1:39 PM - May 30, 2020
1:39 PM - May 30, 2020

Philly continues to plan for easing restrictions as daily confirmed cases is again more than 200

Philadelphia announced 224 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, marking the fourth day in the past week that the city announced more than 200 cases.

City officials plan to move into the first phase of easing restrictions next week. But Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has cautioned that the city may not take that step if the number of new confirmed cases does not continue to decrease.

Officials had previously said that the city’s new cases per day would need to decrease to about 50 in order to ease stay-at-home restrictions, but Farley said the city’s “safer at home” plan is just a gradual first step and not a full reopening.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia is now 22,629. The city also announced six additional deaths from the virus Saturday, bringing the total number of deaths of Philadelphia residents to 1,278.

Laura McCrystal

1:25 PM - May 30, 2020
1:25 PM - May 30, 2020

13,000 Philly residents applied for rental assistance. The city will help 4,000 of them.

Philadelphia received nearly 13,000 applications for its COVID-19 rental assistance program, officials announced Saturday, and the city is only able to assist 4,000 applicants.

Mayor Jim Kenney asked residents to donate to help more Philadelphians in need. The city has already raised $35,000 to assist more renters; donations can be made at phlrentassist.org/donate.

“If you can give, I encourage you to do so today so we can continue to help more people,” Kenney said in a news release.

Of the 12,983 applications the city received, 10,254 applicants met eligibility requirements for the program. City officials said residents will be notified on a rolling basis of their acceptance into the program, and the first rental payments will be processed in mid-June. City officials had initially planned to help 3,000 households pay rent, but after receiving applications expanded the program to 4,000 renters.

The program, supported by federal funding, provides up to $2,500 for three months to help pay rent.

Laura McCrystal

11:38 AM - May 30, 2020
11:38 AM - May 30, 2020

N.J. churches sue Gov. Murphy, wish to be deemed ‘essential’

Members of Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, N.J. enter the church for Sunday services on May 24. The church defied Gov. Phil Murphy's shutdown order and opened the church for in-person service.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Members of Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, N.J. enter the church for Sunday services on May 24. The church defied Gov. Phil Murphy's shutdown order and opened the church for in-person service.

More than two dozen New Jersey churches on Friday sued Gov. Phil Murphy over his administration’s closure orders that halted in-person services in houses of worship for more than two months.

The churches, all Christian, filed a federal lawsuit claiming Murphy is violating their First Amendment right to religious exercise by restricting houses of worship from holding in-person services. While New Jersey’s churches were never deemed “nonessential,” they were subject to a prohibition on indoor gatherings of more than 10 people, a measure put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Murphy’s office declined to comment on the litigation, but he did announce Friday that he expects to be able to raise the limit on indoor gatherings so religious services can restart by the weekend of June 12.

“Our houses of worship are cornerstones of our communities,” Murphy said Friday. “We want these institutions to be strong and safe.”

Anna Orso

11:30 AM - May 30, 2020
11:30 AM - May 30, 2020

Philly is slashing millions from its budget. But not from Mayor Jim Kenney’s soda tax programs.

Members of the construction team for Hancock Playground Rebuild project hold a pre-construction meeting in front of the playground in Kensington on May 21.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Members of the construction team for Hancock Playground Rebuild project hold a pre-construction meeting in front of the playground in Kensington on May 21.

Workers in masks gathered at Hancock Playground in Kensington last week, reviewing a $1.2 million plan to replace playground equipment and repair fencing.

Construction at the site, part of Mayor Jim Kenney’s Rebuild initiative to improve parks, recreation centers, and libraries with funding from the 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on soda and sweetened beverages, had been set to begin earlier this spring.

But work was delayed by the coronavirus shutdown. Now, work has resumed at six Rebuild sites as construction restarts citywide.

As Kenney looks to fill a $649 million budget hole caused by the pandemic by reducing services, laying off employees, and raising taxes, he is not proposing cuts to Rebuild. Kenney’s signature pre-K and community schools programs, also funded by the beverage tax, do not face cuts, either; the budget proposal calls for funding those programs at their current levels but holding off on their expansion.

Laura McCrystal

8:50 AM - May 30, 2020
8:50 AM - May 30, 2020

Philadelphia Airport adopts new safety measures

American Airlines employee Chan Medley stands behind a safety shield to remind guests to practice physical distancing at Philadelphia International Airport.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
American Airlines employee Chan Medley stands behind a safety shield to remind guests to practice physical distancing at Philadelphia International Airport.

If coming to the airport was a stressor before the pandemic, “put that on steroids and now you have a typical travel experience,” said James Tyrrell.

Tyrrell should know. As Philadelphia International Airport’s chief revenue officer, he has to figure out how the airport will respond to the safety needs and expectations of the traveling public amid the global pandemic.

That means the airport needs to “re-establish trust” with passengers, he said: “We have to create a situation to enable them to avoid crowds and limit interactions. And we have to give people the power to control their own journey.”

The coronavirus crisis brought air travel to a near standstill this spring, taking a toll on PHL’s finances. The airport has deferred payments it normally collects from airlines, concessionaires, rental car companies, and hotels through June. There is “zero revenue coming in,” Tyrrell said. PHL is, for now, using the $116 million in funding it received under the CARES Act to pay for operating costs.

During this quieter period, airport leaders are "continuously discussing ways to address different requirements of this situation,” Tyrrell said.

Catherine Dunn

8:41 AM - May 30, 2020
8:41 AM - May 30, 2020

Another loss from coronavirus: The rituals of election day

That quintessential sound of an approaching election in Philadelphia — a sharp knock on your door — has fallen silent.

There are no volunteers on the steps with a stack of campaign literature — and, in the era of social distancing, packed rallies are out, too. Instead, hope your WiFi connection holds up while a politician asks for your vote in a Zoom meeting.

As they mourn the loss of the normal rituals of electioneering to the coronavirus pandemic, those who seek office or run campaigns in Pennsylvania say nobody has a clue how Tuesday’s primary election might go.

Even former Gov. Ed Rendell, always quick with political analysis or predictions, was at a loss.

“All I know is I already cast my vote via mail,” Rendell said.

— Chris Brennan

8:31 AM - May 30, 2020
8:31 AM - May 30, 2020

Can I drive to a county in the ‘green’ phase to get a haircut?

As of May 29, the 18 counties — most of which are concentrated in the northern part of the state — have shifted from “yellow” to “green.” In these green counties, restaurants, malls, movie theaters, nail salons and yes, hair salons, can operate at 50% capacity or less.

But if you live in a red or yellow county, can you drive to a green one to get your hair cut, colored and styled?

The short answer: Yes, technically.

“Businesses allowed to open in the green phase will not be restricted on who they can accept into their businesses,” Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, wrote in an email.

But that doesn’t mean you should.

If you live in a yellow-phase county, you have a higher chance of being infected than if you live in a green-phase one, explained Theresa Sweet, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Drexel School of Public Health.

“If you yourself are at higher risk, then why would you go to a place where people are at a lower risk? That’s just common courtesy,” Sweet said.

Elizabeth Wellington

8:26 AM - May 30, 2020
8:26 AM - May 30, 2020

Fact check: Did the World Health Organization ‘miss’ the coronavirus pandemic?

From left, U.S. Reps. Fred Keller, Daniel Meuser, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Scott Perry greet President Donald Trump as he arrives at Lehigh Valley International Airport for a visit to the Owens & Minor medical equipment distribution center in Allentown on May 14.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
From left, U.S. Reps. Fred Keller, Daniel Meuser, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Scott Perry greet President Donald Trump as he arrives at Lehigh Valley International Airport for a visit to the Owens & Minor medical equipment distribution center in Allentown on May 14.

During a conservative talk-radio interview, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Bucks) accused the World Health Organization of missing the pandemic, citing a Jan. 14 tweet in which the organization reported Chinese assurances that there was no human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Experts argue that the WHO was slow to acknowledge human-to-human transmission, declare the coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern,” and label it a pandemic.

But the agency was actively gathering and disseminating information about the virus in the weeks prior to the official pandemic declaration, and it’s possible to interpret public statements made during this time as cautious, not reckless. Saying the WHO missed the pandemic altogether goes too far.

We rate Fitzpatrick’s claim Mostly False.

Jessica Calefati

8:15 AM - May 30, 2020
8:15 AM - May 30, 2020

Philadelphia lays out guidelines for 'yellow’ phase as Pa. considers schools and N.J. sets opening dates for child care, day camps

When Philadelphia enters the “yellow” phase of reopening, customers walking through the doors of businesses will be offered hand sanitizer, employees will be wiping down surfaces every four hours, and business owners will limit capacity to five people per 1,000 square feet.

Those are some of the guidelines laid out in the city’s “Safer at Home” plan for moving to the first stage of reopening, in which parts of the economy, including office-based businesses, manufacturing, and retail can restart. Mayor Jim Kenney unveiled the city’s modified version of the state’s yellow phase on Friday.

As he announced the “mini-step forward,” Kenney said the incremental loosening of restrictions on business and social activities does not mean the city has beaten the coronavirus. Residents must continue social distancing and wearing masks in the yellow phase.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the state will release more guidelines for schools next week that could include reduced class sizes and a mix of in-person and online learning.

New Jersey also announced several new steps on Friday: Child-care centers can reopen June 15, non-contact organized sports can resume June 22, and youth day camps are cleared to start July 6. Competitive horse races, without fans, may begin as early as next weekend; the first qualifying races took place Friday, said Gov. Phil Murphy.

Justine McDaniel, Sean Collins Walsh, Erin McCarthy

8:00 AM - May 30, 2020
8:00 AM - May 30, 2020

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The Inquirer front page for May 30, 2020.
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The Inquirer front page for May 30, 2020.