10:47 PM - May 16, 2020
Breaking
10:47 PM - May 16, 2020

Latest Obama rips U.S. coronavirus response

Former President Barack Obama on Saturday criticized U.S. leaders overseeing the nation’s response to the coronavirus, telling college graduates in an online commencement address that the pandemic shows many officials "aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Obama spoke on “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition,” a two-hour event for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities broadcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. His remarks were unexpectedly political, given the venue, and touched on current events beyond the virus and its social and economic impacts.

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama said. “A lot them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Obama speaking at a town-hall meeting last year.
Michael Sohn / AP
Obama speaking at a town-hall meeting last year.

Later Saturday, during a second televised commencement address for high school seniors, Obama panned “so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs” who do “what feels good, what's convenient, what's easy.”

“Which is why things are so screwed up,” he said.

Obama did not name President Donald Trump or any other federal or state officials in either of his appearances.

—Associated Press

No joke, a drive-in comedy show in Atlantic City

Operating on the premise that life in the region, and the nation, hasn’t been a barrel of laughs lately, ACJokes.com hosted a drive-in comedy show in Atlantic City on Saturday.

Tickets were $10 for the event — free for first responders and health-care workers who answered RSVPs — was held at the John King Memorial parking lot located on Tennessee Avenue.

Shows will go on every Saturday, organizers said, and would follow “all the rules” for social distancing protocols.

Petey Rancel does his stand-up routine.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Petey Rancel does his stand-up routine.
Natalia Hernandez (center) who came up with the idea enjoys the show with Rocky, her mother Angela Serrano, and Ty Cuozzo.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Natalia Hernandez (center) who came up with the idea enjoys the show with Rocky, her mother Angela Serrano, and Ty Cuozzo.

—Charles Fox

7:09 PM - May 16, 2020
7:09 PM - May 16, 2020

Not quite Woodstock: A coronavirus-era concert in Cheltenham

The neighbors were invited to bring their folding chairs to their porches, driveways, or lawns, or engage in ad-hoc seating or standing on Saturday for a coronavirus-era-style concert in Cheltenham.

For the hour-long folk-music performance by Jenny and David Heilter-Klevans, otherwise known a “Two of a Kind,” the weather was more than cooperative.

And, evidently, so was the audience, which listened at safe distances from each other, as requested.

Jenny & David Heitler-Klevans performing from their Cheltenham driveway.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Jenny & David Heitler-Klevans performing from their Cheltenham driveway.
Neighbor Val Slott dances as she shoots a concert video as other members of the audience keep their distances.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Neighbor Val Slott dances as she shoots a concert video as other members of the audience keep their distances.

—Elizabeth Robertson

5:40 PM - May 16, 2020
5:40 PM - May 16, 2020

Jefferson Health doctor wins role in upcoming Kevin Hart film

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2020 file photo shows Kevin Hart during an interview in Pasadena, Calif. Hart offered a walk-on role in a future film to a health-care worker in the COVID-19 fight. New Jersey anesthesiologist Henry Law, was randomly selected as the winner in an All In Challenge contest. The challenge raises money for organizations that are feeding the hungry during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2020 file photo shows Kevin Hart during an interview in Pasadena, Calif. Hart offered a walk-on role in a future film to a health-care worker in the COVID-19 fight. New Jersey anesthesiologist Henry Law, was randomly selected as the winner in an All In Challenge contest. The challenge raises money for organizations that are feeding the hungry during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Kevin Hart found an upside to putting his name to a charitable cause during the coronavirus pandemic: The comedian offered a walk-on role in a future film to a health-care worker in the COVID-19 fight.

Henry Law, an anesthesiologist in New Jersey, got the call from Hart (Jumanji) that he had been randomly selected as the winner in an All In Challenge contest. The challenge was launched by Michael Rubin, the founder of the online retailer Fanatics and a Sixers co-owner.

The challenge raises money for organizations that are feeding the hungry during the pandemic, including Meals on Wheels, No Kid Hungry, America’s Food Fund, World Central Kitchen, and Feeding America. Most of the blockbuster prizes offered involve bank-busting bids to share experiences with A-list celebrities and athletes.

Law said he donated “a few hundred dollars” for a shot to win a speaking part, trailer, assistant, car service, wardrobe, and stay in a five-star hotel for a future Hart movie.

Law said he was told he was a finalist in the contest until he got a FaceTime call from Hart with the shocker that he had actually won.

Associated Press

3:22 PM - May 16, 2020
3:22 PM - May 16, 2020

Jury trials in Philadelphia suspended through Labor Day

Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas will not hold jury trials until after Labor Day, according to an order posted Friday night.

The order, signed by President Judge Idee C. Fox, states that Philadelphia residents summoned for jury duty before Sept. 8 do not need to report to court.

In-person hearings for criminal, civil, orphans’ court, and municipal court, as well as traffic court trials, are also suspended through July 6. Family Court, however, will expand its proceedings beginning June 1, according to a separate order Fox signed Friday.

Laura McCrystal

1:11 PM - May 16, 2020
1:11 PM - May 16, 2020

Boat rentals and fishing charters can resume Sunday in N.J. as Murphy says he will ‘chip away’ at stay-at-home order

People on the Ocean City beach next to the boardwalk, enjoying the weather on Saturday.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
People on the Ocean City beach next to the boardwalk, enjoying the weather on Saturday.

Chartered boat services, including fishing charters and watercraft rentals, will be permitted to resume Sunday in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Murphy said he would sign an executive order Saturday allowing the resumption of boat rentals. He said that new hospitalizations and patients in intensive care units have decreased somewhat steadily in the state for the past two weeks, allowing him to ease boating restrictions.

Social distancing measures still will be required, Murphy said, and businesses must keep customer logs in case they are needed for contact tracing.

“Even with social distancing, we are confident that everyone can have a safe and memorable summer,” Murphy said.

New Jersey reported 1,239 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, bringing the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 145,089. Murphy reported 115 deaths of New Jersey residents Saturday, and said a total of 10,249 people have now died after having the coronavirus.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations peaked in South Jersey later than in other parts of the state — but “even there we’ve had a good stretch,” Murphy said Saturday.

Murphy said he could not predict when the state’s stay-at-home order would be lifted, and said that it would be done gradually. Reopening state parks, followed by beaches and boating, are examples of incremental steps toward reopening, he said.

“We’re going to ... essentially chip away at the blanket stay-at-home reality,” Murphy said.

Laura McCrystal

11:47 AM - May 16, 2020
11:47 AM - May 16, 2020

The weather is beautiful. But officials urge Philly-area residents to continue social distancing.

Abigail Vettese and others enjoy the summer-like weather at Schuylkill River on Friday.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Abigail Vettese and others enjoy the summer-like weather at Schuylkill River on Friday.

With beautiful, warm weather in the forecast for the weekend, Philadelphia officials are reminding residents that a stay-at-home order is still in place and social distancing is important.

Mayor Jim Kenney said Friday that he was concerned about residents who are still gathering in groups and not wearing masks, and said the city would continue trying to get the message out to them.

“I don’t have an answer for when someone’s too stubborn or is too unbelieving that this is a problem,” Kenney said. “I don’t have an answer for fixing human nature.”

Pennsylvania on Saturday reported 989 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 61 new deaths. The state now has a total of 61,611 cases of the coronavirus and 4,403 deaths, according to the Department of Health.

“As counties move from red to yellow, we need all Pennsylvanians to continue to follow the social distancing and mitigation efforts in place,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in a news release.

In Philadelphia, officials reported 257 new cases of the coronavirus Saturday, and 10 additional deaths. The city now has a total of 19,606 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,031 deaths.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Saturday’s new data “show clear signs of progress for Philadelphia” as the number of new cases of the virus reported daily continues to decline. But he urged residents to continue staying home, and to wear masks and keep a distance from others if they do go out.

Laura McCrystal

11:22 AM - May 16, 2020
11:22 AM - May 16, 2020

SEPTA to resume regular schedules on most services Sunday

Ryan Stewart, an employee of SEPTA, wipes down a bus at the Olney Transportation Center at North Broad Street and Olney Avenue in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Ryan Stewart, an employee of SEPTA, wipes down a bus at the Olney Transportation Center at North Broad Street and Olney Avenue in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning.

SEPTA will resume regular schedules on most transit services Sunday, but service is still intended for essential travel only.

All bus and trolley routes will resume service, as will regular weekday and weekend service for the Market-Frankford, Broad Street and Norristown High Speed Lines. Regional Rail will continue operating on a reduced schedule.

“While we are preparing for an eventual increase in ridership, service will continue to be available for essential travel only until further notice,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said in a statement.

“If you do not need to get to work or access life-sustaining services, please do your part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by staying off the system.”Resuming some services will help SEPTA prepare for a broader reopening, but riders will still need to be mindful of policies intended to encourage social distancing and keep both workers and riders safe:

  • Rider limits of 20 per bus, 25 per trolly and 30 on the Norristown High Speed line. Operators may pass stops once vehicles reach capacity.
  • Front-door boarding and fare payment will be enforced on buses and trolleys to help operators keep track of the number of passengers and discourage nonessential travel. Exiting will be through back doors only.
  • To promote social distancing on buses and trolleys, seats will be blocked off, operators will have shields and riders will be required to remain six feet away from the operator — a distance to be marked by a yellow line — once on board.
  • Some high speed rail stations will remain closed, to allow workers to focus on cleaning high-use stations.

More details are available online at www.septa.org.

Sarah Gantz

10:58 AM - May 16, 2020
10:58 AM - May 16, 2020

‘It feels great’ for those at the Shore as beach towns reopen

(From left to right) Gina and Bill Kropp, of Haddonfield, enjoy Ocean City's beach with their son Luke, who is playing with Charlee Probst, daughter of Ryan Probst, also of Haddonfield, in summer-like weather Saturday.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
(From left to right) Gina and Bill Kropp, of Haddonfield, enjoy Ocean City's beach with their son Luke, who is playing with Charlee Probst, daughter of Ryan Probst, also of Haddonfield, in summer-like weather Saturday.

Small groups of people spread across three Cape May County beaches Saturday, the first day the Jersey Shore towns reopened their beaches and boardwalks to all activities since the coronavirus shut them down.

Ocean City, Strathmere, and Sea Isle City reopened their beaches with social distancing requirements, as part of a “dry run” to gauge potential crowds ahead of Memorial Day weekend. The rest of New Jersey’s beaches will reopen May 22, Gov. Phil Murphy announced earlier this week.

In Ocean City, families and pairs dispersed across the sand, sunbathing and building sandcastles. The wide beaches provided ample space and all groups were fairly far apart. The boardwalk along the beach was more crowded, with hundreds of mid-morning bikers and runners.

Just a few weeks after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf extended the state’s stay-at-home orders through June 4 and urged residents to stay home, an informal survey through Ocean City showed many Pennsylvania license plates parked in driveways and on the streets.

The weather was partly cloudy with temperatures in the low 70s, and while swimming was allowed, the 50-degree water kept most on the sand.

New Jersey State Police said most visitors were following social distancing guidelines as of Saturday morning. But the number of people outside increased in the afternoon, and boardwalks were more crowded than beaches.

Marisa Edmund and Don Chierici of Haddonfield came to stay at their Ocean City home for the weekend with their six children. The family lounged on their beach towels after a morning run on the boardwalk, soaking in some remnants of normalcy.

“It feels great to get out here,” said Edmund. “The kids have really been ready for something different.”

She said they were disappointed when they heard beaches could be closed through Memorial Day, so when the announcement came of an earlier opening, they jumped at the opportunity for a change of scenery. Last night, they enjoyed takeout from a Tennessee Avenue restaurant, and then took the kids for ice cream on the boardwalk.

“I think we’re all well-educated about social distancing at this point,” said Edmund. “It’s nice to get some freedom back.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said state officials are working with Shore towns to enforce social distancing.

“It’s going to be an unusual appetite to get to the beach, to get outside,” he said. “Be patient with each other. Be patient with those who are trying to enforce some of the steps that we are taking.”

Ellie Rushing, Laura McCrystal

10:30 AM - May 16, 2020
10:30 AM - May 16, 2020

Students still on campus: Dozens, in some cases hundreds, couldn’t go home

Jingyang "Alex" Ji (left) and Keisha Johnson pose outside Lions Gate residence hall at Penn State Abington.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Jingyang "Alex" Ji (left) and Keisha Johnson pose outside Lions Gate residence hall at Penn State Abington.

Before the pandemic, the 400-student residence hall at Penn State Abington was abuzz with activity: movie nights, friends visiting each other’s rooms, free events, and food in the lobby.

Now, only 20 students remain, and they can go days without seeing others.

“Sometimes I feel like I get lonely,” said Krish Kabi, 18, a biomedical engineering major from Indonesia, who occasionally ventures out for food or walks.

Throughout the region, dozens — in some cases, hundreds — of students still live on college campuses, months after most were forced to leave as schools moved instruction online. Numbers have ranged from about 100 at Haverford College to 140 at Bryn Mawr College and 200 at Temple University, and, in New Jersey, 250 at Rowan University and 160 at Stockton University.

Susan Snyder

10:18 AM - May 16, 2020
10:18 AM - May 16, 2020

Today is the last day to apply for rental assistance in Philadelphia

Saturday is the last day to apply for Philadelphia’s rental assistance program.

Selected tenants who meet the income requirements will receive up to $2,500 per month for up to three months.

The city is using federal funding for the program, with hopes of helping at least 3,000 families stay in their homes. Applications are available online.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year also includes the use of federal funds to continue offering rental assistance.

Laura McCrystal

8:45 AM - May 16, 2020
8:45 AM - May 16, 2020

Can I get my Shore house deposit back? As Jersey Shore attempts reopening, not everyone is ready

Mike Snyder, the maintenance supervisor for Sea Isle City, hangs a sign about social distancing on the boardwalk Thursday.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Mike Snyder, the maintenance supervisor for Sea Isle City, hangs a sign about social distancing on the boardwalk Thursday.

Jane Argento of Pasadena, Calif., planned a week in Cape May in June with 16 members of her extended family, all coming from different states.

Now, balking at the safety or even legality of that arrangement — gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited in New Jersey — she says she can’t get her $8,000 rent refunded.

“We’re strangers as far as this virus is concerned,” Argento said. “I said to my daughter, we might as well be 15 college graduates meeting up. We’re having a house party.”

As the Shore pushes forward with plans for a Gov. Phil Murphy-blessed reopening — with some towns allowing short-term rentals as early as May 26, and opening up hotels and motels in June — some people are pouring into Shore towns, while others who would never have second-guessed a Shore vacation are, let’s say, still debating.

Amy S. Rosenberg

8:35 AM - May 16, 2020
8:35 AM - May 16, 2020

Pennsylvania racetracks idling, wondering whether COVID-19 restrictions will empty tanks

Selinsgrove Raceway General Manager Steve Inch talks about the race that was scheduled last Saturday with no fans. He said he had approval, but later, after an order from Gov. Tom Wolf, had to cancel it.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Selinsgrove Raceway General Manager Steve Inch talks about the race that was scheduled last Saturday with no fans. He said he had approval, but later, after an order from Gov. Tom Wolf, had to cancel it.

SELINSGROVE, Pa. — A sneeze guard was erected by the concession stand, its menu reduced to burgers and chicken fingers. Pieces of red tape marked off social distancing for the skeleton crew in the old wood grandstand that overlooks a straightaway. Racers wearing helmets and gloves planned to rip around Selinsgrove Speedway’s half-mile circle of dirt like most Saturday nights in the spring and summer.

With Snyder County moving into the yellow phase of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 restrictions on May 8, race promoters at the 74-year-old speedway by the Susquehanna River thought they’d figured out a surefire plan to get racing again: a streaming pay-per-view event with no live audience. Other racetracks in rural America had pulled it off over the last month.

A hundred or so people would converge on Selinsgrove instead of the typical 4,000, mostly the 48 racers, their crews, and workers. Supermarkets and home improvement stores have seen larger crowds in more confined spaces on recent Saturdays.

General Manager Steve Inch said the speedway had approval from the state to race, but said Harrisburg changed course just days before the event.

“This crisis happened at the worst time possible for racing,” he said “This is the beginning of our season.”

Jason Nark

8:30 AM - May 16, 2020
8:30 AM - May 16, 2020

Philly pet groomers want to know why they’re closed during coronavirus shutdown

Kathleen Owens stands at the front window of Bow Wow & Meows on North 24th Street in Philadelphia. Her business has been ordered closed as part of the coronavirus business shutdown.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Kathleen Owens stands at the front window of Bow Wow & Meows on North 24th Street in Philadelphia. Her business has been ordered closed as part of the coronavirus business shutdown.

Kathleen Owens still goes to her shuttered Fairmount pet-grooming spa every day. She makes sure the place is tidy and clean, ready to reopen from the coronavirus shutdown. She hopes that day comes soon.

When she sees someone walking a dog outside, she becomes overwhelmed with emotion, she said, thinking about when her empty space was brimming with four-legged life.

“I hope we don’t have to close our doors," said Owens, 59, who opened Bow Wow & Meow’s Grooming Spa more than a decade ago. "I’ll go down fighting for this. ... I don’t think my industry is a threat.”

Owens is part of a chorus of Pennsylvania pet groomers who say their services are essential, and are asking state officials why their businesses pose a safety risk when the coronavirus spreads primarily from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While a few animals have tested positive, the CDC said last month, “There is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus."

Erin McCarthy

8:20 AM - May 16, 2020
8:20 AM - May 16, 2020

More counties come out of total lockdown, while Philly region waits and watches

Ten weeks after the first cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Pennsylvania, the western part of the state came out of full lockdown on Friday, and officials urged the southeastern region to stay the course — even amid warm weather — as signs pointed to strengthening progress.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced 12 more counties that can enter the state’s first or “yellow” phase of recovery on May 22, joining the 37 already there. While the southeastern region is not among those cleared, the new batch of counties, which includes York, inched closer to Philadelphia’s western suburbs.

The counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania still have case counts above the commonwealth’s threshold of about 50 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, one of the benchmarks being used by state officials to determine what areas can start reopening.

Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy, Ellie Silverman

8:15 AM - May 16, 2020
8:15 AM - May 16, 2020

Today’s Inquirer front page

The Inquirer front page for May 16, 2020.
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The Inquirer front page for May 16, 2020.