10:56 PM - September 14, 2020
10:56 PM - September 14, 2020

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

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

9:57 PM - September 14, 2020
9:57 PM - September 14, 2020

YouTube pranksters draw thousands of partyers to Seaside Heights

YouTube celebrities known for their frat-like parties and encouraging students to disregard coronavirus restrictions drew several thousand fans to Seaside Heights on Monday, prompting a massive police response.

Numerous posts on social media showed hordes of partyers roaming the streets of the New Jersey borough on Monday night in connection with a stunt promoted by the NELK Biys at the house used for “The Jersey Shore” TV show. The Asbury Park Press reported that police were being called from surrounding communities but the situation had been described as peaceful.

The NELK Boys, who have more than 5.6 million subscribers on YouTube and 3.5 million followers on Instagram, were linked to a recent large outdoor party that included Illinois State University students at an off-campus apartment complex. Videos shared on social media showed a packed crowd of maskless students partying and yelling. Police in Normal, Ill., were forced to disperse the crowd, according to local media reports.

Last month, the Toronto-based pranksters organized a large gathering to protest gym closures in California. The party-like event featured scores of people packed together, most of whom were not wearing masks, according to footage shared of the event.

— Staff Report

4:14 PM - September 14, 2020
4:14 PM - September 14, 2020

College students driving Pa. case increases, Levine says

Coronavirus cases among college-aged students have increased significantly this month as young adults head back to campus for school, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said during a news conference Monday.

There’s been a 19% increase in cases among 19 to 24-year-olds so far in September when compared to April, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said during a news conference Monday. Levine pleaded with those students, saying: “We need your help.”

The two areas with the largest increases were North Central and Northeast Pennsylvania. In April, 19 to 24-year-olds represented just 7% and 6% of all coronavirus cases in those regions, respectively. This month, that age group represents 69% and 40% of cases, respectively.

“The most significant different between the case increases that we are seeing now and what we saw in April is that colleges and universities are back in session,” Levine said. “College and university students are uniquely positioned now to help change the course of the spread of this virus by changing and adapting your actions to protect yourselves your friends and others in the community.”

Levine pleaded with students to wear masks, social distance, avoid large groups, use hand sanitizer, and quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19 or if they are exposed to someone who tested positive. Levine said students exposed to someone with COVID-19 should self-isolate for the full 14 days, even if they tested negative themselves, because of the incubation period.

What happens on campus, Levine said, directly impacts the community. Case numbers determine if local children can attend their schools, if businesses can stay open, and spreading the virus could put particularly vulnerable people, like the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions, at a higher risk.

“One of the biggest lessons that we have learned from this pandemic is that we are all interconnected and interdependent on each other really in every way. The virus has passed through every societal barrier because asymptomatic individuals can and do unknowingly and unintentionally infect others,” Levine said. “We must stand united in our efforts to stop this virus from doing more damage to our communities. our families and our friends.”

— Ellie Silverman

2:43 PM - September 14, 2020
2:43 PM - September 14, 2020

How two federal judges reached different conclusions on Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf meets with the media at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in March.
Joe Hermitt / AP
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf meets with the media at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in March.

In ruling against the Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s order for all “non-life sustaining businesses” to close, U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV held that its application had been arbitrary and followed no coherent definition of which businesses where “life sustaining” and which were not.

What’s more, the judge ruled, the administration’s waiver program — which allowed some businesses to reopen despite the closure orders — was applied incoherently and allowed some companies to resume operations even while their competitors in the same industry were denied the same relief.

And while the Wolf administration has argued that the situation is moot, as almost all businesses have been allowed to reopen, Stickman noted that the order issued in March had no end date and that state health officials have warned it could be reinstated as necessary at any time.

“The court recognizes that defendants were acting in haste to address a public health situation,” Stickman wrote. “But to the extent the defendants were exercising raw governmental authority in a way that could (and did) critically wound or destroy the livelihoods of so many, the people of the Commonwealth at least deserved an objective plan.”

Stickman’s decision came two weeks after a federal judge in Philadelphia threw out a similar challenge to the business closure order, saying the restrictions were temporary and, therefore, did not infringe in any meaningful way on business owners' constitutional rights.

“We are skeptical of claims seeking to challenge emergency government action taken to combat a once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis,” U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick wrote in the case brought by business owners in Philadelphia, Bucks, and Lancaster Counties.

His split with Stickman sets the stage for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to take up the matter should the Wolf administration appeal.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in the debate over Pennsylvania’s business closure orders.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in a similar case seeking to block California’s restrictions on religious gatherings, wrote earlier this year that government officials should be granted wide latitude to act in areas “fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties” and should not be “subject to second guessing by the unelected federal judiciary.”

— Jeremy Roebuck

2:35 PM - September 14, 2020
2:35 PM - September 14, 2020

N.J. officials urge residents to get flu shots, says cases at schools aren’t unexpected

New Jersey officials are preparing for the possibility that flu season could coincide with a resurgence of the coronavirus this fall, and health commissioner Judith Persichilli urged residents to get flu shots.

“Getting a yearly flu vaccine helps protect you and those around you who are more vulnerable to severe flu and illness,” she said.

As school districts opened across the state this month, several have already been forced to modify plans for in-person classes due to cases of COVID-19 among staff members. Gov. Phil Murphy said such cases weren’t unexpected, but that officials have still not linked any cases to in-school transmission. Persichilli said contact tracing is running smoothly in schools.

“It feels to me that the system is working, that steps are being taken as they should be,” Murphy said.

State medical director Edward Lifshitz acknowledged that in the weeks to come, there likely will be instances of in-school transmission.

“This is the reason why we set up these surveillance systems, this is the reason why we put out all this information to the schools, and the schools work with local health departments,” he said. “First off, to do everything that is reasonable to prevent that from happening in the first place, but second, realizing that when it does happen, it can be spotted as quickly as possible, and actions can be taken to keep it from spreading further.”

The state added 346 new cases of the coronavirus and three more deaths. The transmission rate is 1.06, meaning each case is leading to at least one more infection.

— Allison Steele

2:19 PM - September 14, 2020
2:19 PM - September 14, 2020

Pennsylvania to receive nearly $2 billion for eviction relief, Casey announces

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. attends a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Friday.
Gene J. Puskar / AP
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. attends a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Friday.

Pennsylvania will receive nearly $2 billion in new funding to help households struggling to make rent or mortgage payments due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) announced Monday.

The state will receive $1.988 billion in new funding from Community Development Block Grants as part of the Federal CARES Act for eviction relief. The funds can be used to provide temporary assistance and meet rental obligations for up to six months, and will be focused on areas where households face a higher risk of eviction, according to Casey’s office.

“This funding is essential to providing support for Pennsylvanians who need temporary financial assistance to pay rent and weather the eviction crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has created,” Casey said in a statement, adding he “will continue to fight for additional assistance to prevent evictions.”

Philadelphia will receive $11.3 million in funding, while Pittsburg will be allocated $3.11 million, according to Casey’s office. Suburban Philadelphia counties are expected to receive:

  • Bucks County: $2.79 million
  • Chester County: $2.6 million
  • Delaware County: $2.29 million
  • Montgomery County: $3.56 million

— Rob Tornoe

1:30 PM - September 14, 2020
1:30 PM - September 14, 2020

Philly reports 271 new cases since Friday

Philadelphia announced 271 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, which accounts for new test results since Friday.

The new cases bring the city’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to more than 35,000.

A total of 35,256 Philadelphia residents have tested positive for the virus since March, and 1,770 residents have died of COVID-19.

— Laura McCrystal

1:16 PM - September 14, 2020
1:16 PM - September 14, 2020

Some of Gov. Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions are unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaksat the a press conference in Harrisburg in August.
Commonwealth Media Services
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaksat the a press conference in Harrisburg in August.

A federal judge has ruled that key components of Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus mitigation strategy are unconstitutional, including a statewide limit on how many Pennsylvanians can gather in one place.

In the 66-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV found that the Wolf administration’s policy limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 and 250 people, respectively, violates “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Stickman also found Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s stay-at-home orders and business closures, which have since been lifted, to be unconstitutional. Health experts widely considered temporary business closures and limits on operations to be necessary in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

A spokesperson for Wolf said, “We’re aware of the ruling and are reviewing the decision.”

The lawsuit was filed in May by four Western Pennsylvania counties — Butler, Fayette, Green, and Washington — as well as individual businesses and lawmakers against Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

— Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA

12:42 PM - September 14, 2020
12:42 PM - September 14, 2020

Pennsylvania reports 1,258 new cases over the past two days

Pennsylvania reported 1,258 new coronavirus cases on Monday, a two-day total that includes new cases reported on Sunday but not cases in Philadelphia, due to reporting delays.

The commonwealth is now averaging about 650 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, a decrease from about 820 a day earlier this month.

The Department of Health said 158,712 coronavirus tests were administered between Sept. 7 and Sept. 13, with 5,127 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3.2%. Overall, 145,063 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 7,869 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 7 new deaths reported on Monday and none on Sunday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,297 (about 67%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

12:30 PM - September 14, 2020
12:30 PM - September 14, 2020

Philadelphia Sports Clubs' parent company files for bankruptcy

Gym-goers play pickleball at The Sporting Club at the Bellevue in Philadelphia, PA on December 11, 2019.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Gym-goers play pickleball at The Sporting Club at the Bellevue in Philadelphia, PA on December 11, 2019.

Town Sports International, the parent company of Philadelphia Sports Clubs, among others, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the face of a looming debt deadline and coronavirus-related revenue shortfalls.

This does not mean Philadelphia Sports Clubs and other clubs and gyms owned by Town Sports International are closing.

All facilities open under local coronavirus guidelines will stay open for members with regular schedules and service, according to the online announcement. Employees will also continue to receive the same pay and benefits.

“Members should not notice any changes to their fitness journeys,” the company said.

— Ellie Silverman

12:00 PM - September 14, 2020
12:00 PM - September 14, 2020

NFL reminds teams to follow sideline rules on face coverings

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson wore a face mask throughout Sunday's loss against Washington., but other coaches went maskless.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson wore a face mask throughout Sunday's loss against Washington., but other coaches went maskless.

The NFL on Monday reminded team personnel on the sidelines about the COVID-19 requirements for wearing face coverings, saying such carelessness or disregard could put the season “at risk.”

There were several games Sunday in which team members other than players did not use face coverings. During the Sunday night game between Dallas and Los Angeles, Rams coach Sean McVay often was shown on camera without a face covering.

Troy Vincent, who oversees the league’s football operations, sent a memo to the 32 clubs. He stressed that teams “must remain vigilant and disciplined in following the processes and protocols put in place by not only the league, union and clubs, but also by state and local governments.”

He referred to the game-day protocols developed by the league and the NFL Players Association that require all individuals with bench area access, including coaches and members of the club medical staff, to wear face coverings at all times.

“Failure to adhere to this requirement will result in accountability measures being imposed against offending individuals and/or clubs,” the memo said. “The face covering must be worn as designed so that it securely fits across the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of the virus.”

— Associated Press

11:00 AM - September 14, 2020
11:00 AM - September 14, 2020

Growing optimism Big Ten football could start as early as October

Penn State head coach James Franklin.
Jose F. Moreno / Staff Photographer
Penn State head coach James Franklin.

The Big Ten Conference’s 14 presidents and chancellors reportedly were pleased Sunday with the presentation of a medical subcommittee outlining the steps needed to safely begin a delayed football season and could vote on the matter sometime this week.

The group, which voted to postpone the season on Aug. 11 by an 11-3 margin because of coronavirus concerns, agreed to meet again Monday. A decision to start a football season would mean the return of the sport as early as Oct. 17, according to reports by Yahoo and ESPN.

An Oct. 17 start to the season could allow the Big Ten to be considered for selection into the College Football Playoff. The conference would be able to schedule eight games with a bye week, and the two division winners would meet for the Big Ten championship on Dec. 19. Four teams will be selected for the playoff on Dec. 20.

— Joe Juliano

10:30 AM - September 14, 2020
10:30 AM - September 14, 2020

Eagles fans found a way to celebrate, despite coronavirus and Sunday’s loss

Eagles fans gathered at a South Jersey catering company for the first game of the Eagles season. For $40 a car, fans watched the game on a giant screen outdoors and tailgated with their family and friends.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Eagles fans gathered at a South Jersey catering company for the first game of the Eagles season. For $40 a car, fans watched the game on a giant screen outdoors and tailgated with their family and friends.

Eight months and a pandemic separated the end of the 2019 Eagles season from the start of the 2020 season, and fans were starved for their team and the rituals of fall: beers from the car, the smell of sausages and peppers on the grill, games of cornhole, and the camaraderie of hundreds of fans cheering together.

For $40 a carload, Rocco Gallelli offered to fans the opportunity to enjoy just that. Gallelli, who owns Innovative Catering Concepts and a banquet facility in Monroe Township, never set out to run a concert venue and drive-in movie theater, but the coronavirus hobbled his business, and suddenly having a giant, 300-space parking lot was a lifeline.

He rented a giant movie screen and plunked down a stage, bringing bands in some nights, showing films others, allowing folks to bring in their own food or order from his catering trucks. Eagles gatherings seemed to be a natural next step, and the idea took off, gaining national attention.

“We’re bringing Eagles nation together,” said Gallelli said. “And right now, we want just to get to the other side of COVID.”

— Kristen A. Graham

9:00 AM - September 14, 2020
9:00 AM - September 14, 2020

Uncertainty and virtual learning are driving more families to homeschooling

Elizabeth Dukart (left) supervises her children, Matthew, 6, (right), and Sam, 9, (center) during a homeschooling session on their lawn in Cherry Hill, N.J. on September 10, 2020. Dukart pulled her kids from Cherry Hill public schools to homeschool them during the pandemic.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Elizabeth Dukart (left) supervises her children, Matthew, 6, (right), and Sam, 9, (center) during a homeschooling session on their lawn in Cherry Hill, N.J. on September 10, 2020. Dukart pulled her kids from Cherry Hill public schools to homeschool them during the pandemic.

The pandemic has driven an increasing number of parents around the region and the country to give new consideration to homeschooling, spurred by uncertainty about school schedules and aversion to virtual learning programs.

Tracking the growth of homeschooling is difficult. In Pennsylvania, officials say they don’t have data for the current school year, while in New Jersey, the state doesn’t track it at all.

But people connected with the homeschool community say they’ve seen a surge in interest. When districts began announcing their plans for the fall, the National Home School Association “started getting a deluge of calls,” said J. Allen Weston, the group’s executive director. “We had to expand our inbox two different times to accommodate all the e-mails.”

Susan Richman, who pushed to legalize homeschooling in Pennsylvania in 1988, has seen increased interest in her Pennsylvania Homeschoolers AP Online program offering virtual Advanced Placement courses to students across the country. More than 1,000 children are enrolled, compared with 850 last year.

Richman said she’s hearing from families that weren’t necessarily happy with public schools before. The pandemic “is the kick in the seat of the pants” to try homeschooling, she said.

— Maddie Hanna and Kristen A. Graham

8:00 AM - September 14, 2020
8:00 AM - September 14, 2020

Four PATCO stations closed in March reopen

PATCO's Westmont station are among those that reopened today after being shut down in March.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
PATCO's Westmont station are among those that reopened today after being shut down in March.

Four PATCO stations closed back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic reopened early Monday morning, and weekday train services will increase to every five to 10 minutes during rush hour.

The four PATCO stations are: Ashland, Westmont, City Hall, and 12/13th and Locust Streets.

All PATCO stations are now open 24 hours, with the exception of the 9/10th and Locust station, which closes daily between 12:07 a.m. and 4 a.m.

“As more riders return to PATCO, we will be evaluating our approach and strategies relating to every aspect of how our service is delivered,” PATCO General Manager John D. Rink said in a statement. “Our goal now is to ensure our service provides enough capacity so that there is enough room on platforms and trains to facilitate appropriate social distancing.”

— Rob Tornoe

7:45 AM - September 14, 2020
7:45 AM - September 14, 2020

No holiday Peeps this year due to the pandemic

Peeps move through the manufacturing process at the Just Born factory, in Bethlehem, Pa.
Matt Rourke / AP
Peeps move through the manufacturing process at the Just Born factory, in Bethlehem, Pa.

Just Born Quality Confections, which is based in Bethlehem, Pa., announced it won’t be producing the holiday-themed marshmallow treats in order to focus on Easter of 2021.

The company resumed limited production in May after closing in mid-March for six weeks as the coronavirus exploded across Pennsylvania. The company said new protocols were put in place to protect the safety of employees.

“This situation resulted in us having to make the difficult decision to forego production of our seasonal candies for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day in order to focus on meeting the expected overwhelming demand for Peeps for next Easter season, as well as our everyday candies,” the company said in a statement.

Prior to the pandemic, about 5.5 million Peeps were produced every day, roughly 2 billion a year, according to CNN.

In addition to their headquarters and productions facility in Bethlehem, Just Born operates a former Goldenberg Candy Company factory in Philadelphia. The company’s other candies — Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales — will also skip their annual holiday packaging and shapes this year.

— Rob Tornoe

7:30 AM - September 14, 2020
7:30 AM - September 14, 2020

Nevada governor blasts Trump for disregarding local coronavirus restrictions

Maskless supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik / AP
Maskless supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Shortly before President Donald Trump took the stage on Sunday night in Henderson, Nev., for his first indoor rally in months, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak blasted the president for flouting the state’s coronavirus restrictions by packing hundreds of supporters, many without masks, into a building.

The Democratic governor noted that Trump and his campaign were violating Nevada’s ban on gatherings of 50 people or more, tweeting that the president’s rally at Xtreme Manufacturing was “shameful, dangerous and irresponsible.”

“Tonight, President Donald Trump is taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada,” the governor said. “The President appears to have forgotten that this country is still in the middle of a global pandemic.”

The indoor rally, which featured mask-less supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder inside the industrial facility, came as the United States approaches almost 200,000 dead from covid-19. In Nevada, where Trump held multiple events over the weekend, there have been more than 73,500 cases and at least 1,570 deaths related to the virus.

— Washington Post

7:20 AM - September 14, 2020
7:20 AM - September 14, 2020

Israel becomes first country to enact second lockdown as coronavirus cases soar

A healthcare worker adjusts his protective gera at a drive-through COVID-19 testing centre set up at a parking area in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Ariel Schalit / AP
A healthcare worker adjusts his protective gera at a drive-through COVID-19 testing centre set up at a parking area in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel will head into a second coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a televised news conference Sunday night, following a sharp escalation in the number of new covid-19 infections in the country in recent weeks.

The lockdown, which requires schools, stores, malls and hotels to close and reinstates restrictions on people’s movements for at least three weeks starting Friday, marks an attempt to halt the trajectory that saw more than 4,000 new cases in a single day last week in a country of some 9 million.

Data published by the Health Ministry on Sunday showed that since the start of the crisis, 153,759 people in Israel have caught the virus, with 114,635 recovering, 38,008 cases active and 1,108 dead.

Israel began reopening in early May, even sending children back to school before the summer vacation to allow parents to return to work. Now, Netanyahu said, the worrying trend of recent weeks has caused the “health services to raise a red flag” and forced the government to adopt the recommendations of recently appointed coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who had pushed for a full lockdown.

— Washington Post

7:00 AM - September 14, 2020
7:00 AM - September 14, 2020

Monday morning roundup