4:49 PM - August 20, 2020
4:49 PM - August 20, 2020

Fauci recovering after surgery to remove vocal cord polyp

FILE - In this July 31, 2020 file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during a House Subcommittee hearing on the coronavirus.
KEVIN DIETSCH / AP
FILE - In this July 31, 2020 file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during a House Subcommittee hearing on the coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, underwent surgery Thursday to remove a growth from his vocal cord that was causing his notably raspy voice.

Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, underwent outpatient surgery for the polyp and was home and resting, an institute spokesperson told The Associated Press.

Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has become the nation's leading scientific voice on the coronavirus pandemic, giving regular public advice via media interviews and webcasts, most recently one on Wednesday afternoon.

Polyps are bumps that can form on the vocal cords and cause hoarseness. Fauci has been open about his, saying in an interview with the Economic Club of Washington this spring that he had an irritated throat after a bout of winter flu that never got a chance to heal.

— Associated Press

2:15 PM - August 20, 2020
2:15 PM - August 20, 2020

La Salle University moves to a virtual fall semester, cites large parties as one reason

La Salle University's College Hall building, from the corner of 20th Street and Olney Avenue.
Michael Perez / File photo
La Salle University's College Hall building, from the corner of 20th Street and Olney Avenue.

La Salle University’s president announced Thursday the school is nixing its plan to offer some in-person classes and moving to a fully virtual semester this fall.

In a letter posted on the university’s website, President Colleen Hanycz said the school’s decision to hold the fall semester almost entirely through remote instruction was based on the current coronavirus trends in Philadelphia and the growth of new cases among young adults.

Hanycz also pointed to the behavior of students — both locally and across the country — who have disregarded coronavirus guidelines to attend large parties, subsequently leading to outbreaks at their schools.

“We would be naive to think that we might be able to avoid this fate, Hanycz wrote. “In fact, we already have received multiple reports of off-campus students here at La Salle who have been non-compliant with our guidelines and, in some cases, who are already engaged in our conduct proceedings as a result.”

On-campus housing will also be closed for students, with limited exceptions for international students and those with academic requirements and special personal circumstances, Hanycz wrote.

More information and Hanycz’s full letter can be found on the La Salle website.

— Rob Tornoe

1:30 PM - August 20, 2020
1:30 PM - August 20, 2020

New coronavirus cases, positivity rate decreasing in Philly

Philadelphia’s new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and its percentage of positive test results are decreasing, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday.

The city announced 105 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, which Farley said represented only 3% of test results that the city received in the last day.

While that data was encouraging, Farley said, the city’s contact tracing efforts have shown that people are most likely to get the virus from family members or small social gatherings with friends. He urged residents to wear masks even when around their loved ones.

“The people you trust the most are also the ones you’re most likely to catch this infection from,” Farley said. “They’re just as likely to be infected as anybody else.”

Even as the city moves to ease restrictions and reopen more activities, Farley said respiratory infections are worst in fall and winter, and residents should be cautious as those seasons approach.

Philadelphia will limit indoor gatherings to 25 people, which is the same as the state limit. Outdoor gatherings in the city, however, will be limited to 50 people. The state allows up to 250 people to gather outside

— Laura McCrystal

1:20 PM - August 20, 2020
1:20 PM - August 20, 2020

Philly to allow movie theaters and bowling alleys to reopen

A pedestrian walks past a closed Landmark Ritz Five movie theater in Old City on Friday, March 27, 2020. Philadelphia will allow movie theaters to reopen on Sept. 8.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks past a closed Landmark Ritz Five movie theater in Old City on Friday, March 27, 2020. Philadelphia will allow movie theaters to reopen on Sept. 8.

Movie theaters and performing arts venues in Philadelphia will be permitted to open on Sept. 8, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced Thursday. Bowling alleys, arcades, and other indoor games will be permitted to reopen immediately.

Capacity at all these venues is limited to 25 people at a time, and venues are prohibited from serving food and drinks on site. Farley said the capacity limit is in line with state guidelines.

“Even if you have a giant auditorium you can put no more than 25 persons inside,” Farley said.

— Laura McCrystal

1:05 PM - August 20, 2020
1:05 PM - August 20, 2020

Philly to allow indoor dining to resume on Sept. 8

People dine at El Vez restaurant on 13th and Sansom in Center City, Philadelphia on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
People dine at El Vez restaurant on 13th and Sansom in Center City, Philadelphia on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.

Indoor dining can resume Sept. 8 in Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Thursday.

”I hope this change on Sept. 8 marks a turning point in our recovery,” Kenney said. “I would urge restaurant owners and employees and patrons, let’s not push the envelope. Let’s follow the rules as we have been for quite some time now.”

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the reopening will be after Labor Day in order to avoid large holiday crowds.

Indoor bar seating will not be permitted, Farley said; diners can only sit at tables in restaurants. Tables will be limited to four people and must be spaced six feet apart.

”This is about people eating with members of their household,” Farley said.

Farley warned that the Sept. 8 easing of restrictions is dependent on a continued decrease in the positivity rate of coronavirus tests in the next two weeks. The city may also backtrack on reopening if officials find that restaurants are violating the rules or contributing to spread of the virus, Farley said.

”We will do this reopening very carefully,” he said.

Other restrictions on indoor dining include:

  • There is a 25% capacity limit for restaurants.
  • Servers must wear both masks and face shields for additional protection.
  • Last call for all indoor dining orders will be at 11 p.m. and establishments will be required to be closed for service by midnight.
  • Restaurants must install physical barriers — such as sneeze guards or partitions — in restaurant kitchens and at cash registers, host stands, and food pick up areas where maintaining physical distance of at least six feet is difficult.
  • Restaurants must screen every employee for symptoms before every shift and prevent them from remaining on-site if they have cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, or new loss of taste or smell.

— Laura McCrystal

12:04 PM - August 20, 2020
12:04 PM - August 20, 2020

Penn State president warns that the university could pivot to online learning if parties don’t stop

Penn State President Eric Barron said the university could be the next college to pivot to online learning if crowded, mask-less parties continue on its campus. His comments came Thursday morning, hours after university officials broke up a large gathering outside the freshman dorms in the middle of move-in week.

”I ask students [flouting] the university’s health and safety expectations a simple question: Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?” Barron said Thursday in a statement.

”This behavior cannot and will not be tolerated. We have said from the beginning health and safety is our priority, and if the University needs to pivot to fully remote instruction we will.”

While the gathering clearly violated the university’s coronavirus compact, the president did not say whether anyone would be punished. He reminded students they could be expelled for not following these health and safety rules, but also said “ultimately, this is not about sanctioning. It is about protecting individual and community health.”

University officials will continue to promote their “Mask Up or Pack Up” campaign, Barron said, and post new flyers in residence halls asking students if they want to be the reason everyone gets sent home. The same day of the East Halls event, an off-campus fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, was suspended after the university received reports that it had hosted a social on Tuesday night with more than 15 people who were not wearing masks or social distancing, Barron added.

Overall Barron said he has been “impressed” by adherence to the university’s coronavirus policies on campus and in downtown State College during move-in week.

”But make no mistake,” he said, “it only takes a few to ruin it for the many, as we have seen at other universities across the country.”

— Erin McCarthy

12:04 PM - August 20, 2020
12:04 PM - August 20, 2020

Gov. Murphy announces CARES funding for smaller N.J. counties

A dozen New Jersey counties, including several in South Jersey, will soon receive millions in funding to help pay for testing, PPE and other costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

The money, which will come from the CARES federal relief package passed by lawmakers earlier this year and totals $37 million, will go to areas that were previously not eligible because their populations are below 500,000.

”There’s no state in America that has enough money on its own to deal with this,” Murphy said, speaking at a news conference in Morris County, in the northern part of the state. “We need, all of us, red and blue alike, need the federal government to step up.”

The counties that will qualify for this round of funding are: Burlington, Gloucester, Cape May, Atlantic, Morris, Mercer, Somerset, Cumberland, Sussex, Hunterdon, Salem and Warren.

Each county will receive funding in three stages: a reimbursement of costs that were taken on during the pandemic. The money represents 25% of the county cost share, with FEMA paying the rest; money to support existing testing sites; and grant funding to support testing for vulnerable and high risk populations.

— Allison Steele

11:50 AM - August 20, 2020
11:50 AM - August 20, 2020

Children could be ‘silent spreaders’ of the coronavirus

As schools reopen in parts of the United States, a paper published Thursday found that some children have significantly higher levels of virus in their airways than the most severely ill adults — suggesting their role in community spread might be larger than previously believed.

The study in The Journal of Pediatrics comes on the heels of two others that offer insights about children and COVID-19 transmission. On July 30, researchers reported in JAMA that children younger than 5 with mild or moderate illness have much higher levels of virus in the nose compared to older children and adults. Shortly before that, investigators in South Korea found in a household study that older children passed on the virus as readily as adults, while younger children did not.

All three studies were small and contradicted each other in some details so researchers said they could not draw any definitive conclusions based on any one of them alone. But taken together, they paint a worrisome new picture of children's role in the pandemic.

Alessio Fasano, a physician at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and one of the new study's authors, said that because children tend to exhibit mild symptoms or none at all, they were largely ignored in the early part of the outbreak and not tested. But they may have been acting as silent spreaders all along.

— Washington Post

10:50 AM - August 20, 2020
10:50 AM - August 20, 2020

Philly to open digital learning centers for eligible students

Some Philadelphia children will be able to do their virtual school work this fall from free, city-run “Access Centers,” officials announced Thursday. The first 31-site phase of the plan will start Sept. 8, they said, and will be able to accommodate only about 800 of the 200,000 students enrolled in Philadelphia’s public and charter schools.

The centers will provide weekday supervision for students in kindergarten through sixth grade whose parents work outside the home, cannot afford child-care, or who do not have home internet access, officials said. The sites be “located in neighborhoods to serve Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children,” they said, and will also provide meals and other activities.

In order to comply with coronavirus health and safety guidelines, sites will accommodate about 22 students at a time, and “registration priority will be given to students with the highest need who can’t safely stay at home during the school day,” the city in a statement.

”These programs will help low-income families with their internet access and childcare needs during digital learning,” Mayor Jim Kenney added, “and reduce the pandemic’s threat to our children’s education and their families’ stability.”

In the first phase, most of the sites will be rec centers, Free Library of Philadelphia locations, and Philadelphia Housing Authority buildings, officials said. Other sites may be added later.

They will be staffed by employees of the city’s parks and recreation department and the Free Library, as well as people involved with the Office of Children and Families’ Out-of-School Time network and other community organizations. All will be properly trained and undergo child-abuse clearance, officials said.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the city’s efforts would allow the district to focus on teaching and learning.

“I’m elated that they have created a structure for many of our families,” Hite said of the city.

The city said additional information on how to register for the sites will be available next week on www.phila.gov.

— Erin McCarthy

10:45 AM - August 20, 2020
10:45 AM - August 20, 2020

New Jersey to allow outdoor high school sports in the fall

Outdoor high school sports will be permitted in New Jersey this fall, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced Thursday.

According to the NJSIAA, football, cross country, field hockey, girls tennis, and soccer will begin practice Sept. 14. Girls tennis will begin competition Sept. 28. Cross country, field hockey, and soccer will begin competition Oct. 1, and opening day for the football season will be Friday, Oct. 2.

Indoor fall sports — gymnastics and girls volleyball — will be moved to a “special season” that will begin with practices on Feb. 16 and competition on March 3, the NJSIAA said.

The PIAA still has not made any decisions on Pennsylvania fall sports, but will vote on Friday. Some Pennsylvania leagues have already opted out of the fall season, including the Philadelphia Public League and Cheltenham.

— Rob Tornoe

9:50 AM - August 20, 2020
9:50 AM - August 20, 2020

Airbnb to ban all parties following New Jersey crackdown

Airbnb is banning all parties and events at its rental properties following large, unauthorized parties in New Jersey.
Dreamstime / MCT
Airbnb is banning all parties and events at its rental properties following large, unauthorized parties in New Jersey.

Airbnb is banning all parties and events at rental listings worldwide in an attempt to address unauthorized gatherings that violate local coronavirus restrictions.

The new policy, announced Wednesday, caps occupancy at 16 people. Previously, smaller parties — such as baby showers or birthday parties — were permitted.

"This party ban applies to all future bookings on Airbnb and it will remain in effect indefinitely until further notice," Airbnb said in a statement.

The decision follows a crackdown on unauthorized parties at rental properties in New Jersey, including one mansion party in Jackson last month that drew more than 700 people. Airbnb had previously announced over 35 listings across 11 New Jersey counties were suspended or removed following complaints of house parties that violate coronavirus restrictions.

“Some have chosen to take bar and club behavior to homes, sometimes rented through our platform,” the company said. “We think such conduct is incredibly irresponsible – we do not want that type of business, and anyone engaged in or allowing that behavior does not belong on our platform.”

— Rob Tornoe

9:00 AM - August 20, 2020
9:00 AM - August 20, 2020

Videos show large Penn State party on campus

Penn State freshmen started moving into their University Park dorms on Monday, and by Wednesday night, they were dancing, chanting, and crowding together without masks as if the lawn outside their residence halls was a rowdy football tailgate.

Several videos of the mosh pit-like crowd outside East Halls, an all-freshman dorm complex, began circulating on Twitter overnight. The gathering comes as other universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill and Notre Dame, have pivoted to online learning after coronavirus outbreaks occurred on their campus within days of reopening.

Penn State had taken preemptive steps in the hopes of preventing such outbreaks on their campus, which in a normal year is home to more than 40,000 undergraduate students. Students had to sign a coronavirus compact and agree to social distance, wear masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing wasn’t possible, and be tested as the university directs. The university says failure to follow these rules could result in disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion.

Within hours of the videos being widely shared, many Penn State students called out the behavior, which showed no regard for the university’s rules. One person started an online petition to “send all PSU freshmen home after breaking corona rules.” Freshmen were set to move into on-campus housing from Monday to Thursday, while upperclassmen will return over the weekend.

It was not immediately clear whether any students would be disciplined as a result of the gathering. A later video on social media shows the crowd suddenly dispersing.

— Erin McCarthy

8:48 AM - August 20, 2020
8:48 AM - August 20, 2020

New U.S. jobless claims jump back above 1 million in face of virus

A person looks inside the closed doors of the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, Calif.
Damian Dovarganes / AP
A person looks inside the closed doors of the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, Calif.

The number of laid-off workers seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose to 1.1 million last week after two weeks of declines, evidence that many employers are still slashing jobs as the coronavirus bedevils the U.S. economy.

The latest figures suggest that more than five months after the viral outbreak erupted the economy is still weak, despite recent gains as some businesses reopen and some sectors like housing and manufacturing have rebounded. A rising number of people who have lost jobs say they consider their loss to be permanent.

The total number of people receiving unemployment aid declined last week from 15.5 million to 14.8 million, the government said Thursday. Those recipients are now receiving far less aid because a $600-a-week federal benefit has expired, which means the unemployed must now get by solely on much smaller aid from their states. The loss of the federal benefit has deepened the struggles for many, including a higher risk of eviction from their homes.

The continuing stream of layoffs comes against the backdrop of a modest recovery from a deep recession and a virus that is still paralyzing much of the economy. Home construction and sales have bounced back. So have auto purchases. But spending on travel, entertainment and many other services remains weak. Small businesses are struggling. And unemployment, at 10.2%, remains elevated.

— Associated Press

8:00 AM - August 20, 2020
8:00 AM - August 20, 2020

New Jersey taking steps to protect election amid coronavirus

Stephanie Pohubka of Burlington County, New Jersey votes at the ballot dropbox set up outside the Medford Twp Public Safety building at 91 Union St. Medford, NJ on election day, July 7, 2020. She was accompanied by a vehicle full of kids as she cast her ballot at a secured dropbox.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Stephanie Pohubka of Burlington County, New Jersey votes at the ballot dropbox set up outside the Medford Twp Public Safety building at 91 Union St. Medford, NJ on election day, July 7, 2020. She was accompanied by a vehicle full of kids as she cast her ballot at a secured dropbox.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he’s had regular conversations with the Postal Service to ensure a higher volume of mail-in ballots for November’s elections doesn’t slow delivery to the point of potentially disenfranchising voters.

“Not only are we going to have a lot more secure boxes for folks literally to put their ballot into and bypass the Postal Service … we’ve extended the amount of days that your ballot will count, as long as it was postmarked by election day,” Murphy said on MSNBC Thursday morning. “It used to be two days, now it will be seven. We think that’s enough.”

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is suing New Jersey over the state’s plan to allow every registered voter to cast their ballot through the mail, if they choose. Voters will also be able to drop off their ballots in secure drop box or at in-person at polling places.

Murphy said Trump is “trying to delegitimize” the Postal Service and the forthcoming election by falsely claiming mail-in ballots will lead to more voter fraud.

“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,” Murphy said Wednesday during his coronavirus press briefing.

— Rob Tornoe

7:40 AM - August 20, 2020
7:40 AM - August 20, 2020

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

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

Coronavirus trends in Philly and the suburbs

— John Duchneskie

7:00 AM - August 20, 2020
7:00 AM - August 20, 2020

Thursday morning roundup