Montgomery County sees second consecutive week of decreasing COVID-19 cases
Montgomery County health officials said Tuesday that the county recorded 266 new cases of COVID-19 since Sept. 16, marking the second consecutive week that cases have decreased in the suburban county.
As of Tuesday, there have been 11,750 cases in the county, and 831 deaths, according to Board of Commissioners Chairperson Valerie Arkoosh. Of the new cases, six originated in long-term care facilities. The one new death recorded in the last week was not a resident from one of these facilities.
“We have now seen decreasing case counts for two consecutive weeks following a spike in positive cases around Labor Day weekend,” Arkoosh said. “While this is good news, our experiences over the past six months have shown us how quickly things can change when we let our guard down. We must continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and cooperate with contact tracing to keep our community safe.”
Local experts weigh in on how technology has made working from home easier
Because of the pandemic, countless employees at large and small businesses have been forced to work from home. Many small-business owners in the region have relied on outside technology experts for help, and everyone learned a lot in the process. So now, six months in, what work-from-home technologies have proven the most effective?
Cloud suites have improved collaboration.
The pandemic was an opportunity for many companies to step up their use of business collaboration software suites that were previously underused. The most popular are Microsoft Office 365, Google’s G Suite and Slack. Customer relationship and project software products such as Salesforce, Zoho, Trello and Asana have also proved effective.
Brian Pickell, who owns tech firm KPInterface in Limerick, says that applications such as Office 365 and G Suite have allowed his clients to collaborate in real time on any project and on almost any device, from a company laptop to a personal Apple iPad or iPhone.
The pair, accompanied by Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, announced the launching of COVID Alert PA, an app that will use Bluetooth technology to alert a person when they have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The free app, created by Irish software firm Nearform, uses Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when two users are within at least six feet of each other for 15 minutes or more. The app exchanges a random set of Bluetooth handshakes, or Bluetooth keys, officials said Tuesday, measuring proximity, not location. Both phones must have the app downloaded.
If an app user comes in contact with someone who later tests positive for the coronavirus, they will be alerted on their phone and have the option to talk with a public health representative. Users can also receive health information about the coronavirus like testing locations and symptoms.
It is similarly used in Delaware and some European countries, and New Jersey and New York are expected to sign on in October, Levine said. The openly sourced app’s code is fully available online to increase transparency behind how the app functions and stores and extracts data, officials said.
Philly leaders promise update on indoor dining capacity
Philadelphia will make an announcement next week on whether restaurants will be permitted to increase indoor dining capacity sometime in October, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.
Elsewhere in the state, restaurants were permitted to seat diners at 50% capacity starting this week. Philadelphia, which has been more restrictive than state guidelines, restarted indoor dining this month and has a 25% capacity limit.
“Restaurants have been compliant as a rule,” Farley said. “Not all of them, but overall we’re pretty satisfied."
If capacity limits are eased, Farley said it would not necessarily be effective Oct. 1. And he noted that he has not personally dined at a restaurant — indoor or outdoors — since the start of the pandemic.
“The risk is not worth the benefit,” he said. “I can get great food by takeout or preparing it at home. … I think the risk is far lower outdoors but I just don’t see a need to.”
Federal judge upholds ruling on Pennsylvania crowd size
A federal judge on Tuesday declined to stay his own ruling that Gov. Tom Wolf’s size limits on gatherings are unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV said the administration had failed to show “imminent and irreparable harm will occur” if the state can’t limit event crowds to 25 people inside and 250 people outside.
State officials had asked Stickman, an appointee of President Donald Trump, to delay enforcement of his ruling while they appeal.
Stickman’s ruling invalidated key parts of the Wolf administration’s early pandemic response, including his orders requiring people to stay at home and shuttering thousands of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.”
Study finds that 70% of KN95 masks don’t meet federal safety standards
Up to 70% of KN95 masks do not meet the U.S. standards for effectiveness, according to a new study by ECRI, a Pennsylvania-based patient safety organization.
The findings suggest an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 for health care workers and patients at hospitals that imported the masks from China to deal with massive shortages of protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic. (N95 masks meet the U.S. standards for effectiveness.)
ECRI researchers looked at nearly 200 KN95 masks from 15 manufacturers, including models purchased by some of the country’s largest health care systems, and found that between 60% and 70% of the imported masks do not filter 95% of aerosol particles.
“We started to test the masks to help our members and clients,” said Marcus Schabacker, ECRI’s president and CEO. “We were really stunned by the results. The most stunning thing was that we would test masks from the same manufacturer, and some would pass, while some wouldn’t. These masks were claiming on paper to filter out 95% of particles, but they didn’t. That was reason enough to raise the alarm.”
Philly case study shows how one exposure at church led to 9 infections
The Philadelphia health department released a case study Tuesday showing how one teenager’s attendance at an in-person church service set off a chain of nine infections among his family, spreading to four different households in just two weeks.
The case study, the first of its kind released in Philadelphia, paints a picture of how quickly the virus spreads.
“Often just telling a story can give people a picture that numbers itself won’t,” Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference Tuesday.
After having been exposed to COVID-19 at an in-person church service without knowing it, a teenager had a sleepover “days later” at his cousin’s house, according to the case study. The next morning, his mom took him to visit her father, his grandfather. Soon, all four felt sick.
The health department did not release the names of the people infected, where they live, the severity of the infections, or the church the teenager attended.
The grandfather lives with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, and his daughter took care of him when he was feeling sick. The tests for the teenager, cousin, mom, and grandfather all came back positive. Meanwhile, the three other family members living with the grandfather started feeling sick, too. They also tested positive.
At that point, seven people had been infected. Earlier in the week, the grandfather had gone shopping with a granddaughter who does not live with him. When the granddaughter learned about other family members testing positive, she quarantined at home with her mom. But ultimately, they tested positive as well. Of the 15 relatives living among the four exposed households, nine tested positive for the coronavirus.
Contact tracing interviews, Farley said, have shown that most people are exposed to COVID-19 by another household member, social gatherings, and people visiting relatives or friends in other households.
Last month, the health department reported the first outbreak tied to a church in Philadelphia, leading CityReach Philly to halt in-person services after dozens of congregants tested positive. Health department officials have asked people to hum and clap, instead of sing, as respiratory droplets are the most efficient way of spreading the virus. Officials also reminded people to wear masks and avoid large groups.
Simons Recreation Center in West Oak Lane is closed for cleaning until Oct 1, after an adult working at the child-care “access center” there tested positive for the coronavirus this weekend.
The families of the 14 students attending the access center — a city-run supervised learning site for students in kindergarten through sixth grade — were notified of the positive test over the weekend, and advised to quarantine for 14 days, a Parks and Recreation spokesperson said.
The families will also be contacted by the Health Department’s contact tracing program.
Additionally, Parks and Recreation officials alerted Simons staff members who were in contact with the COVID-19 carrier, and have reviewed the situation with the city Health Department, the spokesperson said.
The Simons center was closed Monday and will remain shut down through Oct. 1 while the city initiates “additional facility sanitation measures.”
The shutdown comes three weeks after the city opened 77 sites — many located at recreation centers and libraries — to young Philadelphia students as locations for supervised virtual learning. Due to coronavirus mitigation efforts, the city’s public schooling is online-only through at least November, causing some working parents to scramble for child-care.
Students and staff at the centers complete daily health screenings, including temperature and health symptom checks, learn at socially distanced desks, and must wear masks at all times, a spokesperson said.
Outside of the access center, the Simons Recreation Center has otherwise been closed to the public since March due to the coronavirus.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 remained steady in Philadelphia last week, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.
But with cases increasing in the United States as a whole and with surges in Europe, Farley said Philadelphia residents must remain vigilant.
“We shouldn’t be lulled into complacency about the falling case rates here,” he said. “This virus clearly has the potential to come back strong.”
Farley said the city had an average of 80 new confirmed cases per day last week, with 2.5% of tests coming back positive.
The previous week, the city had an average of 71 cases per day, but a higher positivity rate at 2.8%. Farley said more tests were performed last week than the week before, which could account for the difference.
Farley said he is encouraged to see that reopening of some schools and colleges have not caused a surge in cases.
While there have been isolated cases in staff or students at K-12 schools, Farley said, “we have no evidence yet of any spread within schools.”
Spread of COVID-19 continues to be tied mostly to social or family gatherings, Farley said.
Kenney is self-quarantining after coronavirus exposure
Mayor Jim Kenney said he was exposed to COVID-19 and is self-quarantining at home.
Kenney said he tested negative for the virus yesterday, but will remain quarantined for 14 days nonetheless.
“I need to continue to self-quarantine and will be tested again next week,” he said at a virtual news conference, which he connected to from his home Tuesday.
Kenney said he was in contact one day last week with someone who tested positive for the virus but declined to provide more details. He said his doctor suggested that he be tested for COVID-19 after he learned of the exposure.
He said it has been relatively easy for him to do his work from home.
“In this day and age communication is pretty easy to do,” he said. “Anything that I need to sign or anything gets pushed under the door.”
Kenney said he chose to share his situation with residents to remind everyone to stay cautious.
“The virus is still here and we must remain vigilant,” he said. “This pandemic unfortunately is far from over.”
New Jersey has added five new states to its quarantine list, which is aimed at preventing people from traveling to and from states with a high level of community spread of the coronavirus.
That means anyone traveling into New Jersey from the five new states — Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Wyoming — are now required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The quarantine applies to people arriving to New Jersey, New York, or Connecticut from states where the rolling seven-day average of new cases is at 10 or more people per 100,000, or 10% of those tested are positive.
A total of 35 states and territories are currently on New Jersey’s quarantine list: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
In north central Pennsylvania, about 70% of all cases in September have occurred among 19 to 24-year-olds, compared to just 7% in April.
The Department of Health said 179,343 coronavirus tests were administered between Sept. 15 and Sept. 21, with 5,749 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3.2%. Overall, 151,646 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
At least 8,023 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 19 new deaths reported on Tuesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,360 (about 67%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
United States surpasses 200,000 known coronavirus deaths
The United States surpassed 200,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, according to John Hopkins University, yet another grim milestone in a global pandemic that shows no signs of letting up.
The United States has suffered far more COVID-19 deaths than any other nation, and more than all the counties in Europe combined, despite having less than half the population. Just a handful of counties — including Peru, Spain, and Brazil — have experienced more deaths per capita than the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.
“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering. and in some respects stunning,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said during an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta Tuesday morning.
In New Jersey, COVID-19 has killed at least 16,069 people, the second most in the country behind New York. At least 8,004 have died in Pennsylvania, while Delaware has seen at least 627 people die after contracting the virus.
In the United States, the average number of new cases is on the rise again. The country is now averaging about 40,000 cases a day, being driven by spikes in the midwest in states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Oklahoma.
“Not only are we seeing the number of cases and new infections increase, we’re also seeing test positivity on the upswing as well,” former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen said on CNN Monday. “That means two things — it means we do have many more new infections, but it also means that we’re not testing nearly enough.”
Iconic Shore bar closes temporarily after employee tests positive
Robert’s Place, an iconic Shore bar a block from the beach in Margate, said it was closing its doors until Friday after a member of the staff tested positive for the coronavirus.
“They are doing well & appear to have had a mild case,” the bar said in a Facebook post. “Our priority is everyone’s safety & will use this time to have RP professionally cleaned/sanitized.”
Robert’s is one of several Margate bars that recreated themselves this summer into expansive outdoor scenes under tents. Roberts expanded its sidewalk seating and took over a back parking lot. Nearby Bocca similarly took over a block of Essex Avenue that was closed to cars to recreate its lively bar and restaurant scene.
Atlantic County, meanwhile, reported 24 new cases Tuesday for a total of 4,283. Margate has a total of 55 cases in all, with two deaths.
Pennsylvania updates guidelines for assisted living facilities
Pennsylvania on Tuesday updated its coronavirus guidelines for personal-care, assisted-living, and intermediate-care facilities to make it easier for loved ones to visit residents.
Regardless of the virus' prevalence in the surrounding area, these facilities must allow friends, family, and clergy to visit dying residents, and are also encouraged to facilitate “Compassionate Care” visits to ward off depression and other adverse mental and physical effects of prolonged isolation, according to the updated guidance, which applies to all facilities licensed by the Department of Human Services (nursing homes are licensed by the Department of Health).
Residents and their loved ones should work together with the facility to determine what situations — such as the loss of a loved one or a change in physical or mental status — would merit the need for such visit, the department said. “Compassionate care” visitors must receive a negative coronavirus test in the days before their visit, wear masks in the facility, and follow other coronavirus protocols.
“Changes to policies and procedures at long-term care facilities are necessary to keep residents and staff safe from COVID-19,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “But as as situations evolve in communities around the commonwealth, we must have a plan to safely allow facilities to ease certain restrictions and operate under a new normal that continues to prioritize COVID-19 safety.”
The updated guidance also revises the policy for regular testing of asymptotic residents and staff, noting that asymptomatic residents don’t need to be tested in counties where percent positivity is under 5%. Additionally, it clarifies the steps facilities must take, and the timeline they must adhere to between steps, in order to resume regular visitation and restart some communal activities.
Philadelphia, Delaware officials to offer coronavirus updates Tuesday
Officials in Philadelphia and Delaware will offer coronavirus updates on Tuesday. Here’s a schedule of how to watch and stream:
Philadelphia, 1 p.m.: Mayor Jim Kenney, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, live-streamed via the Department of Public Health’s Twitter (@PHLPublicHealth) and Facebook accounts, and broadcast on PHLGovTV (Comcast channels 64 and 1164, and Verizon channels 40 and 41).
Republicans pledge to override Wolf’s veto on school sports
Republican legislative leaders pledged to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a bill that would have let Pennsylvania school districts alone determine how many spectators can attend school sporting events.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre/Mifflin) called Wolf’s veto “ridiculous," and said the governor was “directly opposed to children and families looking for some semblance of normalcy.”
In both the Senate and the House, the bill passed by more than the two-thirds majority that would be needed to overcome a veto.
In rejecting the legislation, Wolf said lawmakers were ignoring the reality that the coronavirus spreads when you bring large groups of people together.
“And instead of ignoring it, we ought to try to figure out what we can do to keep that virus from infecting too many people," Wolf said.
Under the state’s current guidelines, school districts are allowed to approve team activities, but sporting events remain subject to the state’s limits of 25 people for an indoor gathering and 250 people for an outdoor gathering. The bill would have given schools exclusive authority to control crowd size,as well as to make decisions about sports, other extracurricular activities, and competitions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging families to skip door-to-door trick-or-treating this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” the agency warned in new guidance posted late Monday night. In addition to trick-or-treating, the agency warned against visiting indoor haunted houses, attending crowded costume parties, and having trunk-or-treat events in large parking lots.
Among the lower risk activities the CDC recommends doing instead include:
Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them
Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors admiring Halloween decorations at a distance
Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with
Public officials have readily said facial covering are extremely effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus, and officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have credited mask mandates for lowering the spread of the virus. Even the Trump administration’s own guidelines recommend masks be worn in public settings where social distancing isn’t possible.
“Masks are important, they’re effective. Combine it with physical distancing, avoiding crowds and it works. End of story, it’s true,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said in a recent interview on MSNBC.
Wolf administration urges Trump to abide by restrictions at Pittsburgh rally
President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, and local officials are warning the campaign about defying Pennsylvania’s coronavirus restrictions.
It is unclear how many Trump supporters will attend the rally, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at a privately operated hangar at Pittsburgh International Airport, with the doors opening at 4 p.m. Pennsylvania current prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people, well below the sizable crowds he typically draws — most of whom don’t wear masks.
“We hope and expect that the President and those attending rallies will abide by these commonsense restrictions to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger told the Inquirer.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Allegheny County has seen a decline in new cases in recent months following a spike in July, which was attributed to the reopening of bars and restaurants. Officials say they will hold the business where the rally is being held accountable if it chooses to ignore the state’s restrictions.
“If there are complaints made to the county Health Department, the enforcement team will review and determine any appropriate actions,” said Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs.
“We hope and expect that any political candidate or anyone attending a candidate’s rally will abide by these commonsense restrictions to protect the health and safety of our residents,” First Deputy General Counsel Theron Perez wrote in a letter to the Trump campaign on Sept. 10 obtained by the Inquirer, urging organizers to “consider the public health of Pennsylvania’s communities.”