8:22 AM - April 18, 2020
8:22 AM - April 18, 2020

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy, but Mayor Jim Kenney warned that Philadelphia will not be ready to loosen social distancing guidelines soon. Meanwhile, a growing number of pregnant women in Philadelphia are considering home births as the pandemic continues. And owners and renters of Jersey Shore homes worry about the potential impact of the coronavirus on the summer rental season.

Editor’s note: News about the coronavirus is changing quickly. The latest information can be found at Inquirer.com/coronavirus.

9:41 PM - April 17, 2020
9:41 PM - April 17, 2020

10 more coronavirus-related deaths in Bucks County; 2 in Burlington County

The number of coronavirus-related deaths and cases continue to rise daily in Bucks County, with the suburban county reporting the deaths of 10 elderly residents on Friday night.

Burlington County reported two deaths and 57 more confirmed cases on Friday.

In Bucks County, the fatalities included four men, ages 73 to 87, and six women, ages 77 to 89, spokesperson Larry King said, bringing the county’s death toll up to 77.

The county also announced 143 new cases, a substantial increase from the 96 cases reported Thursday, bringing its case total up to 1,689.

As of Friday, 140 people had been hospitalized, with 25 in critical condition and on ventilators.

Burlington County now has 1,385 cases and a total of 56 deaths.

— Ellie Rushing

8:50 PM - April 17, 2020
8:50 PM - April 17, 2020

Coronavirus has killed at least 10 at a state-run veterans home in Chester County. The National Guard is on site.

South Eastern Veteran's Center, Spring City, PA., Friday April 17, 2020
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
South Eastern Veteran's Center, Spring City, PA., Friday April 17, 2020

At least 10 residents of a state-run nursing home for veterans and their spouses in Chester County have died of COVID-19 this month, and dozens of other residents and staffers have tested positive for the disease or exhibited symptoms, according to the county coroner and an internal report obtained by The Inquirer.

Officials in Pennsylvania have generally refused to disclose the number of COVID-19 deaths and cases at individual hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities. But a report circulating within the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) indicates a dire situation inside the Southeastern Veterans Center, a department-run facility in East Vincent Township.

The coronavirus death toll at the nursing home climbed from one to nine between April 9 and Wednesday, the report shows. Chester County’s coroner said Friday that a 10th resident who had tested positive died in the hospital. Even the infection-control nurse there tested positive for COVID-19, according to one staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job.

In response to the crisis, body bags have been sent to the facility by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in nearby Coatesville. The National Guard sent about 30 of its members on Wednesday to assist with nursing, housekeeping, and other activities. Additional emotional support services have been requested for staff.

But the scope of the outbreak inside the 238-bed nursing home isn’t entirely clear.

William Bender, Allison Steele and Vinny Vella

7:52 PM - April 17, 2020
7:52 PM - April 17, 2020

White House: Country has testing capacity to enter phase one of reopening

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus, accompanied by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon / AP
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus, accompanied by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The United States has the testing capacity available to ensure that all states can move into the first phase of reopening, White House officials said Friday.

“Our best scientists and health experts assess that states today have enough tests to implement the criteria of phase one if they choose to do so,” said Vice President Mike Pence during the daily coronavirus briefing. Testing capacity is a critical component of the reopening guidelines the White House’ released Thursday.

For a state or municipality to move into the first phase of reopening, it must see a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases, strong testing capacity, and no patient surge amongst hospitals.

Access to tests has been a steady problem across the country, including in Philadelphia, due to limited supplies and backlogged state testing labs that took up to a week to return results. As of Friday, 3.78 million tests have been conducted across the country.

However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the leaders of the federal coronavirus task force, said that these roadblocks have been addressed, and that the United States will have “enough tests to take this country safely through phase one.”

Between increased production of tests and materials, and “embracing the private sector,” states would unlock the potential to have strong testing capacity, Dr. Fauci said.

— Ellie Rushing

7:39 PM - April 17, 2020
7:39 PM - April 17, 2020

Should I wear a mask while running and exercising outside?

A runner using a mask for protection makes his way along Kelly Drive on April 17, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
A runner using a mask for protection makes his way along Kelly Drive on April 17, 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend wearing a cloth face mask in public.

But what if you’re zooming past people on a bike or running on an empty trail? Many people have asked if they still need a mask. Let’s face it: they’re not the most comfortable accessory when sweating your way through a workout.

The answer depends on where, and potentially when, you’re exercising.

— Grace Dickinson

7:04 PM - April 17, 2020
7:04 PM - April 17, 2020

Tackling coronavirus is the next challenge for Penn cancer pioneer

Penn Medicine T-cell therapy pioneer Carl June has joined the global race to find therapies for the coronavirus.
ANDREW RENNEISEN / File Photograph
Penn Medicine T-cell therapy pioneer Carl June has joined the global race to find therapies for the coronavirus.

The coronavirus is giving a new direction to Carl June’s life — after menacing it.

June is the Penn Medicine researcher whose lab pioneered T-cell immune therapy, a revolutionary, albeit fabulously expensive, one-time treatment that has cured blood cancer patients who were terminally ill.

It turns out that the worst coronavirus infections often trigger an immune-system overreaction that is also a side effect of the T-cell therapy, now made by Novartis and branded Kymriah.

That’s why June is joining the pell-mell global race to find medicines for COVID-19, and publishing papers about likely candidates. Actemra, a rheumatoid arthritis drug that June’s team used as an antidote to Kymriah’s immune overstimulation, is now in clinical trials for severe COVID-19. And June has proposed a trial of cyclosporine, an immune suppressant long used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients.

Lanky and fit at 66, June is also newly recovered from the disease that has killed more than 140,000 people worldwide. While he didn’t need to be admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, he felt as if he were “coughing up a lung.”

— Marie McCullough

6:31 PM - April 17, 2020
6:31 PM - April 17, 2020

People with New Jersey gym memberships may now be eligible for partial refunds, credits

A sign of closure is seen inside Sweat Fitness in Center City.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A sign of closure is seen inside Sweat Fitness in Center City.

People with gym or health club memberships in New Jersey may be eligible for partial refunds or credits now that the businesses have been closed for 30 days under executive orders issued by Gov. Phil Murphy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Friday.

Under New Jersey law, if a health club is closed for more than 30 days, members are generally entitled to either have their contract extended or receive a prorated refund, Gurbir said in a news release.

The law does not apply to single-sport or single-focus facilities such as yoga studios and tennis clubs, or for children’s gyms.

A similar advisory was issued April 3 by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. A health club or gym that is closed for more than 30 days in Pennsylvania is obligated to provide a refund to members who cancel their memberships.

— Robert Moran

6:15 PM - April 17, 2020
6:15 PM - April 17, 2020

The burden is uneven, but Philly hospitals are holding up under the strain of coronavirus, officials say

New rooms inside the new Patient Pavilion for the University of Pennsylvania Health System on April 3.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
New rooms inside the new Patient Pavilion for the University of Pennsylvania Health System on April 3.

Though Philadelphia-area hospitals have been strained by coronavirus cases, city and state health officials said Friday, none so far are completely out of room for new patients. Still, some hospitals are bearing a greater load than others.

Clinical workers are exhausted and overworked at Temple University Hospital, said Francine Frezghi, president of the Temple University Hospital Nurses Association, a local of the nurses’ union PASNAP. Temple has more COVID-19 patients than any other Philadelphia institution, according to data shared by city hospitals.

There’s a slow trickle of nurses who are themselves becoming victims of the coronavirus, she said.

“Every day I’m hearing about another nurse who’s positive,” Frezghi said. “They’re scared. They’re anxious. They’re dedicated though.”

Temple University Hospital and Albert Einstein Medical Center are especially strained. Both are in low-income areas in North Philadelphia and serve many African American residents, who appear to be disproportionately affected by the virus, data suggest.

— Aubrey Whelan, Jason Laughlin, Sarah Gantz

6:03 PM - April 17, 2020
6:03 PM - April 17, 2020

Camden County marks no additional daily coronavirus deaths

Workers setup a drive-through coronavirus testing site for first responders in a parking lot at Camden County Community College in Blackwood.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Workers setup a drive-through coronavirus testing site for first responders in a parking lot at Camden County Community College in Blackwood.

Camden County on Friday reported 86 new confirmed cases of coronavirus but no additional deaths. The last time the county reported no new deaths was for April 12.

The county's total of confirmed cases is now 1,808 and the total of deaths so far is 58.

The new cases included two between the ages of 10 and 19 years old, 11 cases of people in their 20s, and two cases of people in their 90s.

Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said in a statement: “New cases continue to come in, but the county has fought to make testing more accessible to residents. Testing is critical to our understanding of how to fight this virus, and thankfully, it has never been more available to our residents than it is today. If we combine this knowledge gained with our successful social distancing practices, we will break the back of this virus and save countless lives.”

— Robert Moran

5:45 PM - April 17, 2020
5:45 PM - April 17, 2020

Pa. Sen. Pat Toomey named to panel overseeing coronavirus aid to businesses

Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Customs House in August.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Customs House in August.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey will have a key role overseeing business aid coming from Congress’ $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package.

The Republican senator was named Friday to the Congressional Oversight Committee, a bipartisan panel charged with reviewing some $500 billion in loans administered by the Treasury department and Federal Reserve. Toomey was named to the five-person committee by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Each of the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate and House pick one member, and McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi jointly choose the chair.

Toomey is a leading GOP voice on fiscal issues, a frequent critic of business regulation and an outspoken supporter of conservative, free-market ideas that usually align with business interests, though he has criticized past bailouts that, he argued, represented heavy-handed government intervention. He supported this rescue package, and wrote major provisions of the lending program for large businesses, saying the economic damage done by the coronavirus, an external force, is different than that caused by mismanagement.

“The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are being entrusted with enormous resources and authority to stabilize the economy. As a commissioner, my goal will be to protect the taxpayers by ensuring those resources are used in an appropriate, equitable, and pro-growth manner,” Toomey said in a statement.

— Jonathan Tamari

5:35 PM - April 17, 2020
5:35 PM - April 17, 2020

Texas announces dates for relaxing some coronavirus-related restrictions

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is encouraging retailers to start operating next Friday as “retail to go,” in which customers would order ahead of time and pick up items curbside.

State parks will reopen Monday, but visitors will be required to wear face coverings, he said.

Restrictions on non-coronavirus-related surgeries and procedures will also be loosened.

— The Washington Post

5:24 PM - April 17, 2020
5:24 PM - April 17, 2020

NBA, NBPA agree to reduce players’ salaries in event of season cancellation

The Sixers' Joel Embiid (21), Ben Simmons (25) and the rest of the NBA's players will have 25% taken out of their remaining salaries beginning on May 15.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
The Sixers' Joel Embiid (21), Ben Simmons (25) and the rest of the NBA's players will have 25% taken out of their remaining salaries beginning on May 15.

The long-discussed subject of salary reduction for NBA players is about to take place.

The National Basketball Players Association and the NBA have agreed to withhold 25% of the players’ paychecks beginning May 15 in the event of a permanent cancellation of regular season or playoff games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The players will receive their full paychecks on May 1.

There had been some uncertainty over whether players would get their full amount on Wednesday’s pay date since they are not playing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Owners are not obligated to pay the full amount because of an emergency clause in the players’ contracts.

— Keith Pompey

4:31 PM - April 17, 2020
4:31 PM - April 17, 2020

If you need a ventilator for COVID-19, odds are 50-50 you’ll survive. But doctors are learning more every day.

Jim Cracas posed for a portrait outside of his home in Chester Springs, Pa. on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Jim Cracas, 51, is recovering from the coronavirus, he spent multiple days on a ventilator while he was sick.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Jim Cracas posed for a portrait outside of his home in Chester Springs, Pa. on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Jim Cracas, 51, is recovering from the coronavirus, he spent multiple days on a ventilator while he was sick.

Ventilators have made headlines lately because hospitals needed more of them. While about 80% of people who contract the virus have relatively mild disease, the rest may need hospital care. Up to a quarter of those may need intensive care, which often includes time on a ventilator. People with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are not only more likely to need ventilators than those with other respiratory germs, but they also need more time on the machines — often two weeks or more, area pulmonologists said. That increases demand for ventilators.

As COVID-19 patients have swarmed into area hospitals, doctors are learning on the fly how to use ventilators for a new disease that can behave differently than anything they’ve seen before. Some hope that new treatment approaches may help some patients avoid ventilators completely.

When patients do use ventilators, doctors find that some respond well to gentler ventilation than would typically be used for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), an extreme form of lung infection that often drives the need for ventilator support. Doctors are also making much greater use of proning, or facedown positioning, with COVID-19 patients, including both those who do and do not need ventilators.

— Stacey Burling

3:57 PM - April 17, 2020
3:57 PM - April 17, 2020

Coronavirus does not only affect the elderly, Montgomery County officials remind residents

Montgomery County officials urged residents on Friday to continue being mindful of the risks associated with COVID-19, and dispelled rumors that only the elderly are contracting the virus.

County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh said that while the numbers of cases and deaths connected to long-term care facilities in the county continue to rise, the average age of people testing positive for the virus is 54.

“This isn’t someone else’s problem, this is everyone’s problem,” said Arkoosh, a physician with a background in public health. “We are all in this together and we all need to do our best to stay home and minimize our trips.”

Arkoosh said that 111 new cases were recorded in the county on Friday, for a total of 2,423. That total now includes 135 people who have died from the virus, including 91 residents in long-term care facilities.

County officials are also soliciting donations of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment for medical personnel, Arkoosh said. She asked businesses or residents interested in donating to the county supply to contact officials at covid19@montcopa.org.

“If any business out there finds a box in their closet, we would be grateful to have it,” she said.

— Vinny Vella

3:48 PM - April 17, 2020
3:48 PM - April 17, 2020

Photos: Philly sports apparel company switches to making protective equipment

Boathouse Sports, an athletic apparel company in North Philadelphia, has temporarily transitioned its operations to manufacturing personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

— Tim Tai

3:14 PM - April 17, 2020
3:14 PM - April 17, 2020

Chester County jail sergeant dies of coronavirus complications

A sergeant at the Chester County jail died Thursday due to complications from COVID-19, county officials said Friday.

The employee, whom the officials did not name at the request of his family, was 58 years old and lived in Delaware County. He had been hospitalized since March 30, according to Rebecca Brain, a spokesperson for the Chester County commissioners.

“We were extremely saddened to receive the news that one of our own staff, a Chester County Prison corrections officer, had passed due to COVID-19, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife and family," County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline said in a joint statement.

Eight employees and 10 inmates at the jail have tested positive for the virus, according to county data. The staff members remain at home in self-isolation, and the inmates have been relocated to a separate wing of the jail.

— Vinny Vella

2:54 PM - April 17, 2020
2:54 PM - April 17, 2020

Philly Mayor Jim Kenney pumps brakes on talk of reopening city

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on Friday downplayed the possibility of the city returning to normal any time soon, even as state and national leaders have started to outline broad plans for reopening.

Kenney said the city will not reopen during the coronavirus pandemic unless it significantly improved its capacity for “testing, tracking and quarantine."

“Those are three major issues we have to get to so that we can figure out how to contain the virus. We don’t know who has it, we don’t know who they have come in contact with, and we can’t quarantine them,” Kenney said in a virtual news conference.

Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city is facing a serious shortage of the swabs needed for testing, and is still seeing too many new cases to effectively implement “contact tracing,” in which officials reach out to everyone an infected person may have come in contact with before testing positive and isolating.

Without improvements in those areas, the city will not be able to control the spread of the virus, a reality Kenney said would outweigh concerns about damage to the economy or city budget.

“People staying alive and not being ill is more important,” Kenney said. “People’s lives are more valuable than the dollar.”

Kenney’s comments came as the city announced that it had 518 new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, for a total of 8,563 since the pandemic began. Thirty-four more Philadelphia residents were reported as having died of the virus on Friday, bringing the overall fatalities in the city to 298.

Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley cautioned against drawing specific conclusions based on the daily tallies, but noted that the rate of new cases appears to have plateaued around 500 per day.

Hospitalizations, which lag behind the discovery of new cases, continue to increase, he said. There were 1,633 coronavirus patients hospitalized in southeastern Pennsylvania Friday, including 852 in city hospitals.

“We’re definitely not past the worst of this,” Farley said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

2:40 PM - April 17, 2020
2:40 PM - April 17, 2020

You won’t be able to pump your own gas in New Jersey anytime soon

Sorry motorists, you won’t be allowed to pump your own gas in New Jersey anytime soon.

During his coronavirus press briefing Friday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was curt when asked if he would reconsider his decision to keep in place the state’s 70-year-old ban on self-serve gas as COVID-19 continues to spread across the state.

“Nothing new to report on self-service gas,” Murphy said.

On April 2, 183 gas stations owners sent Murphy a letter, asking the governor to consider issuing an executive order that temporarily relaxes the ban on self-serve gas. Several gas stations throughout the state have been forced to close — including at least two Wawas — after employees tested positive for COVID-19.

“New Jersey is currently the only state in the United States that does not permit any motorists to pump their own gasoline,” the New Jersey Gasoline Convenience Automotive Association said in a statement earlier this month.

“An attendant wearing gloves and never touching their face may be able to protect himself from any contamination on a sick motorist’s credit/debit card, but the virus will presumably continue to live on the attendant’s gloves and perhaps attach itself to the card of every subsequent motorist who comes in afterward.”

Oregon temporarily suspended its restriction on self-serve gas last month to ensure that essential, front line workers have access to fuel during potential staffing shortages, The Oregonian reported.

— Rob Tornoe

2:25 PM - April 17, 2020
2:25 PM - April 17, 2020

Wolf: Pennsylvania to roll out plan to reopen in phases, regions

An abandoned umbrella sits across from Jim's Steaks at 4th and South Street 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. Restaurants are now takeout or delivery only.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
An abandoned umbrella sits across from Jim's Steaks at 4th and South Street 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. Restaurants are now takeout or delivery only.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday said officials will roll out a plan in the coming weeks to relax social distancing orders by region, but cautioned that as the coronavirus case count reached nearly 30,000 this week, “our ability to prevail remains tenuous.”

“Moving to reopen large swaths of our economy now,” he said, “is only going to prolong this crisis.”

Wolf said his administration’s approach to reopening the state will rely on data to “apply regional reopenings.” He said any reopening can’t begin until testing capabilities stabilize and healthcare facilities have enough personal protective equipment to meet demand.

The governor also said any phased reopening must include both a surveillance program to allow the commonwealth to have flexibility in mitigating or containing future outbreaks, as well as continued limitations on large gatherings unrelated to occupations.

“There isn’t going to be one big day,” he said. He said more specific steps will be unveiled next week.

The White House on Thursday released guidelines for a phased approach to reopening businesses, schools and public spaces closed amid the pandemic. While the decision rests largely with governors, the federal guidelines suggest states should meet a number of benchmarks before beginning the first phase of reopening, during which schools would remain closed but some businesses would be allowed to open and all residents would be encouraged to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

Among those benchmarks are: a downward trajectory of cases within a two-week period; the ability to treat all hospital patients without resorting to “crisis care;” and a “robust” testing program for healthcare workers.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday the state’s testing has plateaued in recent days and that state officials are struggling to obtain the reagents and chemicals needed to meet the testing demand.

Wolf has faced pressure in recent days to allow some businesses to reopen, including from the GOP-controlled legislature, which passed legislation aimed at reopening some businesses that Wolf’s administration had not deemed “life-sustaining.”

Across the country, several demonstrations have cropped up, featuring residents decrying their states’ social distancing measures and business closures.

On Friday, President Donald Trump addressed states where these protests have occurred, tweeting phrases like “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

A similar protest is planned for Monday in Harrisburg. Asked about the demonstration, Wolf said he understands Pennsylvanians are eager to get back to work, but asked residents to “stay the course.”

“Let’s continue to make this good progress in keeping people safe,” he said, “and then when the time is right, we’re going to reopen, and we’ll liberate every single Pennsylvanian.”

Wolf also proposed a recovery “framework” of progressive steps that he asked the legislature to work with him on: fair wages for all Pennsylvanians, expanded worker protections, more paid sick and family leave, and expanded unemployment and reemployment aid as part of a recovery “framework.”

He said the state should also expand student loan forgiveness and increased education funding for continuity of learning.His plan would “increase wages for all Pennsylvanians,” he said, saying workers such as those in grocery stores “deserve a living wage.”

— Anna Orso, Justine McDaniel

2:22 PM - April 17, 2020
2:22 PM - April 17, 2020

Philly expects $276 million from CARES Act

Philadelphia expects to receive around $276 million in direct funding from the recently approved federal legislation aimed at limiting the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Friday.

Kenney said the city has submitted its application to the U.S. Treasury for funding from the CARES Act, which in addition to providing many Americans with checks of $1,200 or more will also include funding for state and local governments dealing with sharp declines in tax revenue.

“These funds will help Philadelphia cover some of what have already become tremendous expenses as we rush to halt the spread of this virus in the city,” Kenney said on a virtual news conference Friday. “But as thankful as we are to be eligible for this assistance, we need more action from Congress and the White House to help us. Philadelphia and other cities are staring at a tremendously dire economic outlook.”

Just before the pandemic reached Philadelphia, Kenney submitted a $5.2 billion budget proposal to City Council for the 2021 fiscal year. But with much of the city shut down and tax revenues declining rapidly, Kenney is now planning to submit a revised spending plan on May 1 reflecting the economic devastation of the virus.

— Sean Collins Walsh

2:17 PM - April 17, 2020
2:17 PM - April 17, 2020
Adwoa Bempah (left) poses for a photo taken by her boyfriend, Nik Numbers, in front of the Rocky statue, which had a mask on it, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday, April 17, 2020. People are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Adwoa Bempah (left) poses for a photo taken by her boyfriend, Nik Numbers, in front of the Rocky statue, which had a mask on it, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday, April 17, 2020. People are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

— Tim Tai

2:09 PM - April 17, 2020
2:09 PM - April 17, 2020

Pennsylvania reports sharp increase in new coronavirus cases, attributes to backlog in lab results

Pennsylvania received reports Friday of 1,706 new confirmed coronavirus cases, which is among the highest daily tallies in the past and an abrupt change from recent declines. But Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the increase is due in part to “a significant number of results from LabCorp and Quest,” labs that have experienced backlogs.

“We have still flattened the curve,” she said, noting there was a decrease in testing last week due to Passover and Easter.

Levine said there has been an increase in hospital admissions in the Southeastern and Northeastern parts of the state but she has received no reports of hospitals at capacity. Across the commonwealth, 2,524 people are hospitalized with the virus, and 654 of them are on ventilators.

“We are keeping up with bed availability, ICU availability, and ventilator availability,” Levine said, with “some challenges in the Southeast and Northeast but nothing we can’t handle.”

In Philadelphia, she said no patients have had to be moved to the overflow facility set up at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

In an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the state order requiring essential employees and their customers to wear masks will go into effect Sunday. When it does, Levine said, businesses will be tasked with enforcement, not state police.

As some chemicals needed for testing remain in short supply, Levine said health officials are talking with several health systems, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, about ramping up testing.

Long-term care facilities continue to be an area of concern, she said. Across the state, 398 long-term care facility residents have died, accounting for more than 50% of the state’s total fatalities, she said, and 321 facilities have reported confirmed cases.

The state reported an additional 49 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, bringing its total to 756. In all, Pennsylvania has had at least 29,441 cases.

— Erin McCarthy

1:39 PM - April 17, 2020
1:39 PM - April 17, 2020

N.J. contractor charged with stealing 1,600 N95 masks intended for hospital donation

A surgical N95 respirator is pictured in Philadelphia on Friday, April 3, 2020. The respirators are in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A surgical N95 respirator is pictured in Philadelphia on Friday, April 3, 2020. The respirators are in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A contractor stole at least seven cases of N95 masks from a company that intended to donate them to a local hospital in Middlesex County, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

Between March 27 and April 1, Kevin R. Brady, 49, of Point Pleasant Beach, stole seven-to-eight cases of N95 masks – which contained 200 masks each – from a storage area at the Prudential Financial facility in Iselin, N.J., prosecutors said. Brady allegedly had access to the facility as the on-site electrical contractor.

Prudential was planning to donate the masks to a local hospital in need, the Attorney General’s Office said. Brady was charged with theft and conspiracy as part of an ongoing investigation by the New Jersey State Police, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Woodbridge Police Department, and Point Pleasant Beach Police Department. The case was referred to local investigators by the National Hoarding and Price-Gouging Task Force.

— Stephanie Farr

1:29 PM - April 17, 2020
1:29 PM - April 17, 2020

N.J. to begin issuing temporary licenses to foreign-licensed physicians

At least 3,840 people have died in New Jersey after contracting COVID-19, with Gov. Phil Murphy announcing 323 new deaths in the past 24 hours.

“That’s more than five times the number of New Jerseyans we lost in 9/11,” Murphy noted during his Friday press briefing in Trenton.

New Jersey reported 3,250 new coronavirus cases, increasing the state’s total to 78,467. As of 10 p.m. Thursday night, there were 8,011 New Jerseyans hospitalized, with 1,961 in critical or intensive care.

But Murphy also noted that over the past 24 hours, 787 residents were discharged from the hospital.

“That’s good news," Murphy said.

Murphy announced that New Jersey would be the first state in the country to begin issuing temporary emergency licenses to foreign-licensed physicians, in order to help alleviate pressure on health care workers.

“We’re now the first state to begin fully tapping the tremendous wealth of international knowledge and experience to help us on our own front lines,” Murphy said.

— Rob Tornoe

1:13 PM - April 17, 2020
1:13 PM - April 17, 2020

Gov. Tom Wolf expected to outline broad plan for reopening Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a press conference, which confirmed the first two presumptive positive cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania and reminded residents that the commonwealth is prepared to respond to community spread of this virus, inside PEMA headquarters on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
Commonwealth Media Services
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a press conference, which confirmed the first two presumptive positive cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania and reminded residents that the commonwealth is prepared to respond to community spread of this virus, inside PEMA headquarters on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday is expected to announce the broad outlines of his administration’s requirements for relaxing coronavirus restrictions on businesses and residents in Pennsylvania, officials said.

It is unclear whether the governor, who is scheduled to make the announcement at 2 p.m., will provide a specific timeline for reopening the state.

— Angela Couloumbis

1:00 PM - April 17, 2020
1:00 PM - April 17, 2020

Pa. nursing homes left to largely police themselves as coronavirus deaths mount

Since the coronavirus emerged as a global threat, older adults have proved to be most acutely affected and at risk of complications and death. This is particularly notable for Pennsylvania, which has one of the oldest populations in the United States and is home to about 126,000 people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Yet as the virus gained a foothold here and spread rapidly through these facilities — whose residents now account for half of deaths in the state — staff members, residents, their families, and the wider public still know very little about what’s going on inside, and whether the companies that run them have the tools or staffing needed to protect people and save lives.

State and federal officials have not released patient and death data for individual homes, making it nearly impossible to examine if facilities are properly responding to the crisis. State officials do not require nursing homes to disclose cases to residents, family members, or the public. At the same time, federal regulators have halted regular inspections, and the state has said it would only investigate complaints that indicate patients are in immediate jeopardy.

Taken together, they have left the companies that run these homes to largely police themselves.

— Rebecca Moss

12:51 PM - April 17, 2020
12:51 PM - April 17, 2020

Photos: Behind the scenes of Philadelphia’s Share Food Program

At their Allegheny West warehouse, Share Food Program staff and volunteers create large supplies of food to be distributed to pantries, seniors, and schools to help those in need in the Philadelphia area during the coronavirus outbreak.

— Tyger Willliams

12:35 PM - April 17, 2020
12:35 PM - April 17, 2020

Swarthmore Borough sues group home keeping COVID-19 patients in former school

The exterior of CADES in Swarthmore, Pa. on Friday, April 17, 2020. Swarthmore Borough is asking a county judge to keep a group home from housing COVID-19 positive patients in a former school building on its property.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
The exterior of CADES in Swarthmore, Pa. on Friday, April 17, 2020. Swarthmore Borough is asking a county judge to keep a group home from housing COVID-19 positive patients in a former school building on its property.

Two days after a Delaware County group home moved COVID-19 positive patients into a former school in Swarthmore, the borough sued the organization, asking a judge to halt the use of the facility for such purposes.

On Tuesday, Swarthmore filed a complaint against Children and Adults Disability and Educational Services, or CADES, which is based in the borough and operates more than 30 residential group homes across Delaware, Bucks and Chester counties.

CADES says it’s using the space to isolate residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, but who would not be admitted to the hospital or who were already discharged.

The borough argued the former elementary school on CADES’ property at 401 Rutgers Ave. is being used as a medical and residential facility, which it isn’t zoned for. The borough said in the complaint it believes CADES could house “as few as 20 and as many as 50” COVID-19 positive residents in the space, typically used by the organization for educational activities and adult day care, suspended amid the pandemic.

It’s unclear how many patients are currently in the building. A letter from CADES to Swarthmore officials on Sunday said it was moving three patients to the facility that day, and that a clinical director and administrator would be on site at all times.

— Anna Orso

12:15 PM - April 17, 2020
12:15 PM - April 17, 2020

Philly tells nonessential construction firms: Stop building or we’ll shut you down

An unidentified worker crosses Packer Avenue as work continues at the future site Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
An unidentified worker crosses Packer Avenue as work continues at the future site Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2020.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has a message for construction firms that continue to work on nonessential projects during the coronavirus pandemic:

Stop building. Or pay the price.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Philadelphia’s approximately 6,000 registered contractors, the Department of Licenses and Inspections warned that they could face stop-work orders, $1,000-a-day fines, and lose their licenses if they continue to flout city and state orders to halt most construction to slow the spread of the virus.

“Non-essential construction includes all construction EXCEPT for the construction of healthcare facilities or emergency repairs specifically approved by the City of Philadelphia,” Will Fernandez, L&I’s director of audits and investigations, wrote in the letter. “Unless you have received a waiver that specifically addresses the jobsite at which you wish to work (not your company generally) you are otherwise not permitted to continue work and must immediately stop all work beyond what is necessary to make the building safe and secure.”

— William Bender

11:23 AM - April 17, 2020
11:23 AM - April 17, 2020

Fetterman: Pennsylvania ‘weeks away’ from any reopening announcement

Lt. Gov John Fetterman said Pennsylvania is “weeks away” from any major announcement about a gradual economic reopening because reports of new coronavirus cases have yet to consistently decline.

“You know, the virus doesn’t have a calendar. The virus doesn’t say, ‘I have to wrap this up by May 1st,’” he said, noting Pennsylvania’s Friday count of new cases will mark an increase from Thursday’s numbers. “Clearly Pennsylvania does not meet the criteria that the president issued yesterday with respect to 14 consecutive days [of declining cases].”

Appearing on CNN minutes after state Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who said Wolf will give “a major speech” regarding reopening plans this afternoon, Fetterman said everyone wants to get back to some semblance of normal life but urged people be patient and keep politics out of the conversation. Republican lawmakers and conservative citizens have pushed back against stay-at-home orders and business closures in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

“We cannot afford to politicize this virus,” he said. “It doesn’t check your party affiliation before it infects you.”

— Erin McCarthy

10:59 AM - April 17, 2020
10:59 AM - April 17, 2020

Levine: Wolf to give 'major speech’ on what’s next for Pennsylvania

A day after President Donald Trump issued guidelines for a phased economic reopening, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Gov. Tom Wolf will on Friday afternoon “give a major speech” about what that might look like in the commonwealth, though an exact timeline won’t be shared publicly.

In an interview on CNN, Levine pushed back against critics, including Republican lawmakers, who say the administration has overstepped with its stay-at-home order and mandated shutdowns of some industries that remain open in other states.

“We don’t feel that we went too far at all. The governor has taken necessary steps to do mitigation and prevention,” she said. “But now is the time to start to look at what would be necessary to have a phased reopening.”

When asked whether Pennsylvania is getting the help it needs from the Trump administration, Levine noted Wolf’s regular calls with Vice President Mike Pence and two shipments of N95 masks from the federal stockpile. But she reiterated concerns she expressed Thursday about the state’s decreased testing capabilities due to a shortage of needed chemicals.

State officials still need to see a sustained decrease in the number of new cases and in the percentage of positive cases, as well as increased resources to do testing and contract tracing before starting to reopen, she said.

— Erin McCarthy

10:47 AM - April 17, 2020
10:47 AM - April 17, 2020

Philly athletic apparel company pivots to making hospital gear

Boathouse sports ceased operation on March 19 when all non-essential Philly businesses were forced to close. Now, the athletic wear company is reopened and making hospital gear and PPE.

— Kristen Balderas and Mike Jensen

9:55 AM - April 17, 2020
9:55 AM - April 17, 2020

N.J. pizza shop owner charged after employees failed to wear masks and gloves

A Cherry Hill man was charged Wednesday after employees of his Sicklerville pizza shop failed to wear masks and gloves despite New Jersey’s mandate that essential workers do so to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Jeffrey Brady, 62, told police it was too hot for Corrado’s Pizza employees to wear masks while working near the ovens, authorities said, and customers could not understand them when they took takeout orders over the phone.

Brady could not immediately be reached Friday for comment.

He was charged with violating emergency orders, an offense that could be punished by as many as six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

An Atlantic City man was also charged Wednesday with violating the orders, among other offenses. Jason Reiner, 44, shop-lifted from a CVS on Atlantic Avenue, resisted arrest, and then repeatedly and intentionally coughed on officers, authorities said.

— Erin McCarthy

9:35 AM - April 17, 2020
9:35 AM - April 17, 2020

Stocks surge on hopes of experimental coronavirus drug

The Wall St. street sign is framed by U.S. flags flying outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Stocks surged on Friday on early results of a possible coronavirus treatment. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Mary Altaffer / AP
The Wall St. street sign is framed by U.S. flags flying outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Stocks surged on Friday on early results of a possible coronavirus treatment. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Stocks opened up sharply on Friday as investors react to news that a Gilead Sciences drug called remdesivir showed effectiveness treating coronavirus patients.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened up about 530 points, or 2.25%. Despite closing down on Thursday, the Dow has gained 26.6% since late March, as signs begin to point to coronavirus cases plateauing due to social distancing efforts.

The Nasdaq opened up about 105 points (about 1.25%), while the S&P 500 opened up 55 points (about 1.95%).

University of Chicago Medicine researchers said they saw “rapid recoveries” in 125 coronavirus patients taking the experimental new drug as part of a clinical trial, medical site STAT reported, warning the outcomes “offer only a snapshot of remdesivir’s effectiveness.”

“Partial data from an ongoing clinical trial is by definition incomplete and should never be used to draw conclusions about the safety or efficacy of a potential treatment that is under investigation,” the University of Chicago said in a statement. “Drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound.”

— Rob Tornoe

9:08 AM - April 17, 2020
9:08 AM - April 17, 2020

Astronauts return to a much different Earth after avoiding coronavirus pandemic in space

U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir waves shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-15 space capsule near Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
Andrey Shelepin / AP
U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir waves shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-15 space capsule near Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

Two American astronauts landed safely on Earth Friday after spending over 200 days on the International Space Station, returning to a world much different than the one they left behind.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, safely touched down as scheduled in central Kazakhstan Friday morning. Russian officials told the Associated Press they took stringent measures to protect the crew members amid the pandemic, including closely observing the recovery team for nearly a month.

“We can watch news up here, and we’ve been talking to friends and families to try to paint a picture,” Morgan said during a press conference last week. “But from up here, it’s hard to understand what has transpired and how life will be different when we return.”

Meir described the strict quarantine she and Morgan will have to endure once they return to the United States, which includes staying and living at NASA in isolation due to the effect spaceflight has on the immune system.

“That is the irony. I mean, we’re going to be going for seven months of isolation for me, nine months for my crewmate Drew Morgan - to more isolation on the ground,” Meir said during an interview with NPR. “And not even just that first week - it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of isolation for the foreseeable future, as well.”

— Rob Tornoe

8:18 AM - April 17, 2020
8:18 AM - April 17, 2020

‘After everything I went through… trust me, you don’t want to rush back into this’

A Newtown Square man went on CNN Friday to share his coronavirus recovery story, warning others to take the virus seriously and not rush a return to normalcy.

Jason Hartelius, 42, a freelance sports producer, shared a video of him struggling to breath last month.

“I’m in the middle of one of the coughing attacks I get for a few minutes at a time,” he said in the March 21 clip, his fourth day with the virus. “It feels like I can’t breathe."

Hartelius, who said he has no health conditions, compared the respiratory distress to the feeling of being underwater too long, coming up for air for a second, then being pulled under again.

A few days after he recorded that video, he said he was no longer able to catch his breath and went to the hospital. There, he hardly slept for three days out of fear he would stop breathing. He said he sometimes questioned whether he’d survive.

“I stared out the window for awhile and kind of had a little conversation with myself: ‘Are you going to make it out of here?’” he said.

Hartelius, who developed pneumonia, did not need to be intubated but said three days of oxygen helped his condition improve. He has now been symptom-free for about three weeks.

As politicians and experts discuss a slow economic reopening, Hartelius urged caution, noting healthy people like him can be sickened or pass the virus to coworkers, who could fall ill or die.

“Just be patient. I’m unemployed right now, like everybody else,” he said. “After everything I went through … trust me, you don’t want to rush back into this.”

— Erin McCarthy

7:28 AM - April 17, 2020
7:28 AM - April 17, 2020

Delaware schools will likely close for the rest of the year

Delaware Gov. John Carney said the state’s public schools, currently closed until May 15, will likely not return until next school year due to guidelines outlined by the Trump administration on Thursday

“We haven’t made that decision yet, but looking at these guidelines that’s probably where we are going to end up,” Carney said during an interview on CNN.

According to the Trump administration’s guidelines for reopening the economy, schools should remain closed in states during phase one. Carney said that Delaware is “days, maybe weeks away” from entering phase one of the reopening process.

Delaware added 61 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the smallest increase in nearly two weeks. 2,075 Delawareans have tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 52 have died.

— Rob Tornoe

5:30 AM - April 17, 2020
5:30 AM - April 17, 2020

Pa. released figures on the coronavirus and race, but not specific geographic data. Experts say that’s a problem.

A medical worker puts on personal protective equipment before entering a patient room inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A medical worker puts on personal protective equipment before entering a patient room inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

New figures released Thursday show black Pennsylvanians make up a disproportionate amount of coronavirus cases across the commonwealth. But public health officials who released the numbers amid pressure to share more demographic information about COVID-19 cases cautioned that the data represent only a quarter of confirmed cases.

While other states and municipalities have publicized data on the race of COVID-19 patients for weeks, Pennsylvania has struggled to collect comprehensive demographics, which experts and some lawmakers say are vital to public health officials’ ability to target resources and begin to scale back social distancing.

Though the state’s data on race is incomplete, the virus’ spread in minority communities can be tracked in other ways. Sharrelle Barber, an assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University, said geographic data on cases down to the zip code or neighborhood can be linked with census indicators to help fill the gaps.

But the state Department of Health, which has addresses for the majority of those tested and those who have died, has resisted calls to publish case and death counts that are more granular than county-level.

— Anna Orso, Cynthia Fernandez

5:15 AM - April 17, 2020
5:15 AM - April 17, 2020

Is Philly air cleaner because of coronavirus stay-at-home orders?

Boathouse Row in Philadelphia, Thursday, April 16, 2020.
Frank Wiese / Staff
Boathouse Row in Philadelphia, Thursday, April 16, 2020.

Cars, trucks, and buses are among the top pollution sources in Philadelphia, given the vast network of normally traffic-choked roads within the city and surrounding areas.

The compounds emitted from those commuter tailpipes include particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide. In addition, the burning of fossil fuels produces volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

It’s been widely assumed that levels of those pollutants would drop significantly during the coronavirus shutdown, which has reduced rush-hour traffic to a fraction of its normal load. But is that true? We look at the data from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Air Management Services to find out.

— Frank Kummer

4:30 AM - April 17, 2020
4:30 AM - April 17, 2020

Morning roundup: Coronavirus patients pushing some Philadelphia-area hospitals near capacity; N.J. schools to stay closed until May 15

More patients infected with the coronavirus were filling Philadelphia-area hospitals on Thursday, and some hospitals in the region were “at or near capacity, especially for intensive care unit beds,” city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

In Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, 1,551 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Thursday afternoon, the highest number to date, and hospital data indicated that “definitely we’re not past the worst of it,” Farley said. Hospitals were preparing to transfer patients to other hospitals upon running out of space, but Temple University’s Liacouras Center also stands ready to accept patients if needed, he said.

One model predicted that Thursday would be the state’s peak number of hospitalizations and that deaths would peak in several days, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said, but she did not indicate whether that seemed to be occurring. “We will see if that model is true,” she said.

Still, Pennsylvania officials on Thursday were “very confident that we’ve flattened the curve,” Levine said, and have recorded a slowdown in the number of coronavirus cases, the percentage of tests that are positive, and reports from emergency rooms about virus diagnoses and flulike symptoms.

— Justine McDaniel, Laura McCrystal, Pranshu Verma

4:00 AM - April 17, 2020
4:00 AM - April 17, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Friday, April 17, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Friday, April 17, 2020.