8:08 PM - August 19, 2020
Breaking
8:08 PM - August 19, 2020

Latest Delco council has heated discussion on reopening schools

Members of the Delaware County Council had a sometimes contentious discussion Wednesday evening about a health-agency recommendation that schools remain online-only until Oct. 9.

On Friday, the Chester County Health Department recommended public and private schools in Chester and Delaware Counties open virtually through Oct. 9, citing potential increased cases “due to the end of the summer holiday.”

The final decision to reopen is up to each school district, said Rosemarie Halt, Delaware County's liaison with the Chester County Health Department.

And all but two districts had already chosen to go virtual before the guidance was issued, said Councilmember Christine A. Reuther.

Nonetheless, the guidance drew 24 written comments from the public that were read at the council meeting and most were in favor of reopening schools without delay.

Council Chair Brian P. Zidek and Councilmember Kevin M. Madden both expressed frustration that businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and casinos are allowed to be partially open while schools are recommended to be closed.

“There is no logic in that position,” Zidek said, who then asked that the council vote to send a letter to the state Department of Health and the state health secretary asking that bars, restaurants, casinos, and gyms in Delaware County be closed while schools are closed.

The council voted 3-2 against Zidek’s letter.

— Robert Moran

4:12 PM - August 19, 2020
4:12 PM - August 19, 2020

Philly investigating COVID-19 outbreak at Tacony church

Philadelphia is investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at a church in the city’s Tacony section, the Department of Public Health said Wednesday.

Nine members of the City Reach Philly Church at 6814 Torresdale Ave. have tested positive for COVID-19. In-person services have been suspended since Aug. 13.

The members are from five different households and officials believe that more people are infected.

Of the positive cases, the first symptoms were noticed as early as Aug. 6.

The Health Department said it identified the outbreak through its normal case investigation and contact-tracing efforts, which are ongoing.

Senior Pastor Mark Novalés said in a statement Wednesday evening:

“While we cannot say with certainty where the source of any individual infection began, we as a church have taken extreme measures to protect the health of those who worship at CityReach.”

He added, “When we were worshipping in person, we encouraged social distancing, had multiple sanitizing stations throughout the church, and only had families who lived together sit together. Masks were also mandatory. In addition, we use a professional-grade ultra-low atomizer disinfection sprayer to sanitize our furniture in between services.

“As we continue to monitor the well-being of our congregants, we welcome your prayers for healing and recovery. We continue to place our faith in an all powerful God who will carry through this and any other pandemic.”

— Ellie Silverman and Robert Moran

4:00 PM - August 19, 2020
4:00 PM - August 19, 2020

Drexel University undergrad classes will be online-only when fall quarter begins

Drexel signage near University Crossings, student housing in Philadelphia, Pa. on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Drexel signage near University Crossings, student housing in Philadelphia, Pa. on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.

Drexel University’s president announced Wednesday that it will be online-only for undergraduate classes when the fall quarter begins.

"We had all hoped to stage our gradual return to campus, but the shifting nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on other colleges and universities has necessitated a change of course for Drexel," said John Fry, the university's president, in a statement.

"After much consultation and a frank assessment of the situation at large universities that have brought undergraduate students back to campus, we have made the decision that undergraduate courses will continue remotely for the fall quarter, and Drexel University housing will remain closed to undergraduates during the fall term," Fry said.

"Graduate students will continue in the currently planned hybrid modality for the fall term with some limited activities and with strict health and safety protocols in place that adhere to city and state guidelines," Fry said.

Fry also announced that Drexel will freeze tuition for “all on-campus undergraduate students” for the fall term.

Drexel students were forced to move out in March when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all but "life-sustaining" businesses to close.

Fry wrote on Wednesday that "while local pandemic conditions continue to improve, unfortunately, with nearly a month until our return to campus — and as other academic institutions across the country begin to reopen — we are seeing incredibly troubling trends. There are reports of nationwide campus-based disease outbreaks and cases rising among college-age individuals.

"Such reports are on the rise exponentially and they greatly concern us. We have a responsibility to all members of our campus community and to our neighbors — those living in Powelton Village and Mantua. What we see happening across the nation on university campuses — outbreaks coupled with high rates of quarantine and isolation — we do not want to happen here."

Fry said undergraduate housing will be closed but exceptions will be made for students who are in emergency or hardship situations, such as international students who cannot travel home.

No undergraduate programming will be allowed on campus during the fall term.

— Robert Moran

3:36 PM - August 19, 2020
3:36 PM - August 19, 2020

As students return this week, Temple University reports 2 cases of COVID-19

Students and parents move into the residence halls at Temple University in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Students moved in for the start of the semester, with COVID-19 regulations in place.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Students and parents move into the residence halls at Temple University in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Students moved in for the start of the semester, with COVID-19 regulations in place.

Temple University on Wednesday reported two active COVID-19 cases as students began the process this week of returning to campus.

Students had their first move-in day on Monday. A small group of students and professors with ongoing concerns about the pandemic protested the university’s decision to reopen.

"Any member of the Temple community who tests positive for COVID-19 will be advised to isolate until symptoms subside," the university said on its online coronavirus page.

“Any person or persons who have had close contact with an infected individual will be notified and provided additional information on steps they should take, including self-quarantining for 14 days,” the university said.

The two active cases are students, the university said Wednesday.

The nearly 40,000-student campus’ reopening plan includes a comprehensive testing and tracing initiative, and procedures for testing and quarantining were released last week.

— Robert Moran

2:20 PM - August 19, 2020
2:20 PM - August 19, 2020

Carney frustrated by Delaware’s reappearance on New Jersey’s quarantine list

Toll plaza for the Delaware Memorial Bridge
Delaware River and Bay Authority
Toll plaza for the Delaware Memorial Bridge

While the number of hospitalizations continue to decline in Delaware, an uptick in new coronavirus cases last week and a small rise in the positivity rate have once again landed the state on New Jersey’s travel quarantine list.

Delaware Gov. John Carney again took issue with being added to the list based on the state’s coronavirus metrics. Carney said over the past seven days, Delaware has averaged 68 new cases per day and a positive rate of 4.4%, both of which would place it below the criteria of what New Jersey considers a “high level” of community spread.

“It’s beyond me why we’re back on that list. We’re off the list one week, on the next, which is obviously an indication it’s not a measure that works, particularly, for a state like ours,” Carney said.

The tri-state quarantine applies to people arriving to New Jersey, New York, or Connecticut from states where the rolling seven-day average of new cases is at 10 or more people per 100,000, or 10% of those tested are positive. Due to Delaware’s small population, a seven-day average of 97 new cases per day automatically lands the state on the list.

Carney said he suspects a data entry error on the part of New Jersey might explain why Delaware is back on the quarantine list.

“We need to just continue to get to get better, and then we won’t be there,” Carney said. “What’s frustrating is when we do get better and we end up on the list because of a data glitch, which is just unacceptable.”

Delaware also announced a new $100 million grant program for small businesses and nonprofits in the state impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Damian DeStefano, the director of state’s Division of Small Business, said the state expects to award over 3,000 businesses grants as high as $100,000, based on a percentage of their 2019 revenue. More information is available at DelBiz.com/relief.

— Rob Tornoe

1:22 PM - August 19, 2020
1:22 PM - August 19, 2020

Murphy blasts Trump over N.J. lawsuit involving upcoming election

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (left) blasted President Donald Trump over a lawsuit filed by his re-election campaign targeting the state's decision to emphasize mail-in voting this November due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tyger Williams and Tim Tai / Staff Photographers
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (left) blasted President Donald Trump over a lawsuit filed by his re-election campaign targeting the state's decision to emphasize mail-in voting this November due to the coronavirus pandemic.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy blasted President Donald Trump for “trying to delegitimize” the Postal Service and the upcoming election, and said the state’s vote-by-mail plans would proceed so as to keep residents safe during the pandemic.

“This goes far beyond attempts at weaponizing the United States Post Service to disenfranchise voters. This is now becoming a full-throated propaganda campaign to undermine the election itself,” said Murphy, noting that mail-in voting has been used extensively across the country and in New Jersey.

Trump’s presidential campaign has sued New Jersey over Murphy’s decision to mail ballots for the November’s elections to every active registered voter due to the coronavirus pandemic and concerns over the Postal Service.

The lawsuit describes Murphy’s executive order as “illegal” and claims the state’s new voting flexibility “will violate eligible citizens’ right to vote,” according to Reuters. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey late Tuesday.

“The Trump campaign is embarking on a brazen attempt to sow fear and confusion and to delegitimize our elections and cast doubt on our democratic process,” Murphy said Wednesday. “They’re trying to distract us from focusing on our future. But we will not be distracted. Our plans for November will move forward. If vote-by-mail is good enough for the president, it’s good enough for all of us.”

“We will defend our rights vigorously and we will not back down,” Murphy added. “So as they say, bring it on.”

— Allison Steele

1:22 PM - August 19, 2020
1:22 PM - August 19, 2020

Philly reports 137 new cases as recent data on the virus in residents remains mixed

Philadelphia reported 137 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday that recent data on the virus in city residents has been mixed; the city had an average of 122 new cases per day for the week that ended Saturday, which was higher than the 108 average cases per day in the prior week.

Philadelphia also confirmed 18 coronavirus deaths Wednesday. Officials said the large number was due to reconciling state and city records. All of those deaths occurred in the past two weeks, the city said in a news release. A total of 1,735 Philadelphia residents have now died of COVID-19.

— Laura McCrystal

1:15 PM - August 19, 2020
1:15 PM - August 19, 2020

Pa. reports 570 new cases, 24 additional deaths

Pennsylvania reported 570 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The commonwealth is now averaging 717 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, decreasing over the past few days.

The Department of Health said 159,689 coronavirus tests were administered between Aug. 12 and Aug. 18, with 5,298 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3.3%. Overall, 126,149 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 7,523 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 24 new deaths reported on Wednesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,104 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:50 AM - August 19, 2020
11:50 AM - August 19, 2020

Pennsylvania Farm Show will be held virtually

Callie Taylor walks her lamb out Sale of Champions inside the Small Arena of the Farm Show Complex at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA on Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2019. The annual show is in its 103rd year.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Callie Taylor walks her lamb out Sale of Champions inside the Small Arena of the Farm Show Complex at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA on Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2019. The annual show is in its 103rd year.

The massive annual Pennsylvania Farm Show was canceled as an in-person event on Wednesday because of the pandemic, ending the prospect of hundreds of thousands of people converging on the Harrisburg complex in January.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said the Jan. 9-15 event will be conducted virtually instead, with a theme of “cultivating tomorrow.”

“While this field may lie fallow in January, we are cultivating tomorrow,” Redding said.

The Farm Show bills itself as the country’s largest agricultural exposition under a single roof, featuring about 6,000 animals and 10,000 competitive exhibits.

Like an enormous state fair without the rides and carnival barkers, the Farm Show is part professional development for farm families, along with a range of entertainment, from horse shows and tractor pulls to an annual butter sculpture.

— Associated Press

11:20 AM - August 19, 2020
11:20 AM - August 19, 2020

Coronavirus positivity rates: How Philly and New York City stack up

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s percentage of positive coronavirus tests has decreased to 0.24%, though it’s unclear where those numbers are coming from. New York City’s seven-day positivity rate averaged 1.3% as of Aug. 15, the most recent day data were available, according to the city’s health department.

New York, the original epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, has reported a statewide positive rate lower than 1% for nearly two weeks.

“Right now, New York has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, and New York State’s regions and New York City’s boroughs are all basically consistent, so on all the numbers it’s good news,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Going forward, we need to protect the progress, which New Yorkers can do by wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands, and local governments can do by enforcing state guidance.”

By comparison, Philadelphia’s positivity rate has averaged 3.8% over the past seven days, while statewide Pennsylvania’s positivity rate has averaged about 4.9%, according to an Inquirer analysis. New Jersey’s positivity rate also remains low, averaging 1.4% over the past seven days.

Other states aren’t faring so well. Mississippi currently has a positivity rate of more than 23%, while Florida’s positivity rate has leveled off around 16.2%, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nevada, Idaho, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Iowa, and Missouri all continue to have positivity rates above 10%, according to the university.

— Rob Tornoe

9:53 AM - August 19, 2020
9:53 AM - August 19, 2020

Couple charged in violent attack on teen Sesame Place employee over mask

A New York couple have been charged in the violent attack of a teenage Sesame Place employee who was attempting to promote the park's mask requirement.
CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
A New York couple have been charged in the violent attack of a teenage Sesame Place employee who was attempting to promote the park's mask requirement.

Police in Bucks County have filed charges against the New York couple who earlier this month fractured the jaw of a teenage Sesame Place employee after he reminded them they had to wear masks in the children’s amusement park.

Around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, U.S. Marshals arrested Troy McCoy, 39, at his home in the Bronx, Middletown Township Police said, and authorities will transport him back to Bucks County to face charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, and related offenses.

Authorities are making arrangements for Shakerra Bonds, 31, who lives with McCoy, to surrender and face lesser charges. Bonds was involved in the assault of the teenage employee, police said, and also punched a second employee who tried to help the boy during the attack.

The Aug. 9 attack sent the 17-year-old employee to the hospital for a week, police said, and he required surgery for the injuries to his jaw and his teeth. A GoFundMe has been set up to aid in his continued recovery, they said.

Authorities said they used surveillance footage, park reservation records, and vehicle registration of the couple’s fleeing car to quickly identify and eventually arrest the boy’s attackers.

— Erin McCarthy

9:40 AM - August 19, 2020
9:40 AM - August 19, 2020

When should I get my flu shot?

Expect especially intense campaigns for flu shots this year as public health officials worry that the combination of the coronavirus and flu could overwhelm the U.S. health system. Some locations, like this Philadelphia CVS, already are advertising the vaccinations.
Kelly O'Shea
Expect especially intense campaigns for flu shots this year as public health officials worry that the combination of the coronavirus and flu could overwhelm the U.S. health system. Some locations, like this Philadelphia CVS, already are advertising the vaccinations.

Bad as it has been these last few months to live with the danger from the coronavirus, things are about to get worse. Fall is approaching, and with it comes that other respiratory virus that puts thousands of Americans in the hospital every year: influenza.

While some doctor’s offices have not yet received flu vaccines, some pharmacies have already put out the signs saying it’s time to get vaccinated.

Ideally, doctors said, it’s best to wait until September or well into October. William Schaffner, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, suggests mid-September to mid-November.

The effectiveness of the shot wanes over time. In most people, it stays strong for six months or so, but people over 65 tend to lose immunity more quickly. Waiting a little longer to get the shot improves the odds that you’ll be protected until the end of the season, which is usually around March or April.

However, it takes two weeks to get the shot’s full benefit, so you want to get it before cases become more common in the fall. That’s often in November. If you haven’t already gotten sick, you can get shots into the spring.

But if it’s convenient to get it sooner, especially if you’re young and healthy, take it. “The best time to get the flu vaccine is any time,” said Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, whose agency will start its push around Labor Day.

— Stacey Burling

8:00 AM - August 19, 2020
8:00 AM - August 19, 2020

Trump campaign sues New Jersey over mail-in voting plan

A voter places his ballot in a Camden County ballot drop box for mail ballots, at the Audubon Municipal Building for the July primary.
File Photograph
A voter places his ballot in a Camden County ballot drop box for mail ballots, at the Audubon Municipal Building for the July primary.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has sued New Jersey over Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to mail ballots for the November’s elections to every active registered voter due to the coronavirus pandemic and concerns over the Postal Service.

The lawsuit describes Murphy’s executive order as “illegal” and claims the state’s new voting flexibility “will violate eligible citizens’ right to vote,” according to Reuters. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey late Tuesday.

Murphy did not immediately respond to the lawsuit. He is scheduled to deliver a coronavirus press briefing Wednesday at 1 p.m.

New Jersey will use the same approach it followed during its delayed primary on July 7. Every active registered voter in the state will be mailed a ballot, which they can either mail back or drop off in secure drop boxes across the state. A limited number of polling places will also be open to voters on election day.

Trump has repeated false attacks on mail-in voting and acknowledged last week he was opposed to to giving the Postal Service funding to help with the delivery of ballots because he thinks it will hurt his re-election changes.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who is scheduled to testify before Congress Friday, announced on Tuesday the Postal Service will suspend controversial changes until after the November election.

— Rob Tornoe

7:40 AM - August 19, 2020
7:40 AM - August 19, 2020

Where cases are rising and falling in Pa.

— John Duchneskie

7:20 AM - August 19, 2020
7:20 AM - August 19, 2020

Health officials eye local colleges as off-campus parties force schools to roll-back plans

Guys play basketball behind Stanford Hall on the Villanova campus in Villanova, Pa. on Aug. 13, 2020.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Guys play basketball behind Stanford Hall on the Villanova campus in Villanova, Pa. on Aug. 13, 2020.

As local colleges including Temple and Pennsylvania State Universities welcome students back to campuses this week, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said she has been impressed by the diligence of some reopening plans. But she will be watching for flareups like this week’s outbreak at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where in-person classes were canceled after more than 100 students became infected.

“The key is going to be the compliance with the plans,” Levine said. “If young people are having very large parties, if they’re not social distancing, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not washing their hands, you’re going to have spread of COVID-19.”

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country approaching 5.5 million, colleges in Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have reported hundreds of infections since students began returning to campuses.

On Tuesday, the University of Notre Dame announced it was halting all in-person instruction until at least Sept. 2 after 146 students and one staff member tested positive, nearly 16% of the 927 people tested.

The Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, said in a statement most of the infections have occurred among seniors and are coming from “off-campus gatherings where neither masks were worn nor physical distancing observed.”

Michigan State University also announced it would suspend in-person learning for the fall semester over fears of the spread of the virus.

— Allison Steele, Erin McCarthy and Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - August 19, 2020
7:00 AM - August 19, 2020

Wednesday morning round-up