7:49 AM - May 7, 2020
7:49 AM - May 7, 2020

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus coverage here

About 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment for the first time last week, increasing the seven-week total to over 33 million following a shutdown of the economy that began in the middle of March to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The unprecedented number of unemployment claims dwarfs the 8.7 million claims filed during the Great Recession, and have easily erased the 22.4 million jobs gained over the last decade. The number of new weekly jobless claims continue to subside in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but still remain at historic highs.

Plus, Frontier Airlines backs off a social distancing promotion, and you’ll have to make a reservation if you want to go to Six Flags this summer.

7:49 PM - May 6, 2020
7:49 PM - May 6, 2020

Homeless people living at airport and one man found in a parked plane underscore the wreckage of COVID-19

Homeless people rest in the Terminal A-East baggage claim, which is not currently in use by travelers, at the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pa. on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. A notice posted in many public areas of the airport directed people looking for a place to stay overnight to Terminal A-East.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Homeless people rest in the Terminal A-East baggage claim, which is not currently in use by travelers, at the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pa. on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. A notice posted in many public areas of the airport directed people looking for a place to stay overnight to Terminal A-East.

Southwest Airlines personnel were preparing a plane at Gate E-17 for a flight from Philadelphia International Airport to Tampa at 5:20 a.m. Saturday when they made a startling discovery: a man inside one of the bathrooms.

He had no ticket, and an airport security crew who then swept the aircraft with a K-9 unit did not specify how long he’d been there, or how he’d gotten aboard, according to a security report obtained by The Inquirer.

Officials surmised that the man, identified by Philadelphia Police as Jeremiah Meade, 36, of Lexington, Ky., may have been part of a growing group of about 100 homeless people who’ve occupied the largely empty airport since the coronavirus appeared. Meade was arrested for criminal trespassing and released on unsecured bail. Airport officials had been allowing people to stay in Terminal A-East, homeless advocates said.

As shelters take in fewer people in an attempt to make conditions safer, homeless people are saying they’ve drifted to the airport. The problem, advocates say, is lack of services to help those who’ve gathered there. Many are suffering more from mental health disabilities than from addiction issues, said Sister Mary Scullion, president and executive director of Project HOME, a homeless advocacy group.

— Alfred Lubrano, Laura McCrystal

7:43 PM - May 6, 2020
7:43 PM - May 6, 2020

Burlington County reports more coronavirus deaths, seeking volunteers to help with virus response

Burlington County on Wednesday reported 12 more coronavirus-related deaths while Camden County added eight deaths to its overall count.

Gloucester County reported 46 additional virus infections but no new deaths. The county has a total of 1,516 confirmed cases and 65 deaths.

Burlington County reported 66 new cases for a total of 3,167 and 181 deaths so far. Camden County said it had 78 more confirmed positives for a total of 3,707 and 197 fatalities.

Burlington County on Wednesday also announced that it is looking for volunteers to assist in the county’s coronavirus response.

The county is looking for people, especially those with medical expertise, to help operate the county’s call centers, contact tracing, and perform test swabbing. County officials said they are especially looking for active or retired physicians, nurses, or nurses assistants. To volunteer, visit the state’s health website.

Ellie Rushing, Robert Moran

7:28 PM - May 6, 2020
7:28 PM - May 6, 2020

Couple who recovered from COVID-19 donate plasma for coronavirus research

The Wells family from left to right Gabriel, Caroline, Richard, Maria, Kathryn.
The Wells family
The Wells family from left to right Gabriel, Caroline, Richard, Maria, Kathryn.

When Richard and Maria Wells both finally recovered from COVID-19, the Bala Cynwyd couple’s immediate thought was to contribute to the growing field of medical research currently being devoted to disease. They decided to donate their blood plasma to science, potentially helping people who test positive for COVID-19.

“It feels great,” Richard said about being able to donate.

In those who have recovered from the disease, their plasma contains antibodies, developed by the immune system, that helped them fight the infection.

While there is still much to know about the treatment of COVID-19, researchers believe that this plasma may be beneficial for patients whose immune systems have not yet learned to make such helpful antibodies. So they’re now using donated plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients both for research and in COVID-19 treatment, injecting it into patients in an effort to build antibodies to the virus that has ravaged the world.

— Marc Narducci

7:00 PM - May 6, 2020
7:00 PM - May 6, 2020

Is it safe to open my windows right now?

A man looks out of an apartment building in Philadelphia's Fishtown section on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The city has directed residents to stay at home except for essential activities.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A man looks out of an apartment building in Philadelphia's Fishtown section on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The city has directed residents to stay at home except for essential activities.

With new information coming in all the time about the coronavirus, and some big, big questions that scientists are racing to answer, it can be hard to figure out what’s safe. And a lot of people have asked us: Is it safe to open the windows in my house?

The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, you should.

Not only do the open windows provide a pleasant breeze and fresh air circulating through homes we’ve been stuck in for months, it’s good for our mind, said Dr. David C. Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department.

“Just listening to sounds of the birds and smelling the fresh air can lift your spirits,” Damsker said. Not to mention the fresh air provides oxygen that keeps us alert and productive during this era of home schooling and working from home.

— Elizabeth Wellington

6:14 PM - May 6, 2020
6:14 PM - May 6, 2020

The dead are getting $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks. Are survivors required to send the money back? Maybe not.

A check made out to Mary L. Johnson, who passed away two years ago. The address has been blacked out to maintain privacy.
A check made out to Mary L. Johnson, who passed away two years ago. The address has been blacked out to maintain privacy.

Mary Johnson died in 2018. Last week, her heirs received a stimulus check in the mail for $1,200 payable to “Mary L. Johnson Decd.”

“We had a good laugh about it,” said her son, Tim Martin Johnson of Philadelphia. “She’s been gone two years. We laughed about how the check actually said ‘Deceased’ on it.”

After the laughter died down, Johnson who was the executor of his mother’s estate was posed with a quandary.

“I tried to figure out what to do,” he said. “I was pretty sure we couldn’t accept it.”

During the past month, the Internal Revenue Service has paid out more than $207 billion in “Economic Impact Payments” to individuals as part of the $2 trillion pandemic package known as the CARES Act.

But the Act was written so quickly that no one bothered to ensure that money wouldn’t be sent to the dead, said Nina Olson, a former IRS official and current executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights.

Olson estimates the IRS may have mailed thousands of checks, potentially worth tens of millions of dollars, to people whom the agency should have known had breathed their last.

— Sam Wood

5:34 PM - May 6, 2020
5:34 PM - May 6, 2020

Here’s who’s behind the ‘reopen’ rallies planned for Friday at Philadelphia City Hall

Protesters ride around the capital as fellow protesters gather outside the Capital Complex in Harrisburg, PA on April 20, 2020. They are calling for Gov. Wolf to reopen the state's economy during the coronavirus outbreak.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Protesters ride around the capital as fellow protesters gather outside the Capital Complex in Harrisburg, PA on April 20, 2020. They are calling for Gov. Wolf to reopen the state's economy during the coronavirus outbreak.

Supporters of reopening Philadelphia businesses will gather at City Hall Friday, the day parts of northern and western Pennsylvania will begin phased reopening, to rally against mass closures aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.

Multiple groups are planning rallies set for the same time — some are small business owners in the city and workers who are sick of waiting for an unemployment check. Some also may be affiliated with the Philadelphia Proud Boys, a chapter of the self-described “Western chauvinist” organization that has been designated a hate group.

All are demanding Mayor Jim Kenney lay out a plan to ease social-distancing restrictions in the city, though it isn’t clear if the mayor has the legal authority to do so. It was Gov. Tom Wolf who issued an order shutting down all but “life-sustaining” businesses across the state.

Victor Della Barba and a few others — including his mother, Jody Della Barba, a well-known figure in South Philadelphia civic and political circles — created the group ReOpen Philadelphia and are plotting a caravan of cars that will drive at noon Friday from Broad Street and Oregon Avenue to City Hall in an event they dubbed a “gridlock rally.”

But they won’t be alone. Other Facebook groups demanding the reopening of Philadelphia have cropped up, including one planning an event called “Open Up Philly.” The event invitation says nothing about staying in cars and reads: “Bring flags, banners, signs, drinks and friends.”

— Anna Orso

5:14 PM - May 6, 2020
5:14 PM - May 6, 2020

Wolf orders liability protection for Pennsylvania coronavirus health-care providers

Nurse Felicia Nemick wheels an empty bed out of a room before moving another patient into it in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the hospital converted all of Boyer Pavilion into a treatment space for COVID-19 patients.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Nurse Felicia Nemick wheels an empty bed out of a room before moving another patient into it in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the hospital converted all of Boyer Pavilion into a treatment space for COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday issued an executive order that provides a liability shield to individual medical practitioners for providing COVID-19 care during the pandemic.

The order does not prevent lawsuits against operators of hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities, a protection for which trade groups have advocated.

Health-care providers have had to “broaden their professional responsibilities and experiences like never before,” Wolf said in a news release. The order protects "individuals serving on the front lines of the disaster response.”

As has been the case in other state that have adopted such protection, the immunity does not extend to crimes, gross negligence, or other willful misconduct.

The order also suspends certain regulations to make it easier for out-of-state, retired, or other qualified practitioners from providing services in Pennsylvania.

— Harold Brubaker

4:37 PM - May 6, 2020
4:37 PM - May 6, 2020

Montgomery County postpones laying American flags at gravesites to July 4

Montgomery County is postponing a planned Memorial Day tradition, county chair Valerie Arkoosh said, and instead plans to put American flags at gravesites and other locations on July 4.

The county has ordered thousands of flags for organizations like VFW groups and scout troops to place at more than 200 places and on graves. In July, Arkoosh said, there will be “less risk to the volunteers and to our community.” The office will distribute the flags before then.

The county courthouse will be lit red, white, and blue over the Memorial Day weekend, Arkoosh said, and there will be flags with a mourning ribbon placed on the courthouse grounds. County officials will share photos on social media.

Families can visit gravesites together, Arkoosh said, “We just ask that if members of different households are doing this together, they wear masks and practice physical distancing at the gravesite.”

— Allison Steele

4:24 PM - May 6, 2020
4:24 PM - May 6, 2020

Pennsylvania creates civilian task force to expand coronavirus testing, contact tracing capabilities

Pennsylvania plans to create a civilian task force to expand the commonwealth’s testing and contact tracing capabilities, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday.

The Civilian Coronavirus Corps will be made up of “trained folks who are ready and able … to help usher us all through the new environment we will be facing,” Wolf said at the daily press briefing.

He said this group would partner with the state’s existing health agencies to expand the state’s contact tracing, a key requirement for the state to begin reopening. He said he is unsure how many people would be hired to work on it, but he wants the federal government to fund it.

“To have an impact on the economy we want this to be a big deal,” he said. “We hope to receive special funding from the federal government on this.”

Wolf also said additional liability protections for healthcare workers treating coronavirus will be announced later this afternoon. He said long-term care facilities, which will likely face a crush of civil lawsuits amid resident deaths, will not be given additional civil protections.

Pennsylvania reported 94 additional coronavirus-related deaths and 888 new cases. Its death toll now sits at 3,106 and the case total has reached 51,845. About 20% of Pennsylvania’s cases are people living in long-term care facilities, and all the residents who have died have been adults.

— Ellie Rushing

3:53 PM - May 6, 2020
3:53 PM - May 6, 2020

U.S. debt collection lawsuits are growing and the coronavirus crisis will likely make it worse

A Visa logo on a credit card.
Jenny Kane / AP
A Visa logo on a credit card.

The number of lawsuits over unpaid loans and credit card bills are growing in the U.S., a trend that could get worse as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy.

Debt claims were the most common type of civil case in nine of 12 states where 2018 data was available, according to a report released Wednesday by Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s in line with national data, where debt claims doubled over a 20-year period and made up a quarter of all civil cases as of 2013, the most recent year available.

Consumers rarely have legal help in such cases, and most of the lawsuits end without any consideration of the facts in the complaints, researchers found.

The report sheds light on an issue that has gotten more attention amid the coronavirus crisis, as debt collectors are technically free to seize federal stimulus payments meant to help Americans pay rent and buy groceries during the pandemic. With millions of Americans losing their jobs, the growth of debt collection cases is likely to continue.

— Christian Hetrick

3:47 PM - May 6, 2020
3:47 PM - May 6, 2020

U.S. Supreme Court won’t block Gov. Wolf’s business shutdown order

A closed sign hangs outside of a business in Philadelphia on Friday, March 20, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A closed sign hangs outside of a business in Philadelphia on Friday, March 20, 2020.

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t block Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping regulations that have shut down business in much of Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, Justice Samuel Alito, who had been appointed to oversee matters in the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, denied an application from a group of Pennsylvania business owners — led by Allegheny County state House candidate Danny DeVito — to take up the case.

The business owners have pressed the court to overturn Wolf’s state-wide closure of non-essential businesses, saying it is overly broad, capricious and arbitrary and has wreaked havoc on Pennsylvania’s economy.

Wolf, in a response Monday, maintained that their argument misjudged the extent of his authority to preserve public health and exhibited “an indifference to more than 60,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic so far.”

— Jeremy Roebuck, Oona Goodin-Smith

3:35 PM - May 6, 2020
3:35 PM - May 6, 2020

Wolf says Pa. employees should refuse to go to work if they don’t feel safe, but some fear putting job at risk

Amazon's immense multi-level warehouse, called a fulfillment center, in Kent, Wash. (Alan Berner/Seattle Times/TNS)
Alan Berner / MCT
Amazon's immense multi-level warehouse, called a fulfillment center, in Kent, Wash. (Alan Berner/Seattle Times/TNS)

Amid ongoing safety concerns among essential workers, Gov. Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania cannot widely enforce workplace protections and suggested employees refuse to go to work if they don’t feel safe.

The statement comes just days before the state will allow businesses in 24 counties to reopen.

“In the end, they have the ultimate sanction, which is just to say, ‘Well then, I’m not coming to work’,” Wolf told reporters Tuesday. “And, as a former employer, I know that would be the most powerful thing that any worker can do.”

But workers and their advocates said they should not be forced to put their job on the line to be properly protected from the coronavirus, noting that refusing to go to work is often tantamount to quitting and also could jeopardize their ability to collect unemployment compensation.

When asked to clarify Wolf’s comments, a spokesperson, Lyndsay Kensinger, denied he was encouraging people to quit their jobs but did not explain what the governor meant.

Workers from across the state, particularly those in lower-pay meatpacking and warehouse jobs, continue to raise alarms that their employers were slow to respond to coronavirus outbreaks, failed to provide protective equipment, or operate workplaces where it’s simply impossible to practice social distancing.

— Wallace McKelvey of PennLive | The Patriot-News

2:49 PM - May 6, 2020
2:49 PM - May 6, 2020

Philly reports 60 coronavirus deaths, but new cases continue decline

Philadelphia officials on Wednesday reported 60 new fatalities related to the coronavirus pandemic, but said the recent downward trend in new confirmed cases is continuing.

“We are clearly moving in the right direction. Our actions are very much slowing the spread of this virus. Our actions are very much saving lives,” Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said at a virtual news conference.

There were 287 new cases confirmed in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Farley said, for a total of 16,697 since the pandemic began, In total, 803 Philadelphians have died of the virus, including 424 nursing-home residents.

There were 936 coronavirus patients in city hospitals on Wednesday, and 1,739 across Southeastern Pennsylvania. Both of those figures were down from the day before, a promising trend, Farley said.

The city, however, is far from done with the virus, and there may be additional waves of infections as it moves to new populations, Farley said.

He urged residents to continue to follow social-distancing practices, wash their hands frequently, and only leave home for essential activities.

“The virus has only been around for a few months. There are things about this we don’t understand,” he said. “The virus has more surprises in store for us, so we’re just going to see how it goes.”

— Sean Collins Walsh

2:39 PM - May 6, 2020
2:39 PM - May 6, 2020

Mayor Jim Kenney on planned ‘ReOpen Philadelphia’ protest: ‘We are not going to sacrifice people’s lives’

A man walks by a mural done by artist Lauren Cat West on Chestnut Street. A streetscape enhancement project from the Center City District and Mural Arts is bringing artwork to businesses temporarily shuttered by the coronavirus.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
A man walks by a mural done by artist Lauren Cat West on Chestnut Street. A streetscape enhancement project from the Center City District and Mural Arts is bringing artwork to businesses temporarily shuttered by the coronavirus.

As supporters of reopening Philadelphia businesses plan a Friday demonstration around City Hall, Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday that data on the spread of the coronavirus, and not economic concerns, will dictate when the city’s stay-at-home order will be lifted.

Kenney pointed to rising case counts in Florida, which has begun relaxing social distancing measures, and blamed the rush to reopen on President Donald Trump.

“We'll open when [Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner Thomas] Farley and other medical experts tell us that it's time to open,” Kenney said in a virtual news conference. “We are not going to sacrifice people's lives. There's no such thing as collateral lives. They're all human beings. They’re all part of our country, state and city, and we’re not going to sacrifice anybody intentionally.”

Planners of the "ReOpen Philadelphia" protest are urging Kenney to set a timeline for reopening the city.

The mayor, however, said that he doesn’t know whether he has the legal authority to unilaterally reopen the city’s economy, given that Gov. Tom Wolf has issued an order shutting down all but “life-sustaining” businesses across the state. But it wouldn’t matter, he said, because he is working with Wolf and leaders of the suburban counties on when to reopen.

“I don’t know the legal answer to that question. But we are in constant contact with them, with the governor’s office, on a regional basis, so that we’re all walking in the same direction,” he said.

Jody Della Barba, a well-known figure in South Philadelphia, said she and her son are organizing a rally set for noon Friday and are encouraging participants to remain in their cars. Della Barba and a handful of others planned large protests most recently against a Kenney-backed supervised injection site in South Philly, which was ultimately put on hold indefinitely.

Victor Della Barba, Jody’s son, said the Friday rally is meant to give Philadelphians a chance to press for the easing of social-distancing restrictions on businesses, similar to rallies that have taken place at state capitol buildings across the country. The group wants Kenney to lay out a timeline for reopening, but understands much of the decision-making rests with Wolf, Victor Della Barba said.

“We hope Tom Wolf is watching,” he said, “because we’re angry at Harrisburg, too. But we’re just far away.”

— Sean Collins Walsh, Anna Orso

2:27 PM - May 6, 2020
2:27 PM - May 6, 2020

Boarded-up Center City storefronts feature works by Philly artists

While many Philadelphia businesses remain shuttered due to the coronavirus, a few have gotten an aesthetic boost from Philadelphia’s art community.

The boarded-up storefronts of nine Center City shops and restaurants now feature the work of local artists as part of a collaboration between the Center City District and Mural Arts Philadelphia.

The organizations hope the artwork, which is fashioned on black plywood boards, will reduce graffiti and improve Center City’s appearance in preparation for whenever it reopens.

The district’s president, Paul Levy, called the initiative “a way we can temporarily brighten the physical environment, engage local artists and send the message that through creativity and innovation we will prevail.”

— Erin McCarthy

2:15 PM - May 6, 2020
2:15 PM - May 6, 2020

‘I’m trying to be transparent,’ Wolf says as his administration rejects bill to restart public records law

Gov. Tom Wolf speaking to reporters.
Commonwealth Media Services
Gov. Tom Wolf speaking to reporters.

The Wolf administration does not support a bill that would give the public and press access to government records during a disaster declaration, despite the measure passing the state House this week with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Agencies under Gov. Tom Wolf’s purview, including the Department of Health, stopped processing public records requests in mid-March, as offices closed in an effort to mitigate the coronavirus. That means the government can operate largely in secret, with the public having little recourse to force disclosure.

Most notably, the administration has refused numerous requests, including by Spotlight PA and The Philadelphia Inquirer, to release documents related to its controversial process of granting waivers to allow certain businesses to reopen during the statewide shutdown.

“The administration’s response to the pandemic has been opaque at best and raised a lot of questions,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), who authored the bill, which would require state departments to continue processing Right-To-Know Law requests during a disaster declaration.

The measure passed Tuesday with near unanimous support, garnering the support of all but one lawmaker, who was absent. The bill had previously advanced from a committee with no support from Democrats. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

— Cynthia Fernandez

2:09 PM - May 6, 2020
2:09 PM - May 6, 2020

New Jersey’s hospitalization trends continue to decline, Murphy says

Gov. Phil Murphy reported Wednesday another 1,513 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the state’s positive case load to 131,890. Another 308 New Jerseyans have died from the disease, increasing the state’s death toll to 8,549.

Murphy said hospitalizations continue to decline across the Garden State, while reporting 5,221 people are hospitalized for the disease, with 1,549 in critical care. More than 1,140 are on ventilators.

“All of these numbers are pointing us in the right direction,” Murphy said. “And while they are positive, they still mean that thousands of our fellow New Jerseyans are still in the hospital.”

New Jersey now has 122 testing sites across the state, Murphy said, adding that this is an encouraging step towards meeting his goal to double the state’s testing capacity before moving to reopen the state’s economy.

— Pranshu Verma

1:45 PM - May 6, 2020
1:45 PM - May 6, 2020

Murphy: National experts to review N.J. nursing homes, make recommendations

Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he will appoint a team of national experts to review the state’s nursing home facilities and make recommendations to the Department of Health on changes that need to be made on how they are run.

“The long-term care issue has been among the biggest challenges, both here in New Jersey and nationally,” Murphy said. “This will be an inclusive approach to solve this challenge that will make us a national model, God willing.”

Murphy has appointed Cindy Mann, former President Barack Obama’s deputy director at the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, along with Carole Raphael, the former board chair of the AARP, to lead the team.

Their team will review each of the state’s more than 500 long-term care facilities and provide recommendations to health officials in two to three weeks.

The state’s long-term care facilities have been the hardest-hit during the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, 512 facilities are seeing an outbreak of the disease. They account for 23,345 of the state’s positive cases and 4,261 of its deaths.

The facilities came under scrutiny after reports showed a North Jersey nursing home piled 18 bodies into a morgue meant for four during the height of the pandemic.

— Pranshu Verma

1:42 PM - May 6, 2020
1:42 PM - May 6, 2020

Uber, Airbnb announce large-scale layoffs

An Uber vehicle in Philadelphia.
AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
An Uber vehicle in Philadelphia.

Uber and Airbnb are two of the latest companies to announce large-scale layoffs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders.

Airbnb, an online vacation rental company, will cut a quarter of its staff — nearly 1,900 of its 7,500 employees, according to a letter from CEO Brian Chesky. The company projects its 2020 revenue will be less than half of the $4.8 billion it made in 2019, he said, and executives are still unsure when travel will return and in what form.

With fewer people going out, even for short trips, the ride-share service Uber will lay off about 3,700 customer support and recruiting employees, about 14 percent of its workforce, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission report filed by the company and an internal memo obtained by news outlets. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will also forgo his $1 million base salary for the rest of the year. Uber’s competitor, Lyft, announced layoffs last week.

— Erin McCarthy

1:31 PM - May 6, 2020
1:31 PM - May 6, 2020

Another coronavirus side effect: Cancer screenings are down and doctors are worried

Mackenzie Alleman is photographed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Alleman is at high risk of developing ovarian cancer and relies on annual screens to give her peace of mind that she remains cancer-free. Because of the coronavirus her screenings have been pushed back.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Mackenzie Alleman is photographed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Alleman is at high risk of developing ovarian cancer and relies on annual screens to give her peace of mind that she remains cancer-free. Because of the coronavirus her screenings have been pushed back.

Mammograms, colonoscopies and other routine cancer screenings are among the dozens of procedures put on hold as health systems look to preserve resources for critical coronavirus patients.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf recently authorized hospitals to resume elective and non-urgent procedures, assuming they have sufficient protective equipment, staff and capacity to treat patients who are positive for COVID-19 as well as those who aren’t. Still, even as many health systems begin to reopen shuttered services, delays could linger for several more months as they see new cases and address a backlog of patients whose procedures were delayed.

Preventive screenings for cervical, colon and breast cancer plummeted 86% to 96% in March, compared with previous years, according to a new report by Epic, an electronic medical records company that analyzed 2.7 million patient records across 23 states.

“On a global scale, it’s a lot of screening procedures being deferred — and maybe some cancers that could develop in this time, as well,” said Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist in Philadelphia.

— Sarah Gantz

1:11 PM - May 6, 2020
1:11 PM - May 6, 2020

New Jersey’s public health emergency extended by 30 days

Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, speaks with Inquirer Reporter Amy Rosenberg on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, speaks with Inquirer Reporter Amy Rosenberg on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday he will extend New Jersey’s public health emergency for 30 days.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that this action does not mean that we are seeing anything in the data which would pause our path forward,” Murphy said. “It should not be interpreted by anyone to mean we are going to be tightening any of the restrictions currently in place.”

The declaration gives the governor broad powers to manage the crisis and was set to expire on May 7.

— Pranshu Verma

1:06 PM - May 6, 2020
1:06 PM - May 6, 2020

ShopRite calls on customers to spread gratitude amid pandemic

ShopRite is calling on people to spread gratitude amid the coronavirus pandemic. The New Jersey-based supermarket has asked for short “thank you” notes to essential workers, and pledged to donate $1 to food banks for each message.

“No small task goes unnoticed,” one user wrote on the “Essential Thanks” campaign’s website. “Thank you to everyone playing a role in this fight. We will come out stronger thanks to your unbelievable efforts.”

— Erin McCarthy

12:56 PM - May 6, 2020
12:56 PM - May 6, 2020

Civil rights advocates ask Wolf, Murphy to address coronavirus racial inequities before reopening states’ economies

Civil rights advocates from Northeastern states are asking their governors, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, to address racial inequalities exposed by the coronavirus before moving to reopen the economy.

“Some of the biggest comorbidities we face are racist structures and systems that continue to oppress us,” said Dwayne Royster, Faith in Action’s northeast regional director. Reopening too early will mean “a death sentence to countless black and brown people across the Northeast.”

In Philadelphia, black coronavirus patients are dying at a rate that’s 30% higher than the death rate among white patients.

The coalition of activists is asking their lawmakers to implement a variety of measures. These include: collecting complete, uniform race data on coronavirus cases and deaths; reducing state prison populations and releasing ICE detainees; doing neighborhood-based, door-to-door testing; prioritizing at-risk communities in contact tracing efforts; and using emergency Medicaid funds to cover virus testing and treatment.

They are also calling for increased cash assistance, a moratorium on evictions, bolstered rental-assistance funds, and flexible options that allow everyone to vote by mail, or safely in-person, during the upcoming primary election, which is June 2 in Pennsylvania.

“We have to do everything in our power to make voting easier, not more difficult,” said Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Philadelphia’s historic Mother Bethel AME Church. “Many of us have paid for the right to the vote, not simply with our feet, but our ancestors [have] with their blood.”

— Erin McCarthy

12:42 PM - May 6, 2020
12:42 PM - May 6, 2020

An elder-care facility locked down to contain COVID-19. Then a resident was found shoeless wandering the street.

The Highgate at Paoli Pointe, a nursing home in Paoli, Pa., on Monday, May 4, 2020. The nursing home was on lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. Then a resident walked out of the building and was found hours later, shoeless and wearing shorts in 40-degree weather by police
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
The Highgate at Paoli Pointe, a nursing home in Paoli, Pa., on Monday, May 4, 2020. The nursing home was on lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. Then a resident walked out of the building and was found hours later, shoeless and wearing shorts in 40-degree weather by police

Martin Kaplan doesn’t remember walking out of the elder-care home where he lived, one of the hundreds in Pennsylvania locked down to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

He doesn’t remember leaving shoeless and in shorts in 40-degree weather, walking past thick brush and rows of condos, past stop signs and across the busy East Central Avenue, where there are bumps to slow the cars that fly over the hill at speeds well exceeding the 25 mph limit.

And Kaplan, who is 74 and whose family said shows early signs of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, doesn’t remember wandering down the road that late April night toward the intersection with Route 252, the busy thruway that connects Paoli to the 202 highway. There he was eventually picked up by police and taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation and treatment of the cuts on his hands.

Now Kaplan and his family are wondering: if the facility, Highgate at Paoli Pointe, was locked down, how was he able to just leave?

It’s not uncommon for the elderly to walk out or attempt to leave nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, like Highgate, whether because they’re confused, frustrated or feeling isolated. But places like Highgate — a facility with 80 apartments where the coronavirus has killed six and infected at least 11 other residents and staff — aren’t typically in a state of lockdown to keep residents potentially infected from spreading a deadly virus.

— Anna Orso

12:36 PM - May 6, 2020
12:36 PM - May 6, 2020

The second wave of coronavirus: How bad will it be as lockdowns ease?

Tijuana Johnson, LPN at Cooper University Health Care, gets ready to do walk up tests for people who have or believe to have symptoms of Coronavirus at a testing site in Dudley Grange Park, Camden, N.J., on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Tijuana Johnson, LPN at Cooper University Health Care, gets ready to do walk up tests for people who have or believe to have symptoms of Coronavirus at a testing site in Dudley Grange Park, Camden, N.J., on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

From the marbled halls of Italy to the wheat fields of Kansas, health authorities are increasingly warning that the question isn’t whether a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths will hit, but when — and how badly.

In India, which relaxed its lockdown this week, health authorities scrambled Wednesday to contain an outbreak at a huge market. Hard-hit New York City shut down its subway system overnight for disinfection. Experts in Italy, which just began easing some restrictions, warned lawmakers that a new surge of infections and deaths is coming, and they urged intensified efforts to identify victims, monitor their symptoms and trace their contacts.

Many areas are still struggling with the first wave. Brazil for the first time locked down a large city, the capital of Maranhão state. Across the ocean, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa has shot up 42% in the past week. Infections were expected to surpass 50,000 there on Wednesday.

An Associated Press analysis, meanwhile, found that U.S. infection rates outside the New York City area are in fact rising, notably in rural areas. It found New York’s progress against the virus was overshadowing increasing infections elsewhere.

— Associated Press

12:18 PM - May 6, 2020
12:18 PM - May 6, 2020

Lockdown diaries: During the pandemic, prisoners are locked in their cells 23 hours a day

Lockdown diaries.
Samantha Melamed
Lockdown diaries.

As the coronavirus spread into Pennsylvania’s state prisons — which house around 45,000 people — prisoners and staff knew a lockdown was looming. When it happened, on March 30, it meant prisoners who once circulated to work, school, church, and law library would be trapped in their cells indefinitely.

Many say they’re out of their cell for a total of 40 minutes a day, a precious reprieve that must be meticulously choreographed, rushed but relished. The other 23 hours and 20 minutes crawl by in boredom, anxiety, and fear. Here’s what the first month was like under the longest statewide lockdown in Pennsylvania history, according to those living it.

— Samantha Melamed

11:41 AM - May 6, 2020
11:41 AM - May 6, 2020

DRPA will take cash on its toll bridges again starting Monday

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is shown in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday, March 26, 2020.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is shown in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday, March 26, 2020.

Motorists using the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry Bridges can pay their tolls with cash starting next week.

Toll collectors will take cash payments on the Delaware River Port Authority’s four bridges beginning Monday at 6 a.m., the DRPA announced Wednesday.

The DRPA temporarily turned to electronic tolling in March to limit person-to-person contact and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff will take safety precautions once cash collection resumes by wearing facial coverings and using protective shields. Drivers are encouraged to wear facial coverings as well.

— Patricia Madej

11:05 AM - May 6, 2020
11:05 AM - May 6, 2020

Pa. program to decontaminate N95 masks for reuse in COVID-19 fight

Pennsylvania’s frontline workers may soon get a new tool to help protect themselves from the coronavirus despite shortages of personal protective equipment.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday a program that will decontaminate N95 respirators for eligible medical care organizations that don’t have enough masks.

The federally funded and FDA-approved Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System uses vaporous hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate tens of thousands of masks a day at a single location, Wolf said in a statement, and each respirator can be decontaminated as many as 20 times before it needs to be thrown out.

Due to the pandemic, many medical professionals have had to reuse the medical-grade masks, sometimes for several days. In normal times, N95 masks are disposed of after a single use.

Federal officials have determined that eligible organizations include hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing homes, rehab facilities, cancer centers, pharmacies, dialysis centers, assisted living facilities, laboratories, EMS crews, and outpatient facilities. Other entities that have a critical shortage of masks may also be eligible. The state is distributing specific information about the service directly to organizations that may be eligible.

— Erin McCarthy

9:58 AM - May 6, 2020
9:58 AM - May 6, 2020

Cape May County urges ‘safe, thoughtful, and progressive reopening’ of Shore towns by June 1

Beachgoers practicing social distancing in Cape May on Sunday.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Beachgoers practicing social distancing in Cape May on Sunday.

Second-home owners are continuing to come down to Shore towns, prompting Cape May County officials to change tactics from discouraging them to planning for a gradual reopening of Shore towns and beaches by June 1.

The County, in conjunction with mayors and health care representatives, is asking Gov. Phil Murphy to “relax and/or modify” provisions of his executive order that prohibit unnecessary travel and restrict nonessential businesses.

The county will now allow rentals greater than 30 days beginning Monday, May 11. Rentals for fewer than 30 days will be allowed beginning June 1.

Hotels and motels may operate at 60 percent capacity beginning June 1, and at full capacity beginning June 22, the County ruled in a vote by its Board of Chose Freeholders.

In a 35-page proposal sent to Murphy this week, the County is proposing that towns ramp up beaches to a full opening on June 1 and consider spreading out swimmers beyond designated beaches by offering additional Beach Patrol locations. “All activities would remain subject to social distancing and groups would be limited to no more than ten people,” the county said.

Besides Cape May, the county’s beach towns include the Wildwoods, Stone Harbor, Avalon, Sea Isle City, Strathmere and Ocean City.

— Amy Rosenberg

9:48 AM - May 6, 2020
9:48 AM - May 6, 2020

Trump tweets that White House COVID-19 task force will live on

The federal coronavirus task force will live on indefinitely, according to Wednesday morning tweets from President Donald Trump.

“The White House CoronaVirus Task Force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, has done a fantastic job of bringing together vast highly complex resource,” Trump said. “[T]he Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate.”

Trump’s statements appear to reverse earlier remarks made by him and Pence that the White House was looking at winding up the task force’s operations.

On Tuesday, Pence told reporters the task force could dissolve by the end of the month, and Trump suggested the group’s work was done since the country needs to focus on reopening.

As the president continues to focus on the economy and send mixed messages about the public-health response, many Americans remain worried about the virus. Polls indicate most would be uncomfortable returning to activities such as retail shopping or eating at a restaurant.

— Erin McCarthy

9:12 AM - May 6, 2020
9:12 AM - May 6, 2020

More than 20 million U.S. jobs vanished in April, payroll company ADP says

Shuttered businesses at 16th and Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia on April 29. The payroll company ADP released a report Wednesday saying 20 million Americans became unemployed in April due to the COVID-19 crisis.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Shuttered businesses at 16th and Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia on April 29. The payroll company ADP released a report Wednesday saying 20 million Americans became unemployed in April due to the COVID-19 crisis.

U.S. businesses cut an unprecedented 20.2 million jobs in April, an epic collapse as the coronavirus outbreak closed of offices, factories, schools, construction sites and stores that propel the U.S. economy, the payroll company ADP said Wednesday.

The ADP report showed the tragic depth and scale of job losses that left no part of the world’s largest economy unscathed. The losses will likely continue through May, with a recovery in hiring likely to begin in the months that follow, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

“This is one for the record books," Zandi said. ”The good news is that we're at the apex of the job loss."

Even though Zandi expects hiring to resume in June as states ease their restrictions on activity, he cautioned that it will be a “slog” over several years to recover all the jobs lost in April.

The private industry report comes two days ahead of the official monthly job figures from the U.S. Labor Department. Economists believe the Friday report will reveal unemployment in the U.S. will hit 16%, up from 4.4% in March.

— Associated Press

8:59 AM - May 6, 2020
8:59 AM - May 6, 2020

Pa. coronavirus researcher slain in murder-suicide outside Pittsburgh

A University of Pittsburgh researcher who was studying the coronavirus was shot and killed in an apparent murder-suicide, according to local news reports.

Bing Liu, 37, was shot multiple times on Saturday in his townhouse in Ross Township, north Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The shooter has been identified as Hao Gu, 46, a man whom police say Liu knew, according to the Post-Gazette. Gu took his own life after the killing.

Before his death, Liu was "on the verge of making very significant findings toward understanding the cellular mechanisms that underlie” the coronavirus and its complications, Pitt School of Medicine’s computational and system biology department said in a statement.

The department said it will try to complete Liu’s research “in an effort to pay homage” to the research assistant professor. A Ross police detective sergeant told CNN that there was “zero indication that there was targeting due to his being Chinese.” He said Tuesday that police were still investigating the men’s relationship, as well as a potential motive for the killing, according to NBC News.

— Erin McCarthy

8:35 AM - May 5, 2020
8:35 AM - May 5, 2020

A Main Line nature preserve is thriving amid coronavirus. Could it be a model for others to open?

The Hansen family, of Wayne, visits the McKaig Nature Education Center in Upper Merion, Pa., om Sunday. Since the coronavirus outbreak the center has seen a 10-fold increase in visitors since everyplace else has closed. Other parks are now consulting McKaig for advice on how to reopen.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
The Hansen family, of Wayne, visits the McKaig Nature Education Center in Upper Merion, Pa., om Sunday. Since the coronavirus outbreak the center has seen a 10-fold increase in visitors since everyplace else has closed. Other parks are now consulting McKaig for advice on how to reopen.

In a densely developed and growing township that hosts one of the nation’s largest malls, the coronavirus crisis hit an obscure nature preserve in ways its keepers never could have anticipated.

Amid the avalanche of virus-related closings in March, the 93-acre McKaig Nature Education Center in the Wayne section of Upper Merion Township chose the path less traveled by: It stayed open. It was a popular decision — almost too popular.

McKaig, operated on a boot-string budget, suddenly became a hot spot. Foot traffic jumped ninefold, up to 500 visitors a day, park ranger Vytas Masalaitis said last week.

“People say, ‘I lived here 10 years; I didn’t know this was here,’” he said.

Concerned about aiding and abetting a rapidly spreading virus and the potential impacts on the woods’ nine trails, vegetation, and wildlife — including the hatching salamanders in McKaig Creek — the park’s board shut the trails for two days while it figured out how to handle the newfound celebrity.

The result was a reconfiguration of the trails by the preserve’s volunteers, routing traffic one way in the tighter areas; building a new footbridge across the creek; and posting new signage reminding people to kindly stay away from each other. The modest remake might well be a prototype for other natural areas that are contemplating reopening.

— Anthony R. Wood

5:30 AM - May 6, 2020
5:30 AM - May 6, 2020

You should wear a mask in hallways and other common spaces of apartment buildings, experts say

You should wear a mask in common spaces of your apartment building, experts said, because you might run into your neighbors.
Cynthia Greer
You should wear a mask in common spaces of your apartment building, experts said, because you might run into your neighbors.

Call it the naked rule: If you have to put clothes on, you should put on a mask.

That’s the shortcut we learned from talking to experts about when, exactly, masks are needed.

After all, the general guidance — wear a mask in public — can be confusing: What exactly does public mean? What counts as leaving my home? Does it mean going outside?

Really, what it means is you should cover your nose and mouth when you might come into contact with people who don’t live with you. That’s not just when you’re going to a specific place where people are congregating, such as a store.

And for people who live in apartments or other multi-home buildings, it means wearing a mask when going to common areas where you might run into others.

— Jonathan Lai

5:15 AM - May 6, 2020
5:15 AM - May 6, 2020

Drexel co-ops face their greatest challenge: Finding work for students during coronavirus

As the country was emerging from World War I a century ago, the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry created a cooperative education program to support the workforce.

It began with 152 engineering students, and was just the third of its kind in the United States.

Since then, the program, which places students at what is now Drexel University in paid six-month work experiences, has grown to be one of the largest in the country. More than 5,000 Drexel students work co-op jobs nationally and internationally annually, with a median salary of more than $18,000 for the half-year. More than 1,500 businesses, including Peco, JPMorgan Chase, Penn Medicine, Independence Blue Cross, and Comcast, participate.

Now, the program is operating during another world crisis, the pandemic, and despite economic turmoil, 78% of students scheduled to be on co-ops this spring and summer are in their jobs or will have a delayed start, though virtually all are working remotely.

— Susan Snyder

5:00 AM - May 6, 2020
5:00 AM - May 6, 2020

Morning Roundup: Positive signs for the coronavirus infection rate in Pa. and N.J., though the states’ governors are holding firm on reopening plans

Tijuana Johnson, licensed practical nurse, at Cooper University Health Care, gathers testing kits for the walk up COVID-19 test site that opened Tuesday at Dudley Grange Park in Camden.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Tijuana Johnson, licensed practical nurse, at Cooper University Health Care, gathers testing kits for the walk up COVID-19 test site that opened Tuesday at Dudley Grange Park in Camden.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he would stick to his reopening metric statewide, with no exceptions for the Philadelphia region. Amid indications of a slowing infection rate in the region and state, the number of Pennsylvanians who have died from the coronavirus passed 3,000.

Delaware announced its first steps toward recovery with some small businesses allowed to reopen as early as Friday, while New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said data about the virus’ effects indicated it was still too early to set a date for steps toward lifting shutdown restrictions.

Pennsylvania reported 554 deaths, a number representing a backlog of lab data, and 865 new cases of the virus on Tuesday.

“A number of days with less than 1,000 new cases is positive news,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. “That is promising. We’re going to need to see if that trend continues.”

The pace of infections was slowing in New Jersey, Murphy said, though hundreds of people are still dying daily: 334 reported Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 8,244. An additional 2,494 had tested positive. Still, the governor said the state was continuing to flatten the curve.

— Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy and Pranshu Verma

4:45 AM - June 5, 2020
4:45 AM - June 5, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Wednesday May 6, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Wednesday May 6, 2020.