Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here
Government officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are racing to get necessary supplies as they brace for a surge in cases of the coronavirus. They remain short of the equipment they need. And, the pandemic has financially squeezed Philadelphia-area hospitals because they are only treating patients with urgent needs and they are spending money to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Should I wash my clothes after I go outside to prevent coronavirus infection?
You’re allowed to go outside to get some exercise and fresh air, as well as for essential trips such as grocery shopping.
But what should you do when you get back inside? Strip everything and wash it? Bleach it? Light it all on fire and call it a loss?
Don’t worry, and don’t burn your clothes.
First, experts said, it’s important to keep this in perspective: The real risk of infection comes from person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets. There is some theoretical risk that you could be infected through clothing, but it’s small and can be minimized even further.
How a South Jersey family made a difficult life-ending decision for woman with the coronavirus
Retired federal worker Shirley B. Jones began feeling ill shortly after returning to Burlington County from a trip to Connecticut in March. Her husband thought she had a cold, possibly the flu, and nursed her at home.
Days later, her condition worsened. She was fatigued, coughing uncontrollably, and not eating or drinking. Bruce Jones Sr. summoned an ambulance to their Edgewater Park home and followed by car. At Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, Shirley Jones, 70, was taken to the emergency room and later moved to the ICU. Her husband sat in his car, anxiously waiting for answers.
Eleven days later, on March 31, Shirley Jones died. She was among the 646 victims claimed by the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey as of Friday.
Doylestown native Pink reveals she had coronavirus, has recovered and is donating $500,000 to Temple University Hospital
Pop star Pink said on Twitter Friday night that she had tested positive for coronavirus two weeks ago but has since recovered, and that she will donate $500,000 to the Temple University Hospital Emergency Fund in Philadelphia.
Pink, a Doylestown native born Alecia Moore, said she would make the donation in honor of her mother Judy Moore, a longtime employee at Temple’s Cardiomyopathy and Heart Transplant Center.
She said she would also give $500,000 to the COVID-19 Crisis Fund in Los Angeles.
“This illness is serious and real,” she said in one of two tweets. “People need to know that the illness affects the young and old, healthy and unhealthy, rich and poor, and we must make testing free and more widely accessible to protect our children, our families, our friends and our communities.”
Temple University responded quickly to Pink’s announcement, thanking the celebrity and her family.
Rabbi Yudel Shain had first fallen ill on Sunday, feeling weak and feverish. By Tuesday, he was struggling to breathe and could not walk. Shain, 47, a paramedic with Lakewood’s Hatzolah, knew his father needed hospital care for what he suspected was COVID-19. Shain said that Hatzolah paramedics called six hospitals in the area. “All full,” he said.
That’s when he said they called the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, an institution highly regarded by Lakewood’s Orthodox community. Hatzolah has sent several patients to Philadelphia hospitals since Sunday, as closer hospitals have become overwhelmed with coronavirus cases.
The family’s journey to Philadelphia is part of a trend that state and local authorities say will likely continue as cases surge in the coming weeks, outstripping capacity in parts of New York and New Jersey.
— Wendy Ruderman, Aubrey Whalen, Pranshu Verma, and Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA
Window service: Restaurants work through the pane during coronavirus shutdown
On March 16, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of “nonessential businesses,” the bars and dining rooms fell silent. Many restaurants gave up.
They await the all-clear, barely recognizable behind boarded-up windows and stacked chairs and tables. But others have shifted from hosting guests to handing food through windows, enforcing the social-distance code that goes against everything their industry stands for.
Thousands of Philly students are stuck at home without internet after coronavirus closed schools
As the coronavirus crisis shuts down city schools, thousands of students in Philadelphia, the hometown of the country’s largest internet service provider, are without access to the internet.
About 14,700 kids in Philadelphia didn’t own a computer in 2018, according to the latest census estimates. And thousands more lack the internet connection they need to learn from home, as more than 21,500 kids did not have an internet subscription.
Those children being effectively off the grid presents a significant challenge to officials in a city that has lagged behind the country in households with home internet. That digital divide, which disproportionately affects poor and predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods, has become an urgent issue as the pandemic forces many to study or work from their homes.
Philly inmates in quarantine create disturbance as coronavirus concerns spread through jail
Inmates confined to quarantine in a Philadelphia jail created a disturbance Friday as concern over a coronavirus outbreak in the city’s detention centers spread.
Nine quarantined prisoners at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center on State Road began throwing storage bins just after 2 p.m. in an attempt to break the glass on their cell doors, according to sources who were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly.
Guards in riot gear extracted those causing the disturbance using minimal pepper spray.
A spokesman for the city said no injuries to inmates or staff were reported.
As of Friday, 31 inmates and an unspecified number of guards had tested positive for the coronavirus – a week after the city confirmed its first positive prisoner case. The city has not specified how many prisoners have been quarantined for suspected infection.
All of the city’s jails are now following a “shelter-in-place” policy for their population of roughly 4,400 inmates and are allowed out of their cells only to shower and use the telephone, city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.
“We know advocates for all of those housed in congregate settings are worried, but the fact is we are going to great lengths to keep everyone safe – participants and staff alike,” he said.
— Jeremy Roebuck, Samantha Melamed, Laura McCrystal
Photos: Philly artists’ decals encourage safe distancing at ShopRite
Mural Arts Philadelphia hired artists to design spacing decals that encourage grocery customers to stand at least six feet apart, for the Space Pad Project. On Friday, they installed the decals in four checkout lanes at the ShopRite on on West Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia, with plans to return next week for more. Kate Jacobi, the project manager from Mural Arts Philadelphia, described the project as a “triple win": The organization was able to hire artists, participate in safe distancing messaging, and provide something uplifting.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie donates $1 million to coronavirus research at Penn Medicine
Penn Medicine announced Friday that it is establishing a COVID-19 Immunology Defense Fund with a $1 million donation from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
The money will go toward an emerging research program to test endangered health care workers for potential immunity to COVID-19 as well as research toward a treatment and an eventual vaccine, according to a press release from Penn Medicine.
“We are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that is affecting all of us in so many ways,” Lurie said in a statement. “Every passing day brings new stories of heartbreaking tragedy, inspirational courage, and hopeful innovation.”
CDC recommends Americans wear cloth face masks when in public
President Donald Trump announced Friday that the Centers for Disease Control now recommends people wear non-medical cloth face coverings as a voluntary measure to defend against the transmission of COVID-19.
At the daily White House briefing, Trump emphasized wearing the covering is voluntary.
“You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it,” Trump said. “It’s only a recommendation.”
“I want to emphasize that the CDC is not recommending the use of medical grade or surgical masks,” he said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the CDC’s decision to change its recommendation was based on new research that shows a significant portion of people carrying the coronavirus lack symptoms.
Adams said the cloth face coverings should be used in public settings where social distancing measures are tough to maintain, like grocery stores and pharmacies, but emphasized maintaining six feet of distancing is “key to preventing the virus’ spread.”
Trump also said that a few health insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, will not require co-payments for people undergoing coronavirus treatment in the next 60 days.
Additionally, he said uninsured coronavirus patients will be reimbursed by the federal government.
“This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans have about seeking coronavirus treatment,” he said.
Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, said the funding would come from a portion of the $100 billion built into the CARES Act for health insurance providers, which will be reimbursed at Medicare rates.
Afternoon catch-up: Pennsylvania, N.J. coronavirus death toll ticks higher as Wolf urges residents to wear cloth face masks in public
As the death toll of the coronavirus continues to tick higher across Pennsylvania and New Jersey Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf urged everyone in the commonwealth to wear a cloth face mask while in public, and U.S. officials are expected to soon recommend the same.
On Friday afternoon, New Jersey remained one of the nation’s most hard-hit states by the coronavirus, second only to New York, reporting 29,895 positive patients, and 646 total deaths.
Calling the pandemic “one of the greatest tragedies to ever hit our state,” Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the Garden State’s flags at half mast Friday in honor of every resident to die from the virus.
As of Friday, Pennsylvania has reported at least 102 deaths and 8,420 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, occurring in 63 of the state’s 67 counties.
In Philadelphia, 26 people have now died from the virus, as officials announced nine new deaths Friday. Half of the deceased lived in nursing homes, officials said. In total, the city has reported 2,430 confirmed cases of the virus.
Help is on the way in Montgomery County, the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s coronavirus outbreak, where a 500-member outfit of medical care providers and volunteers will arrive Sunday to boost the county’s “surge capacity” as available hospital beds continue to dwindle.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia will move its recycling pick-up to a temporary biweekly schedule to compensate for a staffing shortage, while the courts are set to speed up their review of inmates for potential release to prevent further spread of the virus. And due to economic fallout from the virus, Pennsylvania will stop paying 9,000 state workers, and hospitals are furloughing employees as revenues decline.
SEPTA to get $643 million in federal coronavirus relief aid
SEPTA is getting $643 million in federal stimulus relief to help stem the losses from the coronavirus.
The funds are expected to be used over the next 12 to 18 months, said spokesperson Andrew Busch. SEPTA projects at least a $300 million loss to revenue from now through the end of June 2021.
The transportation authority is also bracing for at least a $250 million hit to subsidies, with the remaining $93 million to help supplement further losses.
SEPTA’s executive team, including General Manager Leslie Richards, has taken an additional 5% pay cut on top of a 10% reduction announced last month, while 669 managers and administrators also took a 10% pay reduction.
The SEPTA funds are part of Pennsylvania’s $1.13 billion in new transit funding through the CARES Act, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) announced Friday.
Delaware police are pulling over Pennsylvania drivers, as some cross the border to buy alcohol
Police in Delaware have a warning to Pennsylvania residents looking to make an alcohol run: Don’t cross the border to buy booze or for other nonessential reasons.
At Total Wine & More in Claymont, just south of the Pennsylvania border, police on Friday were turning away customers from Pennsylvania, where liquor stores remain closed and online sales have been plagued with problems due to “overwhelming demand.”
Many would-be customers seemed unaware of travel restrictions put in place by Gov. John Carney this week, which prohibit out-of-state drivers from entering Delaware unless they work for an essential business, caring for a family member, or there are health-care reasons.
To enforce the restrictions, Delaware state police have been authorized to stop out-of-state drivers on state and local roads simply because they don’t have Delaware tags. Residents from Pennsylvania and elsewhere who don’t have a good reason to be in the state are being instructed to return home and self-quarantine for 14 days. Some Pennsylvania customers were also turned away from a Home Depot by Delaware state police on Friday.
University of Sciences donates thousands of pieces of protective equipment
The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia has donated 70,000 pieces of protective equipment including gloves, masks and suits to the city’s emergency management office to be distributed to healthcare workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.
University faculty and staff gathered the items from campus laboratories, facilities and classrooms, the university said.
The donations included 230 N95 masks, 100 surgical procedure masks, 300 protective booties, 125 “Tyvek” protective suits, 132 pairs of safety glasses and more than 68,000 “nitrile” gloves.
500-member medical team coming to Montgomery County to boost coronavirus ‘surge capacity’
Officials in Montgomery County announced Friday that they have a new tool in the efforts to combat COVID-19.
A Specialized Medical Assistance and Response Team of 500 medical-care providers and volunteers will be arriving in the county on Sunday, according to County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh. The team and its facility will help boost the county’s “surge capacity” as available hospital beds continue to dwindle.
Arkoosh stressed that the county does still have open beds, but that “every day, those beds get a little fewer.”
“Our goal, with our first responders, is to get through this with availability for everyone,” she said.
An additional 71 residents of the county tested positive for coronavirus Friday, according to health department officials. With that, the county has a total of 778 cases.
Included in those 71 cases were three fatalities: an 87-year-old woman from Upper Gwynedd Township, a 94 year-old-woman from Springfield Township and a 73-year-old man from Abington Township.
All three died in hospitals, Arkoosh said.
Echoing what Gov. Tom Wolf said earlier in the day, Arkoosh, who is a physician with a background in public health, implored residents to stay home, and encouraged them to wear masks and to “take a step back” if they encounter friends or family members while out.
Pa. Supreme Court strikes down push to categorically release inmates statewide
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday directed judges statewide to monitor their county jails’ efforts to protect inmates from the coronavirus and, if necessary, intervene to set up a process for releasing prisoners from facilities that can’t comply with recommended social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
The order came in response to an emergency petition earlier in the week filed by the ACLU on behalf of five inmates, who said it was only a matter of time before the virus overruns the tightly cramped jails they were housed in.
The court’s justices stopped short of ordering the categorical release of all nonviolent offenders, those being held for minor probation violations and those unable to cover the costs of cash bail – as the ACLU had originally requested.
Such an approach, they said in their order, “fails to take into account the potential danger of inmates to victims and the general population, as well as the diversity of situations present within individual institutions and communities, which vary dramatically in size and population density.”
The decision came the same day that Philadelphia’s Municipal Court and Common Pleas judges reached an accord with the District Attorney’s Office and the Defenders Association to fast-track the review of some low-level offenders for possible release amid rising numbers of positive coronavirus tests in the city’s jails.
Philly coronavirus patients were white at first, but new cases are primarily African-Americans, data indicate
When the coronavirus first began spreading in Philadelphia, it primarily was detected among white people, the limited data available to the city indicate. But over time, the demographics shifted, and most new cases are predominantly in African-Americans, raising fears that existing inequalities in the city will be exacerbated by the public health crisis.
“Predominantly Caucasians were infected before, and now we’re seeing a predominance of African-Americans,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said at a news conference this week. “This virus does not discriminate. The virus is in every neighborhood. It’s in every population. Everyone needs to take our recommendations seriously to avoid getting the infection or passing on the infection.”
The emerging trend in Philly tracks with patterns in other U.S. cities and deepens experts’ fears of a scenario that has played out in past epidemics, in which a virus spread around the globe by those with the means to travel comes down hardest on the most vulnerable communities.
Coronavirus shutdown prompts a record spike in Pa. liquor sales
Alcohol purchases in March spiked dramatically with the spread of coronavirus, which prompted the shutdown of Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores.
The Liquor Control Board on Friday reported selling almost a month’s worth of wine and spirits in only 17 days. The $29.9 million sold on March 16 — the day before the Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores were closed — was the most spent on booze in Pennsylvania in one day, according to complete sales records dating back 12 years.
March 2020 sales of wine and spirits totaled $198.1 million, off 2% compared with March 2019 sales. Sales after March 17 were made through state-operated warehouses serving restaurants and grocery stores, which operate Monday to Friday and are not subject to the closing.
Murphy orders N.J. flags at half mast for coronavirus victims as death toll grows
As New Jersey’s death toll ticked higher, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered state flags lowered to half mast immediately and indefinitely to honor every New Jerseyan that has died from the pandemic.
"This is one of the greatest tragedies to ever hit our state,” Murphy said Friday. “Since families at this time can not even hold funerals for their loved ones, this is a small … important way to show their loss is not forgotten.”
Murphy noted the pace of the state’s coronavirus pandemic may be a “week-ish behind New York,” after having conversations with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Health. The Empire State has been ravaged more than any other in the nation by the disease and now has over 100,000 positive cases and 2,935 dead. New Jersey comes in second with 29,895 positive patients, and 646 total deaths as of Friday.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted 4,372 more people have tested positive for the disease, with another 113 people dying overnight. She also said 3,016 Garden State residents are hospitalized due to the coronavirus, with 1,227 on ventilators. At least 132 of the state’s 375 long term care facilities have a positive coronavirus patient under their care. Another three long term care residents have also died, bringing the statewide toll for the vulnerable population to 79.
The governor noted the state has 42 testing sites up across the state, and shot back at critics who said the state did not do enough to get people tested in the early stages of the pandemic.
“We have made a cold blooded decision overwhelmingly to test, with limited supplies, symptomatic persons,” Murphy said.
Economic officials also noted 16,500 small businesses have already applied to a statewide program that would provide relief for businesses struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
All Pennsylvanians urged to wear cloth masks in public
As Pennsylvania continues to see an increasing number of coronavirus cases each day, Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday urged all residents to wear a cloth mask when they must leave home, a recommendation that he said will be in line with forthcoming guidance from the CDC.
But on a day that the state recorded 1,404 new cases, Wolf stressed that these new measures should not provide a false sense of safety.
“Masks help prevent people from sharing illnesses,” Wolf said. “They don’t do a great job at preventing people from getting sick and they’re not foolproof, so it’s critical that our first act … is to ask ourselves whether we really need to leave our house.”
Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said laypeople should not wear paper surgical masks or N95 masks, as these types of protective equipment should be reserved for essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Instead, they urged people to make their own masks or find individuals or businesses in their area who were making them.
Philly-area hospitals furlough employees as coronavirus prep depletes revenue
Layoffs are surging nationally to unprecedented numbers, and even workers in the health care industry — especially those who don’t provide clinical care — are not immune as the COVID-19 pandemic upends the medical system.
Among the non-clinical workers at risk are those at the Trinity Health’s Mid-Atlantic System, which operates five hospitals in the southeast Pennsylvania suburbs and has announced an intention to furlough staff.
Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, N.J., asked non-clinical workers to volunteer for layoffs.
Bayada Home Health Care of Plymouth Meeting is temporarily furloughing 3% of its work force, all people in administrative and managerial roles, even as it seeks to hire clinical care personnel, a spokesperson said. Others involved in non-emergency patient care are being asked to dip into their vacation time rather than come to work, or they are being scheduled for fewer hours — meaning smaller paychecks.
The common denominator: So many non-emergency procedures and surgeries have been placed on hold to prepare for the expected surge in COVID-19 patients, hospital systems don’t need the workforce they required just weeks ago, and they don’t have the revenue.
Gov. Carney: ‘The situation in Delaware is getting worse’
Delaware Gov. John Carney said the number of cases of COVID-19 will be “well over” 400 when the state updates its numbers later today, quadruple the number the state reported last week.
“The situation in Delaware is getting worse,” Carney said bluntly, pointing out the state is seeing a daily growth in cases of 15 to 20%.
As of Friday, 12 people have died in Delaware, with half of the state’s deaths associated with long-term care facilities.
Carney said there are about 100 people currently hospitalized, but showed state projections that expect upwards of 1,000 people needing simultaneous hospital care as coronavirus cases spike in the next 10 to 14 days.
Philadelphia to fast-track release of county inmates
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas will begin expediting its review of inmates for potential release next week under a protocol agreed upon by judges, the District Attorney’s Office and the Defender Association amid a coronavirus outbreak in the county’s jails, court officials said Friday.
Prisoners convicted of economic crimes, those who have already completed their minimum sentence and cases where bail is less than $25,000 and the inmate has no prior sex, violent crime, gun or drug offenses will be fast-tracked.
Four courtrooms will be devoted three days a week to telephonic hearings on cases vetted by both prosecutors and public defenders.
The plan comes more than a week after stakeholders agreed on a general process to begin reviewing potentially hundreds of motions for release out of concern that the close quarters, shared cells and inability to practice social distancing could make the county’s jails a tinderbox for viral transmission.
But as days passed, inmate advocates questioned whether the process was moving too slowly to make a difference.
“For weeks the courts have sought from the District Attorney’s Office an agreed upon list of individuals whose cases were deemed sufficiently appropriate for review and possible release, as well as an agreed upon method and criteria by which to conduct the reviews,” Municipal Court President Judge Patrick Dugan said in a statement. “While the courts continue to await a list of specific cases for review, we are encouraged that all parties are moving in the right direction.”
Managing Director Brian Abernathy said all inmates will be sheltered in place, provided with masks, and only permitted out of their cells for phone calls and showers in order to limit the spread of the virus. Food and medications will be delivered to them in their cells.
Over 650 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Southeastern Pennsylvania, officials say
A total of 26 Philadelphians have now died of the coronavirus.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced nine new deaths Friday.
Half of the residents who have died of the virus lived in nursing homes, Farley said.
One patient was in their 40s, two in their 50s, two in their 60s, 11 in their 70s, seven in their 80s, and three were over age 90.
The city now has a total of 2,430 confirmed cases of the virus, Farley said.
The increase in 330 cases announced Friday represented a decrease from the number of new cases confirmed Thursday, but Farley warned against reading into that decrease.
“We want to follow the long term trends, not so much the day-to-day changes," he said.
Farley said there are now 356 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Philadelphia, and 656 hospitalized in all of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Some of those patients are not local to the area, he said. Farley has said he expects patients to continue coming from the New York area, which has more cases of the virus.
“Some people, I think, want us to build a wall between New York City and Philadelphia and we’re not going to do that," Farley said. “We may not like those New York City sports teams but the people in New York deserve medical care as well.”
Philadelphia will collect recycling every other week amid the coronavirus crisis
Philadelphia will begin collecting recycling every other week starting on Monday, Managing Director Brian Abernathy announced Friday.
The city has struggled to keep up with trash and recycling collection this week as the coronavirus crisis continues. Officials announced Thursday that they were running one day behind on collections and will continue pickups on Saturday to catch up.
Weekly trash pickup will continue, Abernathy said, but residents should hold onto their recycling next week and put it out the following week.
Abernathy said the every-other-week pickup for recycling will continue through at least the week of May 15.
Trash pick-up will remain as close to its normal schedule as possible, he said, but “residents should expect some delays.”
Trash will not be picked up next Friday due to the Good Friday holiday.
Philly Police are adapting to the coronavirus crisis. Kensington’s drug dealers are adapting, too.
As the coronavirus pandemic has coursed through Philadelphia, the drug markets in Kensington haven’t slowed — they’ve simply adapted. And residents, already accustomed to living in the heart of the city’s drug trade and the violence that accompanies it, fear that authorities have virtually halted drug enforcement, leaving corners crowded with dealers who don’t even bother to hide because they don’t think they’ll end up in jail.
The surreal scenes have played out in the weeks since Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced a new policy in which officers are not to take into custody most people suspected of narcotics crimes. Instead, cops issue warrants for the person to be arrested after the pandemic subsides, a decision supported by advocates, the police union, and District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Law enforcement statistics show that scale of the change.
Much of the fear comes from the need to be in hospitals or doctors’ offices for prenatal care — checkups, ultrasounds, blood-pressure monitoring — as well as for delivery and those critical first few days after the infant is born, while both baby and mother are typically confined to the hospital.
But there’s more to be done to help pregnant women maintain social distancing, and physicians at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania are now fast-tracking high-tech solutions that aim to keep them away from the hospital as much as possible before delivery, and to get them out of the hospital sooner after birth.
Coronavirus ventilator treatment could be hindered by drug shortage at hospitals
While states are struggling to bring in more ventilators to support critically ill COVID-19 patients, a new challenge is already on the horizon: a looming shortage of more than a dozen medications needed to intubate patients and keep them on a ventilator.
Demand for many of the sedatives, and pain and muscle relaxant medications necessary for ventilator use shot up by more than 50% in March, while the fill rate dropped at least 25% — meaning some hospitals were unable to get the full amount of medication they ordered, according to findings by Vizient, which provides analysis and advisory services for health systems. A surge in COVID-19 patients that is still expected in many states could further strain supply.
“My fear is we’ll look back in a few weeks and have enough ventilators but we won’t have any of the drugs,” said Dan Kistner, a pharmacist and a senior vice president of pharmacy services at Vizient. “It’s like having all these cars and no gas to make them run.”
Pa. announces pay freeze for 9,000 state workers amid coronavirus fallout
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration on Friday told nearly 9,000 state employees — more than 10% of its workforce — that it will stop paying them by the end of next week in order to reduce spending as the coronavirus shutdown continues to batter the economy.
The affected employees have jobs that cannot be completed through teleworking, according to the administration, which began shuttering state offices in mid-March to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Starting April 11, those workers will have to use vacation, sick, or other personal leave time if they want to continue receiving paychecks. Otherwise, they can file for unemployment.
It is unclear how long the state will withhold paychecks, although Wolf has said that state offices will remain closed until at least April 30. The administration said it will continue providing health care benefits for all affected workers.
Chemist couple turn Rowan University lab supplies into hand sanitizer
A Rowan University chemistry professor this week made good use of a lot of chemicals sitting idle in largely empty campus labs.
Jim Grinias and his wife, Kaitlin, an automation chemist who works in the pharmaceutical industry, made nearly 20 gallons of hand sanitizer for use by Cooper University health care providers.
The couple gathered supplies, including ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerol, from science and math labs and mixed the sanitizer in a Rowan lab, the university said. They followed a recipe and guidance issued by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It seems like a lot, but I think it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed,” Grinias said in a statement. “Everyone needs to chip in and do what they can.”
Corona beer halts brewing due to coronavirus shutdown
Corona beer, which became an online punchline as the coronavirus spread across the planet, will halt production due to restrictions put in place by the Mexican government.
Grupo Modello, which also owns Pacifico and Modelo, announced Thursday night it will suspend production until April 30 due to shutdown of all “non-essential activities” in Mexico. The country considers agriculture and food production essential, but not the production of beer.
“If the federal government considers it appropriate to issue some clarification confirming beer as an agro-industrial product, at Grupo Modelo we are ready to execute a plan with more than 75% of our staff working from home and at the same time guaranteeing the supply of beer,” the company said in a statement.
Heineken, which owns Tecate and Dos Equis, could also be forced to cease production on Friday, according to the Reforma newspaper. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stocks opened flat on Friday as investors continue to weigh massive job losses due to the coronavirus, along with a spike in crude oil prices.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down about 100 points, just 0.5%, following a small rally on Thursday fueled mostly by hopes of an agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia that would end a brutal oil price war.
Both the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 opened down slightly on Friday. The Dow and S&P 500 remain down more than 25% from their all-time highs set back in February
Meek Mill’s and Michael Rubin’s REFORM movement sends 100,000 masks to protect inmates from coronavirus
Nearly 100,000 surgical masks have been sent to prisons to protect inmates from the coronavirus, courtesy of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, Sixers partner Michael Rubin, and their criminal justice reform organization.
They plan to deliver another 2,500 masks to a Rikers’ medical facility; 40,000 to the Tennessee Department of Corrections; and, 5,000 to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the organization said in a statement.
Their deliveries come as prisons across the country start to see cases of the virus and activists call for reductions in the prison population to prevent widespread outbreaks like the one at Rikers Island. In the Philadelphia region, cases have been reported in city jails, as well as in correctional facilities in Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties.
Official unemployment rate ticks upwards, does not reflect current realities
The U.S. economy lost 701,000 jobs in March, sending the unemployment rate up a tick to 4.4% according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday morning.
But it’s only a hint of what’s to come as businesses remained shuttered by state governments as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
The monthly report is based on surveys conducted three weeks ago, while most businesses remained opened and before COVID-19 began to spread rapidly across the country.
“You’re just seeing the leading edge of what’s going to happen,” Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier and the former head of President Obama’s automobile task force, warned on MSNBC Friday morning. Rattner predicts the unemployment rate could reach as high as 15%.
The addition of nearly 10 million people to the jobless rolls in the past two weeks would put the nation’s unemployment rate closer to 10%, experts say, a level not seen since the 2008-2009 Great Recession.
In Israel, the unemployment rate is 24.9%, up from just 4% in February before the government issued a strict lockdown in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. Countries throughout Europe, hard hit by COVID-19, are reporting similar numbers.
7 test positive for coronavirus at Bucks facility for people with intellectual disabilities
At least seven people at a Bucks County facility for people with intellectual disabilities have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Four residents and three staff members at Woods Services in Langhorne have tested positive, and additional residents have exhibited symptoms consistent with those of the coronavirus, Woods’ president and CEO said in a letter to the community.
The four residents have been moved into an isolation residence, as have others who are sick and awaiting test results, said Tine Hansen-Turton, the president and CEO.
For weeks, she said, Woods has been monitoring residents for symptoms, screening staff members with temperature checks, operating on a no-visitor policy, and preparing two isolation residences that have negative pressure rooms, personal personal equipment for staff, and other supplies.
But, she said, “we have also operated under the assumption that we would be facing this scenario eventually.”
Woods Services, a nonprofit, provides care for more than 4,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain trauma, and other behavioral conditions, and employs 6,000 people.
New coronavirus tests could be powerful tools to manage the pandemic — if they work
A slew of new coronavirus tests is coming — and so is confusion.
Stephen Hahn, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, didn’t help matters Thursday when he told CBS radio, “We’re going to announce today our first approval of a serology test that will, in laboratories, allow the labs to determine exposure in the antibodies.” A few moments later, he added that those serology tests “aren’t FDA approved. but we’ve given them the flexibility to go forward as long as they’ve done their own quality assurance."
Serology tests — so called because they examine the blood serum — could be transformative in managing the pandemic, if they work. In theory, the tests could help diagnose and even treat infections. The tests might also identify people who could safely go back to work, and answer questions about the transmissibility and lethality of the virus.
But just like the laborious, time-consuming molecular tests that have been used worldwide to diagnose the coronavirus over the last three months, the serology versions are fraught with unknowns and pitfalls.
“This action is intended to ensure the well-being of employees, their families and local communities, and will include an orderly shutdown consistent with requirements of the U.S. and global defense customers,” the company said.
Boeing said it would conduct deep cleaning at the Ridley Park plant and “establish rigorous criteria for return to work."
The plant employs more than 4,600 workers who make H-47 Chinook, V-22 Osprey, and MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopters. Employees who can work remotely will do so, and those who cannot will receive paid leave at double the normal rate, the company said.
Employees are to return to work April 20.
“When the suspension is lifted, Boeing Philadelphia will restart production in an orderly manner with a focus on safety, quality and meeting customer commitments,” the company said.
Lizzo treats Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania workers to lunch
Workers at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania were treated to lunch this week by Grammy-winning singer Lizzo, who has been sending food to hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients all week.
“Shout out to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania,” Lizzo said in a video Penn Medicine shared on social media. “I just wanted to tell you personally: thank you so much for everything you are doing during this pandemic.”
“The least I could do is send y’all some lunch,” she continued.
CDC expected to recommend people wear a cloth mask or facial covering when in public.
U.S. officials are moving closer to recommending that people should wear a cloth mask or facial covering in public settings like grocery stores to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The policy would be new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has for weeks said only medical professionals, those who are sick, or those caring for the sick needed to wear masks. But over the last week, as an escalating number of Americans tested positive for the virus, pressure has mounted for the agency to revise its recommendations
The recommendation would be an acknowledgement that making a mask out of fabric or a T-shirt could help prevent carriers of the virus from spreading it if they cough or sneeze while in public, particularly before the onset of symptoms.
At a briefing Thursday, Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, described the new advisory as “an additive piece,” saying a mask was not a replacement for social distancing and hand washing.
“We want to make sure everybody understands it’s not a substitute for the presidential guidelines that have already gone out,” she said.
Morning roundup: Coronavirus cases still rising as officials prepare hospital space and hand out food
Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Pennsylvania, with the state reporting 1,211 new cases Thursday, and at least four New Jersey hospitals reached capacity as Gov. Phil Murphy announced 182 more deaths and a total case count over 25,000.
“The increases we’re seeing are not just [because] of more testing,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said at Thursday’s briefing in Harrisburg. “We’re seeing more cases.”
Philadelphia hospitals, too, were seeing increases in the number of hospitalized patients, and Montgomery County officials anticipated higher percentages of people testing positive.
The number of cases in Pennsylvania topped 7,000 as Thursday dawned, the first full day Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order was in place statewide. The state has lost 90 people to the virus, and the death toll in New Jersey hit 537.