7:40 AM - April 16, 2020
7:40 AM - April 16, 2020

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus coverage here

Nurses battling on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic are not just battling the virus, but supply shortages and sometimes even their own employers. One Virtua nurse said she was fired for agitating for N95 masks for herself and her colleagues.

Plus, deaths in eldercare homes accounts for half of Pennsylvania’s deaths, and many residents in the Philadelphia area are furious that they won’t be receiving refunds for cancelled events and other plans.

3:14 AM - April 16, 2020
3:14 AM - April 16, 2020

‘The fantasy is just ordinary life’: How gamers are returning to ‘The Sims’ to escape the pandemic

Franny Mestrich made this Sim version of herself, and created a yellow cottage-style home for herself and her roommate.
Courtesy Franny Mestrich
Franny Mestrich made this Sim version of herself, and created a yellow cottage-style home for herself and her roommate.

The way Franny Mestrich built her town, it has a psychic. She’s really a phony, a Miss Cleo type, but Mestrich made sure she was living in a Victorian mansion that’s also home to an occult coworking space.

It reflects the novel Mestrich wants to write.

But it also provides a distraction.

Mestrich, 22, is one of many people who, because of the pandemic, is reviving her dedication to The Sims, a popular and highly addictive life-simulation video game series first released in 2000 that is seemingly providing a necessary getaway from reality. It’s a place, Mestrich explained, where she’s playing out her daydreams.

— Cassie Owens

1:50 PM - April 16, 2020
1:50 PM - April 16, 2020

Troubled-debt team assumes control of Philly hotel loan as coronavirus takes severe toll on visits to city

The 21 N. Juniper St. hotel now known as the Notary.
Braemer Hotels & Resorts
The 21 N. Juniper St. hotel now known as the Notary.

A mortgage backed by hotels, including the former Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown in a historic building near City Hall, has been assigned to a business that manages troubled commercial mortgages as the loan approaches its end date during a rough period for the hospitality industry.

The loan backed by the 21 N. Juniper St. hotel, now known as the Notary Hotel, and three other properties was sent last week to a “special servicer” team at Wells Fargo & Co. ahead of the debt’s June 2020 maturity, Wells spokesperson James Baum said in an email Wednesday.

A loan’s maturity marks the date by which it must be repaid, refinanced, modified or extended to avoid default. This loan has “conditional extension options available,” said Baum, who declined to share other details, citing confidentiality agreements.

For hotels, such conditions may require borrowers to meet defined occupancy or revenue targets, which could explain why the mortgage was sent to a special servicer, said Chester Spatt, a Carnegie Mellon University finance professor.

Occupancy at hotels in Philadelphia and its surrounding Pennsylvania and South Jersey counties fell to 22% during the week ended April 4, down from 71% during the same week a year ago, according to hospitality industry tracker STR Inc. Revenue per available room, a standard metric used in the hospitality industry to gauge hotel performance, fell 82% to $17.42 from $93.97 over that time.

— Jacob Adelman

11:00 PM - April 15, 2020
11:00 PM - April 15, 2020

Coronavirus is a new challenge for the ‘recession-proof’ pet industry

Chris Courter and Jennifer Kirby, who own and operate Piggyback Treats Company, with their dogs Atlas (left ) and Candy outside their home in Philadelphia on Monday.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Chris Courter and Jennifer Kirby, who own and operate Piggyback Treats Company, with their dogs Atlas (left ) and Candy outside their home in Philadelphia on Monday.

Animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country are reporting unprecedented surges in pet fostering and adoption, as families suddenly have more time on their hands and the lonely seek companionship amid life in coronavirus quarantine.

That’s consistent with trends dating back to the Great Recession and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, after which rates of dog ownership increased. The $95 billion pet industry emerged from the 2008 financial crisis in a relatively strong position and strengthened its reputation as recession resistant.

But the coronavirus pandemic poses a new challenge.

— Andrew Seidman

9:58 PM - April 15, 2020
9:58 PM - April 15, 2020

82 new coronavirus-related deaths in Philly region, including 19 in Burlington County

The Philadelphia region on Wednesday reported a new daily high of 82 coronavirus-related deaths, including a surprising spike of 19 in Burlington County in South Jersey.

The county, which now has a total of 48 deaths, also reported 71 additional cases, raising its overall count to 1,281. Willingboro has the most deaths, nine, and the most cases, 223, of the municipalities in the county.

County officials did not elaborate on the sharp increase in fatalities on Wednesday.

A combined 10 additional deaths were reported in Gloucester and Camden Counties, bringing South Jersey’s death toll to 114, and its total cases to 3,453.

Philadelphia and the four surrounding suburban counties saw 52 virus-related deaths Wednesday, with 16 occurring within the city.

Philadelphia now reports 222 total deaths and 7,441 positive cases, while the suburbs report a total 263 deaths and 6,259 cases.

Pennsylvania now has 26,490 total cases and 647 deaths, far fewer in comparison to New Jersey’s 71,030 cases and 3,156 deaths.

— Ellie Rushing

9:32 PM - April 15, 2020
9:32 PM - April 15, 2020

Fox News host Tucker Carlson grills N.J. Gov. Murphy on closing churches, leaving liquor stores open

Responding to questions from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday defended his decision to close churches in the state while allowing liquor stores to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We relied on a whole lot of reasonable input from recovery coaches, addiction coaches, and they cautioned us if we were to shutter those stores down, we’d have unintended mental health and addiction prices to pay, unintended consequences. And so far, that’s the route we’ve taken, and my guess is we’ll continue to take that route,” Murphy said on Carlson’s show.

In making the decision to close churches, the governor said, he consulted with leaders in every faith and they understood why the decision was made.

When Carlson asked whether the decision to keep liquor stores open was tied to generating tax revenue, Murphy said the state’s tax situation is so “blown up” that keeping the stores open wouldn’t help.

Murphy said he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he decided to ban large church services.

How do you have the right to nullify the Bill of Rights? Carlson asked.

“That’s not denying someone their right to worship in any way. We have to find a different way to worship, I think that’s the point. God bless America, literally,” Murphy responded.

To date, New Jersey has had more than 71,000 coronavirus cases, more than 3,000 deaths, and more than 577,000 people have filed for unemployment insurance.

— Mensah M. Dean

7:55 PM - April 15, 2020
7:55 PM - April 15, 2020

Gov. Tom Wolf will veto bill to reopen more Pa. businesses, as top health official warns legislation puts ‘more lives at risk’

Shuttered businesses along 4th and South Street are photographed on Saturday, March 28, 2020. A stay at home order has been issued in Philadelphia due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). All nonessential businesses are closed.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Shuttered businesses along 4th and South Street are photographed on Saturday, March 28, 2020. A stay at home order has been issued in Philadelphia due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). All nonessential businesses are closed.

Gov. Tom Wolf will veto a bill that would have allowed a significant number of businesses across the state to reopen, which Republicans passed despite the state’s top health official warning the move would put “more lives at risk.”

GOP lawmakers do not have enough votes to override his veto.

“As the administration has stated many times, irresponsibly going against the direction of the secretary of health and reopening businesses too early will only extend the length of the economic hardships created by the pandemic,” Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger said in an email.

The legislation, which garnered final approval from the Senate along party lines, would redefine essential businesses and provide a road map for employers to reopen as long as they take certain safety precautions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— Gillian McGoldrick of LNP | LancasterOnline, Cynthia Fernandez

7:48 PM - April 15, 2020
7:48 PM - April 15, 2020

How to talk to your child about grief during the coronavirus pandemic

A memorial grows April 8, 2020 outside the ShopRite grocery at Evesham and Springdale Roads in Cherry Hill for Steve Ravitz, 73. The owner of five ShopRite stores in New Jersey, Ravitz died from the coronavirus.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A memorial grows April 8, 2020 outside the ShopRite grocery at Evesham and Springdale Roads in Cherry Hill for Steve Ravitz, 73. The owner of five ShopRite stores in New Jersey, Ravitz died from the coronavirus.

The number of deaths from the coronavirus continued to rise in the United States this week. By midday Tuesday, more than 25,000 Americans had died from COVID-19, the highest reported death toll in the world.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 78% of deaths occurred in those age 65 and older. Children are generally safe from the disease’s physical risks, but many could lose a grandparent or someone else who’s important to them. That’s why it’s important to be prepared to talk about grief with even young kids, said Bob Jann, a child psychologist in Bucks County.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who have problems with processing grief may experience extended periods of depression, inability to sleep, or a sharp drop in school performance. Having conversations with children now about the possibility of losing a close family member can better prepare them emotionally, said Gail Karafin, a certified school psychologist based in Doylestown.

— Bethany Ao

7:06 PM - April 15, 2020
7:06 PM - April 15, 2020

Facing huge losses, Einstein plans furloughs and puts out a plea for fair funding

Einstein Hospital will be furloughing some of its staff. Photographed April 15, 2020.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Einstein Hospital will be furloughing some of its staff. Photographed April 15, 2020.

Einstein Healthcare Network is on track to lose $70 million from March through June as it contends with the extra costs from caring for COVID-19 patients and the loss of revenue from canceled elective procedures, chief executive Barry Freedman said Wednesday.

A surge in federal funding for health-care providers will help, but it won’t be enough, he said during a conference call with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, two Democrats who criticized the Trump Administration for distributing $30 billion in aid to hospitals without regard to how hard they’ve been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

So far Einstein has recouped $16.8 million in a CARES Act grant and $73.9 million in a Medicare advance that must be repaid, a spokesperson said. Even if Einstein gets a bigger allotment in the next round of funding, Freeman said it will not be enough to cover the nonprofit system’s losses.

— Harold Brubaker

7:01 PM - April 15, 2020
7:01 PM - April 15, 2020

Atlantic City wants coronavirus-positive homeless people sent to motels in Egg Harbor Township

Guitar on his back, Michael McLain, 63, a former cab driver from Albany, N.Y., goes to catch a bus across from the New Sea Breeze Motel in West Atlantic City. He had been staying at the nearby Hi-Ho Motel but said the owner was charging too much. The two motels, part of Egg Harbor Township, are being used to house COVID-19 positive homeless people, according to Atlantic City officials.
Amy Rosenberg
Guitar on his back, Michael McLain, 63, a former cab driver from Albany, N.Y., goes to catch a bus across from the New Sea Breeze Motel in West Atlantic City. He had been staying at the nearby Hi-Ho Motel but said the owner was charging too much. The two motels, part of Egg Harbor Township, are being used to house COVID-19 positive homeless people, according to Atlantic City officials.

According to Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, some of the motels along a dingy strip of Egg Harbor Township will be part of a strategy, in conjunction with social service agencies, to take the homeless who may have tested positive for COVID-19 or be at risk off of Atlantic City’s streets, and out of the city’s busy Rescue Mission, if needed.

The plan to place Atlantic City’s coronavirus-positive in these motels, including the Economy Inn and the New Sea Breeze, was first reported Tuesday by radio host Harry Hurley of WPG. Hurley cited emails among Egg Harbor Township officials, citing discussions with Atlantic City’s Fire Chief and Head of Emergency Management, Scott Evans.

“This is an opportunity where we can get the homeless a) shelter, b) help, and c) wraparound services,” Small said Wednesday. He said it was part of an already existing homeless services operation run in conjunction with Jewish Family Services and Volunteers of America, both of which have been working to help the city’s homeless return to their hometowns.

It was unclear Wednesday whether any coronavirus-positive or at-risk homeless had begun to be located outside of Atlantic City under the care of these agencies, as a result of these discussions.

— Amy Rosenberg

6:30 PM - April 15, 2020
6:30 PM - April 15, 2020

Trump says he’ll announce plans to reopen states with low coronavirus rates

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon / AP
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Washington.

President Donald Trump says he will announce guidelines for states with low coronavirus rates to potentially reopen Thursday afternoon.

During Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Trump said the nation had “passed the peak” in new coronavirus cases and that he and Vice President Mike Pence would call governors Thursday to discuss guidelines for reopening.

“We will be opening up states, some states much sooner than others,” Trump said from the Rose Garden.

“We think some states might be able to open up before the deadline of May 1,” he added.

Dr. Deborah Birx, leader of the federal coronavirus task force, echoed the positive sign of case declines, but cautioned that the virus remains highly-transmittable and that people in highly-infected areas must continue to socially distance.

“We do have states that have very few cases and very few new cases, and these are the states the president is referring to,” said Birx.

“Each governor and mayor will have to make decisions after general guidelines are put out so they can do what’s best for their communities,” she said.

— Ellie Rushing

5:50 PM - April 15, 2020
5:50 PM - April 15, 2020

How people in Philly are spending their coronavirus stimulus checks

A pedestrian walks past the closed Nordstrom Rack in Center City Philadelphia on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Nonessential retail businesses are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks past the closed Nordstrom Rack in Center City Philadelphia on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Nonessential retail businesses are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweeping efforts to rescue the economy from the crushing effects of the coronavirus pandemic have reached a new phase, as officials say the federal government made direct payments to tens of millions of Americans in recent days.

The direct deposits — $1,200 for adults who make $75,000 or less, with smaller payments for higher earners — were made as part of the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump late last month.

Millions more checks are expected to be disbursed in the coming weeks and months. The physical checks will bear Trump’s name, as the president looks to take credit for any relief from the unprecedented economic crisis.

The money — which arrived for many people on Wednesday — is sorely needed as government-mandated shutdowns of nonessential businesses, along with orders for the vast majority of the country to stay home, continue to hammer economic output.

Philadelphia-area residents who have already received direct deposits in their bank accounts said they were grateful for the cash infusion. But several of them said the one-time payments should instead be recurring until the pandemic subsides, especially for the most financially vulnerable.

“This can only be the tip of the iceberg for the assistance everyone should be getting in this time,” said Kaley Matlz, 25, of Fishtown, who lost her job at a restaurant last month.

In interviews and on social media, people said they would use the money to pay their bills, support local businesses, and donate to those in greater need. Others, expressing uncertainty about how long government orders to stay home would remain in place, said they would save the cash.

— Andrew Seidman, Christian Hetrick

5:40 PM - April 15, 2020
5:40 PM - April 15, 2020

SEPTA Regional Rail conductor dies of coronavirus complications

A longtime SEPTA Regional Rail conductor has died of complications from COVID-19, general manager Leslie Richards said in an email to employees Wednesday.

Michael Hill, a SEPTA employee since 1989 promoted to conductor in 1991, is the fourth SEPTA employee to die from the coronavirus.

“My thoughts are with all of you and especially his closest colleagues,” Richards wrote. “Please keep Mike’s family and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time and take good care of each other.”

SEPTA has seen 161 confirmed employee cases of coronavirus, while absenteeism related to COVID-19 has impacted close to 15% of its workforce. The authority is planning to hold a memorial for the employees at a later time.

— Patricia Madej

5:25 PM - April 15, 2020
5:25 PM - April 15, 2020

Coronavirus threat spurs movement of cancer care into homes

Five years ago, Desiree Harmon, then 40, was treated for breast cancer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Now, to avoid possible coronavirus exposure, she gets a monthly anti-cancer injection at home instead of in the hospital.
Courtesy of Desiree Harmon
Five years ago, Desiree Harmon, then 40, was treated for breast cancer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Now, to avoid possible coronavirus exposure, she gets a monthly anti-cancer injection at home instead of in the hospital.

COVID-19, which has so far killed more than 26,000 in the U.S., is particularly dangerous for older adults and those with weakened immune systems; cancer patients are often both.

That’s why hospitals, oncologists, and insurers are beginning to look for ways to shift cancer treatment out of medical facilities, including the “infusion centers" where outpatients sit for hours getting intravenous chemotherapy.

Just last week, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of 30 leading cancer centers, issued these recommendations in response to the pandemic: Try to convert in-person oncology visits to telemedicine. Use oral chemotherapy whenever possible. Move outpatient care, such as disconnecting infusion pumps and giving injections, into the home. Do scans less often, or switch to blood tests for monitoring response to therapy. The guidance also has advice for ensuring the safety of oncology care workers.

— Marie McCullough

5:04 PM - April 15, 2020
5:04 PM - April 15, 2020

Federal prison inmates in Philadelphia ask a judge to send them home to avoid the coronavirus

The Federal Detention Center, at 7th and Arch Streets.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
The Federal Detention Center, at 7th and Arch Streets.

Three inmates at the Federal Detention Center in Center City filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday, saying confining them there during the coronavirus pandemic violates their constitutional rights.

The three, citing preexisting medical conditions that make them especially susceptible to contracting the virus, are asking a federal judge to order the “release of vulnerable persons to home confinement.”

They also asked the judge to order the FDC warden to “mitigate the serious risk” to the remaining inmates and for the appointment of a special master to consider which inmates should be released to home confinement.

— Chris Brennan

4:44 PM - April 15, 2020
4:44 PM - April 15, 2020

A.G.: New Jersey has taken over 600 actions against businesses price-gouging in the pandemic

An unidentified woman walks carrying toilet paper rolls in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
An unidentified woman walks carrying toilet paper rolls in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Wednesday that the state has taken more than 600 actions against businesses price-gouging products related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When people are concerned about keeping their families healthy and paying their bills, they shouldn’t have to worry about becoming the victim of unscrupulous market practices,” Grewal said. “If you’re a business looking to take advantage of New Jersey consumers, we’re coming for you, and don’t bother trying to hide behind an online profile.”

Most complaints are against businesses raising prices on items like surgical masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays, food and bottled water. Violations can carry a $10,000 fine on first offense, and $20,000 for each one after.

State law prohibits price gouging during a state of emergency. Businesses are in violation if they raise prices on products 10% or more than what it would be during a period of non-emergency.

— Pranshu Verma

4:33 PM - April 15, 2020
4:33 PM - April 15, 2020

Pa. Senate passes bill to open more businesses during coronavirus shutdown

The Pennsylvania Senate has passed the Republican-backed bill that would broaden Gov. Tom Wolf’s definition of what constitutes an essential business allowed to remain open during the state’s coronavirus shutdown.

Its passage, by a vote of 29-21 primarily down party lines, came shortly after Wolf said Wednesday he did not support the bill. The Democratic governor hedged when directly asked if he would veto it. The legislation had passed out of the state House of Representatives on Tuesday with a 107-95 vote, also mainly down party lines.

Now, the bill goes to Wolf. If he vetoes it, the Republicans do not have enough votes to override.

Republican lawmakers say Pennsylvanians need to get back to work as quickly as possible and the bill provides a clearer path for them do so.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a central Pennsylvania Republican, argued Wednesday that residents in rural counties have been forced out of work, even though their areas have not reported many coronavirus cases.

“If you’re in Crawford County, you’re in a completely different world than if you’re in Philadelphia today," Corman said. “To treat it as a kind of one-size-fits-all state, the cases don’t reflect that.”

— Erin McCarthy

4:28 PM - April 15, 2020
4:28 PM - April 15, 2020

Montco senior living facility evacuated after staff members call out due to coronavirus pandemic

A Montgomery County senior living facility was evacuated on Wednesday, as its administrators moved the majority of its residents to another facility in the Lehigh Valley, county officials said.

Phoebe Wyncote, owned by the Allentown-based Phoebe Ministries, made the switch after more than two dozen of its staff members tested positive for COVID-19, according to a letter sent to families by Tracy Roman, the company’s executive director of regional operations.

Residents the Wyncote location’s skilled nursing facility were temporarily relocated to Phoebe Allentown, Roman said. Other residents at the facility’s independent living and personal care apartments — who are more self-sufficient — were able to remain, or be picked up by their families.

“We thank you for your trust in us and want to assure everyone that we are taking this important step to protect our residents and staff,” Arnold said in the letter. “We know this temporary relocation may make an uneasy time even more uneasy for our families. However, it is a necessary action in the best interest of our community during these challenging circumstances.”

News of issues at the facility came as Montgomery County continued to see increasing numbers of positive cases for the coronavirus pandemic in its long-term care facilities for seniors.

A total of 79 facilities have reported cases to the county, with one recording more than 60 among its staff and residents, Arkoosh said Wednesday. Combined, those facilities are home to 447 residents who have tested positive, and employ 289 staff members who have tested positive.

As of Wednesday, 77 Montgomery County residents living in long-term care facilities have died from coronavirus, encompassing 64% of the county’s deaths from the pandemic, officials said. Montgomery County reported 76 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, for a total of 2,199.

County officials are opening a new, expanded drive-through testing facility for coronavirus on the campus of Montgomery County Community College in Whitpain Township.

The facility, which opens Thursday, can test up to 250 people each day for the virus, according to Arkoosh.

— Vinny Vella

3:56 PM - April 15, 2020
3:56 PM - April 15, 2020

Legislature sends bill to reopen more Pa. businesses to Gov. Tom Wolf, as top health official warns legislation puts ‘more lives at risk’

Construction work continues at the future site Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Construction work continues at the future site Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2020.

The state legislature sent a bill to Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday that could reopen a significant number of businesses across the state, with Republicans disregarding the warnings of the state’s top health official that the move would put “more lives at risk.”

The legislation, which garnered final approval from the Senate along party lines, would redefine essential businesses and provide a roadmap for employers to reopen as long as they take certain safety precautions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those changes would allow most construction projects to proceed and would allow companies that did not receive a waiver but fall under federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidelines to reopen.

It’s unclear whether Wolf will sign the legislation, against the advice of his own administration and Democratic party leaders. If he vetoes the bill, Republicans do not have enough members to override his veto.

Wolf on Wednesday did not answer a question during a daily briefing about whether he would veto the bill. He told reporters Tuesday he would consider the legislation once it reaches his desk, adding “if we don’t do this right, the economy is going to be in worse shape than it is now.”

— Gillian McGoldrick of LNP | LancasterOnline, Cynthia Fernandez

3:34 PM - April 15, 2020
3:34 PM - April 15, 2020

Philly port workers threatened a work stoppage over coronavirus safety precautions. They’re still calling for more.

Philly port workers threatened a work stoppage over coronavirus safety precautions. They’re still calling for more.

Since mid-March, when much of Philadelphia shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the union that represents the thousands of workers who unload and load ships has been calling for better safety precautions at the Port of Philadelphia: symptom monitoring, protective equipment, and medical staff for workers who felt sick during the day.

When nothing happened for weeks, the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291 upped the ante. Last week, it told the Ports of Delaware River Marine Trade Association (PMTA) that if it didn’t institute symptom monitoring it would tell its members it was not safe to come to work, according to Nan Lassen, the union’s attorney.

On any given day, there could be thousands of workers at the port, Lassen said, depending on how many ships come in and how full they are. Goods like fruit and cars come in through the terminals, as well as paper pulp for companies like Kimberly Clark, which manufactures toilet paper, diapers, and Kleenex.

This week, medical staff are checking temperatures and asking workers about symptoms before they begin work, but the union says that more can be done.

PMTA, the employer association that holds the contract with the union that represents workers at the Philadelphia port, did not respond to requests for comment.

— Juliana Feliciano Reyes

3:29 PM - April 15, 2020
3:29 PM - April 15, 2020

Nearing capacity, Philly-area hospitals may start transferring patients

Philadelphia-area hospitals reaching capacity due to a surge in coronavirus cases may soon begin transporting patients to other facilities, city Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the region’s healthcare system has become overburdened by the pandemic, Farley said.

“Regionwide, we have plenty of availability in hospitals,” Farley said at a virtual news conference. “But some hospitals have been hit harder than others. Some of them are at or near capacity, especially for intensive care unit beds. So some of these hospitals may need to be transferring patients to other hospitals or diverting patients to other hospitals so that they can pick up the available beds elsewhere.”

Forty-two percent of hospital beds in the region are available, he said, as well as 27 percent of intensive care beds. There were 778 coronavirus patients in Philadelphia hospitals as of Wednesday, and 1,428 hospitalized in the Southeastern Pennsylvania region, Farley said.

Farley also reported that the city has seen 311 new confirmed coronavirus cases since Tuesday, for a total of 7,441 since the pandemic began. He cautioned that the total may be an undercount due to missing or delayed reports from some testing laboratories.

There were also 16 new deaths caused by the virus since Tuesday, for a total of 222 in the city so far. Exactly half of those who have died were nursing home residents.

— Sean Collins Walsh

3:18 PM - April 15, 2020
3:18 PM - April 15, 2020

Confirmed coronavirus cases in nearly 300 Pa. long-term care facilities, data show

There are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in nearly 300 long-term care facilities across 33 Pennsylvania counties, and half the state’s coronavirus deaths were residents of these facilities, according to data released Wednesday.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said public health officials in the state have done a “deep dive” into the data provided by facilities and labs, and found that as of Wednesday, there are 3,316 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and nursing homes across the commonwealth.

The most long-term care facility cases are in Philadelphia, where there are about 600 confirmed cases in 41 different facilities, and 34 deaths of coronavirus patients. In Montgomery County, though, 60 longterm care facility residents have died as a result of the coronavirus, and there are 550 confirmed cases in 52 different facilities. And in Delaware County, there are 288 cases in 34 facilities and there have been 41 deaths of residents of those facilities.

To date, there are more than 26,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Pennsylvania, and 647 people have died.

— Anna Orso

2:54 PM - April 15, 2020
2:54 PM - April 15, 2020

Pennsylvania orders all workers, customers at essential businesses to wear masks

A grocery shopper gets a squirt of hand sanitizer from a masked Trader Joes employee, right, before she is allowed to enter the store on Arch Street in Center City, on Sunday morning April 5, 2020.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
A grocery shopper gets a squirt of hand sanitizer from a masked Trader Joes employee, right, before she is allowed to enter the store on Arch Street in Center City, on Sunday morning April 5, 2020.

All Pennsylvania businesses designated to continue in-person operations amid the pandemic must now require employees and customers wear face masks or coverings.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine signed an order Wednesday establishing protocols essential businesses must implement to maintain social distancing in the workplace as much as possible.

Essential businesses must require all customers wear masks and deny entry to anyone who isn’t wearing a mask, unless the business provides medication, medical supplies or food. If that is the case, the business must provide an alternative method of pickup or delivery for individuals who do not have a facial covering.

The order also requires businesses must provide sufficient space for employees to have breaks and meals while maintaining a social distance, conduct meetings and training virtually, and prohibit nonessential visitors. In addition to requiring masks and providing them to employees, employers may also approve masks obtained or made by employees themselves.

In addition, there are new protocols for employers handling a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace. If a business discovers exposure to a person who is a probable or confirmed case, the business must implement temperature screenings before employees enter the business before the start of work and must send home any employee with a temperature above 100.4 degrees. The businesses must also clean and disinfect the areas where that employee worked and notify other employees who worked in close contact with the individual.

Businesses that don’t comply with the order are subject to citations and fines.

— Anna Orso

2:28 PM - April 15, 2020
2:28 PM - April 15, 2020

Crozer-Chester nurses protest for more coronavirus protective equipment, demonstration cut short by unrelated police chase

An exterior view of Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, PA on April 15, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
An exterior view of Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, PA on April 15, 2020.

Crozer-Chester nurses stood outside the Delaware County hospital on Wednesday asking for more personal protective equipment for health-care workers. The demonstration was part of a union-organized “Day of Action,” during which nurses from several area hospitals, including Temple and Einstein, were to gather outside their workplaces at various times.

But the pleas of Heygood and her colleagues were interrupted when a Chester Police chase ended in a crash just yards from the hospital. A foot pursuit followed, Upland Police said, and the driver was arrested. No one was seriously injured, and the incident was unrelated to the protest.

A couple dozen nurses were still able to relay their message despite the chaos, which operating-room nurse Leslie Heygood says is commonplace for the trauma center that serves one of the country’s most violent communities.

Staff have to wear the same N95 mask for between one and three days at a time, depending on how closely they work with coronavirus patients, said Heygood, president of the Crozer-Chester Nurses Association, a branch of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP).

“It’s been ingrained in us that we’re supposed to change the mask after every patient, so it’s hard for us not to take our mask off,” she said. “How do we know the mask is holding up?”

Crozer-Keystone Health System said in a statement that its protocols align with federal guidelines and they aim to improve them even further.

“Crozer-Keystone Health System hospitals have not run out of PPE and will maintain an adequate supply throughout this crisis,” the statement said. “Every day, new PPE shipments, as well as other necessary equipment, are arriving. We’ve anticipated our needs indefinitely and will have essential equipment on hand well into the future.”

Heygood, who’s worked at Crozer-Chester for more than 30 years, said she doesn’t blame her employer.

“I think a lot of people’s hands are tied,” she said. “It has to come from outside the hospital.”

— Erin McCarthy

2:12 PM - April 15, 2020
2:12 PM - April 15, 2020

Murphy: New Jersey restaurants may see ‘new normal’ when they reopen

Gov. Phil Murphy predicted New Jersey restaurants will see a “new normal” when the state ultimately ends up reopening the economy.

Murphy said “he could easily see” a situation where restaurants are required to serve only 50% of their allowed capacity, required to do temperature or saliva checks, are mandated to have employees masked and gloved, and made to adopt a stringent sanitation protocol.

“The notion we’re going to turn the clock back … to three months ago,” Murphy said. “I just don’t see it.”

On Tuesday, Murphy predicted New Jersey would likely reopen in “June or July.”

— Pranshu Verma

2:12 PM - April 15, 2020
2:12 PM - April 15, 2020

Coronavirus disproportionately affecting African Americans in New Jersey, officials say

As the pace of coronavirus infections continue to slow in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced another 2,625 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the statewide toll to 71,030. He noted another 351 people have died, increasing the state’s death toll to 3,156.

Murphy also noted African Americans remain the sole minority group overrepresented in the state’s positive cases and death figures.

As for why, he noted many of the state’s black population live in dense housing situations, are more likely to be uninsured, have higher rates of preexisting health conditions and are overrepresented in the state’s “essential” worker population required to leave their homes for work.

“This really shines a light on the weaknesses and inequalities in our society,” Murphy said.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted 8,270 people are hospitalized due to the virus, including 1,980 in critical care. Over 1,700 people are on ventilators. She also noted 55 more people from the state’s long term care facilities have died, while 95% of the facilities have at least one positive coronavirus patient under their care. Persichilli said over 90 patients have been admitted to the state’s two field hospitals in northern and central New Jersey. The Atlantic City site is slated to open next week, Persichilli said.

New Jersey State Police Col. Patrick Callahan noted crematoriums will be allowed to operate later than usual to process bodies stressing the mortuary system. He also noted the state’s attorney general will likely succeed in extending cemetery hours in the coming days.

— Pranshu Verma

1:59 PM - April 15, 2020
1:59 PM - April 15, 2020

UPDATE: Here’s why Gene Shay’s death was reported when it wasn’t true

Gene Shay thanks the crowd gathered at his induction into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame induction along the 200 block of S. Broad St. in center city Philadelphia on Thursday, October 24, 2013.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / File Photo
Gene Shay thanks the crowd gathered at his induction into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame induction along the 200 block of S. Broad St. in center city Philadelphia on Thursday, October 24, 2013.

An earlier report indicated that Gene Shay had died of coronavirus. He remains hospitalized at Lankenau Medical Center, his daughters Elena Bensutti and Rachel Vaughn said Wednesday.

“He is definitely still alive,” Benasutti said late Wednesday morning.

An announcement of Shay’s supposed death appeared early Wednesday morning on the Facebook page of the Philadelphia Folksong Society, the organization that presents the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which Shay hosted from 1962 to 2015. A society spokeswoman said the organization believed it had confirmation from a family member.

Shay’s death was then reported at 8:15 a.m. on The Key, the music blog of WXPN-FM (88.5), the radio station where Shay hosted the Folk Show until 2015.

While the legendary DJ’s condition remains dire, “as of yesterday, he was still holding strong according to our hospice co-ordinator,” Vaughn said.

— Dan DeLuca

1:25 PM - April 15, 2020
1:25 PM - April 15, 2020

Philadelphia opens two quarantine sites for first responders exposed to coronavirus

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Center City Philadelphia is photographed on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday announced that the city is opening two quarantine sites for first responders exposed to or infected with the coronavirus.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Center City Philadelphia is photographed on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday announced that the city is opening two quarantine sites for first responders exposed to or infected with the coronavirus.

Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday announced that the city is opening two quarantine sites for first responders exposed to, or infected with, the coronavirus.

The new sites are the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Center City and the Marriott Springhill Suites by the Philadelphia International Airport.

The city previously opened the Holiday Inn Express in Center City as a quarantine site for people who were unable to self-isolate, including people experiencing homelessness.

Kenney said there were 40 occupants in the Holiday Inn Express as of Wednesday.

The announcement of the two sites for first responders come at a time when more than 200 Philadelphia police officers and firefighters have tested positive for the virus.

Doctors and nurses will also be able to use the facilities.

In total, the leases for the three facilities will provide the city with 412 quarantine beds at a cost of $424,000 per month, a rate of roughly $34 per room per night.

— Sean Collins Walsh

1:24 PM - April 15, 2020
1:24 PM - April 15, 2020

Philadelphia is offering free meals for seniors and free diapers for babies. Here’s how to get them.

A resident of the Harrowgate area of the city reaches across the 6 foot social distancing line to receive a food box from Tony Rodriguez, a volunteer at the Richard and Friends distribution site on Venango Street, on April 9, 2020.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
A resident of the Harrowgate area of the city reaches across the 6 foot social distancing line to receive a food box from Tony Rodriguez, a volunteer at the Richard and Friends distribution site on Venango Street, on April 9, 2020.

Philadelphia is opening sites to provide resources to its oldest and youngest residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Jim Kenney announced Wednesday that the city and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging will open 23 sites for seniors to pick up grab-and-go meals. Family members can also pick up the meals, which will be distributed on Mondays and Wednesdays, for seniors who need them.

The city is also opening 10 sites for residents to pick up free diapers, food, and other supplies for babies and toddlers.

For both types of sites, Kenney said residents should call ahead prior to pick-up.

— Laura McCrystal

12:56 PM - April 15, 2020
12:56 PM - April 15, 2020

Philadelphia International Airport employee dies of coronavirus, letter says

A mostly empty check-in area at Philadelphia International Airport on March 16, 2020.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
A mostly empty check-in area at Philadelphia International Airport on March 16, 2020.

An employee at the Philadelphia International Airport has died from the coronavirus, according to a City of Philadelphia email obtained by The Inquirer.

The employee, a 59-year-old man, was a safety manager at the airport.

His passing marks the second publicly-known death related to the virus among city workers, following Police Lt. James Walker.

At least three SEPTA employees have also died of the disease.

Airport spokesperson Florence Brown said that the airport is still investigating the employee’s cause of death and has not determined whether or not he had coronavirus.

“There is no confirmed diagnosis,” she said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

12:53 PM - April 15, 2020
12:53 PM - April 15, 2020

SEPTA gives away free masks to riders

SEPTA has supplied a limited number of surgical masks to transit riders Wednesday to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

The supply may be just about gone, said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, but about 20,000 have been made available on buses, Market-Frankord and Broad Street Line trains as well as 69th, 15th, Suburban and Jefferson Stations.

“What we’re really trying to do is hammer home the idea that people should be wearing something,” Busch said. “... Hopefully, raising awareness that people should be doing it both for their health and for that of those around them.”

The masks are not part of a permanent rollout, but an effort SEPTA could make available from its own supply. SEPTA reversed a short-lived policy last week that required riders to wear facial coverings.

— Patricia Madej

12:49 PM - April 15, 2020
12:49 PM - April 15, 2020

Caravan of teachers drive through Camden to bring joy to quarantined students

— Raishad Hardnett

12:41 PM - April 15, 2020
12:41 PM - April 15, 2020

76ers co-owner Michael Rubin uses celebrity swag to raise money online for COVID-19 causes

Sixers Ownership Limited Partner Michael Rubin (right) with Ownership Managing Partner Josh Harris while the Sixers played the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, February 7, 2020 in Philadelphia.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Sixers Ownership Limited Partner Michael Rubin (right) with Ownership Managing Partner Josh Harris while the Sixers played the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, February 7, 2020 in Philadelphia.

Michael Rubin, the Fanatics pro-sports-gear seller and Sixers co-owner, has started www.allinchallenge.com to raise money to feed poor people as the economy slows, and it’s catching on with sports celebrities.

Rubin has already retooled his baseball-uniform factory near Easton to make 25,000 pieces of protective equipment a day when Gov. Wolf imposed coronavirus restrictions

The donations had already topped $2.5 million by mid-Wednesday.

— Joseph N. DiStefano

12:36 PM - April 15, 2020
12:36 PM - April 15, 2020

Looking for status of stimulus checks, many greeted with error messages

Many Americans hoping to find out information about their coronavirus stimulus check were greeted by a message on the Internal Revenue Service’s website: “Payment status not available.”

On Wednesday, the IRS launched a long-promised “Get My Payment” web portal so Americans could track their stimulus checks and update their bank information in order to receive payment faster. But the tool appears to be experiencing some technical difficulties due to the overwhelming demand from Americans desperate for assistance due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Multiple people also reported that repeated attempts to use the tool caused them to be locked out of the system for 24 hours.

It’s unclear if the “Payment Status Not Available” message is a result of high demand causing problems on the IRS website, or if it means there may be some question about an individual’s eligibility based on their 2018 and/or 2019 tax return. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At least one Reddit user reported receiving the error message despite already receiving payment from the IRS. So before you pull your hair out, check your bank account to see if the Treasury Department already sent your stimulus payment.

— Rob Tornoe

12:29 PM - April 15, 2020
12:29 PM - April 15, 2020

Pennsylvania grants increased flexibility, relief for taxpayers

The state is giving taxpayers increased flexibility, including extra time to make payments and a temporary cessation of enforcements. The Department of Revenue said Wednesday it will pause payments for existing payment plans if individuals and businesses request; provide flexible terms for new payment plans, and reduce automatic enforcement actions until July 15.

A complete list of the department’s taxpayer relief efforts can be found on its website.

— Erin McCarthy

12:19 PM - April 15, 2020
12:19 PM - April 15, 2020

Could the Pennsylvania legislature overturn Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus?

House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, leaves the House floor wearing gloves and a mask after the morning legislative session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. The House session will be the first in state history where members can vote remotely die to the coronavirus outbreak. (Joe Hermitt / The Patriot-News via AP)
Joe Hermitt / The Patriot-News
House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, leaves the House floor wearing gloves and a mask after the morning legislative session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. The House session will be the first in state history where members can vote remotely die to the coronavirus outbreak. (Joe Hermitt / The Patriot-News via AP)

Could the Pennsylvania legislature overturn Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus?

The short answer: It is unlikely.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Republican-backed bill that would broaden Gov. Tom Wolf’s definition of what constitutes an essential business, one that is allowed to remain open during the state’s coronavirus shutdown, with a 107-95 vote primarily down party lines.

Now, the bill moves on to the Republican-controlled state Senate, where it is also expected to pass and could do so as early as Wednesday. If it does, however, it would then land on the desk of Wolf, the Democratic governor who instituted the shutdown of non-life-sustaining businesses in the first place. If Wolf were to reject the bill, Republicans don’t have enough votes to override his veto.

— Erin McCarthy

11:25 AM - April 15, 2020
11:25 AM - April 15, 2020

Known COVID-19 cases surpass 2 million worldwide

The number of known COVID-19 cases worldwide surpassed 2 million on Wednesday, yet another grim milestone as countries continue to struggle to contain the coronavirus.

According to Johns Hopkins University, 2,000,984 people have tested positive for the coronavirus around globe. At least 128,071 people have died.

In the United States, more than 609,000 people have tested positive and more than 26,000 have died.

— Rob Tornoe

11:20 AM - April 15, 2020
11:20 AM - April 15, 2020

Fauci offers possible path for resumption of live sports

Phillies Roman Quinn celebrates his solo home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in a spring training game at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies Roman Quinn celebrates his solo home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in a spring training game at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infections disease expert, offered a path forward for live sports to return during the summer and the fall, even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci said during an interview with Snapchat’s Peter Hamby as part of an interview series being featured on the platform’s Good Luck America. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled … but have them tested every week. Make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

“People say, ‘You can’t play without spectators.’ Well, I think you probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game,” Fauci added. “Particularly, me. I’m living in Washington. We have the world champion Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again.”

— Rob Tornoe

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

N.J. man charged with not wearing mask at two Wawas

Two New Jersey men face charges for allegedly not wearing protective masks inside stores in violation of the statewide mandate requiring face coverings in essential businesses.

Stephen Breza, 70, was arrested twice on Saturday at two Toms River Wawas, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said. Shortly before 11 a.m., he was told to wear a face mask inside the store on the 100 block of Route 37 East, authorities said, and he responded by threatening customers. When police arrived, they said Breza resisted arrest.

Three hours later, he went to the Wawa on the 1600 block of Route 37 East where he again refused to wear a mask, punched a customer, and “menacingly” wielded a pipe, authorities said. He was charged with making terroristic threats during an emergency, violating emergency orders, and related charges.

In Pleasantville, Robert Bell, 35, was cited Saturday and Sunday for not wearing a mask at different establishments, and then was charged on Monday morning after he did it a third time. In that incident, he entered a Dunkin’ Donuts without a mask, authorities said. When employees asked him to leave, he refused. He was charged with two violations of emergency orders, contempt, resisting arrest, and related charges.

Two Camden residents were also charged with violating emergency orders, among other offenses. On Sunday, Alycia Roman, 37, shoplifted from a Brooklawn ShopRite, authorities said, and spat on an employee who tried to retrieve the stolen items. On Monday, Anthony McKee, 31, spat on three police officers, they said, and told them he had the coronavirus after he was arrested in a domestic incident.

— Erin McCarthy

9:40 AM - April 15, 2020
9:40 AM - April 15, 2020

Stocks open down shortly amid concerns about Q1 earnings and a record drop in retail sales

The stock market opened down sharply on Wednesday following a record plunge in retail sales and concerns as businesses report their first-quarter earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down more than 500 points, about 2%, nearly wiping out Tuesday’s 560 point gain.

The Nasdaq opened down about 170 points (about 2%), while the S&P 500 opened down about 65 points (about 2.3%).

— Rod Tornoe

9:30 AM - April 15, 2020
9:30 AM - April 15, 2020

Retail sales plunge at record pace as COVID-19 shutdowns slow the economy

The closed Anthropologie store at 18th and Walnut Streets in Center City on March 25, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The closed Anthropologie store at 18th and Walnut Streets in Center City on March 25, 2020.

U.S. retail sales plummeted 8.7% in March, the largest one-month drop in the nearly three decades of tracking as many businesses have been forced to close to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

According to the Commerce Department’s preliminary report, auto sales dropped 25.6%, while sales at clothing stores plummeted 50.5%. Sales at gas stations, impacted by a drop in commuting and lower oil prices, fell 17%.

By contract, sales at grocery stores skyrocketed 26%, as Americans stocked up on food and supplies while shelter-at-home rules went into in effect. Online sales also rose 3.1%.

Prior to last month, the largest one-month drop in retail sales occurred during the fall of 2008, the peak of the financial crisis, when spending dropped 4% in both October and November.

— Rob Tornoe

8:15 AM - April 15, 2020
8:15 AM - April 15, 2020

Bill Gates: Trump halting WHO funding is 'as dangerous as it sounds’

Philanthropist Bill Gates, an activist in the field of pandemics, on Wednesday blasted President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold funding to the World Health Organization while a review is conducted into its handling of the COVID-10 outbreak.

“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them.”

The WHO, a United Nations agency created in 1948, is composed of and run by 194 member states and coordinates international health policy, particularly when it comes to infectious diseases. The United States is by far the organization’s largest financial backer, contributing about $553 million of the organization’s roughly $6 billion biennial budget, according to the New York Times.

Amid criticism of his own handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has attempted to shift the blame to the WHO, pointing to missteps in the early stage of the pandemic when the organization often echoed the China’s messages.

“Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” Trump said during his Tuesday briefing.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, defended the WHO in a statement Tuesday, saying the organization “must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.”

— Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - April 15, 2020
7:00 AM - April 15, 2020

Pa.’s state universities facing immediate hit of up to $100 million as lawmaker floats closures as worst-case scenario

The state’s 14 public universities are projected to lose from $70 million to $100 million this spring semester, which a top official conceded will require a “dramatically” accelerated plan for reform, though he balked at the idea of closures.

The losses are the result of a system-wide shutdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak and primarily are refunded room and board payments, Chancellor Dan Greenstein said in an interview. That reality plus a shrinking pool of high school graduates to recruit will require major changes.

“Will we change into that future? Absolutely,” Greenstein said in a March 28 video message to students, one of several he’s posted during the pandemic. “We were already on that path. Our financial circumstances were very challenged before the pandemic. They’re more challenged now.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education was facing serious financial questions, having seen enrollment decline by 20% in the last decade. Its state appropriation has slowly recovered from a deep cut by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011.

— Gillian McGoldrick of LNP / LancasterOnline / Spotlight PA

5:15 AM - April 15, 2020
5:15 AM - April 15, 2020

The Poconos were marketed as a pandemic haven. Now the area is a COVID-19 hot spot

File Photo: The Wyoming Street business corridor in Hazleton.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
File Photo: The Wyoming Street business corridor in Hazleton.

The Instagram ad popped up on mobile phones in March — “Quarantine in the Poconos.”

Another ad asked, “Are you looking to escape the epicenter?”

With the pandemic spreading quickly, short-term rental firms and property owners on Airbnb marketed the Poconos area as a virus-free zone. But that campaign also helped spread COVID-19 in the Poconos and along the I-80 and I-78 corridors in eastern Pennsylvania, local officials say.

“A lot of people fled the New York area when it broke out for their safety and they brought [COVID-19] here,” said Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat. “The numbers are alarming and it did jump up on us quickly.”

Monroe County — the Poconos gateway — now records Pennsylvania’s highest COVID-19 infection rate, 46.7 cases for every 10,000 residents.

— Bob Fernandez

5:00 AM - April 15, 2020
5:00 AM - April 15, 2020

Coronavirus killed panhandling and closed food pantries. This volunteer is scrambling to keep homeless Philadelphians alive.

Saint Miriam Parish is now giving out 10 times more bags of food and toiletries than it was before the coronavirus pandemic despite most of their volunteers dropping off.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Saint Miriam Parish is now giving out 10 times more bags of food and toiletries than it was before the coronavirus pandemic despite most of their volunteers dropping off.

Thomas Frey drove slowly through the silent city, its stores shuttered and sidewalks deserted. Then, turning onto Race Street, he found a crowd. About 40 men sat on the sidewalk, stood in small groups, or napped in a cozy row in the fluorescent glow of a convenience store that along with the St. John’s Hospice shelter is all that remains of the commercial life of the block.

Snapping on his mask, face shield, and rubber gloves, Frey began distributing what his church, St. Miriam’s Parish and Friary in Flourtown, calls Blessing Bags, Ziploc bags of food, each containing a day’s calories.

“We used to do usually about a thousand bags a month in Philadelphia and Montgomery County,” Frey said. "Now, we’re doing a thousand bags a week, and we’re failing miserably.”

St. Miriam’s is one tiny part of Philadelphia’s patchwork food supply for homeless people, which has strained and shredded during the pandemic — and an example of how the few volunteers who remain, people like Frey, are stretching themselves to their limits. Food pantries have closed, and some soup kitchens have reduced service. The college students who served meals on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway were hastily sent home. Restaurant and grocery store dumpsters no longer offer a reliable bounty.

— Samantha Melamed

4:30 AM - April 15, 2020
4:30 AM - April 15, 2020

In unprecedented action, Trump’s name to appear on actual stimulus checks

The Treasury Department has ordered President Donald Trump’s name be printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that is expected to slow their delivery by several days, senior agency officials said.

The unprecedented decision, finalized late Monday, means that when recipients open the $1,200 paper checks the IRS is scheduled to begin sending to 70 million Americans in coming days, "President Donald J. Trump" will appear on the left side of the payment.

It will be the first time a president’s signature appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one.

While some people receiving the checks — the centerpiece of the U.S. government’s economic relief package to stave of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic — may not care, or observe, whose name appears on them, the decision is another sign of Trump’s effort to cast his response to the pandemic in political terms.

Trump had privately suggested to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, to allow the president to formally sign the checks, according to three administration officials who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the president is not an authorized signer for legal disbursements by the U.S. Treasury. It is standard practice for a civil servant to sign checks to ensure that government payments are nonpartisan.

— Lisa Rein / Washington Post

4:15 AM - April 15, 2020
4:15 AM - April 15, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Wednesday, April 15, 2020.