8:58 PM - September 11, 2020
8:58 PM - September 11, 2020

St. Joseph’s University asks a sorority to quarantine after potential coronavirus exposure

Signs and entrances to Saint Joseph's University can be seen along City Avenue on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Signs and entrances to Saint Joseph's University can be seen along City Avenue on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

St. Joseph’s University has ordered more than 100 members of a sorority to quarantine for several days after some tested positive for the coronavirus, displayed symptoms, or had close contact with someone who did.

Students in Alpha Phi sorority also were asked by the university to get tested Thursday or Friday. The sorority, which has 115 members, does not have an on-campus house, and no single gathering has been identified as leading to cases, the school said. But university officials felt a quarantine was necessary.

St. Joseph’s declined to say how many sorority members tested positive for the virus or have symptoms, although the university’s coronavirus website has reported 54 cases among all of its students, including 44 on campus.

But in a statement about the sorority, school officials said “enough members of this organization were being identified through contact tracing from enough different leads that it warranted a precautionary step.”

— Susan Snyder

3:29 PM - September 11, 2020
3:29 PM - September 11, 2020

Increasing numbers of COVID-19 reported among the young in New Jersey

Young adults in New Jersey are becoming infected with the coronavirus more than any other age group, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

While new cases are flat or on the decline for people of most ages in the state, cases in adults between the ages of 19 and 24 are growing. That age bracket now has the state’s highest positivity rate, 6%. Persichilli said she was also concerned about climbing cases among 14- to 18-year olds, who have a 4% positivity rate.

The most recent increase in cases among young people began in mid-August, and health officials believe that back to school parties and the return of some students to off-campus college housing are driving the transmission. Persichilli again urged young people to wear masks indoors, wash hands frequently and keep their distance from others.

“We know young people want to socialize,” she said. “But it must be done safely.”

State officials are not aware of any cases linked to in-school transmission since schools have opened. Persichilli said she was aware of students and staff who have been infected, but “As far as we know, these illnesses are not related to school attendance.”

New Jersey added 518 cases of COVID-19, and recorded nine deaths. The rate of transmission is just over one, meaning that each new infection is leading to at least one more case.

Gov. Phil Murphy warned against hoping for an immediately available vaccine, citing comments by national infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, who has said that a majority of the population might not be vaccinated until late next year.

“I don’t see Thanksgiving and Christmas of this year, everybody vaccinated and we’ve got COVID behind us,” Murphy said. “I’ll be the happiest guy in the world if we do, but I still think this is a road we still have to travel.”

Allison Steele

3:00 PM - September 11, 2020
3:00 PM - September 11, 2020

Philly reports 99 new cases

Philadelphia announced 99 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 Friday.

That number is roughly in line with case counts in the past several days. The city has now had a total of 34,985 confirmed cases of the coronavirus to date.

— Laura McCrystal

2:15 PM - September 11, 2020
2:15 PM - September 11, 2020

Fauci has ‘confidence’ in vaccine development, but says life may not return to normal until end of 2021

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said he has “confidence” in the country’s rigorous vaccine approval process.

Fauci, speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Friday afternoon, said there are “a lot of eyes" on the vaccine approval process, and it’s "not something that can be snuck in in a political way,” he said. “And that’s the reason why I feel really quite confident that this is going to be done correctly.”

“I believe that we will have a vaccine that will be available by the end of this year, the beginning of next year,” Fauci added.

Even with a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine, Fauci warned that most Americans may not get back to our normal lives until the end of 2021.

“By the time you mobilize the distribution of the vaccinations, and you get the majority, or more, of the population vaccinated and protected, that’s likely not going to happen to the mid or end of 2021,” Fauci said. “If you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality which resembles where we were prior to COVID, it’s going to be well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021.”

Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser for the Trump administration’s COVID-19 vaccine program, said older adults and high risk individuals would likely be the first to receive any COVID-19 vaccine.

“Should it be reasonable to immunize college students at that moment, when we know that the mortality rate and the morbidity in that population is very low? I think no,” Slaoui told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta on Friday afternoon.

— Rob Tornoe

1:30 PM - September 11, 2020
1:30 PM - September 11, 2020

ICE flew detainees so the planes could transport agents to D.C. protests. A huge coronavirus outbreak followed.

The Trump administration flew immigrant detainees to Virginia this summer to facilitate the rapid deployment of Homeland Security tactical teams to quell protests in Washington, circumventing restrictions on the use of charter flights for employee travel, according to a current and a former U.S. official.

After the transfer, dozens of the new arrivals tested positive for the novel coronavirus, fueling an outbreak at the Farmville, Va., immigration jail that infected more than 300 inmates, one of whom died.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency moved the detainees on “ICE Air” charter flights to avoid overcrowding at detention facilities in Arizona and Florida, a precaution they said was taken because of the pandemic.

But a Department of Homeland Security official with direct knowledge of the operation, and a former ICE official who learned about it from other personnel, said the primary reason for the June 2 transfers was to skirt rules that bar ICE employees from traveling on the charter flights unless detainees are also aboard.

— Washington Post

12:50 PM - September 11, 2020
12:50 PM - September 11, 2020

Pa. reports 1,008 new cases, 17 additional deaths

Pennsylvania on Friday reported an additional 1,008 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17 additional deaths from virus-related complications.

The commonwealth cited increases of 100 cases in Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, and 137 cases in Centre County, home to Penn State. In the state’s north-central region, of which Centre County is a part, cases among 19- to 24-year-olds now account for about 69% of positive cases. In April, that number was 7%, according to the Department of Health.

Statewide, the positivity rate of tests has been “up and down” this week, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said, likely because patients delayed getting tested due to the holiday. It will take about another week to determine whether Labor Day weekend parties and other end-of-summer gatherings contribute to a spike in cases, she said.

In all, at least 142, 885 Pennsylvanians, including at least 10,009 health workers, have been sickened by the virus, and 7,837 residents have died since the pandemic began.

On Friday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Levine drew comparisons between the bravery displayed on that day and the courage of first responders and other workers who have battled the coronavirus for the past six months.

“Today, in addition to thanking those who served 19 years ago, I want to thank our first responders who are on the front lines right now of the worst pandemic that we have experienced in our lifetime,” she said. “Without hesitation … [they] have once again answered the call to save lives.”

— Erin McCarthy

12:30 PM - September 11, 2020
12:30 PM - September 11, 2020

Pa. health secretary: No Eagles fans in the stands until a ‘substantial reduction’ in coronavirus cases

Kansas City allowed a limited number of fans in the stands to watch Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Houston Texans Thursday night in the NFL's season opener.
Charlie Riedel / AP
Kansas City allowed a limited number of fans in the stands to watch Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Houston Texans Thursday night in the NFL's season opener.

As the NFL season kicks off this weekend, Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Friday reiterated that Philadelphia Eagles fans shouldn’t bet on being inside Lincoln Financial Field anytime soon.

The Kansas City Chiefs may have had a limited number of fans at their Thursday opener, she said, but in Pennsylvania, “the governor strongly feels, and I strongly recommend, that we do not put people at risk in terms of putting them together in congregate settings.”

This applies to home games for both the Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers, teams with which the commonwealth is in regular communication regarding pandemic safety, she said.

Could this change as — and if — the season continues?

“It is impossible for me to predict the future, so we’ll see,” Levine said. “We would need to see a substantial reduction in terms of the amount of community spread.”

— Erin McCarthy

11:50 AM - September 11, 2020
11:50 AM - September 11, 2020

Pa. health secretary: Some cases at reopened schools, but ‘significant increases’ among college students

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine meets with the media at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa. in May.
Joe Hermitt / AP
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine meets with the media at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa. in May.

As campus outbreaks contribute to spikes in college towns like State College, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Friday drew on her background in pediatric and adolescent medicine to offer advice for getting young people on board with coronavirus precautions.

“We want to empower the young people,” she said. “You can’t just talk at them.”

Her suggestion was not aimed at any particular person or group of people, but comes after college administrators across the country have admonished students for partying upon their return to reopened campuses. Many universities, including Temple University, have moved from in-person to online learning as a result of outbreaks, some of which they say were linked to off-campus gatherings.

“We have seen certain young people who are congregating at parties and other activities and not necessarily wearing a mask, not practicing social distancing, not washing their hands,” Levine said, “and that is contributing to the spread.”

While there have been some cases at elementary, middle, and high schools that have reopened or are doing hybrid-learning, Levine said the most “significant increases” are among college students between the ages of 19 and 24.

And “of course all universities are in communities and counties,” she said, “and they impact communities and counties in terms of the spread of this virus.”

Levine said the Department of Health is working with colleges to help control the spread of the virus on campuses throughout the commonwealth.

— Erin McCarthy

11:10 AM - September 11, 2020
11:10 AM - September 11, 2020

At Jersey Shore, schools filling up as summer residents enroll their kids

Parent Abby DeStefano of Margate and Duke, 4, outside the William H. Ross School, which has seen an increase in enrollment from summer residents staying on and placing their children in Shore schools. (DeStefano is a local).
Amy Rosenberg
Parent Abby DeStefano of Margate and Duke, 4, outside the William H. Ross School, which has seen an increase in enrollment from summer residents staying on and placing their children in Shore schools. (DeStefano is a local).

Up and down the Jersey Shore, summer people, many of whom arrived in the early spring from coronavirus hot spots, are staying on. They are working remotely, arranging extended rentals, making September their new August and, a bit more controversially, enrolling their children in appealingly small schools in Shore towns.

In the tiny schools in Avalon and Stone Harbor, where teaching is currently in a hybrid in person-remote model, the school board is worried the added enrollment will derail plans for a gradual move to a five-day reopening.

“If it is a luxury option, because you have a second home, to choose between school districts, nobody else has that luxury who is a resident,” Maggie Day, a school board member and Stone Harbor shop owner, said during a school board meeting broadcast Wednesday on Facebook.

The district, which barely cracks 175 students spread out over two schools, has seen 15 new students in its Stone Harbor school, which houses K-4th grade, and two new families in Avalon’s upper grades.

But just a few more summer residents will tip the balance of the school’s classrooms and prevent a full reopening with proper social distancing, Superintendent Stacey Tracy told the board.

“The summer residents, I don’t think they’re going to stay for the year,” Tracy said. “I think by October or November, they’re going to go home. We had 12 kids in Avalon enrolled and 10 of them are gone.”

— Amy Rosenberg

10:15 AM - September 11, 2020
10:15 AM - September 11, 2020

Symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, the common cold and allergies

— Tom Avril

9:35 AM - September 11, 2020
9:35 AM - September 11, 2020

Centre County sees spike in new cases linked to Penn State

Old Main on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Old Main on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa.

Centre County has experienced a spike on coronavirus cases in recent weeks, centered around Penn State students returning to State College for the fall semester.

The county reported 127 new cases on Thursday, two days after setting a new one-day record of 184 new cases on Tuesday, with nearly all coming from ZIP codes in State College. Overall, the county has reported 1,052 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, which has more than doubled since classes began at Penn State.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said “at least one large outbreak is occurring in the county, and it does appear that most of the cases are coming from that.”

Penn State reports that at least 433 students have tested positive since Aug. 7, 260 of whom tested positive last week. The spike in cases forced the university’s athletic department to suspend team activities for several programs, though the Nittany Lions' football program will continue its activities as scheduled.

“We continue to be concerned with the numbers, and we will continue to assess our status this week as the results from tests administered later in the weekend are returned,” Penn State President Eric Barron said a statement earlier this week.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said 66% of all positive cases in north central Pennsylvania this month have occurred among 19 to 24-year-olds, up from just 7% in April. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Centre Daily Times a number of experts are worried about the spike of cases in the county.

“To me, it’s a perfect storm. It’s a rural area with limited health care capacity, and you just welcomed how many students — 35,000? — and, to me, that’s really hard,” Rubin told the newspaper. “Without that health care capacity, the likelihood they’re going to [place] patients down outside of Centre County is pretty high.”

— Rob Tornoe

8:30 AM - September 11, 2020
8:30 AM - September 11, 2020

$300 unemployment benefit ends in Pa. before it begins

The Trump administration’s $300 weekly benefit for unemployed workers is ending in Pennsylvania before it even began.

Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said in a statement he learned Wednesday night that the Lost Wages Assistance program ended Sept. 5. President Donald Trump approved the extra $300 unemployment benefit to replace the $600-a-week added payment approved by Congress that expired at the end of July.

The state’s normal unemployment benefits are unaffected and will continue to be paid weekly to eligible workers.

Unemployed Pennsylvanians who were eligible and applied to receive the added $300 benefit will receive payment retroactively dating back to Aug. 1 in one lump sum. The department says payments could arrive as early as Sept. 14, but warns it could take longer.

“We will continue making these payments until the funding we’ve already received from FEMA for this program is depleted,” Oleksiak said. “I urge anyone who is partially or fully unemployed because of COVID-19 and hasn’t yet applied for LWA benefits to do so right away.”

If you are unemployed and meet the eligibility requirement, you can still apply for the extra unemployment funds on the department’s website.

Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree to terms on a new stimulus bill to offer relief to workers unemployed due to the pandemic.

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - September 11, 2020
8:00 AM - September 11, 2020

International flights returning to Philly

A passenger talks to an American Airlines worker at the ticketing inside Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A passenger talks to an American Airlines worker at the ticketing inside Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

International flights from countries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic will be allowed to land in Philadelphia for the first time since March.

Previously, passengers from China, Iran, Brazil, and most countries in Europe were required to be screened and have their temperatures checked at 15 airports across the country. Instead, beginning Monday, those passengers will receive recommendations for self-monitoring and information about local restrictions.

Philadelphia International Airport CEO Chellie Cameron praised the decision to loosen restrictions, saying it will help with the “multimillion dollar budget deficits” the airport is facing due to the pandemic.

“Funneling status alone does not solve our financial troubles and further relief funding for the airport is still a necessity,” Cameron said in a statement. “However, being able to accept international flights will help us recover faster and may save jobs that were on the verge of elimination.”

— Rob Tornoe

7:30 AM - September 11, 2020
7:30 AM - September 11, 2020

CDC links dining out to increased coronavirus risk

Passers-by walk past an empty restaurant, left, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Boston.
Steven Senne / AP
Passers-by walk past an empty restaurant, left, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Boston.

Adults who tested positive for the COVID-19 were about twice as likely to have eaten a meal at a restaurant within two weeks of contracting the virus, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation. Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance,” researchers wrote in the study, which was released Thursday.

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” researchers added.

The study looked at 314 adults who were tested in 11 states in July. Nearly half tested positive, and in addition to dining at a restaurant, those that tested positive were also more likely to have visited a bar or a coffee shop, researchers noted.

In response, the National Restaurant Association said the CDC’s methodology contained “numerous flaws" and the study’s conclusions “are insufficient to guide consumer behavior.”

“We still do not find evidence of a systemic spread of the coronavirus coming from restaurants who are effectively following our Restaurant Reopening Guidance, encouraging guests to wear masks, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene,” the association said in a statement. “In effect, the lack of a direct correlation should be evidence that, when restaurants demonstrate effective mitigation efforts, the risk is low when dining outside or inside.”

On Thursday, Philadelphia announced it won’t allow restaurants to increase indoor dining capacity to 50% at the end of the month as the city initially planned.

— Rob Tornoe