10:03 PM - August 24, 2020
10:03 PM - August 24, 2020

Temple resumes classes, with far fewer students on campus

People on campus at Temple University, where classes started today, Monday, August 24, 2020. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
People on campus at Temple University, where classes started today, Monday, August 24, 2020. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

The grassy area known as Beury Beach on Temple University’s campus normally would be packed with students hanging out, listening to music, and soaking up the sun on the first day of classes

Instead, not many more than a handful were spread out in social distancing circles marked on the grass, just one step the university has taken to promote social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s kind of surreal, honestly,” said Lindsay Bowen, 21, a journalism major from Fort Washington, who sat with a friend at the foot of Temple’s iconic Bell Tower in the heart of campus.

With new protocols and safety procedures in place, classes began for nearly 39,000 students at Temple on Monday, even while opposition among some students and faculty continued to mount, and concern spread that the university was endangering its North Philadelphia community.

And even many of those who were excited to be on campus expressed hesitation.

— Susan Snyder

4:08 PM - August 24, 2020
4:08 PM - August 24, 2020

State positivity rate decreasing, Wolf says

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaks in Harrisburg in July.
Commonwealth Media Services
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaks in Harrisburg in July.

The percentage of Pennsylvanians testing positive for the coronavirus decreased “significantly” last week, the fourth-straight week that’s happened, Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday.

Philadelphia and its surrounding counties all have moderate levels of community transmission, and only one county in the state — Union County — is seeing substantial community spread, the state said in an update from a new data dashboard.

The state’s positivity was at 3.4% last week, a decrease from 4%. None of the counties in the Philadelphia region had high enough positivity rates to be put on the state’s list of counties of concern.

”This is a testament that our actions are working, but we still have more work to do. The virus is still circulating, and we must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings to keep our numbers low, stop the spread and allow more freedom,” Wolf said in a statement.

With its new “early warning monitoring dashboard,” state officials will provide updates every Monday on the level of community transmission statewide, travel recommendations, and some information from virus patients gathered by contact tracers.

Of those whose cases were reported between Aug. 9 and 15 and who responded to a question from case investigators, 50% said they had been to a restaurant within 14 days before developing symptoms.

Twenty-three percent said they had visited a different type of business, 17% said they had gone to a bar, 8% had been to the gym, and 12% had gotten a salon haircut.

Nearly 12% of people who answered another question said they had attended a mass gathering or other large event two weeks before noticing symptoms.

The answers represented an increase in people who had reported visiting a restaurant, business, or barbershop and a decrease in the number of people going to a bar or gym.

Also on Monday, the state removed Arizona from its list of states from which travelers entering the commonwealth are recommended to quarantine.

Justine McDaniel

3:48 PM - August 24, 2020
3:48 PM - August 24, 2020

Philadelphia Catholic League calls off fall sports; St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle considering football as independents

The Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School Saints football team practices in Grays Ferry July 27, 2020.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School Saints football team practices in Grays Ferry July 27, 2020.

The Philadelphia Catholic League on Monday joined the growing list of high school leagues in Southeastern Pennsylvania to shut down fall sports because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The decision was made by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after a meeting Monday afternoon of school principals and presidents, according to two sources.

The decision was made to “opt out” of fall sports, according to one source.

The shutdown of competition impacts thousands of high school athletes in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs in sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, cross-country and others.

The news is perhaps the biggest domino to fall in the movement to postpone youth sports until the new year to help mitigate the spread of the virus. The Philadelphia Public League and Del Val League as well as individual school districts such as Cheltenham, Norristown, Pottstown and Phoenixville also have postponed fall sports.

— Phil Anastasia

2:30 PM - August 24, 2020
2:30 PM - August 24, 2020

Postmaster general: ‘I am not engaged in sabotaging the election.'

A mail carrier delivers mail along Market Street in Millbourne, Pa. on August 10, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A mail carrier delivers mail along Market Street in Millbourne, Pa. on August 10, 2020.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers Monday that he has warned allies of President Donald Trump that the president’s repeated attacks on mail-in ballots are “not helpful,” but denied that recent changes at the Postal Service are linked to the November elections.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy said, adding that, like Trump, he personally plans to vote by mail.

DeJoy’s comments came as he refused requests by Democrats to restore mail-sorting machines or mailboxes removed from service as part of sweeping operational changes at the Postal Service, despite complaints that the changes are causing lasting damage and widespread delays.

The Associated Press

1:25 PM - August 24, 2020
1:25 PM - August 24, 2020

Most New Jersey school districts will return with hybrid model

Paul Adamus, 7, waits at the bus stop for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Dallas, Ga.
AP
Paul Adamus, 7, waits at the bus stop for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Dallas, Ga.

Most of New Jersey’s school districts have submitted plans to the state Department of Education that lay out hybrid models of instruction, Gov. Phil Murphy said, with a fewer number of districts planning remote-only teaching or entirely in-person classes.

Of the 745 plans submitted to the state, 436 are opting for hybrids of in-person and remote learning. Fifty-nine are planning to open for all in-person schooling, while 180 plan to resume classes on a remote-only basis. Plans for 11 districts contain multiple hybrid, in-person and all-remote guidelines.

Each of the state’s regions is safe for re-opening, Murphy said, citing data from the state Department of Health. The state added 225 cases of the coronavirus Monday, and the rate of transmission is below one for the third day, meaning each infection is leading to fewer than one new case.

Murphy thanked district leaders, parents, educators and others for working together on moving forward with reopening plans.

”This kind of partnership is what has made our state schools among the very best in the entire country,” Murphy said. “And it’s how we’re gonna stay there, even in a school year that will open unlike any other before it.”

— Allison Steele

1:20 PM - August 24, 2020
1:20 PM - August 24, 2020

Philadelphia surpasses 33,000 total coronavirus cases

Families and friends enjoy outdoor dining along 2nd Street in Old City on Saturday, Aug., 15, 2020. Access Philadelphia organized the Old City Street Dining and have been doing it every weekend for about a month.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Families and friends enjoy outdoor dining along 2nd Street in Old City on Saturday, Aug., 15, 2020. Access Philadelphia organized the Old City Street Dining and have been doing it every weekend for about a month.

More than 33,000 Philadelphia residents have now had confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March.

The city reported 263 confirmed cases of COVID-19 Monday, representing cases confirmed since Friday. The city now has a total of 33,054 confirmed cases of the virus.

The city also reported one death Monday. A total of 1,736 Philadelphia residents have now died of the coronavirus.

Laura McCrystal

12:45 PM - August 24, 2020
12:45 PM - August 24, 2020

Zoom is back online after outage

Zoom has fixed the outage that this morning sent universities, schools, and companies scrambling to find an alternative to the video conferencing and webinar service that has gained immense popularity during the pandemic.

Around 12:30 p.m., the platform posted an update on its website: “We have resolved the issue causing users to be unable to start and join Zoom Meetings and Webinars. Users are now also able to sign up for paid accounts, upgrade, and manage their service on the Zoom website. We are currently monitoring to ensure that these services are operational.”

The outage lasted for hours, beginning around 7:30 a.m., and affected more than 16,000 users nationwide, including some in the Philadelphia region, according to Zoom and the app outage tracker DownDetector.

— Erin McCarthy

12:41 PM - August 24, 2020
12:41 PM - August 24, 2020

Why Montco has ultrafast COVID-19 test results

Lab techs extract COVID-19 test samples at Mako Medical Laboratories' facility in Henderson, N.C
Courtesy of Mako Medical Laboratories
Lab techs extract COVID-19 test samples at Mako Medical Laboratories' facility in Henderson, N.C

Mako Medical Laboratories, a six-year-old diagnostic company based in Raleigh, N.C., decided in 2020 to enter the nascent field of nutritional DNA.

The idea: Studying a person’s genome could suggest the person’s optimal diet, with recommendations including how much vitamins and minerals to consume. Then COVID-19 struck.

“We had to make a decision whether we were going to retreat as a business and weather the storm,” said Josh Arant, the company’s chief operating officer.

Fortunately, the equipment and tools used to test DNA for nutritional recommendations are used to test for the coronavirus, too. As other large diagnostic companies like Quest and LabCorp struggle to process an enormous number of samples for testing, Mako suddenly finds itself with capacity to spare.

Last week, Montgomery County began sending samples to Mako, which promises people who visit one of the county’s six testing sites will get their results within 36 hours. The company has been averaging a 12-hour turnaround.

— Jason Laughlin

12:08 PM - August 24, 2020
12:08 PM - August 24, 2020

Pennsylvania reports 426 additional coronavirus cases

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine speaks during a visit to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center on June 24, 2020.
Commonwealth Media Services
Secretary of Health Rachel Levine speaks during a visit to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center on June 24, 2020.

Pennsylvania health officials on Monday added 436 newly reported coronavirus cases and one death to their count, and advised residents not to become fatigued with social distancing, masking, and other preventative measures as the school year begins.

“Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and following the requirements set forth in the orders for bars and restaurants, gatherings and telework will help keep our case counts low,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in a statement. “Together, as Pennsylvanians, we each have a part to play in working to ensure that cases of COVID-19 remain low.”

While counts remain low compared to earlier this summer, cases among young people remain a concern, the department said.

In Pennsylvania’s southeastern region, which includes Philadelphia and its suburbs, 18% of cases so far in August were in people between the ages of 19 and 24. This percentage of cases in young people is currently higher than that of any other region in the commonwealth. In April, the 19-to-24 demographic made up just 5% of cases in the southeast.

In all, at least 129,474 Pennsylvanians have been sickened by the coronavirus and 7,579 have died of complications of the virus since March.

Erin McCarthy

10:52 AM - August 24, 2020
10:52 AM - August 24, 2020

Request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before election, postmaster general says

A mail carrier pulls items from his vehicle along Market Street in Upper Darby, Pa. on August 10, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A mail carrier pulls items from his vehicle along Market Street in Upper Darby, Pa. on August 10, 2020.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is warning that voters should request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election to ensure they have enough time to receive their ballot, complete it, and mail it back to elections officials on time.

Acknowledging an expected surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic, DeJoy says voters should mail back their ballots at least seven days prior to the election. In prepared testimony Monday before the House Oversight Committee, DeJoy said the advice on mail-in ballots is similar to previous years, but is even more important this year to ensure that ballots will be delivered on time and counted -- even as volumes of mail-in ballots are expected to spike to record levels across the country.

His advice “should in no way be misconstrued to imply that we lack confidence in our ability to deliver those ballots,” DeJoy told the House panel in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “We can, and will, handle the volume of Election Mail we receive.‘'

— The Associated Press

10:40 AM - August 24, 2020
10:40 AM - August 24, 2020

Zoom hit with outage as students return to class remotely

More than 10,000 people this morning reported having trouble logging on to Zoom, the videoconferencing app that has become the new office meeting room and now classroom for so many amid the pandemic.

The company has identified the problem causing the partial outage on its video meetings and video webinar platforms, it said on its status website, and has implemented fixes. Some users, including those at Temple University, were able to use the platform again around 11 a.m., and by noon Zoom said service had been restored for “the majority of users.”

Users began reporting issues around 7:30 a.m., and by 10 a.m. more than 16,000 reports were coming in, according to DownDetector, which tracks app outages. Most of the issues are on the East Coast, including in the Philadelphia region, with some problems also being reported in the Southwest, a DownDetector outage map shows.

On Twitter, many people expressed frustration as they tried to logged on for their first day of college and high school classes or join a work call.

“Ugh, @zoom_us is down. No fun to deal with when practically everything is now virtual. Happy Monday!” one user tweeted.

“First day of classes, @zoom_us goes down,” added another. “No links provided to students work. This seems right for 2020.”

The platform responded: “If you’re having trouble connecting to Zoom, we have identified the issue and are working on a fix. Please follow http://status.zoom.us for updates. We’re so sorry about the inconvenience.”

— Erin McCarthy

10:00 AM - August 24, 2020
10:00 AM - August 24, 2020

At Temple, classes begin with coronavirus protocols and fewer students on campus

People walk past the Owl statue along Polett Walk 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
People walk past the Owl statue along Polett Walk 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.

With new protocols and safety procedures in place, classes began for nearly 39,000 students at Temple University on Monday amid the pandemic, even while opposition among some students and faculty continued to mount.

Only about 9,000 students are expected to be on campus for classes on opening day, down from the usual 27,000, the university said. Most of Temple’s classes will be held remotely or in a hybrid format and those in-person will be conducted in classrooms with reduced capacity, the school said. Only about 3,300 classroom seats are available, down from the typical 15,000.

Fewer students also are living in campus housing, about 3,200, compared to the typical 5,000, said spokesperson Ray Betzner.

Temple’s faculty union is planning to hold a rally at noon to oppose the reopening and note its potential danger to the campus’ surrounding North Philadelphia community.

— Susan Snyder

9:36 AM - August 24, 2020
9:36 AM - August 24, 2020

Another week, another round of garbage delays in Philly

A City of Philadelphia Sanitation worker prepares to toss trash into a trash truck along the 1700 block of Diamond Street near the Temple University campus on Monday, August 3, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A City of Philadelphia Sanitation worker prepares to toss trash into a trash truck along the 1700 block of Diamond Street near the Temple University campus on Monday, August 3, 2020.

Garbage collection in Philadelphia will continue to be delayed this week, with trash “slightly delayed” and recycling “significantly behind,” the Streets Department said.

The delays have been an issue throughout the pandemic, with the department citing “severe weather, increased tonnage and attendance. "

This week, it said residents should put out their garbage on the normal day. However, trash is running one or two days behind, while recycling has been delayed multiple days.

— Erin McCarthy

8:15 AM - August 24, 2020
8:15 AM - August 24, 2020

A second Penn State fraternity suspended for partying

Old Main is pictured on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Old Main is pictured on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

Days after students arrived back on campus, Penn State has suspended a second fraternity for not following its coronavirus protocols and holding a 70-person house party amid the pandemic.

When university conduct monitors tried to approach the Saturday night gathering at the Pi Kappa Alpha house in downtown State College, fraternity leaders refused to let them in, Penn State said in a statement.

The university said it has summarily suspended the fraternity leaders who blocked the monitors, and has initiated student conduct investigations for those who organized the party. Another fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, was suspended last week for holding a social with more than 15 people who gathered indoors without masks or social distancing.

Less than a week after freshmen held a mosh pit-like gathering on the lawn of their dorm complex, Penn State also said “the conduct process has begun involving a student who may have helped initiate the gathering” at East Halls. University officials said they have not yet identified others who attended it.

A pop-up coronavirus testing site is being set up outside East Halls, they said, for any resident who was on the lawn that night or would like a test.

On Sunday, Pi Kappa Alpha members were required to undergo mandatory testing, Penn State said, and non-members who attended the party were encouraged to do so as well.

While university officials reminded students that consequences of a virus protocol violation “may, or are likely to, include suspension or expulsion from the University,” they also said “no disciplinary action will be initiated” against anyone who voluntarily gets tested after having attended either event.

“Among the last things I want to do is suspend students or student organizations,” said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs. “But the very last thing I want to do is allow a small subset of our University population to send all of us home because it chose to ignore the requirements each of us must abide, and we will do all we reasonably can to avoid that outcome.”

College administrators across the country have reprimanded students in recent weeks for partying after being called back to campus, as videos of packed fraternity houses and crowded lawns circulate on social media and some universities move to remote learning due to outbreaks.

— Erin McCarthy

7:30 AM - August 24, 2020
7:30 AM - August 24, 2020

Upper Darby sanitation workers back on the job after quarantine

Sanitation workers Rashan Purcell, left, and Lawrence Brown, right, collect trash on East Allegheny Ave., in Philadelphia July 27, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Sanitation workers Rashan Purcell, left, and Lawrence Brown, right, collect trash on East Allegheny Ave., in Philadelphia July 27, 2020.

Upper Darby’s sanitation workers are back at work Monday after quarantining for two weeks due to a coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Barbarann Keffer said.

School bus drivers and two private waste disposal companies had stepped in to collect the township’s garbage as the staff of more than 60 quarantined.

Trash and recycling will continue to be picked up once a week, the mayor said.

— Erin McCarthy

7:20 AM - August 24, 2020
7:20 AM - August 24, 2020

State College, home of Penn State, could lose $180 million due to the coronavirus and a fall without football

An empty storefront on College Avenue, right across the street from the Penn State University campus, in downtown State College, Pa., on Aug. 19, 2020.
CRAIG HOUTZ / For the Inquirer
An empty storefront on College Avenue, right across the street from the Penn State University campus, in downtown State College, Pa., on Aug. 19, 2020.

STATE COLLEGE — For 14 years, Lila Yoga has been a staple in a downtown usually teeming with people.

But its bright orange and yellow handcrafted sign on Beaver Avenue came down last weekend. It’s among nine businesses in the shadow of Pennsylvania State University’s flagship campus that local leaders said have closed because of the pandemic, with others struggling to hang on.

“Everything here, whether it’s a restaurant or a yoga studio, is so directly affected by the university,” said Erica Kaufman, owner of Lila Yoga. “Although it’s very painful, it seemed smarter to let go of the space right now and reassess at another time.”

While business closures are happening around the country, quintessential college towns like State College have been hit particularly hard. Their businesses are built around the university, which supplies many of their patrons, and its fate is their fate.

With its 24 campuses, Penn State is an economic engine for the commonwealth, contributing $11.6 billion to the state’s economy in 2017, nearly $128 million of it in Centre County, home to the University Park campus. Local tourism officials estimate the region has already lost $100 million in revenue from hotels, businesses, and other venues as a result of the virus. The cancellation of Nittany Lions football this fall could mean the loss of an additional $80 million.

Susan Snyder

7:00 AM - August 24, 2020
7:00 AM - August 24, 2020

Students with autism, severe disabilities could suffer long-term because of virtual learning, parents say

Self-inflicted bite marks can be seen on Ronan Strouse's arm as he works on a lesson at his home in East Greenville, Pa. on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
KRISTON JAE BETHEL / For the Inquirer
Self-inflicted bite marks can be seen on Ronan Strouse's arm as he works on a lesson at his home in East Greenville, Pa. on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.

The behaviors started a few days after COVID-19 closed schools indefinitely in March: Eleven-year-old Ronan Strouse would bite one arm, issue frequent short, high-pitched yells, bang his leg hard.

Ronan, who is intellectually disabled, has autism and other complicated conditions, can’t carry on a conversation, but he had words enough to ask his mother: “School sick?” “Yes,” Celine Nace would tell her son. “School is sick.”

As a fifth grader in the Upper Perkiomen School District, Ronan was supposed to have virtual lessons with his teacher, and a host of services such as occupational and speech therapy on the computer, too. But that didn’t work for more than perhaps 10 minutes a week; Ronan would refuse to sit, walk away, unable to grasp or tolerate what he was supposed to do. The problems continued this summer, when he had online-only services as mandated by his special-education plan.

“He got nothing out of it,” Nace said. “He’s not being educated.”

— Kristen A. Graham

7:00 AM - August 24, 2020
7:00 AM - August 24, 2020

Doctors worried about COVID-19′s impact on the kidneys

When the new coronavirus stormed the Northeast this year, Alan Kliger, a Yale University kidney specialist, thought it would behave like a typical respiratory virus.

There had been signals from China that the new disease was hard on kidneys, but nephrologists like Kliger were not prepared for what happened when cases surged in New York. So many patients suffered kidney injury that dialysis supplies ran short. Two studies of New York patients found that 68% to 76% of intensive-care patients with COVID-19 had kidney damage. In one, a third of ICU patients needed dialysis, a process in which a machine performs the kidney’s blood-filtering work.

“The amount of acute injury and failure was unexpected and dramatic,” said Kliger, cochair of the American Society of Nephrology’s COVID-19 Response Team.

It is too early to know whether survivors of serious COVID-19 will have long-lasting kidney damage, but doctors are worried.

“People are just waking up to the fact that the kidney is an unappreciated manifestation [of COVID-19] but one that is pretty important,” said Girish Nadkarni, a nephrologist and researcher at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. “There might be an epidemic of post-coronavirus kidney disease coming.”

— Stacey Burling

7:00 AM - August 24, 2020
7:00 AM - August 24, 2020

Monday morning coronavirus round-up

  • On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency authorization for doctors to treat coronavirus patents with convalescent plasma. The move was criticized by many medial experts, who say the treatment hasn’t undergone a randomized controlled trial to test its efficacy.
  • Infections are trending up across the Midwest, with seven-day averages for new cases rising over the past week in the Dakotas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wyoming, according to tracking by The Washington Post.
  • Rep. Dan Meuser (R., Pa.) announced over the weekend he tested positive for coronavirus. He’s the second Berks County leaders to test positive within a week — last week Commissioner Michael Rivera confided to the Reading Eagle he has tested positive.