8:45 PM - May 23, 2020
8:45 PM - May 23, 2020

Pa. gas prices up 9 cents a gallon from last week; 8 cents in U.S.

With more states reopening from the coronavirus-related closings and crude prices rising, the average price of a gallon of regular-unleaded gas rose 8 cents nationwide compared with last week, to $1.95, AAA said Saturday.

Gas pumps; this marked the first Memorial Day weekend with per-gallon prices under $2.
/ MCT
Gas pumps; this marked the first Memorial Day weekend with per-gallon prices under $2.

Still, this marked the first Memorial Day weekend since 2003 that the price was below $2, according to the automobile club. This time last year, the per-gallon price was $2.85.

In Pennsylvania, on average a gallon cost $2.22, up from $2.13 last week.

In New Jersey, the increase was a more-modest 2 cents, from $2 to $2.02.

7:17 PM - May 23, 2020
7:17 PM - May 23, 2020

N.Y. Times devotes entire front page to virus milestone

Using a visually striking front-page design that looked like it wandered out of the 19th Century, the New York Times in its Sunday issue to pay tribute to those who have died from coronavirus-related causes as the U.S. death toll approaches 100,000.

In a note posted on its site, the Times said a team of writers and researchers had pored through newspaper obituaries around the nation to assemble summary information on the lives of nearly 1,000 of the victims.

“We knew we were approaching this milestone,” Simone Landon, assistant graphics editor, said in explaining the decision to opt for an all-type front page.

“We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.”

Anthony R. Wood

3:17 PM - May 23, 2020
3:17 PM - May 23, 2020

Over 5,000 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting coronavirus

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, emple Heart and Vascular Institut converted all of Boyer Pavilion into a treatment space for COVID-19 patients.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, emple Heart and Vascular Institut converted all of Boyer Pavilion into a treatment space for COVID-19 patients.

Pennsylvania quietly passed 5,000 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, yet another somber marker in the fight to contain the deadly virus.

Officials reported 112 new deaths on Saturday, bringing the commonwealth’s total to at least 5,096, more than just five other states in the country.

The number of positive coronavirus cases rose by 725 to 66,983.

Despite increased testing, the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 has declined overall since reaching a peak of 1,965 on April 9. The number of coronavirus patients hospitalized has also dropped by more than 1,000 since May 8 — from 2,618 to 1,560.

The positive trends have led Gov. Tom Wolf to announce that 17 Pennsylvania counties would move to the “green” phase on May 29, though it remains unclear which exact metrics the commonwealth is using to determine when counties can move from “yellow” to “green.”

“We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact, we know that saved lives,” Wolf said on Friday.

Rob Tornoe

2:44 PM - May 23, 2020
2:44 PM - May 23, 2020

Philly reports 12 new coronavirus deaths, 225 new cases as region nears ‘yellow’ reopening phase

Some quiet, socially distanced time, at Clark Park in West Philadelphia on Friday.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Some quiet, socially distanced time, at Clark Park in West Philadelphia on Friday.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health reported 12 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday, increasing the number of residents who have succumbed to COVID-19 to 1,233 — over half of whom were residents at long-term-care facilities.

According to officials, there have been at least 21,234 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Philadelphia, with 225 new cases reported on Saturday — two months since Philadelphia’s stay-at-home order took effect. Philadelphia hospitals are currently treating 537 COVID-19 patients; 1,041 are hospitalized in the region.

“The last two months have been something that no public health official has ever wanted to see,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement. “But while we have lost far too many of our loved ones, the COVID-19 pandemic has not hit us as hard as we feared.”

Philadelphia and its suburbs — the hardest hit areas in Pennsylvania — will move to the “yellow” phase of the state’s reopening plan by June 5, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday. That would allow most businesses to reopen, but gyms, salons, malls, and movie theaters would remain closed. There will also still be limitations on public gatherings, and restaurants and bars will remain closed to in-person business.

— Rob Tornoe

2:30 PM - May 23, 2020
2:30 PM - May 23, 2020

New Jersey surpasses 11,000 coronavirus deaths

More than 11,000 New Jersey residents have died after contracting coronavirus, a grim milestone passed as residents and visitors flock to the Shore to enjoy a restricted Memorial Day weekend.

Officials reported 96 new deaths on Saturday, increasing the state’s death toll to at least 11,081. It was 50 fewer deaths than the state reported on Friday, though Gov. Phil Murphy warned on Twitter “a significant amount of electronic lab reports” have yet to be processed.

The state reported a total of 443 new confirmed cases, pushing the state’s total to at least 153,104. Of those, 2,974 people were hospitalized, 806 were in critical or intensive care, and 611 were on ventilators. It is the 17th straight day New Jersey has reported fewer than 2,000 new cases, despite increased testing.

— Rob Tornoe

1:36 PM - May 23, 2020
1:36 PM - May 23, 2020

‘I’m just thankful that we’re out here’: At the Jersey shore, sunny skies and some masks

Joe Bisch, 55, of Ventnor City, is out working for the first time on the beach selling ice cream and popsicles to beachgoers on Saturday.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Joe Bisch, 55, of Ventnor City, is out working for the first time on the beach selling ice cream and popsicles to beachgoers on Saturday.

Joe Bisch pulled on a red neck gaiter mask that matched his sleeveless red Good Humor T-shirt under the Ventnor City Fishing Pier, and tried to figure out which of his pairs of gloves would be best for counting money.

“It’s a whole new world,” the 55-year-old said, before pushing his ice cream cart down the South Cambridge Avenue beach for his first delivery of the 2020 beach season. “We don’t have a choice. It’s not going to be as lucrative as years passed, but I’m just thankful that we’re out here.”

A stormy Saturday morning gave way to a sunny and clear Saturday afternoon, sending sunseekers toward the shoreline to kick off Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of the summer season, despite the unusual circumstances.

Visitors and residents — only some wearing masks — flocked to Ventnor’s boardwalk, which is open for the first time since being closed to pedestrians on April 5. The beaches saw a smaller than usual turnout, allowing beach-sitters to spread out, mostly in small clusters. None were wearing masks.

Michael Ross, of Merion Station, Montgomery County, is walking his dogs, Paco, 10, (left) and Bo, 5, along the water's edge shore at Ventnor City Beach on Saturday. “I love it,” Ross said. “The open air and I feel safer outside. I’m hoping for a semblance of normality this summer.”
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Michael Ross, of Merion Station, Montgomery County, is walking his dogs, Paco, 10, (left) and Bo, 5, along the water's edge shore at Ventnor City Beach on Saturday. “I love it,” Ross said. “The open air and I feel safer outside. I’m hoping for a semblance of normality this summer.”

Bill and Robin Adams, of Ventnor, set up their lounge chairs at the back of the beach at Dudley Avenue, making certain to keep their distance.

"We're sitting back here just to be safe," Robin said. "But everyone is being good, so we're happy."

The original forecasts, which predicted rainy and dreary conditions, looked like a blessing in disguise, discouraging visitors and protecting those who showed up from testing social-distancing guidelines in the midst of a pandemic.

— Tommy Rowan

12:44 PM - May 23, 2020
12:44 PM - May 23, 2020

NBA in talks to resume season in late July at Disney complex in Florida

Sixer center Joel Embiid reacts to making a shot during practice back in February at the Sixers practice facility in Camden.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Sixer center Joel Embiid reacts to making a shot during practice back in February at the Sixers practice facility in Camden.

The National Basketball Association is holding “exploratory conversations” with Disney about restarting the remainder of its season in late July, spokesperson Mike Bass said Saturday.

According to Bass, the plan would be to have all games, practices, and housing take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex located in Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place,” Bass said in a statement.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely on March 11 in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Rob Tornoe

12:00 PM - May 23, 2020
12:00 PM - May 23, 2020

Even as rate of COVID-19 infections slow, Philly nurses and doctors struggle to acquire protective equipment

Jamie Huot, a Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps volunteer and nurse, walks to the swabbing tent before the city's coronavirus testing site opened next to Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia on Friday, March 20, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Jamie Huot, a Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps volunteer and nurse, walks to the swabbing tent before the city's coronavirus testing site opened next to Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia on Friday, March 20, 2020.

By the time the coronavirus pandemic peaked in Philadelphia on April 14, the city had placed 62 orders for more than $6 million worth of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other medical supplies.

But only about one-fourth of those orders had come in, as the pandemic caused panic over equipment shortages for frontline workers, drove up prices, and strained supply chains. And by May 15, a full two months after the city’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, fewer than a third of Philadelphia’s 100 orders — for $8 million in supplies — had been filled, according to city spending data.

“We are not shy about begging at this point,” Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, said last week of the city’s search for hospital supplies. “We’re not borrowing or stealing yet, but it has been challenging, to say the least.”

— Laura McCrystal and Justine McDaniel

11:23 AM - May 23, 2020
11:23 AM - May 23, 2020

Trump makes first trip to golf course since coronavirus pandemic began

For the first time since most of the country was locked down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump is at the golf course.

Trump arrived at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va. Saturday at around 10:30 a.m., according to the White House pool report. It’s the president’s first trip to a golf course since traveling to Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. on March 8

While golf courses were closed in many states due to the spread of coronavirus, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has allowed them to remain open throughout the pandemic, as long as they meet safety requirements. Golf courses were forced to close in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but have since been allowed to reopen.

“As you go out this weekend, understand you can go out. You can be outside. You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls. You can go to the beaches if you stay six feet apart,” Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told reporters on Friday.

Rob Tornoe

10:46 AM - May 23, 2020
10:46 AM - May 23, 2020

South Jersey pastor: Trump has ‘no authority’ to declare we must reopen

Despite President Trump’s call for governors to allow churches to reopen this weekend, one South Jersey pastor plans to keep the doors of his place of worship closed.

Pastor Wayne Zschech of the Lutheran Church Of Our Savior in Haddonfield took to social media Friday to tell his congregants the church will continue to livestream its services and follow Gov. Phil Murphy’s emergency orders by not allowing worshipers to gather inside the church.

“While we long for the day we can gather again in this sanctuary… until there is a vaccine, we will not be able to gather as we have gathered in the past,” Zschech said in a video posted on the church’s Facebook page.

Posted by Lutheran Church of Our Savior on Friday, May 22, 2020

Zschech said the church is in the process of creating a phased plan that will allow congregants to worship in the church as safely as possible once Murphy rolls back the state’s restrictions, which were put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“President Trump has no authority in the state of New Jersey to declare that we must reopen,” Zschech said. “And he certainly doesn’t have any authority over me — your pastor — or the church council, whose primary concern is the health and safety of our members."

Dozens of New Jersey pastors signed a message threatening a lawsuit on constitutional grounds unless Murphy deems houses of worship “essential” and allows them to reopen. At least two South Jersey churches plan to be open Sunday for in-person services — Bible Baptist Church in Clementon and Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin.

In Pennsylvania, churches can open their doors and hold services in counties that have reached the state’s “yellow” reopening phase, but gatherings are limited to 25 people. In New Jersey, churches are barred from holding in-person services indoors, but can hold outdoor services limited to 25 people.

Rob Tornoe

9:44 AM - May 23, 2020
9:44 AM - May 23, 2020

NHL takes step towards resuming its season

The NHL Players’ Association’s executive board, composed of a player representative from each of the 31 teams, approved a 24-team return-to-play format on Friday, but said “several details need to be negotiated” with the NHL.

More steps will be needed, but the league could soon have players return to small-group skates at their training sites. For the Flyers, that would take place at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.

The NHL has said a three-week training session would follow before the season could restart, probably in early July.

Under the 24-team plan, the top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences would play each other for seeding purposes. The Flyers have the fourth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference, and they would be guaranteed a playoff spot.

— Sam Carchidi

8:22 AM - May 23, 2020
8:22 AM - May 23, 2020

Court orders New Jersey gym that defied coronavirus restrictions to temporarily close

The entrance of Atilis Gym is covered with letters with warnings and including notice of embargo from Camden County, N.J., on the closure of the gym on Saturday, May 23, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
The entrance of Atilis Gym is covered with letters with warnings and including notice of embargo from Camden County, N.J., on the closure of the gym on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

In a temporary order released Friday night, Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy granted a request from the New Jersey Department of Health to place temporary restraints on Atilis Gym from opening. The judge ordered the gym to remain temporarily closed to the public until the state lifts its closure order, and set a court date of June 8.

Ian Smith, the outspoken owner of the gym, called Gov. Phil Murphy a “slimeball” in an Instagram video posted after receiving the order, calling the health department’s attempts to close the gym “flimsy and bogus.” Smith said he and his legal team would be filing an emergency injunction request next week claiming he has been robbed of due process and his constitutional rights, and hopes to reopen the gym on Wednesday.

“We’re in this for the long haul. It’s not about the battle, it’s about the way,” Smith said.

Several gyms across the Philadelphia region have moved to reopen despite Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s closures of so-called nonessential businesses. The move by Atilis was the highest profile. Its owners were interviewed several times on Fox News and became champions of protesters who say state governments have overreached and infringed on their freedoms with nonessential business closures.

— Rob Tornoe

7:42 AM - May 23, 2020
7:42 AM - May 23, 2020

The Philadelphia region will move to the ‘yellow’ reopening phase on June 5

Pennsylvania counties still under strict coronavirus restrictions — including hard-hit Philadelphia and its suburbs — will move to the “yellow” phase of reopening by June 5, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday.

Eight counties — Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, and Schuylkill — will move to yellow on May 29. The counties of Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and Philadelphia will begin the yellow phase the following week, on June 5.

Under the Wolf administration’s reopening plan, the yellow phase means most but not all businesses can reopen, limitations on public gatherings remain, and restaurants and bars remain closed to in-person business. Gyms, salons, malls, and movie theaters also remain closed. Of the state’s 67 counties, 49 are already in the yellow phase.

— Anna Orso, Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA, and Justine McDaniel

7:42 AM - May 23, 2020
7:42 AM - May 23, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Friday, May 22, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Friday, May 22, 2020.