New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed an executive order allowing gyms, health clubs, indoor amusement, and water parks to reopen on Sept. 1 at 6 a.m. with reduced capacity limits and other safety restrictions.
”Gyms are among the most-challenging indoor environments to prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” Murphy said in a statement.
“Given where we are in this fight and the overwhelming personal responsibility demonstrated by gym owners and gym members over the past several months, we can confidently take this important step on our road back,” Murphy said.
The occupancy limit for any indoor facility will be 25% of the location’s maximum capacity.
Facilities will be required to conduct temperature screenings and fill out questionnaires of clients and staff when they enter the premises.
Facilities must adhere to strict guidelines for social distancing.
The state Department of Health’s guidance for health clubs, gyms, and fitness centers can be viewed here.
Murphy’s resistance to reopen gyms has led to a monthslong standoff with the owners of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, who have defied the state guidelines multiple times, welcomed customers inside with no masks, been arrested, and this month saw their business license revoked.
Pa. won’t follow CDC guidelines on reduced testing
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is rejecting CDC guidelines suggesting people only get tested for COVID-19 if they have symptoms and will continue to expand coronavirus testing, a state spokesperson said Thursday.
Philadelphia and New Jersey have already said they will not follow the CDC’s widely criticized guidance.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has not changed its coronavirus testing guidelines after the CDC's new guidelines and will continue to expand testing, spox tells me -- meaning it joins other states, incl NJ and NY, who will not follow the CDC's widely criticized guidance
The Eagles will not have fans at Lincoln Financial Field for the team’s opening game on Sept. 20 against the Rams, and no date has been set for when they can return.
“The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia confirmed on Thursday that hosting fans at Lincoln Financial Field will not be permitted until further notice,” the team announced on Twitter.
Wolf announces grants to advance virus treatments, vaccines
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced that 23 projects will receive a total of $10 million in grants for coronavirus vaccines, treatments, and therapies.
”We know that the only way we can get back to our normal lives is by developing a robust testing and tracing infrastructure combined with effective, safe and affordable treatments and vaccines,” the governor said in statement.
“The funding awarded today will jumpstart a number of promising projects that would help Pennsylvania overcome this devastating global pandemic, setting us on a path to recovery and protection both now and in the future,” Wolf said.
Twelve vaccine projects will receive $6.8 million, he said, and five treatment projects will receive $1.6 million.
In addition, five therapy projects will get $1.2 million. Some of the awardees will study whether cancer medication might help coronavirus patients, the governor said, and others will work to develop a protective antibody for vulnerable people.
Philly still working to improve its contact tracing abilities
The health department is still working on improving its contact tracing abilities, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Of the 675 cases that were referred to the department for contact tracing last week, 30 were handled by other organizations. Contact tracers reached 68% of the remaining cases, and most of those people agreed to quarantine. They were unable to reach 22% of cases.
Officials are also no longer seeing a predominance of younger people making up the majority of new cases, Farley said. Of the cases announced Thursday, 42% were in people under 40 years old. A couple weeks ago, Farley said, that percentage was consistently more than 50%.
As some students may be returning to Philadelphia for school, Farley noted that there has not been a COVID-19 cluster reported in colleges, but officials will stay in close contact with schools as the semester continues.
Through contact tracing interviews, Farley said, officials have learned that many people know exactly how they were exposed to COVID-19. Almost a half knew the person they believe exposed them, usually a household member, relative or friends.
“If you get together with people outside your household, even if its your relatives and friends, wear a mask, Farley said. “That’s a high-risk situation.”
Philadelphia won’t be following the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing guidelines, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said, joining other leaders in rejecting the advice to only test people with symptoms.
Anyone should be tested if they have symptoms, Farley said, or if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, even if they have no symptoms.
If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, wait seven days after exposure to ensure that the coronavirus test will give an accurate result, Farley said.
“As the case rates go down, testing for those people who have been exposed is even more important,” Farley said, “because we want to identify as many people with the infection as possible so that we can do contact tracing and stop the chain of transmission.”
There are about 3,000 coronavirus tests administered per day in Philadelphia, Farley said, with the goal of reaching 5,000.
“We want to increase testing,” Farley said, not decrease testing.”
Despite positive trends, Philly isn’t ruling out lockdowns if coronavirus worsens in winter
Philadelphia reported 88 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, for a total of 33,343 cases during the pandemic, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Officials did not have any additional deaths to report. The city had reported 13 deaths due to COVID-19 yesterday, for a total of 1,749 Philadelphia residents who have died of the coronavirus.
The new cases announced today represent less than 3% of nearly 3,200 test results, a lower percentage that what officials have seen in the past, Farley said.
“We see continued progress against the coronavirus epidemic with improving signs locally, regionally and nationally,” Farley said.
The city is on track to reopen indoor dining and theaters with restrictions on Sept. 8, Farley said.
However, Farley warned that most respiratory viruses worsen in the late fall and winter. It is possible, he said, that despite careful restrictions and recent improvements, the virus could worsen in Philadelphia.
If that happens, Farley said he is not ruling out a full lockdown similar to what the city experienced in mid-March.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” Farley said. “We really don’t know what this virus is going to do when we get to late fall and winter. It’s such a new virus it would really be the first winter it’s seen in the United States. We certainly wouldn’t want to go to a full lockdown but anything is possible.”
Pa. moratorium on utility shutoffs will remain in place until at least Sept. 17
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday postponed a decision on allowing utilities to resume shutoffs of nonpaying customers, marking the third time the stalemated panel has been unable to agree about lifting a moratorium on service terminations enacted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The PUC put off a vote until Sept. 17 on whether to lift the order banning service terminations, put into place in March after the state declared a COVID-19 emergency. Twice previously, the commission deadlocked in votes to end the moratorium.
Utilities said the moratorium on shutoffs and payment penalties has led to a dramatic increase in nonpaying customers, but consumer advocates said the action was vital to protecting consumers hit by the pandemic’s economic outfall.
The commission conducted its discussion behind closed doors in executive session and gave no indication of points upon which it remains divided. Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, the PUC’s chair who had called for a vote this week, made a brief statement after Thursday’s announcement, thanking interested parties for submitting responses to the PUC.
Bloomsburg University reverts to largely remote instruction after 90 coronavirus cases are reported
With 90 cases of coronavirus reported there, Bloomsburg University will revert to largely remote instruction, beginning next week, the school announced Thursday.
The change comes less than two weeks into the semester and follows concerns about students attending off campus parties, including a large gathering last Friday evening. All but one of the virus cases are among students, most of whom live off campus.
Bloomsburg, one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, had been conducting about a quarter of its classes in person, some in a blended format and more than half online.
Nearly 2,200 students living on the central Pennsylvania campus will have the option of remaining, said Daniel Greenstein, the system’s chancellor. Many of the university’s 8,200 students live in the surrounding community or are studying remotely.
Pennsylvania reports 620 new cases, 11 additional deaths
Pennsylvania reported 620 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. The commonwealth is now averaging about 602 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis. The number of new daily cases have been declining since the end of July.
The Department of Health said 151,008 coronavirus tests were administered between Aug. 20 and Aug. 26, with 4,387 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 2.9%. Overall, 131,156 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
At least 7,635 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 11 new deaths reported on Thursday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,157 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy joined with two other Democratic governors to blast the decision by the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention to alter its guidance on coronavirus testing to suggest only people with symptoms get tested.
“This 180-degree reversal of COVID-19 testing guidelines is reckless, and not based on science and has the potential to do long-term damage to the institution’s reputation,” the joint statement read.
Murphy, along with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, said neither the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services have shared the scientific rationale for changing the policy.
All three cited robust testing of all individuals as a key factor in decreasing the spread of the virus within their states, and said they won’t change their own policies based on the CDC’s new recommendation.
CDC Director Robert Redfield defended his agency’s decision in a statement, saying not everyone who comes in contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 needs to be tested.
“Everyone who needs a COVID-19 test, can get a test,” Redfield said. “Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.”
Lord & Taylor closing all stores, including King of Prussia Mall location
Lord & Taylor, the county’s oldest department store chain, will close all of its remaining stores and hold going-out-of business sales as soon as today, the company announced Thursday.
That includes locations in the King of Prussia mall and the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold Township, N.J.. Signs promoting a “store closing sale” were displayed in the windows of the Lord & Taylor in Bala Cynwyd earlier this month.
Previously, the company said it planned to close 19 stores and keep the rest open.
“While we are still entertaining various opportunities, we believe it is prudent to simultaneously put the remainder of the stores into liquidation to maximize value of inventory for the estate while pursuing options for the Company’s brands,” Ed Kremer, the company’s chief restructuring officer, said in a statement.
Lord & Taylor, which traces its New York City origins back to 1826, was purchased by the French rental clothing company Le Tote Inc. last year, according to the filing. Both filed for bankruptcy protection in the Eastern Court of Virginia earlier this month.
Among the retailers that have filed for bankruptcy protection during the coronavirus pandemic are J. Crew, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers, and Ascena Retail Group, which owns Lane Bryant and Ann Taylor.
The most common symptoms among children, according to the CDC, include:
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
In Pennsylvania, 10,543 of the state’s 126,835 reported cases have occurred among children 19 years old and younger, according to data from the Department of Health. In New Jersey, there have been 6,392 reported coronavirus cases among children 17 years old and younger, according to data provided by the state.
Unemployment claims remain at 1 million, as the labor market continues to feel the pain of the coronavirus
Roughly one million people applied for unemployment insurance last week for the first time, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Labor — down slightly from 1.1 million the week before.
The weekly jobless claims have declined on average since highs in March but remain well above historic highs.
Another 607,806 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for self-employed and gig workers. All told, 27 million people are receiving some form of unemployment insurance, the Department of Labor said.
The numbers, for the week ending Aug 22, come a week before the release of the country’s unemployment rate for August. Economists have warned that the labor market recovery that began in May could be in jeopardy, pointing in part to the steady stream of new unemployment claims that continue to be made, week after week. Before the pandemic, the highest number of new weekly claims was 695,000, from 1982 — a threshold that county has nearly doubled most weeks since March.
Unemployment benefits, which many jobless Americans say have been keeping them afloat, have sharply decreased after Congress let an extra $600 a week in supplemental insurance expire at the end of July.
Governors push back on new CDC coronavirus testing guidance
At least three Democratic governors said their states would not follow new controversial testing guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines no longer say that every close contact who has been exposed to the novel coronavirus should get tested. Many in the medical community worry the change could heighten public confusion and hasten the virus’s spread.
“This will not be the policy of the state of California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a tweet. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the guidance would cause his state “to miss thousands of new cases and allow the virus to spread in our communities.” On Twitter, he urged: “If you’ve been exposed to a confirmed case, GET TESTED.”
And New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the change “indefensible” in a phone call with reporters, CNBC reported. “We’re not going to follow the CDC guidance,” he said. “I consider it political propaganda.”
On a conference call with reporters, Brett Giroir, an assistant HHS secretary who oversees testing, said he and CDC Director Robert Redfield discussed the idea with all the physicians on the White House’s coronavirus task force, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Scott Atlas, a new member influential with Trump from his appearances on Fox News who is a fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution.
Fauci contradicted aspects of that, however, in a statement he gave to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. “I was under general anesthesia in the operating room last Thursday and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding these new testing recommendations. ... I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is.”
But four weeks later, just 45 temporary sanitation employees are on the street helping collect trash and recycling. And it could take at least another month to reach the goal of hiring between 120 and 150 workers, the Streets Department said this week.
“If our current trend rate remains constant, it will take at least another four weeks to get to a sufficient number of hires,” said Streets Department spokesperson Crystal Jacobs.
The city has faced challenges at every step of the hiring process. Issues include finding workers from the city’s existing list of laborer civil service candidates who are interested in taking the job, getting them to show up for and pass medical assessments, and then keeping them at work once they begin.
That slower-than-expected pace of hiring could lead to ongoing delays in trash and recycling collection as the city continues to deal with high rates of absence among full-time sanitation workers and high volumes of trash as residents stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week, city officials said both trash and recycling pickups were one to two days behind schedule.
“I don’t know why it’s taking them so long,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla. “This is urgent. I would think that they should be able to get the 120 temps.”
Coronavirus cases in children increased 21% between Aug. 6 and Aug, 20, according to a joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. More than 440,000 children up to the age of 20 (states define children differently) have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the report said, but severe illness in children from the virus remains rare.
India recorded more than 75,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the county’s highest one-day total since the pandemic began. Overall, over 3.31 million people in India have tested positive for COVID-19, third-highest total globally, behind Brazil and the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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