10:09 PM - May 21, 2020
10:09 PM - May 21, 2020

In the pandemic, buyers and renters are moving into homes without seeing them first

The inside of one of Bryan Locasale's rental properties in Philadelphia's Callowhill neighborhood.
Courtesy of Madison Monahan
The inside of one of Bryan Locasale's rental properties in Philadelphia's Callowhill neighborhood.

Bryan Locasale listed one of his rental properties in Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood last Friday on Zillow. Twenty minutes later, a woman contacted him about it. In an hour and a half, she submitted an application. Within 36 hours, she had signed the lease, and the place was hers.

His new tenant, he said, never saw the place in person.

Even as Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that real estate companies could resume in-person showings, inspections, and related business in counties where the coronavirus is still a severe threat, notably in Philadelphia, the demand and expectation for virtual real estate activity is expected to remain high, some real estate agents and landlords said.

— Katie Park

7:26 PM - May 21, 2020
7:26 PM - May 21, 2020

Many couples still happy together after months of coronavirus quarantine, study finds

A couple walks through Rittenhouse Park, in Philadelphia, April 6, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A couple walks through Rittenhouse Park, in Philadelphia, April 6, 2020.

While the stay-at-home orders may be testing people’s patience with their significant others, most romantic relationships are surviving and thriving in close quarters.

That’s according to a new Monmouth University poll, which found that half of couples in the United States predict they’ll come out of this coronavirus quarantine with a stronger relationship.

“It isn’t surprising that so many people are satisfied in their relationship," Gary Lewandowski, professor of psychology at Monmouth, said in a statement. “Our relationships are a key source of stability, and when the world feels uncertain, having your partner there to be your rock is assuring.”

— Erin McCarthy

6:58 PM - May 21, 2020
6:58 PM - May 21, 2020

The 24 hours that changed sports, and society

After the Sixers-Pistons game, the last game played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
After the Sixers-Pistons game, the last game played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

On March 11, we were all feeling our way. Sports world included. A scattering of college basketball games had been played the previous weekend without fans. The Ivy League hoops tournament, due to be played in a few days, had been canceled outright. Social distancing was a new term and we were all just coming to terms with it. You could still get a haircut.

By sunset on March 12, sports was different, almost gone. Society felt different.

It’s been 10 weeks now since a man named Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus — a 7-foot-1 Frenchman who was averaging 15.1 points in his seventh NBA season for the Utah Jazz, but will now always be known as “Rudy Gobert, who tested positive for coronavirus, causing the NBA to suspend all play.”

By the next day, college tournaments, giving up on the idea of playing without fans, were all shutting down. Even now, it’s crazy to think that the Big East ended its tournament at halftime of a game.

Here, we’re going back to the start of quarantine life, with an Inquirer staff oral history that begins March 11 and carries into March 12.

— Mike Jensen

6:28 PM - May 21, 2020
6:28 PM - May 21, 2020

Help for the helpers: Health-care workers feel more stress and anxiety than ever as coronavirus restrictions lift

Troy Brindle is leading a weekly support group for health care workers to help them cope with the psychological strain of battling COVID-19. He was photographed at his home in Sea Isle City on May 20, 2020.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Troy Brindle is leading a weekly support group for health care workers to help them cope with the psychological strain of battling COVID-19. He was photographed at his home in Sea Isle City on May 20, 2020.

Stress, isolation, and grief have become accepted realities for health-care workers treating COVID-19 patients. But that doesn’t mean these front-line workers have gotten used to the new, grim rhythms of their jobs.

“The human condition can only handle so much pain and suffering and stress,” said Troy Brindle, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of outpatient provider Springfield Psychological, “and everything that’s occurring around us right now is just unprecedented.”

The coronavirus pandemic is burdening doctors, nurses, and first responders with feelings of helplessness, anxiety, loss, and even hopelessness, Brindle said. Those feelings have intensified as plans move forward to relax stay-at-home orders designed to restrict spread of the virus, potentially putting the health-care system — now calmed after passing the peak of cases — in a renewed state of emergency. The people tasked with saving others from the coronavirus are themselves struggling.

— Jason Laughlin, Bethany Ao

5:55 PM - May 21, 2020
5:55 PM - May 21, 2020

City agrees to test Philly airport homeless for COVID-19 after advocates threaten suit

A person sleeps in Terminal A Baggage Claim, at the airport, in Philadelphia, May 13th, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A person sleeps in Terminal A Baggage Claim, at the airport, in Philadelphia, May 13th, 2020.

Capitulating to pressure from advocates for the homeless, the Kenney administration agreed Thursday to test people living in an encampment at Philadelphia International Airport for the coronavirus before placing them in shelters.

City officials had planned to break up the group of 50 to 100 individuals on Friday morning without testing. But after advocates and those who provide housing and services for the homeless threatened a lawsuit, the city decided to hold off on dispersing the encampment until Tuesday, after what it described as “rapid testing” is completed.

“The city is trying to focus on the safety of everyone involved here — the employees who work at the airport, those who work at the airlines, and those who will need to use the airport in the near future, as well as the safety of those who are un-sheltered," said Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

— Alfred Lubrano

5:23 PM - May 21, 2020
5:23 PM - May 21, 2020

Penn outlines options for the fall semester: All online courses, smaller classes with barriers

Penn graduate Aife Mejza puts her cap on top of the Ben Franklin statue on campus in Philadelphia on May 18, 2020. Penn held a virtual graduation on Monday.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Penn graduate Aife Mejza puts her cap on top of the Ben Franklin statue on campus in Philadelphia on May 18, 2020. Penn held a virtual graduation on Monday.

The University of Pennsylvania in a lengthy email to the campus on Thursday laid out multiple scenarios for the fall semester, ranging from fully online courses to a hybrid to moving all instruction online after Thanksgiving to limit travel.

The university plans to decide on a path by the end of June, the Penn leaders said.

“What we can say is that until a vaccine is widely available, and the threat of spreading the novel coronavirus remains real, even the best scenarios foresee a fall semester and a school year that requires new community wide protocols and practices, unlike any other in Penn’s long history,” they wrote.

Under the hybrid option, all classes of 25 or larger would be delivered online, the school said. Smaller courses would be held in large rooms that might even include barriers for separating lecturers from the audience.

The school also floated the possibility of adding more summer course offerings next year so education could be spread out over a longer period.

Under one of the options being explored, students would start classes in person and on time in the fall and then transition to online classes after Thanksgiving through the end of the semester.

Campus life would be greatly altered: There would be fewer students living on campus and dining halls likely would take reservations or offer take-out, the email said. The university also would place restrictions on travel and require those on campus to wear face coverings in public, stay six feet apart from others in classes, labs and other spaces, avoid gatherings of more than 25 and agree to be regularly tested for COVID-19.

A lot needs to happen before students could return, the Penn leaders said, including “better and more readily available testing,” contact tracing and isolation space for those who may test positive.

A phased-in return to research activities, however, is likely to happen soon, the email said.

— Susan Snyder

5:06 PM - May 21, 2020
5:06 PM - May 21, 2020

‘PHLove’ Philly coronavirus benefit show: Start time, how to watch and stream

Patti LaBelle holds up a sign after signing it during a celebration July 2, 2019, while the block of Broad Street between Spruce and Locust Streets is renamed Patti LaBelle Way.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Patti LaBelle holds up a sign after signing it during a celebration July 2, 2019, while the block of Broad Street between Spruce and Locust Streets is renamed Patti LaBelle Way.

Some of Philadelphia’s biggest stars will come together remotely Thursday to put on a one-night variety show to raise funds for the fight against COVID-19 here in the city of brotherly love.

The one-hour benefit concert, which begins at 7 p.m., will be headlined by Daryl Hall, Questlove, and Patti LaBelle. Hall, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Pottstown native best known as the co-founder of Hall & Oates, told the Inquirer he agreed immediately when approached to take part.

— Rob Tornoe, Marc Narducci

4:46 PM - May 21, 2020
4:46 PM - May 21, 2020

A Philly 23-year-old photographed the pandemic Time Magazine cover without leaving her home

Time Magazine's June cover story about the 2020 graduating class features images created by Hannah Beier, a 23-year-old Drexel University student and Fort Washington, Pa. native. Beier coordinated the portraits using FaceTime.
Hannah Beier for TIME
Time Magazine's June cover story about the 2020 graduating class features images created by Hannah Beier, a 23-year-old Drexel University student and Fort Washington, Pa. native. Beier coordinated the portraits using FaceTime.

It’s an image built to become an icon. A sullen and barefoot woman, looking into the camera, with a young man sitting next to her staring deep into his laptop, both lounging on a tiny couch underneath a string of lights and crumpled gold balloons that spell out “2-0-2-0.”

The words “GENERATION PANDEMIC” are emblazoned on top of them.

The image graces the cover of the early June edition of Time Magazine, and was shot by a 23-year-old Drexel University senior, herself a member of that very graduating class, and who directed the portrait without leaving the Fort Washington home where she’s quarantined.

— Anna Orso

4:39 PM - May 21, 2020
4:39 PM - May 21, 2020

Bucks County leaders hope to move to yellow phase of Pa. reopening

Ahead of Gov. Wolf’s anticipated announcement tomorrow of more counties moving to the “yellow” phase of reopening, Bucks County leaders said they were hopeful their county would be included.

“I know I am still praying for yellow coming tomorrow,” Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia said.

Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo said he was “hopeful and optimistic,” and Commissioner Bob Harvie said he believed the county’s data is “moving in the right direction.”

Wolf’s guideline for moving counties from the “red” to “yellow” phase is fewer than 50 new confirmed cases per 100,000 population in the last 14 days. No county in Southeastern Pa., including Bucks, has reached that benchmark.

— Ellie Silverman

3:49 PM - May 21, 2020
3:49 PM - May 21, 2020

‘I usually cry in my car’: 3 Philly doctors talk about months of battling coronavirus

(Left to Right) Dr. Monica Busuioc, a doctor on the COVID floor at Temple University Hospital, Dr. Megan Stobart-Gallagher, an emergency department doctor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Dr. William Pace, an infectious disease doctor, posed for a portraits in their PPE outside, May 18-20th, 2020, in Philadelphia.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
(Left to Right) Dr. Monica Busuioc, a doctor on the COVID floor at Temple University Hospital, Dr. Megan Stobart-Gallagher, an emergency department doctor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Dr. William Pace, an infectious disease doctor, posed for a portraits in their PPE outside, May 18-20th, 2020, in Philadelphia.

One doctor who treats coronavirus patients said she’s developed an irrational fear of eating during her hospital shift. An emergency department physician described feeling isolated, despite being surrounded by people. An infectious disease specialist talked about going to bed each night exhausted, only to toss and turn for hours.

As the pandemic wears on, even physicians who might once have strived to appear stoic are finding that talking about their experiences is essential. Three Philadelphia doctors opened up about feeling anxious, sad, inadequate — and how they cope. Here’s some of what they shared.

— Wendy Ruderman

3:33 PM - May 21, 2020
3:33 PM - May 21, 2020

N.J. farmworkers will be screened for coronavirus symptoms, wear masks, practice social distancing

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration released guidelines Thursday to protect migrant farmworkers from contracting the coronavirus ahead of a busy harvesting season that is about to begin in New Jersey.

“Protecting seasonal workers on these farms is a high priority because they work and live in close proximity to one another,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

Guidelines released by the state’s health and agriculture departments require employers to screen workers for coronavirus-like symptoms and isolate those who are suspected of having the disease.

Farmworkers are also required to wear masks while working and traveling to and from work.

Owners are also asked to “promote social distancing” in the work environment and provide beds six feet apart in spaces that house temporary workers.

Employers must disinfect common areas regularly and ensure vehicles are at 50% capacity when transporting workers to and from the job site.

— Pranshu Verma

2:50 PM - May 21, 2020
2:50 PM - May 21, 2020

Philly health commissioner: 'We’re continuing to make progress’ against the coronavirus

Philadelphia reported 342 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday, for a total of 20,700 residents known to have tested positive.

The daily tally was slightly higher than some recent days because the city received a batch of lab test results, but the average daily count, once well above 500, continues to provide optimism that the city is making progress in the fight against the virus, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

“We’re still seeing a downward trend in the number of cases per day overall,” Farley said.

Farley also announced 13 new coronavirus deaths among Philadelphians, bringing the pandemic’s death toll in the city to 1,165. Of those, 54% were nursing home residents.

To keep the downward trend going, he said, Philadelphians should continue to stay home unless it is necessary to go out, wear masks when they leave their homes, and wash their hands frequently.

— Sean Collins Walsh

2:43 PM - May 21, 2020
2:43 PM - May 21, 2020

Philly hopes to operate ‘modified’ day camp program this summer, Mayor Jim Kenney says

The city is developing a “modified” version of its summer day camp programming for Philadelphia children this summer to address the challenges of the coronavirus era, Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday.

Programming would focus on providing safe accessible places for children to play during weekdays, Kenney said in a virtual news conference. He said Parks and Recreation was planning other opportunities for the city’s young people if camps weren’t possible.

The city’s Swim for Life program and theme camps have been canceled for the year, he said.

More details will be available in early June. Parents can visit phila.gov/parksandrecreation to learn more.

— Sean Collins Walsh

2:41 PM - May 21, 2020
2:41 PM - May 21, 2020

Wolf: Some Pennsylvania counties could soon move to ‘green’ phase of reopening

Some Pennsylvania counties could soon move into the “green” phase of reopening, which removes restrictions on businesses that can and can’t be open.

In a call with reporters, Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday said he plans to announce Friday a new batch of counties that can move from the “red” to the “yellow” phase, the latter of which allows for most retail to open, but still keeps salons, gyms, movie theaters, and restaurants closed to in-person business.

He also said “the hope is” that state officials will also Friday announce counties moving from “yellow” to “green.” The state has not yet publicly released exact data points it’s using to determine if a county is ready to move to the “green” phase.

Under the green phase, businesses would still be required to implement safety guidelines as outlined by state and federal officials.

As for the Pennsylvania counties that are already in the yellow phase, Wolf said he doesn’t anticipate any of them moving back to the red phase at this time.

— Anna Orso

2:40 PM - May 21, 2020
2:40 PM - May 21, 2020

Pa. has seen two confirmed cases of a possible coronavirus-related inflammatory disease in children

Pennsylvania has seen two confirmed cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children during the pandemic, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. They have seen other suspected cases, too, she said Thursday, 10 days after her department asked health-care providers to report such cases to the state.

The chief of infectious disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Audrey John, said last week that the link between coronavirus and the pediatric illness “is strongly suggestive but not definitive.” The hospital had treated a handful of children with the syndrome, she said at the time, while St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children said it had treated three.

Pennsylvania’s first pediatric coronavirus death, which was reported earlier this week, was not in a child who had the inflammatory syndrome, Levine said. The child was not a resident of the commonwealth, but Levine declined to disclose any additional data on the case.

— Erin McCarthy

2:27 PM - May 21, 2020
2:27 PM - May 21, 2020

Levine: Businesses opening against shutdown orders can increase community spread, even with precautions

Chris Cifelli, of Media, Pa., Manager at Giovanni’s Media Barber Shop, cuts the hair of Aaron Dussault, of Aston, Pa., long time regular, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. “I'm not really her for me, I’m here to support my staff and as well as the owner,” Cifelli said.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Chris Cifelli, of Media, Pa., Manager at Giovanni’s Media Barber Shop, cuts the hair of Aaron Dussault, of Aston, Pa., long time regular, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. “I'm not really her for me, I’m here to support my staff and as well as the owner,” Cifelli said.

A day after a Media barbershop resumed operations against Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus shutdown order, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine responded to the slowly growing trend of salons and other indoor facilities reopening early.

“It’s not that they can’t follow infection control principles ... but by definition their professional care is hands on,” she said. “That type of personal contact could transmit COVID-19 and until an area is in the green zone, we’re concerned about it precipitating community spread.”

She encouraged business owners and customers to remember that the virus can spread even if no symptoms are present, so preventive measures such as client temperature checks and other screenings can only do so much.

— Erin McCarthy

2:12 PM - May 21, 2020
2:12 PM - May 21, 2020

Philly extends water shutoff protection through July 10

Philadelphia residents behind on their water bills due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic won’t face having their water shut off until at least July.

The Philadelphia Water Department announced Thursday residents unable to pay their water bills due to a loss of employment or hospitalization won’t face a shut off though at least July 10. Penalties and late fees have also been suspended until further notice.

Residents unable to pay their bills should apply for help on the city’s website at Phila.gov/waterbillhelp.

— Rob Tornoe

1:55 PM - May 21, 2020
1:55 PM - May 21, 2020

N.J. Republicans sue Gov. Murphy in attempts to force reopening of non-essential business

Stores are closed along the Boardwalk in Atlantic City Mar. 18, 2020.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Stores are closed along the Boardwalk in Atlantic City Mar. 18, 2020.

New Jersey’s Republican state committee is suing Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration in an effort to force the reopening of non-essential businesses that have been ordered closed since late March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Cape May County, claims the governor’s executive orders to shut down non-essential businesses are unconstitutional and unfair to state small business owners.

“Governor Murphy has irreparably harmed New Jersey small businesses by arbitrarily declaring some essential and others non-essential,” New Jersey GOP Chairman Douglas Steinhardt said in a statement. “While mom and pop barbers, bars, brew pubs and retail shops are shuttered and struggling, big box stores, with big cash cushions, survive.”

State Republicans note stores like Walmart are allowed to operate as an essential business “simply because they have a minor grocery store or hardware component," while also being able to sell non-essential items like adult clothing. They claim this unfairly affects small businesses who are forced to remain closed.

The governor’s office declined to comment since the lawsuit is in active litigation.

Republican State Sen. Michael Testa, who is co-chair of New Jersey’s committee to re-elect President Donald Trump, is representing the state committee and four small businesses as lead attorney on the case.

In recent days, Murphy has faced calls from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including from Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney, to reopen businesses at a quicker pace.

“My big fear,” Murphy tweeted, “is that people will die needlessly because politicians are rushing a reopening contrary to public health guidance and data.

In early May, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an application from a group Pennsylvania business owners attempting to block Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping shutdown orders.

— Pranshu Verma, Oona Goodin-Smith

1:37 PM - May 21, 2020
1:37 PM - May 21, 2020

Cocktails-to-go bill is approved in Pennsylvania to help bars and restaurants

Ian Clark, left, picks up two regular margaritas at El Vez restaurant on 13th Street in Philadelphia, Pa. on May 21, 2020. The restaurant named a margarita after Governor Tom Wolf. Gov. Wolf signed a bill that temporarily allows Pennsylvania restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to-go.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Ian Clark, left, picks up two regular margaritas at El Vez restaurant on 13th Street in Philadelphia, Pa. on May 21, 2020. The restaurant named a margarita after Governor Tom Wolf. Gov. Wolf signed a bill that temporarily allows Pennsylvania restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to-go.

The idea of ordering a cocktail to go from a restaurant or bar in Pennsylvania, unthinkable just a couple of months ago, is a reality.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday signed House Bill 327, giving an industry imperiled by the coronavirus shutdown the temporary authority to sell mixed drinks — typically among their highest-profit line. Bar stools and dining room seats must still remain empty.

Lobbyists have now moved on to champion legislation to allow outdoor dining, arguing that it is a safe alternative for staff and patrons.

— Michael Klein

1:31 PM - May 21, 2020
1:31 PM - May 21, 2020

Murphy: N.J. ‘moving closer’ to second phase of loosening coronavirus restrictions

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) looks on while wearing a face mask, during a Coronavirus press briefing at the War Memorial building in Trenton, N.J. Monday, May, 18, 2020.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) looks on while wearing a face mask, during a Coronavirus press briefing at the War Memorial building in Trenton, N.J. Monday, May, 18, 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey is “moving closer” to phase two of its economic restart, where outdoor and indoor dining, libraries and museums will be able to resume activity with restrictions.

“We continue to see positive signs,” Murphy said. “The key metrics from our hospitals continue to move in the right direction.”

Murphy noted New Jersey still has a higher rate of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 residents compared to most states in the region, including Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, which is delaying the state’s return to normal life.

“While we're trying to move as quickly as we can, we're moving as safely as we must,” Murphy said.

The governor also noted 1,304 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, increasing the state’s positive caseload to 151,472. Another 98 people have died from the disease, Murphy said, bringing the state’s confirmed death toll to 10,843.

Murphy noted 3,208 people are hospitalized for the disease. This includes 896 people in critical care and 700 on ventilators, both the lowest rates New Jersey has seen since it began tracking those statistics in early April.

To help tame the spread of the coronavirus in the state’s long term care facilities, the Department of Veterans Affairs is deploying another 40 clinical staff members to nursing homes across the state. They will stay there until the end of June.

As of Thursday, 530 long-term care facilities are suffering a coronavirus outbreak, accounting for 28,876 of the state’s cases and 4,502 of its deaths.

— Pranshu Verma

1:29 PM - May 21, 2020
1:29 PM - May 21, 2020

Summer in Philly is almost here. But what it will look like is an open question.

Visitors cool of in the Philadelphia Museum of Art water fountain during a hot summer day in Philadelphia, Pa. Monday, August, 2019.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Visitors cool of in the Philadelphia Museum of Art water fountain during a hot summer day in Philadelphia, Pa. Monday, August, 2019.

With Memorial Day fast approaching and so many more families out of work and in need, a level of uncertainty is hovering over many of the city’s summer plans.

There’s no timetable for when recreation centers might reopen or set plans for how camps and summer programming might safely occur this year. Pools will remain closed. The fate of playgrounds and spraygrounds is still up in the air.

Summer in the city remains an open question.

— Chris Palmer, Mike Newall

12:40 PM - May 21, 2020
12:40 PM - May 21, 2020

Fauci: U.S. can’t ‘wall’ itself off from developing world

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infections expert, said the United States can’t “wall” itself off from the rest of the world and needs to commit to including developing countries in ongoing coronavirus vaccine trials.

In an interview with actress Julia Roberts posted Thursday, Fauci said health disparities across the globe make it imperative a potential vaccine be available to people around the globe.

“There is what I consider the moral commitment to do this. But also, there is enlightened self interest,” Fauci said. “If you don’t control an outbreak in the developing world, it’s going to come right around and bite you the next season.”

“So unless you completely stop this, you’re not going to wall yourself off from the developing world,” Fauci added. “So for those people that don’t feel a moral commitment… there’s another reason to make sure we take care of our brothers and sisters who don’t have it as well as we do.”

The interview is part of a new #PassTheMic campaign organized by the ONE Campaign, an international nonprofit calling for a global coronavirus response that "protects the most vulnerable, supports people worst hit economically, strengthens health systems and creates a more just and equal world."

— Rob Tornoe

12:18 PM - May 21, 2020
12:18 PM - May 21, 2020

Delco official on residents’ reopening frustrations: ‘You want us to fix things we don’t have the authority to fix’

Delaware County officials say they understand the frustrations of business owners struggling amid the coronavirus shutdown, and they’re continuing to advocate for a revised reopening metric to move southeastern Pennsylvania closer to the first phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s tiered reopening plan.

“We’re sympathetic to why folks want to open up,” council chairman Brian Zidek said late Wednesday in a video message to residents. "We’re trying to balance that with the need to open up safely. We’re doing all of this balancing act from a position where we don’t have any authority to actually do anything in regards to this … You want us to fix things we don’t have the authority to fix.”

State officials told the county they’ll release more information about the region’s reopening by the end of the week, Zidek said.

“We have been pleading with Harrisburg to consider that Southeastern Pennsylvania does not look like the rest of Pennsylvania, and using the same metric for Southeastern Pennsylvania that you’re using for North-central Pennsylvania isn’t useful,” Zidek said. “Harrisburg, I think, is listening.”

These pleas come as Delaware County trails Philadelphia and its other collar counties in terms of its progress in flattening the curve of new cases and inching toward reopening. On Thursday, it opened its first drive-through and walk-up testing site at Upper Darby High School. Montgomery County opened a site two months ago.

Zidek said Delaware County was slowed by obstacles its surrounding counties didn’t have to overcome. These barriers, he said, included having no health department (Chester County’s has filled in during the pandemic). Its own health department would have had pre-established relationships with nursing homes, he said, and been able to identify specific locations of the county’s first confirmed case. The county is ranked as less healthy than its neighbors, he said, due a variety of factors including population density and air pollution.

“Our neighboring counties are just a healthier bunch than we are,” he said.

— Erin McCarthy

12:05 PM - May 21, 2020
12:05 PM - May 21, 2020

300 Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works stores to close

L Brands Inc., the parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, announced it will close about 300 stores, the latest retailer to be hit hard by coronavirus closures across the country.

About 250 Victoria’s Secrets locations in the United States and Canada will permanently close (roughly a quarter of the retailer’s 921 stores), along with 51 Bath & Body Works locations. The company did not provide a list of the locations it plans to close by the end of the year.

Both stores have several locations throughout the Philadelphia region.The news comes on the heels of Pier 1 Imports announcing it would liquidate and close all its stores, and JCPenney saying it plans to close 242 locations as part of its bankruptcy.

— Rob Tornoe

11:29 AM - May 21, 2020
11:29 AM - May 21, 2020

Sylvester Stallone to host ‘Rocky’ screening fundraiser tonight

A mask covers the face of the Rocky statue in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum in April.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A mask covers the face of the Rocky statue in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum in April.

Rocky fans can hang out with Sylvester Stallone Thursday night on Facebook during a free screening of the Philly-based film to raise money to fight COVID-19.

To watch and ask Stallone some questions about the film (such as, “Are Cuff and Link still alive?”), you’ll have to login to Facebook and go to MGM Studio’s page. The screening starts at 7 p.m. Eastern (coincidentally, the same time a big Philly fundraiser headline by Patti LaBelle and Questlove is scheduled to begin).

The Rocky screening kicks off a new weekly “Screening Room With the Stars” series presented by Creative Artists Agency, which will allow viewers to donate directly to nonprofits on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Among the organizations movie fans can support are the World Health Organization, #FirstRespondersFirst, DonorsChoose, and America’s Food Fund.

According to CAA, there will be a new film every Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern. Next Thursday, it’ll be My Big Fat Greek Wedding, hosted by star and screenwriter Nia Vardalos.

— Rob Tornoe

10:37 AM - May 21, 2020
10:37 AM - May 21, 2020

Macy’s forecasting $1.1 billion loss for three months ending April 30

Macy’s is forecasting it’s first-quarter loss as high as $1.1 billion, and warns sales could fall by as much as 45% as many of its stores remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an investor presentation released Thursday, the department store chain outlined the economic impact coronavirus closures have had on its retail business. It is forecasting its first-quarter sales — covering February, March, and April — to be upwards of $3.03 billion, down from $5.5 billion during the same time last year.

But the company also sounded an optimistic note, noting it expected to have “sufficient liquidity” to execute its 2020 priorities, helped by the cash flow coming in as it reopens stores in several states, including in Pennsylvania counties that have moved into the “yellow” phase of the state’s reopening plan.

Macy’s plans to reopen all 775 of its department stores by the end of June, depending on local restrictions. It’s unclear when the chain will be allowed to reopen its stores in and around Philadelphia, the hardest-hit region of the state.

“I am confident that we are taking the right steps to ensure that Macy’s, Inc. will emerge on the other side of this crisis a strong, resilient company and ready to serve our customers,” said Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette.

— Rob Tornoe

10:30 AM - May 21, 2020
10:30 AM - May 21, 2020

Gov. Murphy says N.J. hair salons and indoor restaurants could open in ‘a matter of weeks’

Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday said New Jersey hair salons and indoor dining establishments could reopen in “a matter of weeks” if the state continues seeing a downward trend in the curve of coronavirus infections.

Murphy, in an interview on CNBC, reiterated that he will not rush to reopen the economy until public health data deems it safe to do so. Businesses that primarily conduct outdoor activities will reopen first, Murphy said.

Earlier this week, the governor unveiled a three-stage plan that outlines when businesses will be able to resume activity. The state is in stage one, where beaches, parks, retail stores with curbside delivery, elective surgeries, and non-essential construction are allowed to resume

In stage two, outdoor dining, indoor dining at reduced capacity, more retail stores, libraries, and museums will be able to restart.

— Pranshu Verma

9:55 AM - May 21, 2020
9:55 AM - May 21, 2020

Number of job claims drop in Pa. and N.J. but remain far above pre-coronavirus crisis levels

The weekly count of new jobless claims in Pennsylvania and New Jersey fell for the seventh straight week but were still well above pre-pandemic levels.

In Pennsylvania, 64,078 workers filed new claims in the week ending May 16, while 41,323 workers filed for assistance in New Jersey, according to the weekly report from the U.S. Department of Labor. New Jersey saw one of the largest declines in new claims, with 28,366 fewer than the week before.

In total, almost 1.85 million Pennsylvania workers have now submitted jobless claims in the last nine weeks, or 28% of the workforce, according to federal data. Nearly 1.1 million workers have filed claims in New Jersey, or 24% of the workforce.

.— Christian Hetrick

9:30 AM - May 21, 2020
9:30 AM - May 21, 2020

N.J. Department of Health cites defiance of coronavirus shutdown orders as reason for Bellmawr gym closure

While the owners of Bellmawr’s Atilis Gym cited a sewage blockage as a reason the New Jersey Department of Health shut down the establishment, an order from the DOH says they are closing the gym indefinitely after it reopened earlier this week in defiance of coronavirus shutdown orders.

“Although Atilis is purporting to take its own measures to address COVID-19 transmission, these particular measures do not sufficiently address the risks,” said the order, signed by state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Wednesday and left at the Bellmawr gym.

On Thursday morning, the gym owners posted a video showing them arriving to find a notice on their door. One of the owners can be heard on the video calling the signs an example of “Gov. Murphy’s dirty tricks, playing with his power in the health department.”

State officials could not immediately be reached Thursday for further comment.

In the Department of Health notice, there was no mention of a sewage problem that occurred at the gym Wednesday. On Fox News, Smith suggested the problem was related, since it occurred shortly after the governor’s daily briefing.

— Erin McCarthy

8:50 AM - May 21, 2020
8:50 AM - May 21, 2020

Another 2.44 million Americans filed for unemployment last week

About 2.44 million Americans filed for unemployment for the first time last week, pushing the nine-week total past 38 million following a shutdown of the economy that began in the middle of March to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The weekly report from the U.S. Department of Labor only shows first-time fillers, and it’s unclear how many individuals who have previously filed for unemployment have returned to work as states across the country loosen their restrictions on businesses. But it does show high levels of unemployment have continued despite states taking steps to reopen their economies.

About 64,078 Pennsylvanians filed a jobless claim in the week ending May 16 after losing their jobs or getting hours reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania have filed first-time jobless claims in the past nine-weeks.

In New Jersey, the nine-week total of first-time jobless claim is over 1 million, as about 41,323 more residents filed new claims for assistance last week, according to the federal data.

— Rob Tornoe

8:37 AM - May 21, 2020
8:37 AM - May 21, 2020

N.J. Deparment of Health closes Bellmawr gym that opened in defiance of N.J. shutdown orders

Ian Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym of Bellmawr, gives thumbs up to his supporters after receiving a summon by Bellmawr police outside his gym on Tuesday.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Ian Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym of Bellmawr, gives thumbs up to his supporters after receiving a summon by Bellmawr police outside his gym on Tuesday.

Atilis Gym, which reopened earlier this week in defiance of coronavirus shutdown orders, was temporarily closed by the state Department of Health on Thursday after a sewage problem, according to its owners.

On Wednesday, the gym owners found “someone stuffed an entire roll of paper towels into one of our toilets,” they said on Instagram and Facebook. They said they had called in a cleaning crew and were prepared to open Thursday.

But on Thursday morning, they posted a video showing them arriving at the gym to find a New Jersey Department of Health notice on their door. The entire contents of the notice weren’t visible in the video and state officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

One of the owners can be heard on the video calling the signs an example of “Governor Murphy’s dirty tricks, playing with his power in the health department.”

Hours later, owner Ian Smith appeared on Fox News. “This is just a bump in the road for us,” he said. “Murphy does not have the legal precedent to shut us down, so he’s resorted to calling in the health department. However, all of these messages put here on the wall from the health department were put on without them ever stepping inside to take a look at the facilities.”

On social media, the owners said they planned to sue the governor.

Smith told Fox News it was a “scare tactic” and said his lawyers are looking into it. “Our plan is to handle it, and reopen tomorrow morning,” he said. “We could open up, the place is not padlocked. However, we will not defy a health code order.”

Smith and the owners’ attorney also alleged some kind of malfeasance, saying they don’t even have paper towels in their bathroom.

“Gov. Murphy addressed in a press conference yesterday he was going to be enforcing some restrictions on us with the health department,” Smith said. “We are looking into what happened yesterday. Less than an hour after his press conference, our toilets were backed up.”

— Erin McCarthy, Rob Tornoe

8:20 AM - May 21, 2020
8:20 AM - May 21, 2020

Shore town halts sale of seasonal beach badges ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Belmar will temporarily suspend the sale of seasonal beach badges ahead of Memorial Day weekend after demand led to long lines along the boardwalk.

“To assist us in complying with social distancing guidelines we will temporarily suspend the sale of season badges" at 5 p.m. Friday, the Monmouth County resort posted on its website.

Daily badges will still be available beginning Saturday at ticket booths along the boardwalk and at Silver Lake, according to the city. Season badges will go back on sale Tuesday at the Taylor Pavilion on the boardwalk.

After a large group of people lined up last Saturday to purchase beach badges, Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer said adjustments would be made ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

“It just opened the floodgates for everyone to come down and buy seasonal beach badges,” Walsifer told NJ Advance Media. “It’s not that we’re selling more than last year. It just happened all at one time.”

— Rob Tornoe

6:00 AM - May 21, 2020
6:00 AM - May 21, 2020

Some Philly-area Democrats are starting to lose patience with Gov. Tom Wolf on restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf at a news conference in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.
Marc Levy / AP
Gov. Tom Wolf at a news conference in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.

Pennsylvania Democrats have mostly supported Gov. Tom Wolf as Republicans in the state legislature push him to reopen parts of the economy more quickly, and even contemplated revoking his emergency powers.

But two months after Wolf ordered most of the state’s 12.8 million residents to stay at home and closed all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining,” some in his party are starting to show frustration with the coronavirus lockdowns — and with the governor.

The two top Democrats in the legislature wrote a letter to Wolf on Sunday praising his efforts to protect public health — but also encouraging him to consider permitting real estate activity to resume in a limited capacity. He did so this week.

Andrew Seidman and Chris Brennan

5:30 AM - May 21, 2020
5:30 AM - May 21, 2020

State nursing home data minimizes the COVID-19 devastation in Philadelphia senior centers

The Philadelphia Nursing Home at 2100 W. Girard Ave. in the Fairmount section on May 20, 2020. Nursing home COVID-19 data released by the state contains numerous discrepancies from City of Philadelphia data on case numbers, raising questions about whether the state is seriously undercounting cases of coronavirus in both residents and staff.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The Philadelphia Nursing Home at 2100 W. Girard Ave. in the Fairmount section on May 20, 2020. Nursing home COVID-19 data released by the state contains numerous discrepancies from City of Philadelphia data on case numbers, raising questions about whether the state is seriously undercounting cases of coronavirus in both residents and staff.

If you accept the state data released this week about the coronavirus’ scourge of long-term-care facilities, no staff members at the Philadelphia Nursing Home in Fairmount have gotten the disease — and across the city’s 47 nursing homes, fewer than 20 staffers have tested positive.

That would be wonderful news for seniors in those facilities and their loved ones. Staff members who carry the virus without showing symptoms all too often bring the disease into the homes, with deadly results.

But neither of those statements is accurate. In fact, 30 staff members at the Philadelphia Nursing Home alone have tested positive for the virus, according to the city, which owns the 402-bed facility.

— Sean Collins Walsh and Dylan Purcell

5:00 AM - May 21, 2020
5:00 AM - May 21, 2020

Morning Roundup: Amid coronavirus progress, ‘still very real risk'; get used to wearing a mask, Philly health leader says

Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that officials are working to get as many Pennsylvanians as possible back to work as the coronavirus pandemic continues, including by increasing diagnostic testing capacity across the Commonwealth and putting into place a contact tracing program — but said he was not sure the economy can fully return to normal until there is a “foolproof” vaccine for the deadly virus.

Ultimately, he said on a call with reporters, “what it’s going to take for everybody to feel safe going to a Penn State game or a basketball game is that they have some confidence that they’re not going to get sick by being in close contact with somebody else.”

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city should “focus less on when we reopen and really start thinking about how we reopen" and said every resident should prepare by getting a face mask.

“Wearing a mask is going to have to become normal, expected behavior,” he said Wednesday. "Going into a store without wearing a mask is like it is now going into a store without wearing a shirt — it’s just something that people don’t do.”

Justine McDaniel, Pranshu Verma and Laura McCrystal

4:30 AM - May 21, 2020
4:30 AM - May 21, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Thursday, May 21, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Thursday, May 21, 2020.