Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here
A drive-through testing site for the coronavirus is now open in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia, and Montgomery County is expected to open a drive-through test site Saturday. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an updated list of “life-sustaining businesses” and delayed enforcement of his shutdown order.
Bucks County police officer tests positive for coronavirus
A Middletown Township police officer has tested positive for the coronavirus, Police Chief Joseph Bartorilla confirmed in an email early Saturday.
“He is doing well for now and is resting and recovering in isolation at home, and is following the county health department’s instructions,” Bartorilla said.
The officer’s test result was received by the Bucks County police department late Friday.
It is the second known case of a law-enforcement officer testing positive for the virus in the five-county region of Philadelphia and its southeast Pennsylvania suburbs. Last week, an officer in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County, tested positive for the virus.
“It’s unknown at this time how he was infected. As a department, we identified the officers and civilian staff who have had recent close, prolonged contact with this officer or are showing symptoms of the illness, and we are ensuring that they self-quarantine per the direction of the county health department,” Bartorilla said.
“These officers will be tested and must have a negative test result and clearance from either Dr. [David] Damsker or Dr. [Gerald] Wydro before being allowed to return to work. This will ensure that we minimize the rest of the department’s chance for infection and also that we don’t risk spreading it beyond our department,” the police chief said.
“The county health department has been notified by us of everyone who has had recent direct contact with this officer. We are following the county health department’s lead in this and are working closely with them in this matter,” Bartorilla said.
News of the positive test in Bucks County was first reported by Levittownnow.com.
Montgomery County set to open drive-thru testing Saturday
Montgomery County’s first COVID-19 drive-thru testing site will open Saturday at 10 a.m. by appointment for first responders and residents who meet a specific criteria, Val Arkoosh, chair of Montgomery County’s Board of Commissioners, said Friday.
The criteria includes having a fever of 104 degrees and respiratory problems. People age 65 and older can be tested if they have a temperature above 99.6 degrees. Appointments can be made online or by calling 610-631-3000.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the county rose to 68 after 13 new cases were announced Friday.
Two of the individuals, a 66-year-old man from Whitpain township and a 4-year-old from New Hanover, are hospitalized, Arkoosh said.
The nine other individuals, who range from ages 20 to 95, are stable and recovering at home. County officials said the status of two of the individuals, a 57-year-old woman from Lower Merion and a 72-year-old man from Abington, is unclear.
Nearly half of the new cases are persons under 40 — including a 20-year-old and two 22-year-olds.
Arkoosh also urged any businesses to donate their surplus of masks as the county’s medical professionals continue to experience a shortage.
Zach and Julie Ertz are donating $100,000 to a Philly food bank
Zach and Julie Ertz are donating $100,000 to Philabundance, a local food bank, to help people impacted by the coronavirus.
The donation, made through the Ertz Family foundation, will provide more than 100,000 meals to families in need, the foundation said in a news release Friday.
“During these very challenging times, Julie and I are committed to acknowledging the issues at hand and to be a part of the solution,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said in a statement.
“Philabundance has an unbelievable track record in our city and we believe there is no better partner to help us solve the food insecurity challenges presented by COVID-19.”
Philabundance provides meals to around 90,000 people per week, 30% of whom are children in the city’s public school system.
“The increasing lack of access to food during the crisis is something we want to help to address,” said Julie Ertz, a key player on the U.S. women’s soccer team. “By partnering with Philabundance we believe we can attack these issues head on and partner with one of the great non-profit organizations in our city to make a difference."
Borgata table game employee tests positive for coronavirus
Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa says a table games employee has tested positive for the coronavirus.
In a letter to employees released Friday night by the Atlantic City property, Borgata president Marcus Glover said the casino is coordinating with health officials to notify individuals who may have been in “close prolonged contact with the employee.”
Employees had been previously notified, before the shutdown, that three table game employees were reported ill with coronavirus-like symptoms, and the casino had implemented “deep cleaning and sanitation process in the pits."
”If you are contacted by the Division of Public Health and asked to self-quarantine, we urge you to adhere to their directives and guidelines," Glover wrote in the letter to employees. It said MGM Resorts health plans would cover telemedicine services for anyone experiencing symptoms. Atlantic City’s casinos employed about 27,000 workers at the time of the shutdown.
Pa. to delay enforcing business shutdown until Monday morning
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is delaying enforcement of his order directing all but “life-sustaining” businesses to cease physical operations until Monday at 8 a.m.
The governor had previously said enforcement would begin Saturday.
Due to the high volume of waiver requests, we are delaying enforcement of our order that non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania must close their physical locations to slow the spread of COVID-19. https://t.co/XskATGNowx
N.J. Gov. Murphy signs slew of bills to deal with coronavirus
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a dozen bills into law Friday night aimed at limiting the wide-ranging impact of the coronavirus in New Jersey.
Among them is a law requiring the state’s school districts to provide school meals, or vouchers, to students eligible for free and reduced lunch during the coronavirus crisis.
Another prohibits employers from firing or “refusing to reinstate” an employee who has an infectious disease that requires missing work.
He also signed a law authorizing all licensed healthcare facilities and labs in New Jersey to collect specimens of the coronavirus.
This comes hours after Murphy said he is likely to order all non-essential businesses in New Jersey closed as early as Saturday, and potentially limit or ban public gatherings.
Murphy also signed into law a bill that revised how long public records custodians have to respond to requests for information while in a state of emergency. Under the pre-existing law, called the Open Public Records Act, records custodians were required to respond to requests as soon as possible and had seven business days to approve or deny the request and provide available information. Under the law Murphy signed Friday, records custodians are only required to confirm receipt of the request within seven business days or shortly after, depending on the circumstances.
Another new law permits public officials to conduct public meetings and business online instead of in-person in a state of emergency or a public health crisis. The law also allows officials to announce online when a meeting will take place.
Social distancing has prompted the closure of Martin Luther King Drive to cars beginning 8 p.m. Friday and effective until further notice.
The roadway will be closed to vehicular traffic between East Falls Bridge and Eakins Oval, “in the interest of facilitating social distancing among trail users,” according to the city.
The closure will give extra space for bikers and pedestrians looking to get outside while exercising proper precautions to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“The City of Philadelphia strongly encourages residents to stay indoors as much as possible,” the city said in a news release. “However, we recognize that physical activity is important to well being, and under current restrictions, are providing opportunities for park and trail use.”
Camden County officials urge public to stay home as coronavirus case count rises
Four more people in Camden County — all men in their 40s and 50s — were diagnosed with coronavirus, the Camden County Department of Health said Friday, bringing the total number of cases in the New Jersey county to 15.
A Camden man in his 50s was hospitalized in serious condition, officials said.
Another man in his 50s who lives in Winslow was also in the hospital but in stable condition, as was a Haddonfield man in his 40s, according to the county health department.
The only person who was not hospitalized was a second Winslow man who was self-quarantining at home.
County officials urged the public to practice social distancing and stay at home to mitigate the risk of infection.
N.J. residents cited for violating coronavirus social distancing directives
In Lakewood, a densely occupied town inland of the Jersey Shore, police said Friday that officers had responded to 17 complaints of people violating the social distancing directives Gov. Phil Murphy set this week.
Several of the violations occurred mere hours after Murphy’s announcement, said Lakewood Police Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith.
On Monday, Murphy had signed an executive order that forced the closure of private and public schools in addition to gyms, movie theaters, casinos, racetracks, and performing arts centers. Retail and some entertainment venues could stay open, but only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Eliyohu Zaks, 49, was charged Friday for hosting a wedding at his home that more than 50 people attended, Staffordsmith said. He was charged with maintaining a public nuisance.
On Thursday, Shaul Kuperwasser, 43, was charged with maintaining a public nuisance after hosting a large crowd, Staffordsmith said. Police had been called after they received a “flurry of notifications” from locals.
Earlier in the week, township police said they were notified by multiple people that a dormitory at the Mesivta of Lakewood School had not vacated its students. The police department said it also got several calls, emails and social media posts about weddings at nearby catering halls. The Lake Terrace and Fountain Ballrooms were closed as a result.
At Mesivta of Lakewood, Staffordsmith said he expected all students would leave by Friday evening.
On Meet the Press on Friday night, Murphy said he planned to make a “significant announcement probably tomorrow morning."
“A whole series of new steps that will take effect tomorrow night,” Murphy said. "We have no choice.”
“Today I have tested positive for #coronavirus,” Dillon wrote. “I have mild symptoms: cough, sore throat, extreme body aches. I’m resting at home and will be quarantined for 14 days. I’m grateful my symptoms are mild and extend prayers to those suffering worse. #stayhome"
Dillon, 55, is the go-to photographer for the city’s social scene. Dillon founded PhillyChitChat in 2007 and he works with Philadelphia Magazine, Fox Good Day New York as well as The Inquirer. Dillon has close to 30,000 followers on Instagram and more than 28,000 followers on Twitter.
But just as the spread of the coronavirus has sparked a collective wave of national anxiety, a litany of price-gougers, snake oil salesmen, email phishers, and scammers are emerging just as quickly to exploit it.
‘Mounting’ losses prompt SEPTA to cut exec pay, eliminate overtime, consider further service reductions
Faced with plummeting ridership and service reductions amid the coronavirus, SEPTA is taking steps to mitigate “mounting operating losses” while it awaits possible federal relief funding for transportation agencies across the nation.
SEPTA has instituted a 10% pay reduction for General Manager Leslie Richards and its executive team, effective immediately, Richards wrote in a letter sent to employees Friday. Other “cost-cutting measures” have or will be put into place, “including elimination of overtime, a freeze on new hires, eliminating marketing efforts where possible, eliminating nonessential employee travel" while it also weighs additional service reductions on Regional Rail and transit.
Richards called the steps “difficult short-term measures” as the transportation agency now projects at least a $150 million loss for this fiscal year, closing at the end of June.
SEPTA’s ridership has taken a nosedive as more people heed calls for social distancing, with ridership down 64% on transit and 88% on Regional Rail.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney: ‘We’re not going to be locking people up’ for violating coronavirus rules
As the city implements additional restrictions on commercial and social activity to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he does not believe it will be necessary to have police officers arrest people who violate the new rules.
“We’re not going to be locking people up or anything like that. We want people to be responsible and we’re going to continue to push out that message, and make it more restrictive, and hopefully people will comply,” Kenney said Friday.
“This is America and Philadelphia, and people sometimes do what they want to do," he said. "We’re going to try to keep them from doing it. But we’re not going to be locking anybody up or doing forceful kinds of things.”
Kenney said he believes more residents will soon heed leaders’ requests that they stay at home except when it is truly necessary to leave, such as to buy food or seek medical care.
Philadelphia Parks and Recreation employees posted signs at Lemon Hill Playground and along the Schuylkill River Trail encouraging social distancing.
“At some point in time, people are going to get it that this is serious,” Kenney said. “If they are selfish enough to want to go out and do things that are not permitted and put other people at risk, then that’s on their own conscience.”
The city is working with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to iron out differences between the lists of non-essential businesses that the mayor and governor have ordered to shut down during the pandemic.
Wolf on Thursday ordered all businesses shut down except those that offer “life-sustaining” services, such as food stores and medical facilities.
The city’s list, which Kenney announced earlier this week, allows several additional categories of businesses to stay open, including electronics stores, construction sites, and bicycle repair shops. Enforcement of the orders will be handled by the city.
Pa. releases new list of ‘life-sustaining’ businesses allowed to remain open during coronavirus shutdown
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration on Friday released a new list of “life-sustaining” businesses that may continue physical operations.
These businesses can now remain open amid the changes:
All sectors of the natural resource and mining industry. Previously, much of this industry, like coal mining and logging, were told to close
Dry cleaning and laundromats
Specialty food stores
Insurance carriers, agencies, and brokerages
Accounting and tax preparation services
The construction industry remained unchanged, and daycares must also remain closed. Civic and social organizations are also now required to close.
The governor issued a mandatory shutdown order in response to the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday. The first list of businesses directed to close was criticized by some industry leaders and lawmakers as overly broad and unfair.
Philadelphians take in warm weather in droves, despite pleas for social distancing
For days amid the coronavirus outbreak, public officials had made clear that people across the country self-quarantine, only go out when necessary — and even then, to practice social distancing by staying clear of crowds and busy venues.
But on Friday, the second day of spring, the rain subsided, the sun peeked through the clouds — enough for the National Weather Service in Mount Holly to deem it partly sunny — and temperatures neared or reached 80 degrees mid-day. For many Philadelphians, it was too tempting to resist, global pandemic be damned.
Across the city, people sat next to each other and chatted as they drank in the warm weather. Outside a CVS in Old City, a man spotted a friend and enthusiastically rushed over to wrap him in a hug.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised everyone keep at least six feet of distance from others if they go outside.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health had confirmed 268 cases of coronavirus across Pennsylvania on Friday, 42 of which are in Philadelphia.
“I think that we need to have a lot of consideration and empathy for everyone around us,” Becky DePodwin, a meteorologist and emergency preparedness specialist for AccuWeather, said Friday. “We’re all in this situation together.”
She recommended that people continue to follow the infection mitigation directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, but “it’s very hard to change human behavior, apparently, and to get across the point you need to not be around anyone else right now.”
DePodwin also advised that those who go outside refrain from touching other people’s pets."You don’t know what they’ve come in contact with," she said. " ... People should really make an effort to maintain that distance, no matter how nice it is outside."
Getting fresh air is still possible, she said, from going on walks or hikes in less densely populated areas, to simply stepping out onto the balcony or opening a window.
”I actually don’t like the phrase ‘social distancing’ as much as physical distancing," DePodwin said. “You can still have a conversation from six feet away, so it’s really key we think about people outside of our circles, outside of ourselves.”
Wawa shuts Montgomery County store after suspected coronavirus case
Wawa on Friday temporarily shut down a store in Skippack, Montgomery County, after it became aware of a suspected case of the coronavirus, the company said.
“The store is temporarily closed to the public out of an abundance of caution as we became aware of a suspected (not confirmed) case of COVID-19 at the store,” Lori Bruce, Wawa’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. She did not specify if the suspected case involved a customer or an employee.
Montgomery County is the hardest hit area in the region as the coronavirus spreads across the state.
“The store is being professionally deep cleaned and disinfected, and we’re working closely with the Montgomery County Department of Health and will follow any guidance they provide," she said. "At this point, we don’t have a timeline for reopening the store.”
Liquor sales soared before Pennsylvania state stores closed for pandemic
Liquor sales shot up by more than 58% in Pennsylvania between March 1 and March 17, compared to the same time period last year, according to data released by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Friday.
People rushed to the PLCB’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores in the days before the end of business Tuesday, when Gov. Wolf indefinitely closed all state stores in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the PLCB, Pennsylvanians spent more than $181 million in liquor through March 17 this month, up from $114 million during the same period last year. The PLCB figures include retail consumers, licensees, and online sales.
Sales were also up in January by 6% and in February by 12%. Overall through March 17 of this year, PLCB sales were up 21% compared to last year.
Empty Glen Mills School to serve as Delaware County’s coronavirus response hub
Leaders in Delaware County announced Friday that the major hub for the county’s emergency response to the coronavirus epidemic has a new home.
The county’s Emergency Operation Center is relocating from the county’s 9-1-1 call center to the Glen Mills School, which has been empty for nearly a year after widespread reports of abuse.
Timothy Boyce, the director of the county’s Emergency Services department, said the relocation was done to keep 9–1-1 operators safe as they continue their work at the original facility. From Glen Mills, Boyce and his department will have more room to plan responses to calls for service, accept supplies and dispatch personnel.
The 750-acre school will also serve as a “first responder refuge,” where police and fire personnel, as well as medical professionals, can stay temporarily if they show symptoms of the virus or are awaiting test results.
“If they need a place to stay for a night or two or three nights, it’s a safe place to stay without endangering their family,” Boyce said.
Acting Glen Mills executive director Chris Spriggs said the school was happy to provide the space.
“We’re at a critical point in this crisis and we will all be known by how we handled it and how we responded to it,” he said.
Delaware County announced nine new cases Friday, bringing the total to 23.
Philadelphia IRS campus closes indefinitely, some employees to work from home
The IRS Philadelphia campus is closing indefinitely, as of 3 p.m. on Friday, to comply with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure order for businesses that are not “life-sustaining."
Employees will be expected to telework, if they’re able to, or will be eligible for paid leave, according to a message on the agency’s emergency information hotline.
The building is a magnet for thousands of federal workers from across the region, many of whom were concerned about their health and safety at the office during the coronavirus outbreak, union leaders and employees told The Inquirer this week.
About 3,000 Philly IRS employees are represented by National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 71.
The union "is pleased that IRS management has acted to safeguard the lives of thousands of federal employees and their families,” chapter president Cheryl Brewer said on Friday. “We look forward to working with the agency in the days to come to help mitigate the spread of this virus and to ensure that, as soon as it is safe, all of our members can go back to doing what they do best: Proudly serving the American people.”
Free Philadelphia school meals will now be offered at district sites only, with limited hours
City and Philadelphia School District officials announced Friday changes to how and where free meals will be distributed to students in district and charter schools.
Beginning Monday, meals will no longer be available at parks and recreation sites.
Instead, 49 school district sites will be open Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon only, and families will be permitted to take three grab-and-go bags per student.
Families will also be able to pick up learning guides to help direct optional student learning during the coronavirus break.
Select charter schools and Philadelphia Housing Authority locations will also be open for meal pickup.
“We realize the important role the district plays in keeping the safety net intact for our students, and we will continue to encourage families to visit these meal distribution sites,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a statement.
Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa said that this week, over 18,000 Philadelphia children received 42,365 meals.
New Jersey expands coronavirus testing as Murphy warns of a new set of social distancing measures
Gov. Phil Murphy said on Friday New Jersey has significantly expanded its ability to test individuals for the coronavirus, and warned he will likely order another set of social distancing measures that could potentially include the closure of all non-essential businesses as early as Saturday.
“We’re going to tighten the screws further,” Murphy said.
Another 10,000 tests will be provided to New Jersey residents because of a partnership with BioReference Laboratories and LabCorps, Murphy said. Five more counties will also get drive through testing sites because of this arrangement. The state public health lab will now be able to process 1,000 tests per day, Murphy said.
“Make no mistake, this is a game changer in our overall efforts,” Murphy said. “Lab capacity is no longer an issue in New Jersey, as it is nationwide.”
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli also said she is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to increase the number of hospital beds in the state. The Corps will help get the Inspira Medical Center in Woodbury “online” in three to four weeks, to provide 300 beds to the state’s capacity. Health officials are also working with them to potentially reopen a hospital in Plainfield that could provide 200 beds to the state’s total. It would be ready in five weeks, Persichilli said.
Persichilli said the Corps may also help set up multiple temporary hospital wings on campuses of existing health facilities in North and South Jersey to ensure bed capacity is added throughout the state.
Another two people have died due to the coronavirus in New Jersey, bringing the statewide death toll to 11.
At least another 155 people have also tested positive for the disease, which brings New Jersey’s positive caseload to 890.
Murphy expected this number to be low, and expected it to rise by as early as Friday night.
2020 Census response deadline pushed back in pandemic
The U.S. Census Bureau announced Friday that it is pushing back its deadline for collecting responses to the 2020 Census, the decennial population count mandated by the U.S. Constitution, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Visits from census takers who follow up with households that have not responded to the census themselves were scheduled to begin on May 13. Those visits now are scheduled to start May 28.The deadline for the bureau to finish that follow-up operation is now Aug. 14, pushed back from July 31.
By law, the bureau must get population counts to the president and the U.S. Congress by Dec. 31, and the bureau is “laser focused on that" date, a Census Bureau spokesperson said.
Face-to-face AP exams canceled, but students may take tests at home
Face-to-face Advanced Placement exams have been canceled for this year in light of the national coronavirus outbreak and widespread school closures, officials from the College Board announced Friday.
Instead, students will have the option to take 45-minute at-home exams, and will only cover material administered through early March. Students will have two testing dates to choose from, with the full testing schedule announced by April 3.
In a survey, 91% of 18,000 AP students told the College Board they wanted the opportunity to take AP exams, despite their coronavirus-interrupted school year. Students who had already registered for AP exams who now want to cancel can do so at no charge, the College Board said.
Exams will be available on any device students have access to, including computers, tablets, and smartphones. Photos of handwritten work will also be accepted, and officials said they would work with students in low-income and rural areas who do not have access to internet or devices to provide them.
Digital security tools, including plagiarism detection software, will serve to flag officials of any cheating, according to the College Board.
The changes to the AP exams come after the College Board announced it would cancel the May administration of the SATs.
goPuff to donate $1 million in food, products to healthcare workers
The Philadelphia-headquartered convenience store delivery service goPuff will donate $1 million in food and other products to certain healthcare workers around the country, including those in the Philly area.
The company announced the plan on Friday, noting the initiative would allow doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who work at hospitals with Level I trauma centers to receive credits on the goPuff app for use on home delivery of food and other necessities, including cleaning products and some over-the-counter medications.
President Trump was unclear on Friday when asked if his administration had invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of much-needed medical supplies.
The act, passed during the Korean War in 1950, grants the federal government broad power to direct private businesses to act in the need of the country during a war or national emergency. Among other things, the act:
Allows the federal government to force companies to produce goods and services seen necessary for the national defense.
Authorizes the president to establish new regulations or orders to allocate materials or facilities.
Authorizes the president to use loans and direct purchases to boost production of needed goods.
Though Trump announced he invoked the act earlier this week, he has refused to use the power granted to his administration to order private businesses to produce supplies needed by hospitals, such as surgical masks, ventilators, and respirators.
On Friday, Trump told reporters he would use the law “for certain things that we need,” but was unspecific what steps he has taken or what companies he’s been in contact with. Under repeated questioning by reporters, Trump said he ordered General Motors to ramp up production of medical supplies, but neither GM nor the White House has responded to emails to confirm that is the case.
Gov. Wolf: Closing more Pa. businesses was necessary to keep hospitals from ‘collapsing’
Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday his order to close all businesses except ones deemed “life-sustaining” was necessary to keep “surging numbers” of coronavirus cases from overwhelming Pennsylvania’s hospitals.
Pennsylvania is seeing an “exponential growth of new cases” of COVID-19, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said Friday. Both Levine and Wolf urged people to stay home as much as possible to limit exposure and potential spread.
“It was not made easily,” Wolf said of his decision, which has been criticized by business owners and Republican lawmakers.
Wolf, who was once a business owner, said he understands the concerns, but that the state is in “uncharted waters.”
”We’re not going to do everything perfectly,” he said, but Pennsylvania is going to do everything it can to keep the hospital system from “collapsing.”
Wolf pointed to other countries like Italy where hospitals have been flooded with patients. Levine said the state is "communicating and collaborating” with health systems to determine their capability to handle a surge of patients. She said they’re “looking at every option to add capacity.”
All N.J. hospitals to waive coronavirus testing fees for uninsured patients
Gov. Phil Murphy is ordering all hospitals and federally qualified health care centers in New Jersey to waive COVID-19 related testing and diagnostic fees for uninsured individuals.
“Every single New Jerseyan with symptoms must have access to COVID-19 testing if we are going to end this crisis,” Murphy said in a statement. “Waiving testing fees for the uninsured is a critical step in allowing us to prevent more New Jerseyans from being infected and to identify those who already have been infected so they can get the care they need.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) meanwhile called on the latest coronavirus legislation to expand Medicaid to automatically cover treatments for anyone who is uninsured or underinsured.
He said he would press to include that provision in the latest bill being crafted in the Senate.
“If you have COVID-19 you shouldn’t pay a goddamn dime for treatment,” said the normally mild-mannered Casey. “We should just make it free, no questions asked, no red tape, no politician telling us we can’t afford it.”
Casey did not have an estimate of what it would cost, but said that given the size of the bill being crafted and the importance of getting people treated, he would support “any dollar amount.”
He added, “I don’t think we can be burdened by some calculator here, we’ve just got to get it done.”
Philadelphia coronavirus test availability expands as city’s case number grows
There are now 67 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Philadelphia — an increase of 23 cases since Thursday, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Friday.
“We are clearly in the rapid growth phase of this epidemic,” Farley said.
Eight of the patients are hospitalized; two of them are in their 20s, three are in their 50s, and three are older than 60, Farley said, emphasizing that young people can have severe cases.
Testing has expanded to 20 sites in the Philadelphia region, Farley said, but there is still a shortage of materials needed for testing. The city opened a site Friday in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park for health care workers and people who are older than 50 and have symptoms.
People who fit those criteria can show up at the site — but Farley warned that the city will have to prioritize certain people and some may have to be turned away.
“It’s kind of like the first day of a new restaurant opening up,” Farley said. “Service is going to be slow. Expect a wait.”
Officials are also “extremely concerned about the level of violence that is taking place” while residents should be staying home, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Friday.
One shooting victim Thursday night was a man in his 60s hit by a stray bullet that entered his home while “sitting, watching TV, social distancing just like we’ve asked everyone to do,” Abernathy said.
City officials asked also religious congregations to not hold services this weekend.
“We’re strongly urging congregations to plan for remote and virtual opportunities to gather and connect,” said the Rev. Naomi Washington Leaphart, the city’s director of faith-based and interfaith affairs.
Following Friday’s news conference, officials offered for the first time a Spanish-language version of the briefing.
Abernathy said it is “a fair criticism” that the city has not done enough to inform non-English speaking residents, and said officials are working to do better.
Pennsylvania officials refine ‘life-sustaining’ business list, say laundromats may remain open during shutdown
After some confusion over which businesses must close and which are allowed to remain open after Gov. Tom Wolf’s order that all non, “life-sustaining" operations must shutter amid the coronavirus outbreak, the administration said Friday it is refining its list.
“The administration is working with businesses, stakeholders, local officials, and health professionals to refine the list based on feedback we are getting from the field. We will provide updates as those decisions are made,” a spokesperson told the Inquirer.
On the updated list: laundromats.
👉 Laundromats are deemed essential and are to remain open.
Let this further illustrate that this is a *fluid list* and changes *can and will be* made to what’s in the best interest for PA residents.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman tweeted that laundromats are “deemed essential and to remain open.”
“Let this further illustrate that this is a *fluid list* and changes *can and will be* made to what’s in the best interest for PA residents,” Fetterman wrote.
In Philadelphia, city officials said they are working with Wolf’s office to discuss businesses that Philadelphia had allowed to remain open before Wolf ordered a broader shut down Thursday night, Abernathy said.
For example, he said that the city is concerned about residents’ ability to get a new refrigerator if theirs breaks, or a cell phone.
He said the governor’s order to close construction sites by Friday night would also be difficult for some projects.
“Those conversations have been very productive, and we’re optimistic that we’ll find resolution,” Abernathy said.
Trump blasts Comcast, NBC News reporter during coronavirus briefing
President Trump snapped at NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander over a question aimed at addressing concerns of the American people.
“Nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick. Millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared,” Alexander asked during the Trump administration’s daily coronavirus briefing.
“I say that you are a terrible reporter. That’s what I say,” Trump shot back. “I think that’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal you’re putting out to the American people.”
Trump also took a shot at Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.
“I don’t call it Comcast, I call it ‘Concast,’ “ Trump said.
NBC's @PeterAlexander asks Trump what he'd say to Americans who are frightened.
Trump goes on rant against Alexander, says he asked a "nasty question," calls him a "terrible reporter" and attacks NBC and Comcast. pic.twitter.com/vZAk3M4mqR
Hotels can remain open during Pa. coronavirus shutdown, association says
Gov. Wolf’s order that non, life-sustaining businesses must close has caused confusion as some in the hotel industry initially believed they would have to tell guests to leave.
Now, hotels believe they can remain open, according to the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.
The association said it received clarification from the governor's office that hotels are considered essential and do not need to close. The association said the governor’s office will issue an official clarification letter regarding the status of hotels.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Friday that “the administration is working with businesses, stakeholders, local officials, and health professionals to refine the list based on feedback we are getting from the field.”
"We will provide updates as those decisions are made,” the spokesperson said.
Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, said the order “caused a lot of panic in the hotels because they were concerned that they were going to have to ask their guests to leave on a few hours’ notice.”
“My concern is that the people who remain in Philadelphia hotels are here because they have to be,” Grose said, saying some are health care workers needed for the COVID-19 crisis.
Grose emailed his trade group’s members evening advising them to not ask guests to leave unless they have other accommodation options.
Philly police and other Pa. counties have stopped issuing license-to-carry permits to gun owners amid coronavirus outbreak
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a rush to purchase firearms and ammunition in the Philadelphia region and across Pennsylvania, leading to long lines at some gun shops.
But the Philadelphia Police Department has shut down its gun-permits unit. Firearm owners without a license-to-carry permit will, in almost all circumstances, not be able to carry the weapons on them without risking arrest.
Sheriffs offices in Montgomery County, Allegheny County and at least five Pennsylvania other counties have done the same, according to gun-rights groups who have been tracking the shutdowns.
Inspector Sekou Kinebrew, a Philadelphia police spokesperson, said the city stopped processing permits on Tuesday.
Trump also announced the Department of Education won’t enforce standardized testing requirements. Pennsylvania on Thursday announced it was canceling standardized tests and would seek a federal waiver.
U.S., Mexico enact temporary restrictions on crossing border
The United States and Mexico have agreed to enact temporary restrictions on non-essential crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border, President Donald Trump announced during a Friday press conference.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the new restrictions would bar border crossings for tourism and recreation, but would allow commerce and trade to continue. Pompeo did not announce when the new restrictions would take effect.
On Wednesday, the U.S. and Canada shut down the border to non-essential crossings. Pompeo said the temporary restrictions would go into effect midnight on Friday.
Update on coronavirus test sites in the Philly area
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff PhotographerLauren Schneiderman, Tim Tai, Astrid Rodrigues
Drive-through sites are the first step in the process for getting a diagnosis of the coronavirus respiratory illness. Here's how they work.
If you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, which can include a dry cough and fever, and think you should be tested, you may be able to get a test in your area. But officials recommend you don’t just show up to the testing sites. First, call your primary care doctor if you have one or schedule a virtual consultation if that option is available. Some sites, like the one set to open on Saturday morning in Ambler and the other to open Friday afternoon in South Philly, don’t require a doctor’s referral. Others will make an exception. In most cases, you must have symptoms to get a test appointment. Here are the locations of testing sites:
West Philadelphia (Penn Medicine)
Center City (Jefferson Health)
Northeast Philadelphia (Jefferson Health)
South Philadelphia by the stadiums (opening 2 p.m. Friday, only for people with symptoms who are over 50 and healthcare workers with symptoms)
Two sites in Radnor (Penn Medicine and Main Line Health)
Newtown Square (Main Line Health)
Abington (Jefferson Health)
Ambler (Temple University campus; opening 10 a.m. Saturday): does not require
Camden County College in Blackwood (coming soon)
Cherry Hill (Cooper Health)
Again, you must consult a doctor and get a referral before being tested. Here are some ways you can start the process: Penn Medicine patients can call 215-615-2222 or use the MyPennMedicine app. Jefferson Health patients can go to hospitals.jefferson.edu/jeffconnect. Main Line Heath patients can call 866-225-5654.
City Council to consider $85 million transfer to help Philly respond to the coronavirus pandemic
Philadelphia City Council will hold a meeting on Thursday to consider an emergency budget transfer of $85 million to help the city respond to the pandemic.
Council members and staff will be present in City Hall for a 9 a.m. meeting of the Appropriations Committee, followed by a full Council meeting.
They will practice social distancing, according to a news release, and members of the public will have to watch the meeting remotely rather than attend in person. The meeting will be broadcast on channels Xfinity 64 and Verizon 40, and livestreamed on Council’s website.
There will be no introduction or consideration of other legislation. The public can watch remotely and submit written comments about the legislation.
City Council staff members are still working on technology to enable remote Council meetings in the future.
Pa. title firms ask Wolf to help complete real estate transactions during coronavirus government shutdown
The state Land Title Association has asked Gov. Tom Wolf for an executive order that would mandate county recorders and prothonotaries to be open at least for a few hours every day during the coronavirus government shutdown.
The association, which represents title agents, said agents are having difficulty completing real estate sale transactions because many of the offices where property records can be searched are closed.
The letter states that, if offices can’t open, then a drop box or another method be used to ensure transactions can continue.
Sandi Foxx-Jones, president of Abstract Company, worries that the lack of record access could lead to deed fraud.
“They view this as another way to make money,” she said. “I would not be surprised if you saw more fraud and who knows how long this will last.”
Lisa McEntee, vice president of the state land title association, said that bigger municipalities, including Philadelphia, are operating remotely, making records available online and allowing for electronic filing. But, in smaller municipalities, recorders of deeds have shut down completely.
Medical testing firms appeal to public to not show up at their facilities seeking COVID-19 test
Now that LabCorp and Quest are doing coronavirus testing, they have a problem that could contribute to the spread of the disease.
People with COVID-19 symptoms mistakenly think they can pop into one of the companies’ thousands of storefront service centers to give a respiratory sample for testing.
If they actually are infected, then going into a center can expose workers and other patients to the virus.
That’s why LabCorp on Friday sent an email to patients, saying: “Testing must be collected by a physician or an authorized healthcare provider. LabCorp personnel are not able to collect the specimens in LabCorp patient service centers.”
Quest’s website is equally emphatic: “Only a Healthcare Provider can collect the specimen necessary to test for COVID-19. Quest Patient Service Centers do not collect COVID-19 specimens. Patients suspected of having COVID-19 MUST NOT ENTER a Quest Patient Service Center.”
The healthcare provider who orders a test and collects the sample must ship it to a specialized, high-complexity laboratory run by Quest or LabCorp. Results take three to five days.
Pa. supply chain disruptions imminent without change to shutdown order, manufacturers say
The association representing Pennsylvania’s largest manufacturers is asking Gov. Tom Wolf to revise his order directing all but “life-sustaining” businesses to shut down, saying it is blocking essential supply chains from providing products to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
David N. Taylor, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, said in an interview Friday that the governor’s office did not contact him or other manufacturing trade groups before issuing the order, which he called “rash,” “overly broad,” and “imprecise.”
Taylor said the order, which was issued just before close of business Thursday, shuts down timber operations, which he said feeds the supply chain for manufacturing paper products. It also leaves steelworkers without coal to use for making essential products.
“We need the governor to come to his senses," Taylor said. “We need him to reconsider his executive order so we can refashion something that is workable.”
Bucks grade school student tests positive for coronavirus
An elementary student in the Central Bucks School District has tested positive for COVID-19.
The student, who attends Titus Elementary, is being treated by a physician, superintendent John Kopicki said in a message to families Thursday evening. He said the district was working with the Bucks County Health Department and “will provide guidance personally to those who have had contact with the confirmed patient.”
Kopicki said the first case “has significant implications for the district.” and told families the district would continue to keep them informed.
Public schools statewide are under a two-week shutdown order that began Monday. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has said it will reevaluate at the end of the period and determine whether extended closures are needed.
Central Bucks was the first school district in the Philadelphia area to close schools temporarily over coronavirus, before shutdowns began to ripple across the region. It closed five schools for cleaning on March 6 after learning students and staff had been in contact with someone with coronavirus. Those people later tested negative for the virus.
2 GOP U.S. senators face questions over stock trades before coronavirus impacted markets
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina Republican sold up to $1.7 million in stocks in the weeks leading up to the American coronavirus outbreak and the economic fallout that followed, according to multiple reports. Around the same time, Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and her husband also sold as much as $3.1 million in stock and invested in a company that sells teleworking software, the Daily Beast reported.
The news of the senators’ stock trades broke Thursday, hours after NPR reported that Burr had issued warnings about the severity of the coronavirus at a private luncheon in late February, while President Donald Trump was still downplaying the virus’ threat to the country.
As for Loeffler, the Senate’s newest member and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, began selling stocks on the same day in January that the Senate Health Committee was briefed on the coronavirus, according to the Daily Beast.
Both Loeffler and Burr are members of the health committee.
Demand for ICU beds will greatly outstrip availability if coronavirus hits Pa. hard
Mayor Michael Helfrich spent much of Wednesday fielding calls from an office setup in his kitchen. York County had just confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus, and people had a lot of questions.
“It’s hard to compare it to anything else,” Helfrich said. “Even though we’re in the early stages, I think some of us, luckily, can see the potential dangers.”
Already in York and the surrounding region, there are few beds in intensive-care units and they’re often occupied. If COVID-19 spreads quickly, as it did in Italy, researchers estimate the need for beds here will be 26 times greater than the existing capacity in ICUs — more than anywhere else in the nation.
Coronavirus could hit immigrant detainees hard in places that are already ‘a petri dish’
Last summer, a mumps outbreak in Texas immigration detention centers quickly surged through the system, sickening almost 1,000 migrants in 57 facilities across the country.
An entire wing of the York County Prison was quarantined for two months to defend against a virus that can spread person-to-person before symptoms appear.
Now, people familiar with Pennsylvania detention centers fear the coronavirus could make the 2019 mumps epidemic look like a summer cold.
“I’m concerned for my clients. I’m concerned for myself. I’m concerned for the workers,” said Bridget Cambria, who is constantly inside the Berks County detention center as director of ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center.
Roundup: As coronavirus cases increase rapidly, Pa. businesses must close unless they’re ‘life-sustaining’; officials give dire warnings
As the number of coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey neared 1,000, Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday ordered all businesses in the commonwealth that aren’t “life-sustaining” to close. And Gov. Phil Murphy, pressing the federal government for regional aid with the leaders of neighboring states, said the region may need a $100 billion bailout by the time the pandemic passes.
And that time — which experts say is likely “months, not weeks,” away — could get further off as cases increase “rapidly,” particularly if people don’t heed warnings to close businesses and stay home, officials warned.
“We are keenly aware of the economic impact of this pandemic,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. “The human toll could be much, much worse.”
Wolf extended his shutdown order to apply to the physical operation of all businesses except grocery stores, gas stations, health-care facilities, transit systems, and similar enterprises. Restaurants are still allowed to offer take-out service; bars must be closed.