rationale for the city’s recommendation that residents avoid events with more than 5,000 people. He said the city is not canceling or prohibiting the gatherings but could tighten the recommendations if needed.
“We expected this,” Farley said at an afternoon news conference, “but this does mean that the pandemic has now arrived to the city of Philadelphia.”
City officials are not recommending schools and universities close, but Philadelphia’s managing director, Brian Abernathy, said the city is asking private employers to relax sick-leave policies.
In Montgomery County, officials offered details Tuesday about its three latest cases, including a woman who lives with a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia doctor who had earlier tested positive for the coronavirus. The news of his diagnosis prompted six districts to close some or all schools for cleaning on Tuesday.
An 18-year-old Germantown Academy student also joined the list of those infected; the Fort Washington school had already announced Sunday that it would close for most of March after a relative of the student contracted the virus.
Three students who visited the student’s house last week were also in self-quarantine for at least two weeks but did not have symptoms, the school said. Newtown Friends School in Bucks County said it would keep students at home Thursday and Friday because the sibling of a student had attended an event last week at Germantown Academy.
“This remains a rapidly evolving situation here in Montgomery County,” Arkoosh said.
Pennsylvania public health officials said Tuesday that residents who haven’t been contacted by officials should continue to go about their daily lives — while remaining vigilant about handwashing and other preventive measures.
Among the schools planning to close for preparations were the Philadelphia private schools Friends Central, which will close Wednesday and Thursday and will launch online instruction Friday, and William Penn Charter, which is closing Friday and said it would cancel a number of student trips and delay its junior prom.
“Given the uncertain nature of the virus, we do not want to put our students at risk or our chaperones in an uncomfortable position should they find themselves in the midst of a localized outbreak,” Darryl J. Ford, head of school, and Beth Glascott, assistant head of school, said in a letter to parents.
Many school districts in Delaware County — including Garnet Valley, Haverford, Marple Newtown, Rosetree Media, Southeast Delco, Springfield, and Upper Darby — announced plans to close Friday or Monday, part of a countywide effort to prepare for continuing instruction involving online or at-home learning in the event of closures. In Chester County, the Phoenixville Area School District also announced it would close Monday for planning.