3:50 PM - September 15, 2020
3:50 PM - September 15, 2020

Community College of Philadelphia plans most spring classes for online-only

Community College of Philadelphia will conduct its spring semester largely virtually, college officials said Tuesday.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff are our top priorities in planning for the spring semester,” said Donald Guy Generals, college president.

“As we head into fall and winter, there still remains a high risk of community transmission of COVID-19 in Philadelphia. And while we hope the situation significantly improves by spring, we want to err on the side of caution to keep our students and the rest of our city safe, much as we did for the fall semester,” Generals said.

A small number of classes that must be held face-to-face will be offered, “as long as it remains safe to do so,” spokeswoman Megan Lello said in a statement.

By making the spring call now, planning for effective course delivery is simplified, Generals said.

— Kristen A. Graham

2:55 PM - September 15, 2020
2:55 PM - September 15, 2020

Pitt scientists discover potential coronavirus remedy — at least, for mice and hamsters

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
NIAID / MCT
This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine say they’ve discovered a super-potent molecule that was “highly effective” at preventing and treating COVID-19 when tested in mice and hamsters.

Sounds promising, but it’s too early to get your hopes up. Animal studies like this are notorious for not translating to human test subjects. And Pitt’s experimental approach, which uses a “human monoclonal antibody,” is not novel; it’s being pursued by numerous research groups and the federal government.

A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-made version of proteins naturally produced by the immune system to fight invading germs.

Whether natural or monoclonal, antibodies can prevent infection by binding to parts of viruses that they use to break into cells and start replicating. What the Pitt scientists did was identify and then make just the tiny component of the antibody that binds to the coronavirus “spike” protein — the rod-like projections the virus uses to attach to and enter cells. Even though this monoclonal antibody, called Ab8, foiled the spike protein, it did not bind to human cells, suggesting it would be safe to use in people. Ab8 is so tiny that the researchers speculate it might be administered with an inhaler, rather than shots.

“Antibodies of larger size have worked against other infectious diseases and have been well tolerated, giving us hope that [Ab8] could be an effective treatment for patients with COVID-19 and for protection of those who have never had the infection and are not immune,” co-author John Mellors, M.D, chief of the infectious disease division at Pitt, said in a statement.

— Marie McCullough

2:35 PM - September 15, 2020
2:35 PM - September 15, 2020

Tailgating will be prohibited at Sunday’s Eagles home opener

Tailgating will be prohibited when the Eagles host the Rams in their home opener on Sunday, Mayor Jim Kenney said.

“As a long-term rabid Eagles fan myself, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in the parking lot, tailgating, waiting for the 1 o’clock game,” Kenney said Tuesday at a virtual news conference. “We just need to keep each other safe, and there will be other football seasons.”

Kenney said the city is working with the Eagles and property owners near Lincoln Financial Field to keep tailgaters out, including locking the parking lots and keeping Birds fans from congregating in FDR Park.

Last month, the Eagles announced that, due to city and state coronavirus restrictions, there will be no fans in the stands for at least the beginning of the season.

— Sean Collins Walsh

2:30 PM - September 15, 2020
2:30 PM - September 15, 2020

Delaware Gov. Carney says ‘off-campus parties’ driving increase in new cases

The percentage of positive coronavirus tests in Delaware has spiked over the past week, making it harder to get students back into schools for in-person learning, Gov. John Carney said during a press briefing Tuesday.

Delaware is averaging a 7.1% positivity rate over the past 14 days, a dramatic increase from the beginning of September, when the state’s positivity rate was just 2.2%. The positivity rate in Pennsylvania over the past seven days was about 3%.

The state is now averaging about 103 new cases a day, enough to keep it on New Jersey’s travel quarantine list for a second week. Overall, 19,137 Delaware residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 618 have died.

“We need to do a better job,” Carney said bluntly, pointing to “off-campus parties” at the University of Delaware fueling an increase in cases.

“It’s not just Delaware, it’s every college town in America,” Carney said.

In an attempt to push back on the virus, Carney announced a free app called COVID Alert DE, which uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they’ve come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. The app does not track the user’s location or share any personal information, Delaware Health and Social Services Secretary Molly Magarik told reporters.

— Rob Tornoe

1:38 PM - September 15, 2020
1:38 PM - September 15, 2020

Philly records lowest case counts since first week of the pandemic

A couple walks by a sign for "Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia," a special exhibit open now at The Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
A couple walks by a sign for "Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia," a special exhibit open now at The Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia last week recorded about 67 newly confirmed coronavirus cases per day, the lowest daily average since the first week of the pandemic in March, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

In the week ending Saturday, only 2.6% percent of city residents who were tested for the virus were found to be infected, which was also the lowest positivity rate since the initial spread of the virus in March.

On Tuesday, the city reported one additional fatality and 84 newly confirmed cases, for a total of 35,340 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic. In all, 1,771 Philadelphians have died from the disease.

Farley attributed much of the city’s progress in stemming the spread of the virus to increased use of face masks and encouraged residents to continue doing so.

Farley said he was particularly alarmed to see residents pull their masks down while talking to each other, which is one of the most dangerous situations to be unmasked because people exhale more heavily while talking.

“People do need to remember that the virus is spread by droplets,” he said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

1:15 PM - September 15, 2020
1:15 PM - September 15, 2020

Penn State spike in cases driving increase in Pa. coronavirus numbers

Pennsylvania reported 1,151 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a slightly higher number than recent days due in part to a reporting delay in Philadelphia on Monday. The commonwealth is now averaging about 860 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, a increase over recent days.

Also driving the high number was another spike in Centre County, which reported 212 new cases. The increases there continue to be fueled by Penn State University, where some students have been allowed back on campus to attend in-person classes.

Penn State reported 260 new cases last week, and 708 total cases since the school reopened in August. Overall, the county has reported 1,449 cases since the start of the pandemic, which has more than doubled since classes began at Penn State.

In north central Pennsylvania, nearly 71% of all positive coronaries cases in September have occurred among 19 to 24-year olds, compared to just 7% in April. For sake of comparison, in southeastern Pennsylvania, 19 to 24-year olds make up nearly 33% of cases so far this month.

The Department of Health said 168,375 coronavirus tests were administered between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, with 5,200 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3%. Overall, 146,214 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 7,875 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with six new deaths reported on Tuesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,300 (about 67%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

12:12 PM - September 15, 2020
12:12 PM - September 15, 2020

House will stay in session until new deal reached on coronavirus relief, Pelosi says

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walks to her office, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walks to her office, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Tuesday the House will stay in session until a new economic relief deal is reached, as she faced mounting pressure from lawmakers over Congress' failure to address the ongoing fallout from the health care crisis.

“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi said on a conference call with House Democrats on their first full day back in session after a summer recess, according to a Democratic aide on the call who spoke on condition of anonymity to recount her comments.

Bipartisan talks on a new relief measure collapsed last month and have not been revived, leading to speculation that Congress and the administration will be unable to reach a bipartisan accord before Election Day.

The two sides have been far apart. On Tuesday’s call Pelosi also rejected the notion of a slimmed-down or “skinny” bill such as the $300 billion measure Democrats blocked last week in the Senate.

“A skinny bill is not a deal. It’s a Republican bill,” she said on the conference call.

— Washington Post

11:50 AM - September 15, 2020
11:50 AM - September 15, 2020

Philly health commissioner says ‘too many’ residents not wearing masks outdoors

Visitors wait line to see the Liberty Bell at the Independence National Historical Park. Masks are required outdoors in Philadelphia in places where proper social distancing can't be maintained.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Visitors wait line to see the Liberty Bell at the Independence National Historical Park. Masks are required outdoors in Philadelphia in places where proper social distancing can't be maintained.

While many people in Philadelphia are adhering to the city’s outdoor mask requirements, “too many” residents haven’t been wearing them outdoors in public, according to the city’s health commissioner.

According to a new study on masking trends outdoors in Philadelphia conducted over the final three weeks of August, 77% of people observed on commercial streets were wearing a facial covering. But at city playgrounds, the number dropped to 36%.

The study also revealed that while 51% of women were observed wearing masks, just 37% of men were spotted with a facial coverings while outdoors. Among teens, the number observed wearing masks properly dropped to 21%. 12% of people observed with a mask outdoors wasn’t wearing it properly over the nose and mouth.

“Mask use is one of the most important ways that we can keep each other safe. This study showed that, while most Philadelphians are wearing masks, too many are not wearing them properly or not wearing them at all outdoors,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement.

Philadelphia currently requires individuals to wear a mask outdoors in public spaces were it’s difficult to maintain a distance of six feet from others.

The Philadelphia Study of Mask Adherence and Distancing only counted people outdoors, with researchers observing over 4,600 people in 30 outdoor public spaces throughout Philadelphia, the city said. Further data collection will be conducted in September and October, and a final report of masking trends in Philadelphia will be released in November.

You can view the study’s preliminary findings here.

— Rob Tornoe

10:25 AM - September 15, 2020
10:25 AM - September 15, 2020

Wolf will take appeal 'as far as necessary’ when it comes to the constitutionality of coronavirus restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that key components of his coronavirus mitigation strategy are unconstitutional.

“I’m going to take that appeal as far as necessary,” Wolf said, “…to make sure Pennsylvanians stay safe.”

U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV ruled Monday that the Wolf administration’s policy limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings violates “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”

The ruling also called out the stay-at-home orders and business closures, which have since been lifted, as unconstitutional, despite health experts widely agreeing that these measures were necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Wolf said Tuesday that his administration’s “early and decisive actions” as the coronavirus spread throughout the state, saved lives. And he believes the “vast majority” of Pennsylvanians agree with him.

They wear masks, social distance, and understand the severe actions needed in March to flatten the curve, he said. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Harrisburg, Wolf said, need to “stop playing politics with this disease."

”I’m going to contain the virus and I think that’s the only way we can protect the lives of Pennsylvanians and keep our economy going," Wolf said. “We’re not going to do either one if we just sit back and let this thing roll over us.”

— Ellie Silverman

9:20 AM - September 15, 2020
9:20 AM - September 15, 2020

YouTube pranksters draw large crowd at Jersey Shore

YouTube pranksters known for their frat-like parties and encouraging students to disregard coronavirus restrictions drew a large crowd to the Jersey Shore Monday afternoon and evening, according to media reports.

The NELK Boys shared videos on their social media accounts showing a large crowds of largely mask less people partying in Seaside Heights. The Asbury Park Press reports that borough police calling in help from surrounding towns as the crowd swelled to a “couple thousand.”

One video shared by the group shows police officers wearing riot gear and confronting people partying in the street. Police told the Asbury Park Press there were incidents of people throwing bottles at police, but that the crowd mostly remained under control.

The NELK Boys, who have more than 5.6 million subscribers on YouTube and 3.5 million followers on Instagram, were linked to a large outdoor party that included Illinois State University students at an off-campus apartment complex last week. YouTube demonetized their channel for “creating a widespread public health risk,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Last week the group indicated they were also planning to travel to Philadelphia.

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - September 15, 2020
8:00 AM - September 15, 2020

Wolf wants coronavirus restrictions to stand while he appeals federal ruling

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf speaking to the press in Harrisburg in July.
Commonwealth Media Services
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf speaking to the press in Harrisburg in July.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will file an appeal and seek a stay to temporarily block a decision by a federal judge, who ruled Monday that key components of the governor’s coronavirus restrictions are unconstitutional.

The ruling “is limited to the business closure order and the stay-at-home orders issued in March ... as well as the indoor and outdoor gathering limitations,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, the governor’s spokesperson. The decision does not apply to other mitigation orders currently in place, including the mandate to wear masks in public, Kensinger added.

U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV found that the Wolf administration’s policy limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings and events to 25 and 250 people, respectively, violates “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”

The Pittsburgh-based judge also found Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s stay-at-home and business closure orders to be unconstitutional. The ruling came two weeks after a federal judge in Philadelphia took the opposite stance in a case focused solely on business closure orders, setting the stage for the battle to continue at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Health experts widely considered temporary shutdowns and limits on business operations to be necessary in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Over the summer, Pennsylvania’s highest court rejected a lawsuit by GOP lawmakers seeking to end the disaster emergency declaration that greatly expanded Wolf’s powers.

— Angela Couloumbis and Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA, Justine McDaniel and Jeremy Roebuck

7:40 AM - September 15, 2020
7:40 AM - September 15, 2020

Trump celebrates federal judge’s ruling on Pa. coronavirus restrictions

President Donald Trump arrives at Lehigh Valley International Airport for a visit to the Owens & Minor medical equipment distribution center in Allentown, Pa., on Thursday, May 14, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
President Donald Trump arrives at Lehigh Valley International Airport for a visit to the Owens & Minor medical equipment distribution center in Allentown, Pa., on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

President Donald Trump celebrated a federal judge’s ruling that key coronavirus restrictions put in place by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ere unconstitutional.

Taking to Twitter Monday afternoon, Trump retweeted dozens of posts about the ruling, including a report from Spotlight PA shared by the Inquirer. He also shared a handful of memes celebrating the ruling, and wrote that he hopes similar rulings knock back restrictions in other states — including Michigan and North Carolina.

The ruling comes as the number of new coronavirus cases reported in the commonwealth has begun to level off. Pennsylvania is averaging 743 new coronavirus cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis. That’s up from a mid-June low of 530 cases a day, but down from the 960 cases a day Pennsylvania was averaging at the end of July.

In a roundtable on Sept. 3 in Harrisburg, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx praised Pennsylvania’s response to the pandemic, and specifically highlighted her approval of restrictions put in place by Wolf and his administration to slow the spread of the virus.

“I never give anyone an A, but I think they’re close to a B-plus, A-minus range, a really terrific job,” Birx told reporters.

Trump has repeatedly called for Pennsylvania to loosen its coronavirus restrictions, at times contradicting the recommendations from his own administration.

“These governors don’t want to open up, and they have to. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is great. It’s got to be opened up. It’s got to be opened up now,” Trump told WPXI in Pittsburgh on Sept. 4 following a campaign stop in Latrobe.

— Rob Tornoe

7:30 AM - September 15, 2020
7:30 AM - September 15, 2020

Lower Merion, Central Bucks to resume some in-person classes by end of this month

Walt Carey, 70, of Upper Darby, Pa., a retired school bus driver, walks towards the bus he drove at Lower Merion High School on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Walt Carey, 70, of Upper Darby, Pa., a retired school bus driver, walks towards the bus he drove at Lower Merion High School on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

With school underway virtually in many area districts, Lower Merion and Central Bucks are planning to bring some students back to school buildings by the end of the month.

In Lower Merion, the district plans to bring kindergartners back the week of Sept. 29 for morning or afternoon sessions, while Central Bucks is planning to start in-person instruction at all levels on Sept. 30.

“We feel that our mitigation strategies (physical distancing, mask-wearing, hygiene and symptom surveillance/sick policies) will enable us to phase in safe in-school instruction, so long as there is not a rapid resurgence in our area,” Lower Merion Superintendent Robert Copeland said in an email to families Monday, adding that the district would remain flexible in the event of changes, “such as surges in the numbers.”

Lower Merion has started bringing back some of its students with significant special needs to classrooms.

In Central Bucks, which had announced it would open virtually due to staffing shortages, Superintendent John Kopicki told parents Monday that the district “has secured the necessary staff” to reopen. One of the state’s largest districts, Central Bucks plans to have some kids returning full time, while others would be part of a hybrid model (at secondary grade levels, only hybrid is being offered.)

Copeland told Lower Merion parents the district “cannot fit all of our students and staff in our buildings at the same time while maintaining physical distance.” As it reopens, the district is planning to phase students back into buildings in “hybrid cohorts,” starting with the youngest grades. It aims to return all students for some amount of in-person instruction by Oct. 19.

All students have the option to take online-only classes.

— Maddie Hanna