Public officials on Sunday said the Philadelphia region should expect another week of increasingly stringent policies as health authorities grappled with how to confront the new coronavirus that may be spreading through people who aren’t showing symptoms.
On Sunday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all bars and restaurants in Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, Delaware and Allegheny Counties to end dine-in service for two weeks starting Monday. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he will unveil plans Monday to close all schools. Many churches were empty. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended canceling or postponing all gatherings of 50 people or more, across the county, for the next eight weeks.
“I understand that this is disruptive to businesses as well as patrons who just want to enjoy themselves, but in the best interest of individuals and families in the mitigation counties, we must take this step," Wolf said in a statement announcing the restaurant closure order.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Sunday four new cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in 24 hours — doubling the citywide total to eight and bringing the Pennsylvania statewide total to 65. Three of the four new diagnoses are people under age 40.
Farley said the cases show that people are contracting the virus after contact with individuals who have not yet shown symptoms. He said he expects the number of cases will grow rapidly.
New diagnoses tied to local health-care institutions and colleges stirred concern that the virus has spread in places where people live and work in close quarters. On Friday, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children closed its intensive care unit to new patients and the Level 1 trauma unit shut down after a physician tested positive for the coronavirus. The rest of the hospital remained open.
In addition to a positive case tied to a Temple University student who lives off campus announced Sunday, two people connected to the University of Delaware have tested positive, bringing the total number of cases linked to the Newark campus to seven. A Rutgers University biomedical engineering professor who works at the Piscataway campus also tested positive.
There are 98 presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus in New Jersey, much of it concentrated in the north, where officials took new steps over the weekend to limit the spread there. The mayor of Hoboken enacted a 10 p.m. curfew Sunday, a move Murphy is considering statewide.
And public officials said measures already in place to limit in-person interactions as the new coronavirus spreads are not enough. Governors in Ohio and Illinois ordered all bars and restaurants closed to sit-down customers. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the federal government to mobilize the military to create hospital beds.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN that the federal government could move toward a national shutdown similar to those in Europe to keep the number of infected individuals low enough to not overwhelm the health-care system.
The virus has infected more than 3,000 people nationwide, and public officials expect many more cases as testing capabilities ramp up and private laboratories begin reporting positive cases to state authorities.
As of Sunday afternoon, 446 people had been tested in Pennsylvania, which has a population of 12.8 million. Farley said about 45 people are awaiting test results in Philadelphia, and that he is advising physicians to broaden testing to individuals who could be at lower risk for the virus and up to this point had been denied tests.
“Testing has hampered our response,” he said.
That response has included aggressive social distancing measures that left religious leaders faced with shutting their doors this weekend, in many cases for the first time ever. Some houses of worship canceled services entirely; others live streamed or deployed creative solutions to reach their congregants.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Camden each relieved the faithful from an obligation to attend Mass, though parishes across the region continued to hold in-person services. With the start of Shabbat on Friday, Congregation Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street became a mostly virtual congregation, live-streaming services and using video conferencing or the telephone for clergy appointments and tutoring. At the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Overbrook Park, the Rev. Martini Shaw wore latex gloves and offered drive-through communion, giving the faithful hand sanitizer before offering a blessing.
At the Christ Church in Old City, which typically attracts 200 congregants, 17 people came to a prayer service.
“Jesus,” the Rev. Timothy Safford said, “could not practice social distancing.”
Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city would at this point not recommend closing businesses, despite such recommendations in effect in surrounding counties. Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government will issue guidance on bars and restaurants Monday.
In addition to closing schools, community centers, day cares and gyms, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has called for sweeping closures of all “nonessential” retail in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks Counties. Officials have warned that if businesses didn’t comply, the state could move to force closure.
On Sunday, an array of businesses along the Main Line all had the same message posted in their windows: “Per Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders, we will be closed until further notice.” Suburban Square, typically a hub for weekend shoppers, was nearly deserted.
But others, like Puns Toy Shop in Ardmore’s Rittenhouse Place, remained open. “We plan to be here unless someone comes knocking on our door and tells us the party’s over,” employee Victoria Rivers said.
Restaurants of all stripes in Philadelphia weighed whether to close or move entirely to delivery and take-out services. Chef Marc Vetri removed 40% of the seating at his flagship Center City restaurant to provide more space between tables. A popular South Philly pizza shop that draws lines of dozens is temporarily closing. “Because of the social distancing thing I feel it’s in your and my staff’s best interest,” Danny DiGiampietro, owner of Angelo’s Pizzeria, wrote on Instagram.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney acknowledged bars were crowded Saturday night after he said during a press conference people should “go out and have dinner, and tip your waitstaff because they’re struggling right now.” He later clarified the comments and emphasized social distancing, but his approach has been different from Wolf and other officials who have been more aggressive in adopting containment measures.
New Jersey’s governor said he’d heard Asbury Park watering holes were similarly filled over the weekend.
“There is too much business as usual,” Murphy said Sunday, reiterating a call that people stay home if they can. “We need not just most of us, but all of us to follow suit.”
Inquirer staff writers Laura McCrystal, Aubrey Whelan, Chris Palmer, Sarah Gantz, Ellie Rushing, Mike Klein, Susan Snyder, Sean Collins Walsh, and Catherine Dunn, contributed to this article, along with Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA.