8:51 PM - August 25, 2020
8:51 PM - August 25, 2020

CHOP doctors share tips for how to go back to school safely

Students at Canyon View Elementary in Cottonwood Heights line up on the playground as they go back to school for the first day of classes for the Canyons School District on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Francisco Kjolseth / AP
Students at Canyon View Elementary in Cottonwood Heights line up on the playground as they go back to school for the first day of classes for the Canyons School District on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Whether your child is heading back to school in-person or you’re preparing to kick off the school year at home, this year’s back-to-school season brings with it many new questions and challenges for parents: How will I get my kids to keep a mask on all day? How can I be sure they’re safe at school? What’s the best way to make at-home learning feel normal?

On Tuesday, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia brought together two of its experts to field some of the questions parents are grappling with as they decide what is best for their child. Susan Coffin, an attending physician with CHOP’s division of infectious diseases, and Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care South Philadelphia, shared advice for how parents can navigate the new school year.

Evaluate your school’s reopening plan to make sure it’s following safety guidelines. Consider whether you trust the school to reliably implement the plan administration has developed and adjust it as necessary during the school year.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned about COVID, it’s that things change quickly,” and schools must be able to adapt to changes, Lockwood said.

— Sarah Gantz

8:00 PM - August 25, 2020
8:00 PM - August 25, 2020

As schools go virtual, districts look to furlough support staff, saying they don’t have enough work for them to do

Christopher Dormer, superintendent of schools at Norristown Area School District, speaks during a press conference at the Norristown Area School District Board Room on Thursday, Dec. 05, 2019.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Christopher Dormer, superintendent of schools at Norristown Area School District, speaks during a press conference at the Norristown Area School District Board Room on Thursday, Dec. 05, 2019.

After deciding to begin the year virtually, the Pottsgrove School District considered its staff: Did it need building aides, part-time nurses, hall monitors?

The district, in western Montgomery County, determined it didn’t. It furloughed 39 people — and cut its school resource officers, crossing guards, and security contractors.

As districts around the Philadelphia region prepare for virtual instruction this fall, some have taken steps to pare their workforces, authorizing furloughs of support staff whose positions are deemed no longer necessary under remote reopenings.

In the spring, Pennsylvania required that public schools pay staffs through the end of the school year despite the coronavirus closures. No such mandate exists heading into the fall.

— Maddie Hanna

4:33 PM - August 25, 2020
4:33 PM - August 25, 2020

Hotline announced for Philly low-income families needing free internet for students

Philadelphia parents who need help getting their children online with free internet before the start of school can dial 211, the city announced Tuesday.

The new hotline, run by the United Way, will provide general information to K-12 families on how to get online through the city’s free program announced earlier this month.

The program, launched in partnership with Comcast and other entities, will provide free internet to 35,000 low-income families who currently lack it, and is open to families with children in the Philadelphia School District, as well as charter schools and private schools.

Families who call 211 and press 1 to speak to a resource navigator will be able to determine their eligibility for the free internet program, according to city officials. They said the hotline will be available 24/7 and offer more than 150 languages.

— Maddie Hanna

3:50 PM - August 25, 2020
3:50 PM - August 25, 2020

Philly opens applications for childcare alternative with digital learning

Philadelphia has opened applications for its access centers where children whose parents must work outside the home and have no other childcare can participate in digital learning this fall.

Mayor Jim Kenney encouraged parents to express their interest online.

That step “does not guarantee a spot. It is the first step in registration,” he said.

The access centers, open 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, will open Sept. 8.

The city will initially open 32 sites. Cynthia Figueroa, deputy mayor, for the Office of Children and Families, said additional sites will open in the future, with at least three phases planned.

Figueroa said the access centers are intended for the city’s neediest students and for parents who cannot afford childcare.

The application process will include questions about household income, but she said the city has not set official income limits.

”We are monitoring salary but we haven’t set a hard guideline,” she said.

The initial sites are:

  • Stenton Park Playground
  • Penrose Playground
  • Mayfair Park
  • Parkside-Evans Recreation Center
  • Hawthorne Cultural Center
  • Lawncrest Recreation Center
  • Lower Mayfair Playground
  • Francis J. Meyers Recreation Center
  • East Passyunk Community Park Recreation Center
  • Simpson Recreation Center
  • Hunting Park Recreation Center
  • Samuel Recreation Center
  • Olney Recreation Center
  • Martin Luther King Recreation Center
  • Vaux Community Building
  • Lucien E. Blackwell Center
  • John F. Street Center
  • Blanche A. Nixon Library
  • McPherson Square Library
  • Cobbs Creek Recreation Center
  • Simons Recreation Center
  • Vogt Recreation Center
  • Ramonita G. de Rodriguez Library
  • Rhawnhurst Recreation Center
  • Boyle Recreation Center
  • Lackman Playground
  • Holmesburg Recreation Center
  • Cherashore Playground
  • Marian Anderson Recreation Center
  • James L. Wright Recreation Center
  • Tustin Playground
  • James Finnegan Playground

— Laura McCrystal

2:45 PM - August 25, 2020
2:45 PM - August 25, 2020

FEMA approves $300 added federal unemployment benefit for Pa.

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor on Tuesday approved Pennsylvania for a FEMA grant under the Lost Wages Assistance program. FEMA’s grant funding will allow Pennsylvania to provide $300 per week on top of the commonwealth’s regular unemployment benefit to those unemployed due to COVID-19.

FEMA will work with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to implement a system to make this funding available to Pennsylvania residents.

On Aug. 8, President Donald Trump made available up to $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to Americans who have lost wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, Pennsylvania agreed to administer a lost wages program for its citizens who are unemployed due to COVID-19.

Last week, Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said he was unsure when the money will start to reach recipients, and warned the payments may only last five weeks or less before before the federal disaster relief aid runs out.

“Hardworking Pennsylvanians need more than a temporary program that is forcing us to recreate the wheel,” Oleksiak told the Associated Press.

— Erin Arvedlund

2:05 PM - August 25, 2020
2:05 PM - August 25, 2020

Pennsylvania unveils mobile coronavirus unit that will offer free tests

Pennsylvania has unveiled a “mobile coronavirus mobile response unit,” an RV named CATE — for Community-Accessible Testing & Education — and officials say they are optimistic it will help address health-care inequalities in Black and brown communities, as well as in other underserved areas. State officials say it is the first of its kind in the nation.

“We know across the country that minority and under-served communities have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, because of problems that existed actually long before the pandemic came to our shores,” said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

People who visit the roving site will receive a free coronavirus test, the results of which will be returned from the state lab in 24 to 48 hours, she said, and get educational information on how to stop the virus’s spread. No prescription or appointment is needed for a test, officials said, and at most stops they will accept anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the virus or who needs a test for school or travel.

The vehicle is scheduled to make stops in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties in late September.

The nearly $500,000 project was funded in part by grants, and created in partnership with the Latino Connection, a multicultural marketing company; Highmark Blue Shield; and the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, the charitable arm of the Philadelphia-based health insurer.

— Erin McCarthy

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

New coronavirus cases, positivity rate continue to decrease in Philly

Fans sit on their cars watching The Front Bottoms perform during the Live-In Drive-In series at the Citizens Bank Park parking lot in South Philadelphia on Sunday, August 23, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Fans sit on their cars watching The Front Bottoms perform during the Live-In Drive-In series at the Citizens Bank Park parking lot in South Philadelphia on Sunday, August 23, 2020.

The average daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases of in Philadelphia dropped last week to the lowest that it has been since mid-March.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the week that ended Saturday had an average of 98 confirmed cases per day. That number may increase slightly as delayed test results come in, he said. But he credited the progress to social distancing and mask wearing.

“This improvement in the epidemic isn’t inevitable,” Farley said. “We still need to follow the safety guidelines, especially now. If we don’t follow these safety guidelines, the virus can clearly come back.”

Farley said the positivity rate of coronavirus tests is also decreasing, with 3.4% of tests coming back positive last week.

The city continues to average about one to two deaths per day, Farley said.

Farley said the city is “still on track” to reopen indoor dining and theaters on Sept. 8, with restrictions in place. But nightclubs must remain closed and conferences cannot be held. Indoor gatherings will still be limited to 25 people and outdoor gatherings in the city are limited to 50 people.

Farley said it is possible that the city may ease more restrictions in the future, but “I’m not going to put a timeline on it.”

— Laura McCrystal

1:10 PM - August 25, 2020
1:10 PM - August 25, 2020

Coronavirus numbers continue downward trend in Pa.

Pennsylvania reported 561 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. The commonwealth is now averaging 637 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, the lowest rate since July 6.

The Department of Health said 157,763 coronavirus tests were administered between Aug. 18 and Aug. 24, with 4,630 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 2.9%. Overall, 130,035 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 7,605 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 26 new deaths reported Tuesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,131 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

12:14 PM - August 25, 2020
12:14 PM - August 25, 2020

Wolf says he doesn’t have the authority to extend moratorium on evictions

RENT STRIKE CAN’T PAY WON’T PAY spray painted on the University Avenue bridge in Philadelphia in July.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
RENT STRIKE CAN’T PAY WON’T PAY spray painted on the University Avenue bridge in Philadelphia in July.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday said he does not have the authority to extend the pandemic-induced moratorium on evictions beyond Aug. 31, and called on the legislature to help Pennsylvania renters, landlords, and property owners.

“We’re going to have to figure out some way of helping the folks who are most in need,” the governor said at a news conference in Harrisburg.

Some aspects of his fall legislative agenda, particularly the proposal for $200 million in funding to utility and rent relief, could provide a solution, Wolf said. Of that amount, he proposed $100 million be used to expand the PA Housing Finance Agency CARES Rent Relief Program, which helps low- and moderate-income renters.

Wolf has also asked for the $750 per month limit on renters’ assistance be raised to at least 130% of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s limits. He said this move would increase participation in the program, help landlords in higher-income neighborhoods, and get more money to tenants who desperately need it.

“Upon the expiration of the moratorium at the end of the month, notices of eviction and foreclosure will again be able to be sent,” the governor wrote in a letter to the state House of Representatives. “This begins a process that takes time, but that ultimately concludes with our fellow Pennsylvanians being removed from their homes.”

— Erin McCarthy

11:50 AM - August 25, 2020
11:50 AM - August 25, 2020

Delaware once again removed from New Jersey’s quarantine list

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

Once again, Delaware has been removed from New Jersey’s quarantine list, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday.

Delaware was added last week despite coronavirus numbers over the previous seven days that were lower than the the metrics New Jersey uses to determine states with a “significant spread” of the virus. Neither Pennsylvania nor Philadelphia added Delaware to their respective travel advisories last week, despite having similar benchmarks.

Gov. John Carney said during his weekly coronavirus press briefing on Tuesday that Delaware was flagged due to old cases that were entered into the system but misapplied as current numbers by New Jersey.

“So when they do the calculation they use that bigger number, and therefore wrongly include us on that quarantine list,” Carney said. “We’re off again this week, we were on last week... criteria that works like that, to me, doesn’t make any sense. It’s not telling you anything about the risk in your area.”

Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, and Montana were also removed from the list, and it’s the first time no new states or territories were added since the travel advisory was introduced at the end of June.

New Jersey now requires people traveling from 31 states and territories to self-quarantine for 14 days. Those states and territories are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin.

— Rob Tornoe

11:25 AM - August 25, 2020
11:25 AM - August 25, 2020

American Airlines plans to cut 19,000 jobs

Planes sit at gates at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Planes sit at gates at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

American Airlines, the dominant carrier at Philadelphia International Airport, plans to cut 19,000 workers on Oct. 1, unless there is an extension of federal aid.

“Based on current demand levels, we at American now plan to fly less than 50% of our airline in the fourth quarter, with long-haul international particularly reduced to only 25% of 2019 levels,” CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in a letter to employees announcing the cuts.

Parker and Isom said the Payroll Support Program, part of the federal CARES Act, has provided enough assistance to the company to prevent involuntary layoffs. But that support expires on Sept. 30, and lawmakers remain at odds over a new round of coronavirus assistance.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the cuts paired with retirements and leaves of absence will reduce the airline’s size by 30% compared to March.

— Rob Tornoe

11:00 AM - August 25, 2020
11:00 AM - August 25, 2020

Wolf calls for legalized recreational marijuana to help pay for coronavirus grants

 Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a May press converence at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa.
Joe Hermitt / AP
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a May press converence at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday called on the Pennsylvania legislature to legalize recreational marijuana in order to pay for existing grants to small businesses hurt by the pandemic and to fund restorative justice programs.

Wolf also said he wants to give more money and protection to frontline workers, support working parents and educators as students return to school, boost rent and utility payment relief, and roll out more grants to small businesses. He said the government could fund these efforts with the $1 billion it has left from federal coronavirus stimulus relief and from the revenue from legalization of recreational marijuana.

“Repairing the damage of this pandemic is not going to be easy,” Wolf said at a news conference in Harrisburg. “The legislature can act right now to get us back on track as quickly as we possibly can.”

As part of his fall legislative agenda, the governor is advocating for an extra $225 million to increase hazard pay, which would come out to a $3 an hour increase for about 208,000 frontline workers in the commonwealth.

He is proposing $250 million for families who must pay for child-care due to virtual or hybrid schooling; $50 million in grants for part-day child-care programs in low-income communities; $27 million to expand child care in “deserts,” where options for parents are scarce; $10 million for a PPE Reimbursement Program for employers, including county election workers; and the passage of paid family and sick leave.

For residents having trouble paying rent or utility bills, the governor said he is proposing a total of $200 million in grants for continued relief. For reeling small businesses, he said he has proposed $225 million in forgivable loans and grants for small businesses and $100 million in forgivable loans and grants for restaurants, bars, salons, barber shops, and other service industries.

In addition, he would like to allow alcohol-tax cancellation or reduction for six months, he said, and let restaurants and bars purchase alcohol at or near cost for six months to help them recover.

— Erin McCarthy

10:40 AM - August 25, 2020
10:40 AM - August 25, 2020

New Jersey bolstering PPE, ventilator stockpiles

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a press briefing in April.
Chris Pedota / AP
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a press briefing in April.

New Jersey state health officials are building a strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment and ventilators in anticipation of a second wave of coronavirus infections, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday during a budget address.

There are currently about 10 million pieces of PPE — masks, gowns and gloves — in the stockpile and 88 million more pieces have been ordered, Murphy said. In addition, the stockpile contains 1,400 ventilators and another 500 are on the way, while 600 more are placed in hospitals.

The stockpile, Murphy said, means the state won’t have to “compete with our fellow states” or “meet the next wave unprepared with a stockpile of zero.”

The governor, who delivered a revised, nine-month budget proposal before a joint session of the legislature outdoors in Rutgers’ football stadium in Piscataway, proposed new taxes on millionaires, smokers and others, in part to build up a budget with a $2 billion surplus, “a much-needed cushion against revenue shocks from a second wave.” He also proposed “baby bonds,” or a plan to set aside $1,000 in an account for each child born in 2021 or later with the goal of narrowing the wealth gap.

Murphy thanked New Jerseyans for weathering the last six months, during which more than 15,000 residents died of the virus, and said: “History will not forget the sacrifices millions of you have made to save lives.”

”We cannot yet let our guard down,” he said, “and we cannot yet give up on the practices that are protecting our families.”

— Anna Orso

10:00 AM - August 25, 2020
10:00 AM - August 25, 2020

First confirmed case of COVID-19 reinfection adds to questions about immunity

This electron microscope image shows COVID-19 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient.
/ AP
This electron microscope image shows COVID-19 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient.

Scientists believe that people who recover from COVID-19 have some immunity to the virus, but no one knows how strong, how long, and how varied that protection may be.

On Monday, University of Hong Kong researchers added another wrinkle, reporting the first confirmed case of reinfection. The 33-year-old man first tested positive in late March in Hong Kong and got reinfected about four months later while traveling in Spain. DNA sequencing revealed two slightly different strains of the virus, indicating the second infection was not just a lingering remnant of the first.

Experts differed about the significance of the case. But questions about the nature of immunity underlie vaccine development, hopes for “herd immunity,” and the therapeutic use of blood plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients. President Donald Trump on Sunday hailed the emergency approval of convalescent plasma as a “historic breakthrough,” despite regulators’ uncertainty about its effectiveness.

— Marie McCullough

9:10 AM - August 25, 2020
9:10 AM - August 25, 2020

Delaware updates mask guidance for children

Gresin Henderson, age 2, wears a face mask over her face while holding a basketball during a block party in Philadelphia.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Gresin Henderson, age 2, wears a face mask over her face while holding a basketball during a block party in Philadelphia.

Delaware issued new mask guidance for children on Monday, as most schools in the state opt to begin the school year remotely.

All children who are in kindergarten or older are now required to wear a mask or a face covering in public settings, including school buildings, according to the state’s Department of Health.

Children 2 years of age up to kindergarten are encouraged to wear masks in public, but not required. Children younger than two should not wear masks due to the threat of suffocation, the state said.

“The evidence could not be more clear that wearing face coverings is the best thing we can all do to keep our communities healthy,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “I know masks can be uncomfortable at times for children and adults. But if we stay vigilant and work together, we’ll continue to make real progress against this virus.”

— Rob Tornoe

8:20 AM - August 25, 2020
8:20 AM - August 25, 2020

Just one Pa. county seeing high virus spread, Wolf says

The marquee of the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg, Pa., on Friday, May 8, 2020. Union County is the only county in Pennsylvania currently experience substantial community spread, the state said on Monday.
Mark Scolforo / AP
The marquee of the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg, Pa., on Friday, May 8, 2020. Union County is the only county in Pennsylvania currently experience substantial community spread, the state said on Monday.

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

The state’s positivity was at 3.4% last week, a decrease from 4%. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties all have moderate levels of community transmission.

Only one county in the state — Union — is seeing substantial community spread, the state said in an update using a new data dashboard. Union County is said to have several known sources of outbreaks, though specifics were not provided. State officials plan to talk with school districts in the county about reopening.

“This is a testament that our actions are working, but we still have more work to do,” Wolf said in a statement. “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.”

— Justine McDaniel, Allison Steele and Erin McCarthy

8:00 AM - August 25, 2020
8:00 AM - August 25, 2020

FDA director, a former Penn doctor, apologizes for statement about new coronavirus treatment

President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, speaks during a media briefing at the White House on Sunday.
Alex Brandon / AP
President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, speaks during a media briefing at the White House on Sunday.

Stephen Hahn, the director of the Federal Food and Drug Administration and former chair of oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, quietly admitted to overstating the effectiveness for a new coronavirus treatment rolled out by the White House on Sunday.

In stating the case for convalescent plasma, the liquid portion of blood collected from people who have recovered from the virus and developed antibodies, Hahn suggested the treatment will likely save 35 people out of every 100 who contract COVID-19. Medical experts and former FDA officials criticized the statement as overstating the treatment’s effectiveness in a rush by the Trump administration to announce an emergency authorization.

“That number should be at best 5 out of 100 people. To my eye, it’s more like 3 out of 100 people,” wrote STAT News senior writer Matt Herper. “And all that is from subgroups of an observational study, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.”

“I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified.,” Hahn wrote on Twitter Monday night, in the middle of the Republican National Convention. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.

The largest study of plasma in COVID-19 patients is being conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, and other institutions. It is not a randomized study, and thus falls short of the “gold standard” of scientific evidence, but includes data on thousands of patients who have received plasma at hospitals across the country. Among them are more than 50 patients treated at the Virtua Health network in South Jersey.

So far, patients who received plasma within three days of diagnosis have been more likely to survive than those who got it at least four days after diagnosis — though the results have yet to be published in a medical journal. And patients who received plasma with higher “titers” of antibodies fared better than those who got plasma with lower levels of the immune-system proteins.

— Rob Tornoe and Tom Avril

7:40 AM - August 25, 2020
7:40 AM - August 25, 2020

Tuesday morning roundup