12:58 AM - April 22, 2020
12:58 AM - April 22, 2020

SEPTA union president threatens 'job action’ Thursday over safety concerns

SEPTA driver Allison Cooper sanitizes handles on a bus at the Fern Rock Transportation Center in North Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Cooper and some other SEPTA drivers have taken shifts sanitizing buses rather than driving due to the reduced transit service.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
SEPTA driver Allison Cooper sanitizes handles on a bus at the Fern Rock Transportation Center in North Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Cooper and some other SEPTA drivers have taken shifts sanitizing buses rather than driving due to the reduced transit service.

The president of the the union representing thousands of SEPTA workers threatened a “job action” on Thursday if the transit agency does not address ongoing safety concerns about coronavirus risks.

In a short video message from TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown to the union members posted Tuesday, he warned that “if SEPTA does not meet our demands, we will take a job action. You will come to work, and we will take a job action.”

“SEPTA is turning a blind eye, a deaf ear to our concerns,” Brown said.

6ABC reported that a union spokesperson emphasized that this was not a threat to strike.

Brown did not explain what his union might do, but he advised members to “be prepared. Put your personal feelings aside. Let’s get unified and let’s get ready to roll."

Last week, SEPTA announced that a longtime Regional Rail conductor had died of complications from COVID-19. Earlier this month, the union said two maintenance workers had died because of the virus.

SEPTA reported Tuesday on its website that 192 employees have tested positive for the virus.

An agency spokesperson could be reached for comment, but SEPTA said on its website: “We are proactively implementing measures to protect the safety of our customers and our employees, and that includes making information available when one of our employees has tested positive for the virus."

One of the union’s demands is to limit the number of riders on any SEPTA vehicle to 15.

The transit agency has drastically reduced service on its system in response to the pandemic and restrictions ordered by Mayor Jim Kenney and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

— Robert Moran

8:55 PM - April 21, 2020
8:55 PM - April 21, 2020

‘It’s been very challenging’: Philadelphians who live alone grapple with isolation

Sabrina Ko, a 24-year-old software engineer, lives alone in a Center City studio apartment with her cat, Milo.
Sabrina Ko
Sabrina Ko, a 24-year-old software engineer, lives alone in a Center City studio apartment with her cat, Milo.

When Mayor Jim Kenney ordered all Philadelphia residents to practice social distancing and stay home five weeks ago, Sabrina Ko, who lives in a Center City studio apartment, considered going to her family’s home for the duration of the pandemic.

But Ko, a 24-year-old software engineer, knew that to get to her family in Bergen County, N.J., she would have to pass through major transportation hubs like the Port Authority in New York City, possibly putting her grandmother, who lives with her mom, at risk. Plus, she had just adopted a cat, and she didn’t want to leave him.

So Ko chose to stay in Philadelphia — alone.

“I thought it’d be safer for everyone if I stayed here,” she said.

Psychologists and researchers expect social distancing and quarantine to worsen mental health for a significant portion of the population, but people who live alone may be more at risk for symptoms of depression or anxiety. According to 2015 Census data, about one third of Philadelphia’s households are individuals living alone.

— Bethany Ao

7:40 PM - April 21, 2020
7:40 PM - April 21, 2020

There’s so much coronavirus information out there. Here’s how to make sense of it.

A pedestrian crosses 11th and Market Street in Center City Philadelphia on Wednesday, April 08, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian crosses 11th and Market Street in Center City Philadelphia on Wednesday, April 08, 2020.

Wait a minute.

Breathe.

That’s the first step, media literacy and digital information experts said, for dealing with the absolute torrent of information coming at all of us right now during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are an infinite number of articles from news organizations, around-the-clock coverage on TV, a steady stream of info from public health organizations. There are the social media posts from friends. There are studies and charts everywhere you look. There are those emails your family keep forwarding.

“If you think it’s hard to navigate the information cycle right now, you’re right. It is hard,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. “People are really overwhelmed right now.”

That means, Lipkin said, that it’s not just you.

But there are strategies that can help you make sense of it all.

— Jonathan Lai

7:22 PM - April 21, 2020
7:22 PM - April 21, 2020

After he nearly died from the coronavirus, Tony Luke’s son wants to spread a message of hope

Michael Lucidonio, left, and his father, restaurateur Tony Luke. Lucidonio, 35, recently battled COVID-19, spending two days on a ventilator.
courtesy Michael Lucidonio
Michael Lucidonio, left, and his father, restaurateur Tony Luke. Lucidonio, 35, recently battled COVID-19, spending two days on a ventilator.

On March 20, Michael Lucidonio, the son of South Philly cheesesteak mogul Tony Luke Jr., had a fever and some nausea — not at the time widely recognized as a symptom of COVID-19. Over the next week, on his doctor’s advice, he stayed home in South Jersey with his wife and daughter, rested, tried to recover.

But within 10 days, Lucidonio, 35, was in the intensive care unit at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital, his lungs ravaged by the coronavirus. His best shot at survival, doctors decided, was a ventilator.

Before he went under, he begged his pulmonologist: “Please don’t let me die.”

A month after his brush with death, Lucidonio and his father are speaking out about their experience with COVID-19 to get the doubters to take the virus seriously.

“People have to really understand that even if they believe it doesn’t affect them, there are people who will die from their carelessness,” Tony Luke said.

They also want to provide hope for others going through the same terrifying ordeal. They want to remind other families, worried about sick loved ones, that recovery from the virus is possible even after being on a ventilator.

— Aubrey Whelan

7:06 PM - April 21, 2020
7:06 PM - April 21, 2020

CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus this winter will likely be worse

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon / AP
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Even as states move ahead with plans to reopen their economies, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that a second wave of the novel coronavirus will be far more deadly because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the health-care system, he said. The first wave of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has already killed more than 42,000 people across the country. It has already overwhelmed hospitals and revealed gaping shortages in test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health-care workers.

In a wide-ranging interview, Redfield said federal and state officials need to use the coming months to prepare for what lies ahead. As stay-at-home orders are lifted, officials need to stress the continued importance of social distancing. Officials also need to need to massively scale up their ability to identify the infected through testing and find everyone they interact with through contact tracing. Doing so prevents new cases from becoming larger outbreaks.

— The Washington Post

6:33 PM - April 21, 2020
6:33 PM - April 21, 2020

Trump suspends immigration for 60 days, cites job shortage and coronavirus concerns

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon / AP
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States, he said Tuesday, citing concerns over the coronavirus and his desire to “protect American jobs” amid an unprecedented spike in unemployment.

The order would be in effect for 60 days, and would suspend the issuance of green cards to people looking to become permanent residents, Trump said at Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing.

It would not apply to people coming into the country on a temporary basis. He said that the order will have “certain exemptions” and said that “some people will be able to get in,” but did not elaborate on the order’s details. He said the order will be written tonight and signed tomorrow.

Migrant workers will not be affected by the order, Trump said.

“By pausing immigration we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs,” Trump said.

“It would be wrong for Americans to be replaced by new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” he said. Trump tweeted about his plans to suspend immigration Monday night.

— Ellie Rushing

6:12 PM - April 21, 2020
6:12 PM - April 21, 2020

Pennsylvania’s nonprofits are fraying in the face of the coronavirus onslaught

Members of the 128th Brigade Support Battalion of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard work loading boxes of food into cars at a distribution for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Monday, April 20, 2020, in Duquesne, Pa. The food bank has seen a sharp increase in need since statewide shutdowns of non-essential businesses in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
Darrell Sapp / AP
Members of the 128th Brigade Support Battalion of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard work loading boxes of food into cars at a distribution for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Monday, April 20, 2020, in Duquesne, Pa. The food bank has seen a sharp increase in need since statewide shutdowns of non-essential businesses in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

A survey of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on nonprofit charitable organizations across Pennsylvania paints an alarming picture of increased demand for food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities, and a flagging ability of safety-net charities to keep pace, according to a survey released Tuesday.

As fundraising events have been canceled, donations have dried up, and program fees have vanished, a large majority of the 190 survey respondents (71%) from every Pennsylvania county projected a collective revenue shortfall of $42 million and counting.

The charities surveyed by the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, a Harrisburg-based service group, cover the range of nonprofit activities from food banks to community arts programs.

Nearly half the charities, whose budgets range in size from about $500,000 to more than $20 million, reported increased demand for services that have strained operations and raised the specter and the reality of furloughs and layoffs.

The increasing need and the shrinking capacity have led to a bitter reality: two-thirds of the 190 groups reported that more than 800,000 clients had seen a reduction in services. Those services, according to 211 assistance calls to the United Way over the past three days, include providing such fundamental help as finding or maintaining shelter, keeping utilities in service, and lining up employment and food.

— Stephan Salisbury

5:45 PM - April 21, 2020
5:45 PM - April 21, 2020

Senate unanimously passes nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid package

A nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid package flew through the Senate on Tuesday after Congress and the White House reached a deal to replenish a small business payroll fund and provided new money for hospitals and testing. It now goes to the House.

Passage was swift and unanimous, despite opposition from conservative Republicans, and President Donald Trump tweeted his support pledging to sign it into law.

“The Senate is continuing to stand by the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

— Associated Press

5:43 PM - April 21, 2020
5:43 PM - April 21, 2020

How to donate plasma to help coronavirus patients

People who have recovered from the coronavirus may be eligible to donate plasma, which can then be administered to others who have not yet recovered.

In theory, the antibody-laden plasma may be beneficial for other patients whose immune systems have not yet learned to make antibodies against the virus. In the United States, hundreds of patients have been treated this way so far, including two dozen in the Philadelphia area and New Jersey, though the benefit is unproven.

Read more on how and where you can donate plasma.

— Tom Avril

5:28 PM - April 21, 2020
5:28 PM - April 21, 2020
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

A pedestrian walks by a mural painted by the artist “Jes Paints” depicting a healthcare worker at 10th and Spruce in Center City Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. On Tuesday, Philadelphia surpassed 10,000 confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

— Heather Khalifa

5:26 PM - April 21, 2020
5:26 PM - April 21, 2020

Activists fear many more ICE detainees are infected with the coronavirus than limited testing shows

Emma Pajer, a Temple University law student working with the school's Sheller Center for Social Justice, calls for the closure of the Berks County migrant detention center during a rally in front of the One Parkway Building in Center City Philadelphia on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Emma Pajer, a Temple University law student working with the school's Sheller Center for Social Justice, calls for the closure of the Berks County migrant detention center during a rally in front of the One Parkway Building in Center City Philadelphia on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.

For weeks, immigration activists argued that the trickle of COVID-19 cases in ICE detention centers was not proof of the success of the agency’s safety precautions — not without knowing how many migrants had been tested.

Last week, they got their answer: Tests had been administered to only about 400 of roughly 32,000 immigrants held in jails and prisons across the country.

At that moment on Friday, 124 detainees had tested positive, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures. That means almost a third of those tested were infected.

The numbers “make clear that ICE has chosen to prioritize its deterrence agenda over the safety of literally everyone,” said Philadelphia immigration lawyer Juliette Gomez, whose clients include migrants held in Pennsylvania. “Not only are detainees unsafe, but so is every person who steps inside these facilities, and everyone who comes into contact with those individuals.”

— Jeff Gammage

5:15 PM - April 21, 2020
5:15 PM - April 21, 2020

Philadelphia school meal program shifts to one day a week to support city stay-at-home order

Kenya Cannon (left) and her children leave after picking up meals at Mastery Charter Shoemaker, which two of the kids attend, in West Philadelphia on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Parents are able to pick up meals for kids at a number of local schools while they are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Kenya Cannon (left) and her children leave after picking up meals at Mastery Charter Shoemaker, which two of the kids attend, in West Philadelphia on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Parents are able to pick up meals for kids at a number of local schools while they are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Philadelphia School District’s meal program is shifting to one day a week effective Thursday.

Instead of twice-weekly meal pickups, families will now have one opportunity a week to pick up free breakfasts and lunches. The number of meals will not change each student is eligible for five breakfasts and five lunches a week, as well as a half-gallon of milk.

Going forward, meal distribution will happen every Thursday at the 49 school sites across the city previously outlined by the district.

Schools officials said the change was made to support the city’s stay-at-home order and flatten the coronavirus curve.

— Kristen A. Graham

4:22 PM - April 21, 2020
4:22 PM - April 21, 2020

Photos: National Guard delivers 15,000 meals to Delaware County

— Michael Bryant

4:12 PM - April 21, 2020
4:12 PM - April 21, 2020

Trump says he will sign new bill boosting money for small businesses, hospitals, and testing as lawmakers finalize package

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon / AP
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would sign legislation pending in Congress to replenish a small business loan program that’s been overrun by demand and also boost spending for hospitals and coronavirus testing.

Final text was still being reviewed ahead of a scheduled 4 p.m. vote in the Senate, but Trump’s tweet endorsed those efforts.

"I urge the Senate and House to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act with additional funding for PPP, Hospitals, and Testing," he wrote, adding a number of other issues he'd like to address in a future round of negotiations.

The $484 billion legislation would increase funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by $310 billion, boost a separate small business emergency grant and loan program by $60 billion, and direct $75 billion to hospitals and $25 billion to a new coronavirus testing program.

— The Washington Post

4:09 PM - April 21, 2020
4:09 PM - April 21, 2020

Murphy: ‘Still weeks to go’ before New Jersey reopens economy

Gov. Phil Murphy said on Tuesday there are “still weeks to go” before New Jersey reopens its economy, and when it does it will be piecemeal.

“Things won’t pop back as they were,” Murphy said. “Going back to the way things were, and doing nothing would be our greatest danger. The new normal won’t look like the old normal.”

Murphy said New Jersey will have to “at least double” its testing capacity before he feels it will be safe enough to restart the economy. The state is currently operating 73 testing sites statewide, Murphy said.

Murphy reported New Jersey saw its deadliest day yet, with 379 additional coronavirus deaths. This increases the state death toll to 4,753. Murphy reported another 3,643 have also tested positive for the disease, bringing the case count to 92,387.

New Jersey residents who did not qualify for student loan assistance under the federal CARES Act can now take advantage of a state initiative that will give them up to 90 days of relief on their loan payments, Murphy said. This could benefit up to 200,000 New Jerseyans with private student loans, officials said.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted African Americans are still disproportionately represented in New Jersey’s coronavirus deaths. Over 22% of the state’s fatalities are black, while the community makes up only 15% of the statewide population.

Persichilli said that New Jersey’s surge of coronavirus patients has shifted to central New Jersey, where most critical care beds are full and at least one major hospital is reporting it is overwhelmed and diverting patients elsewhere.

Persichilli noted there are 11,527 patients who have tested positive in the state’s more than 400 long-term care facilities. There are also 2,048 people who have died who lived in these facilities.

She also noted that data released on long-term care facilities yesterday is being reviewed because of some “gaps” and inaccuracies.

— Pranshu Verma

4:04 PM - April 21, 2020
4:04 PM - April 21, 2020

With government offices shuttered by COVID-19, Delaware County temporarily furloughs 400 workers

Delaware County Courthouse, September 17, 2019. JOSE MORENO / Staff Photographer.
JOSE MORENO / Staff Photographer
Delaware County Courthouse, September 17, 2019. JOSE MORENO / Staff Photographer.

This week, Delaware County became the first in the Philadelphia region to institute temporary furloughs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

About 400 workers — roughly an eighth of the county’s total workforce — are included in the cutbacks, officials said Tuesday. The measure largely affects county office workers who have been unable to do their jobs remotely.

Delaware County’s courthouse and government center in Media have been operating with a bare-bones staff since March 16, when executive orders suspending most county services were signed.

The furloughs do not affect any public safety departments, including the sheriff’s office, the emergency call center, or the superintendents overseeing the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Staff at Fair Acres, the county-run nursing home, are also exempt.

County Chief Executive Marianne Grace, in a letter sent to department heads Thursday, said the furloughs went into effect Sunday and are expected to “last a few weeks."

— Vinny Vella

4:00 PM - April 21, 2020
4:00 PM - April 21, 2020

Chester, Delaware Counties to begin providing more information on coronavirus cases at long-term elder care facilities

Officials in Chester and Delaware Counties announced Tuesday that they will begin to provide more detailed information about the number of positive coronavirus cases at long-term care facilities for seniors.

The Chester County Health Department, which is temporarily providing service to Delaware County, added the data to its online dashboard of COVID-19 statistics. As of Tuesday, Chester County had 171 cases in 21 facilities, and 35 deaths. Delaware County had 464 cases in 39 facilities, and 71 deaths.

Deaths of seniors living in these facilities account for about half of Pennsylvania’s total number of fatalities connected to the pandemic. Because the facilities are licensed by the state, the respective county governments have declined to identify the number of cases and deaths in specific facilities. The state has in turn declined to provide that data as well.

One of Chester County’s facilities, the state-run Southeastern Veterans Center, has recorded a particularly high outbreak of cases, and has seen at least 10 deaths, according to data obtained by The Inquirer.

— Vinny Vella

3:52 PM - April 21, 2020
3:52 PM - April 21, 2020

Fearing coronavirus at hospitals, patients with heart attacks or strokes may be staying away, doctors say

A patient arriving at the emergency room at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center last week.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
A patient arriving at the emergency room at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center last week.

Joseph S. Bushra still wonders whether he could have done more for the woman, who was in her mid-40s. She turned up in his emergency room earlier this month with severe neurological symptoms. Her worried family had pleaded with her to go to the hospital, but she refused. She was too afraid of the coronavirus.

“By the time she came in, it was too late for her, and she died,” said Bushra, an emergency medicine specialist at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood. “There was nothing we could do. It’s tragic. … The virus kept her from coming to the hospital when she should have.”

Bushra said he didn’t know if he could have saved her life had she come in sooner, “but we would have had more of a chance.” He said she died of “a neurologic condition,” but declined to elaborate to protect her family’s privacy.

The woman’s death highlights a disturbing trend seen by emergency doctors and paramedics across the Philadelphia region: a decline in the number of people being rushed to the hospital — with a palpable drop in patients with heart attack and stroke symptoms, like chest pain and numbness.

— Sarah Gantz, Wendy Ruderman

3:05 PM - April 21, 2020
3:05 PM - April 21, 2020

Murphy says no decision made on N.J. beaches, as Wildwood protester calls them to open by May 1

Governor Murphy speaks to press and answers questions along the damaged boardwalk with Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron beside him in Wildwood, N.J., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Governor Murphy speaks to press and answers questions along the damaged boardwalk with Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron beside him in Wildwood, N.J., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was at the Jersey Shore on Tuesday to survey blocks of storm damage to the Wildwood boardwalk, but that was far from the number one thing on people’s minds.

“Open the beaches by May 1, 2020,” shouted Staci McGregor, 48, of Wildwood Crest, holding a sign that said, “Stop the Nonsense!”

“It’s not crowd control," she told reporters gathered for Murphy’s visit, citing the governor’s rationale for closing state parks and other areas of recreation. "I get closer to people in the grocery stores and the liquor stores than I do on these beaches.”

But Murphy demurred, saying he was not yet ready to make any statewide decision about the beaches, some of which have been closed by mayors, while others, including Atlantic City and Margate, remain open.

— Amy Rosenberg

2:52 PM - April 21, 2020
2:52 PM - April 21, 2020

New Jersey, Pennsylvania lack strong renter protection in coronavirus pandemic, could see surge in evictions, data show

A pedestrian walks down a quiet street in Old City, Philadelphia.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks down a quiet street in Old City, Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not have strong renter protections for residents struggling amid the coronavirus, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab’s latest data, and the states could see a surge in evictions after state emergency measures are lifted. But Delaware has some of the best policies, the lab said.

The Eviction Lab, which collects nationwide eviction data, worked with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer to build policy scorecards for each state to measure their responsiveness to eviction and housing issues during the pandemic.

New Jersey received a score of 1.65 out of 5. Gov. Phil Murphy issued a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and the state Supreme Court halted eviction proceedings two months following the state of emergency.

While tenants cannot be removed from their residences, landlords can still file for eviction, even for non-emergency reasons. Utility companies are also not required to suspend shutoffs, and landlords are still able to report missed or late payments to credit agencies.

Pennsylvania received a score of 1.53 out of 5. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has frozen much of the eviction process through April 30, but landlords can still file eviction cases. Without further action on eviction filings or rental debt, Pennsylvania could still see a surge of evictions soon after the state of emergency expires, the Eviction Lab said. While Pennsylvania has ordered utilities cannot be disconnected.

Meanwhile, Delaware received a score of 3.88, the second-highest in the country. Delaware’s governor issued an eviction and foreclosure moratorium until two months after the emergency declaration ends. Landlords are prohibited from filing for eviction under all circumstances and may not charge late fees.

Delaware has not issued a rent freeze, but the state is providing up to $1,500 for renters unable to pay rent due to COVID-19.

— Ellie Rushing

2:42 PM - April 21, 2020
2:42 PM - April 21, 2020

Carney: Delaware social distancing slowing the coronavirus curve as cases near 3,000

Even as Delaware surges to nearly 3,000 coronavirus cases, Gov. John Carney says social distancing efforts are slowing the curve of new infections, bringing the state closer to the possibility of reopening certain businesses.

Delaware reported 186 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, increasing the state’s total to 2,931. Ten more Delawareans died over the past 24 hours, increasing the state’s death toll to 82 — more than half of which are associated with long-term care facilities.

Carney said according to guidance provided by the Trump administration, states need to show a decline in new coronavirus cases for 14 days before they can consider entering Phase 1 of the reopening plan.

There also needs to be widespread testing, which Carney said Delaware is working to acquire and develop.

“We have to have a healthier community if we want to make our economy healthy again,” Carney said.

Delawareans have certainly been impacted by the economic impact of COVID-19. From March 15 to April 11, 61,842 Delawareans filed for unemployment claims, which Secretary of Labor Cerron Cade said was almost the number of claims the state received over the last two years combined.

Cade also said the state is paying out more than $30 million a week in unemployment benefits, up from $3 million per week prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

All told, the state is projecting a nearly $785 million decrease in revenue over the next two years, nearly 18% of the state’s annual $4.4 billion budget.

“This is a staggering number,” Cade said.

— Rob Tornoe

2:34 PM - April 21, 2020
2:34 PM - April 21, 2020

Tight housing conditions, lack of health-care put migrant workers on Pa. farms at high risk for the coronavirus

Pennsylvania is failing to adequately protect migrant farmworkers from the coronavirus, an issue that will become more critical as orchards and farms ramp up efforts to recruit laborers in the coming months, experts and advocates said.

There are 360 farm labor camps in Pennsylvania that house 4,300 seasonal and guest workers — most of whom are migrant laborers hired through a contractor or those with H-2A visas, according to the state — in barracks-style facilities as well as motels, rooming houses, dormitories, and mobile homes.

Those conditions could facilitate the spread of COVID-19 through a population that experts say is particularly vulnerable because of limited access to health care, language barriers, and a lack of clear information about disease prevention.

“Even if you have a permitted farm labor camp in Pennsylvania, it is more likely than not going to be overcrowded if somebody doesn’t set up new requirements,” said Arthur Read, an attorney with Justice at Work, a nonprofit that represents low-wage immigrant workers. “Clearly, I think the reality of lots of these things is they’re going to get worse before they get better.”

— Cynthia Fernandez

2:22 PM - April 21, 2020
2:22 PM - April 21, 2020

Photos: How the coronavirus has affected lives in the Philadelphia region

— Inquirer Staff Photographers

2:17 PM - April 21, 2020
2:17 PM - April 21, 2020

Study finds more deaths, no benefit from malaria drug touted by Trump

 An arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills.
John Locher / AP
An arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills.

A malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus showed no benefit in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.

The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment. But with 368 patients, it’s the largest look so far of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19, which has killed more than 171,000 people as of Tuesday.

— Associated Press

2:03 PM - April 21, 2020
2:03 PM - April 21, 2020

Pennsylvania reports steep increase in coronavirus deaths as state begins to include probable cases in count

Pennsylvania began counting probable coronavirus deaths in earnest on Tuesday, adding an additional 360 new deaths, 282 of which were probable, to the state’s cumulative tally.

The 282 new probable cases stem from “a collection of reports over the past number of weeks,” said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

“This increase didn’t happen overnight, but it is a culmination of our efforts to continue to bring to the public the most accurate data possible,” she said. “This is part of the work of our epidemiologists, our disease investigators ... This is how they usually report infectious illnesses. It has just taken time given the scope of COVID-19 to be able to get to this place where we can do this reporting.”

A few probable deaths were also included in Sunday’s count, she said. Three hundred of the state’s 1,264 deaths so far have been in probable cases, she added.

In all, the state reported 1,296 new positive cases on Tuesday for a total of 34,528 since the pandemic hit the region. Those numbers now also include probable cases, with 315 of Tuesday’s numbers falling into that category.

In the facing of increasing pressure to release more data on cases in long-term care facilities, like New Jersey did Monday, Levine said state officials will make public more information regarding nursing homes later this week.

She said Wolf has talked with the Centers for Disease Control and other health officials on the effectiveness of antibody testing. She would like the state lab in Exton to have the ability to do that, but only when it’s determined to be effective.

Even then, “it’s going to be more of a surveillance technique,” she said. “It doesn’t diagnose COVID-19.”

And experts are still determining what an antibody means in this case and how long people have some, if any, immunity to do the virus after being sickened, Levine said.

While Wolf said earlier Tuesday that he knew of no budget or plans regarding contract tracing, Levine expressed optimism.

“We will have the ability to do contract tracing,” she said, “and we are working on exactly what that plan would look like and exactly what kind of personnel we would need.”

— Erin McCarthy

1:38 PM - April 21, 2020
1:38 PM - April 21, 2020

Deadline is Wednesday for some to claim $500 stimulus benefit for kids

Workers enter the IRS building on Dec. 11, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
Molly Riley / MCT
Workers enter the IRS building on Dec. 11, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Individuals receiving Social Security, disability, veterans benefits, or Railroad Retirement benefits will automatically receive their $1,200 stimulus check without taking any action.

However, if you fall under one of these categories and have eligible children under the age of 17, the IRS says you need to use the “Non-Filers” tool on their website in order to claim the $500 payment you’re owed.

The IRS says the tool will request the following basic information to confirm eligibility, calculate your payment, and send it to you:

  • Full names and Social Security numbers, including for spouse and dependents
  • Current mailing address
  • Bank account type, account and routing numbers (leave blank if you receive your benefits through Direct Express)

The deadline to enter the information is 12 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, April 22. Otherwise, the additional $500 per child amount will be paid when you file your 2020 tax return next year.

The IRS said Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will have longer than Wednesday to provide their information, but didn’t specify a deadline.

— Rob Tornoe

1:26 PM - April 21, 2020
1:26 PM - April 21, 2020

Philadelphia hits 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases

More than 10,000 Philadelphians have tested positive for the coronavirus since the disease first arrived in the city six weeks ago, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Tuesday.

“I recognize that hitting 10,000 in our city is hard and it’s very scary. … My message now is simply: Thank you,” Kenney said at a virtual news conference. “I see hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians doing everything they can do. … We are feeding each other. We are staying away from each other. We are wearing masks. And we are doing what needs to be done. So thank you.”

Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city received reports of 475 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, for a total of 10,028 since the pandemic began. There are likely many more coronavirus cases in the city due to limited testing capacity.

Despite the grim milestone, Farley said he is hopeful that the city may soon turn the tide against the virus. The number of new cases reported each day has stabilized at around 500, and Farley said he hopes to see a sustained decrease in the rate at which new cases appear by the end of the week.

“The fact that we are more or less level over the past week is good,” Farley said. “When we start to see decreases, any decrease is good, even a small decrease.”

Farley also said the city on Tuesday received reports of 24 new fatalities related to the coronavirus, raising Philadelphia’s death toll to 394 during the pandemic. Of those, 208 were nursing home residents, he said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

1:16 PM - April 21, 2020
1:16 PM - April 21, 2020

Wolf: Pa. needs federal resources to establish coronavirus contact tracing program

Pennsylvania does not have a budget or good leads for establishing a contact tracing program in lieu of adequate federal resources, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday in a call with reporters.

Meanwhile, officials are trying to work with the private sector and through FEMA to ramp up testing in the state, which seems to have enough platforms for testing, just not enough of needed materials such as swabs and chemicals, he said.

“I feel we’re making some progress there,” Wolf added.

At the same time, Wolf said scientists, including at the state lab in Exton, are looking into the effectiveness of antibody tests.

He reiterated the need for more robust testing not only for parts of the economy to reopen but for employees and customers to feel comfortable returning to non-essential businesses when they can operate again.

“My sense is that by announcing a specific date [May 8] … that we’ll actually do a better job of focusing all our efforts on expanding that capacity,” he said. “and expanding the capacity of the health-care system to deal with the problems that persist.”

The governor also doubled down on the commonwealth’s lax enforcement policy of emergency orders related to the pandemic. While more than 1,700 people have been cited for violating such orders in New Jersey, only a handful have been cited in Pennsylvania. No one received citations at Monday’s protest of the stay-at-home order in Harrisburg.

“This is reckoning that if we have to enforce it, it’s not going to work,” Wolf said. “Neither law enforcement nor the legislators nor anybody is forcing anyone to do anything.”

For the more than a million Pennsylvanians who are unemployed, the governor said the unemployment office has increased staffing and is working to get call wait times down to under 10 minutes. As of Monday, he said, the wait time was 24 minutes.

— Erin McCarthy

1:10 PM - April 21, 2020
1:10 PM - April 21, 2020

How to do this now: Visiting a veterinarian during the coronavirus pandemic

A woman walks her dog across JFK Blvd in a near deserted Love Park and Dilworth Plaza on Sunday March 22, 2020, a day before Philadelphians were asked to stay in place.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
A woman walks her dog across JFK Blvd in a near deserted Love Park and Dilworth Plaza on Sunday March 22, 2020, a day before Philadelphians were asked to stay in place.

For many of us, our pets are keeping us sane while we stay at home. But what if they need a bit of care?

Vets are allowed to remain open as “life-sustaining” businesses. But many are taking extra precautions, limiting services, and changing how they operate.

Here’s how to see a vet right now, during the coronavirus pandemic.

— Marc Narducci

12:46 PM - April 21, 2020
12:46 PM - April 21, 2020

Plasma, a 19th century treatment, is being used to battle coronavirus infections

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, Dr. Zhou Min, a recovered COVID-19 patient who has passed his 14-day quarantine, donates plasma in the city's blood center in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. Plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients contains antibodies that may help reduce the viral load in patients that are fighting the disease. (Chinatopix via AP, File)
/ AP
FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, Dr. Zhou Min, a recovered COVID-19 patient who has passed his 14-day quarantine, donates plasma in the city's blood center in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. Plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients contains antibodies that may help reduce the viral load in patients that are fighting the disease. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

Gravely ill with the coronavirus, Renee Bannister had spent three weeks on a ventilator — a sophisticated electronic device that helped her breathe — before she underwent a treatment that dates to the late 1800s.

The Gloucester County woman was infused with golden fluid called plasma, harvested from her niece, Marisa Leuzzi of Downingtown, who had previously recovered from the virus.

Bannister, 63, got the treatment April 3 and is now out of intensive care at Virtua Voorhees Hospital. She is expected to move to a rehab facility within days, aiming to make it home before her wedding anniversary in late May.

Others are being treated with the antibody-laden fluid at Jefferson Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Rutgers Health.

— Tom Avril

12:41 PM - April 21, 2020
12:41 PM - April 21, 2020

U.S. approves first coronavirus test that allows self-swab at home

Rite Aid employees greet a drive-up patient for a self-swab nasal coronavirus COVID-19 test at the Barrington N.J. store April 20, 2010. The site opened on Monday and will be open for testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, for eligible patients (based on CDC guidelines) after pre-registering and schedulin an appointment online.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Rite Aid employees greet a drive-up patient for a self-swab nasal coronavirus COVID-19 test at the Barrington N.J. store April 20, 2010. The site opened on Monday and will be open for testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, for eligible patients (based on CDC guidelines) after pre-registering and schedulin an appointment online.

U.S. health regulators on Tuesday OK’d the first coronavirus test that allows people to collect their own sample at home, a new approach that could help expand testing options in most states.

The test from LabCorp will initially be available only to health care workers and first responders under a doctor’s orders. The sample will still have to be shipped for processing back to LabCorp, which operates diagnostic labs throughout the U.S.

Allowing people to self-swab at home would help reduce infection risks for front-line health care workers and help conserve protective gear.

— Associated Press

12:10 PM - April 21, 2020
12:10 PM - April 21, 2020

SEPTA union head issues ‘call to action’ amid coronavirus concerns

A SEPTA bus driver wears a mask and gloves while waiting at the light on Broad and Spring Garden in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 07, 2020. A third SEPTA employee died due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A SEPTA bus driver wears a mask and gloves while waiting at the light on Broad and Spring Garden in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 07, 2020. A third SEPTA employee died due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The union representing thousands of SEPTA employees may take “action” Thursday if its coronavirus concerns are not addressed by the transportation authority.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown issued a “call to action” in a video posted Monday. The union is demanding greater transparency from SEPTA on who has tested positive for the coronavirus, and would like to see its maintenance staff work for four days and have off three days as a social distancing measure.

TWU is also calling upon SEPTA to take employees’ temperatures, Brown said.

“Our back’s up against the wall,” he told The Inquirer. “We look at this as choosing life over death. If we don’t take some type of action, it has irreparable harm that can be done to us.”

It’s not clear what an action would look like, but would not come in the form of a strike or catch essential riders who rely on SEPTA by surprise, Brown said. SEPTA now has 190 confirmed employee cases, while four have died from the coronavirus.

SEPTA said it’s boosted protections to maintain safe conditions and is “continuing a dialogue” with its unions.

“With the progress we’ve made together to date, we would expect SEPTA employees will continue to deliver service that is connecting residents to essential jobs, hospitals, grocery stores and other life-sustaining services,” SEPTA said in a statement.

— Patricia Madej

11:50 AM - April 21, 2020
11:50 AM - April 21, 2020

'Are we essential or disposable?’ Workers say they need to know more about positive cases on the job

A truck is in the loading dock at the UPS Philadelphia Airport Hub April 19, 2020. UPS workers at the Philly airhub are one example of workers who are concerned about not knowing any information about who's tested positive for the coronavirus. Essential workers -- from prison guards to nursing home workers to grocery store clerks, many of them in workplaces where workers have already died from the virus -- say they fear that management is not being up front about positive cases in their workplace because it will dissuade them from going to work.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A truck is in the loading dock at the UPS Philadelphia Airport Hub April 19, 2020. UPS workers at the Philly airhub are one example of workers who are concerned about not knowing any information about who's tested positive for the coronavirus. Essential workers -- from prison guards to nursing home workers to grocery store clerks, many of them in workplaces where workers have already died from the virus -- say they fear that management is not being up front about positive cases in their workplace because it will dissuade them from going to work.

By the Philadelphia airport, at one of the biggest UPS hubs in the country, package handlers are finding out that coworkers have tested positive for the coronavirus. But management isn’t telling them anything else about the positive cases, leaving workers on edge about if they could have been exposed.

At the city’s jails in Northeast Philadelphia, corrections officers say they’re also in the dark about confirmed cases, both among coworkers and inmates. Officers have taken to spreading the word about positive cases themselves, hoping it will help their coworkers protect themselves.

And at a high-end organic grocery store in Center City, workers were skeptical that management would be honest with them about a positive case in the store because it would likely drive more people to call out — and the store needed its workers to keep up with the flood of customers.

In Philadelphia, and across the country, some workplaces deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic have become hotbeds of infection, paranoia, and fear. Essential workers, many of whom are black or Latinx, say that not only are they dealing with a lack of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and social distancing on the job. They also live in a state of constant suspicion: Who has the virus? Did I work with them? And would management inform me if I did?

— Juliana Feliciano Reyes

11:15 AM - April 21, 2020
11:15 AM - April 21, 2020

Kenney and Boston’s mayor join in pressing for more federal help for cities to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic

A day after Vice President Mike Pence told governors he was “moving resources” to metropolitan areas, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney appeared on CNN Tuesday morning alongside Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to press the message that cities in the Northeast need more federal aid more quickly before they can reopen.

“It’s just going to be a pretty long slog,” Kenney said. “We have to be disciplined. We have to be mature about this, and then we have to turn to the federal government for the help that we’re going to need to rebuild our cities and states.”

Despite an apparent plateau in terms of daily case counts, Kenney urged people to continue social distancing until the needed resources arrive and conversations about opening back up can begin.

The Democratic mayors noted many similarities between what they’re seeing on the ground, including high numbers of cases in people who are homeless, issues in containing the virus due to population density, and difficulties in obtaining accurate data given to a lack of testing.

“It’s like a mirror image of each other,” Kenney said, “although we’re a slightly bigger city. It’s rapid testing. It’s the tracing, and it’s the quarantining that we really need the federal government to help us with. If we don’t have the data, we don’t know what we’re up against.”

Both Walsh and Kenney said their cities have looked into buying large quantities of testing kits.

“We should not be in competition with each other,” Kenney said. “That’s the problem. We’ve been in competition with every state and city in the country on [personal protective equipment] and now on testing. This is what the federal government should be doing to help guide us through this.”

— Erin McCarthy

11:05 AM - April 21, 2020
11:05 AM - April 21, 2020

Poll: New Jerseyans broadly support Gov. Murphy’s COVID-19 social distancing measures

Around nine out of 10 New Jerseyans — and sometimes more — approve of the major social distancing measures imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy, according to a Monmouth University poll out Tuesday.

The survey, released amid a growing national debate about when and how state governments should reopen their societies, found widespread support for Murphy’s measure and his work handling the crisis, while New Jerseyans give far lower marks to President Donald Trump and the federal government.

On coronavirus safety measures, the poll found:

  • Vast support for: requiring people to stay six feet apart (97%) and wear face coverings in public (95%); closing gyms (94%), child care centers (88%) and nonessential retail businesses (86%); limiting restaurants to takeout or delivery (94%), banning all gatherings (88%) and moving back the state’s primary election to July 7 (89%).
  • 80% backed limiting supermarket hours and 74% supported stopping nonessential construction projects.

The two actions that drew most opposition — but still had broad overall support — were closing state and county parks and publicly naming people cited for coronavirus violations. Some 70% approved of closing state and county parks, against 29% opposed. On naming people cited by police, 64% approved, 32% disapproved.

Murphy saw a huge boost in his approval ratings, to 71%, while 21% disapproved of his overall performance as governor. In September, only 41% approved of his work. On the coronavirus specifically, 79% said Murphy has done a good job responding.

By contrast, 41% of New Jerseyans said Trump has done a good job handling the virus while 52% in the largely liberal state say he has done a bad job.

Monmouth pollsters interviewed 704 New Jersey adults from April 16 to 19. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

— Jonathan Tamari

10:35 AM - April 21, 2020
10:35 AM - April 21, 2020

Fauci spells out what it would take to get him into a ballpark this summer

FILE - In this March 31, 2020 file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon / AP
FILE - In this March 31, 2020 file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infections disease expert, is offering a sobering reality check to those who think it’s only a matter of time before they’re downing beers or munching on hot dogs in a ballpark anytime soon.

“I would feel that there would have to be a completion of the multiple phases of the reentering into some level of normality,” Fauci said in an interview Monday night with YES Network host Jack Curry. “And even when you get to phase three, it still requires a degree of physical separation.”

“It’d have to be in a city where the level of infection is so low, that if someone gets infected, that… the health department has the capability of identifying, isolating, and contact tracing so that person does not inadvertently infect someone else,” Fauci said. “Even with that, I cannot see a return this year to what we consider ‘normal.’ “

Fauci said that doesn’t mean baseball can’t return to play a truncated season. But even with the most optimistic coronavirus projections in mind, he thinks it would involve severely limiting the number of fans in the stands, spreading out seating for social distancing, and probably forcing spectators to wear masks or facial coverings.

“I think quite likely, although it’s always dangerous to predict, I think it’s more likely that you’re going to have more of a television baseball than a spectator baseball,” Fauci said.

— Rob Tornoe

10:25 AM - April 21, 2020
10:25 AM - April 21, 2020

Tower Health announces COVID-19 furloughs

Chestnut Hill Hospital is one of seven in the Tower Health network.
Tower Health
Chestnut Hill Hospital is one of seven in the Tower Health network.

Tower Health, citing the loss of as much as half its revenue, on Tuesday announced the furlough of at least 1,000 of the more than 14,000 employees in the seven-hospital system based in Berks County.

Because of the suspension of non-urgent and elective services, the closure of many outpatient facilities, and the postponement of internal projects, “sustained work is not available for some of our employees,” Therese Sucher, Tower’s chief operating officer, said in an internal email.

Tower’s hospitals include Brandywine in Coatesville, Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, Jennersville Regional in West Grove, Phoenixville in Phoenixville, and Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in Pottstown, along with its flagship Reading Hospital in West Reading.

— Harold Brubaker

9:55 AM - April 21, 2020
9:55 AM - April 21, 2020

Gov. Murphy tours temporary hospital at Atlantic City Convention Center

Gov. Phil Murphy toured the temporary hospital at the Atlantic City Convention Center Tuesday, as the state stepped up efforts to relieve pressure on hospitals that have been overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

The makeshift facility has 258 beds and is meant to be a step-down site for recovering patients, allowing local hospitals to free up space for more seriously ill patients.

“We need the capacity,” Murphy said. “Whether we need it next week or a year from next week we don’t want to be caught out again. This is going to be one piece in a broader puzzle for us.”

Murphy noted patients may begin arriving at the facility as early as Tuesday afternoon. The site is fully equipped with a laboratory, pharmacy and staff sanitation areas similar to a brick and mortar hospital. Cooper University Hospital is supervising operations at the facility.

Murphy noted the Atlantic City site is more sophisticated than ones sites in Secaucus and Edison, partly because the center itself is relatively newer.

“Even the beds are better,” Murphy said.

The Convention Center, located in the same structure as the Atlantic City rail center, should not be confused with the iconic Boardwalk Hall.

— Pranshu Verma

9:45 AM - April 21, 2020
9:45 AM - April 21, 2020

Stocks tumble as oil prices enter negative territory

Stocks tumbled to open trading on Tuesday as the market continues to react negatively to the plummeting price of oil futures contracts.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down more than 550 points, about 2.3%, as lower demand due to coronavirus shutdowns drove the benchmark price for crude oil in the U.S. to negative $37.63. That means producers are willing to pay purchasers to take oil off their hands amid fears storage facilities will run out of space.

The Nasdaq opened down over 100 points (about 1.25%), while the S&P 500 opened down about 50 points (about 1.75%).

— Rob Tornoe

8:40 AM - April 21, 2020
8:40 AM - April 21, 2020

Schumer says Senate Dems and Trump administration have deal to refund paycheck protection program

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., New York) said Tuesday Democrats and the Trump administration have reached a deal to replenish the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, part of the government’s $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package intended to help small businesses impacted by coronavirus shutdowns.

“I think we’ll be able to pass this today,” Schumer said during an interview with CNN. “There are a few more I’s to dot and T’s to cross, but we have a deal and I believe we’ll pass it today.”

Schumer said funding will include a “national testing strategy” that will help states better track, isolate, and trace cases of COVID-19 in order to move toward loosening restrictions and reopening the economy.

The program ran out of money last week, but Schumer said Democrats worked with the Trump administration officials past midnight to secure a deal that also includes an additional $65 billion for hospitals.

Schumer said Democrats weren’t able to secure additional funding for states and localities, even as cities like Philadelphia warn of “painful” cuts to budgets and services due to the economic impact of COVID-19. But he said there is an agreement to allow governors and mayors to use funds already allocated by Congress to help plug budget holes, something they weren’t permitted to do before.

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - April 21, 2020
8:00 AM - April 21, 2020

Ellen DeGeneres pays ‘visit’ to Jefferson Hospital dancing nurses

Jefferson's Swab Squad appears on 'Ellen'
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Jefferson's Swab Squad appears on 'Ellen'

A group of Philadelphia nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis recently got some surprise visitors — Ellen DeGeneres, Ciara, and Russell Wilson.

DeGeneres, the comedian who likes to highlight good news, video-chatted with nurses at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on her talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The crew, which calls itself the Swab Squad, caught her attention after a video of them dancing to Ciara’s “Level Up” in the Center City parking lot where they do coronavirus testing went viral.

The squad recently told The Inquirer dancing was a way they get out nerves before their shifts.

While chatting with DeGeneres, the group received a video message from Ciara, who said she too was inspired by the clip of them dancing to her song, and her husband, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Before signing off, DeGeneres said she would be sending the group to one of her shows, when it is safe to do so, and including them in giveaway specials. She also announced that Shutterfly, a photography company that partners with her show philanthropically, was donating $50,000 to help Jefferson employees who are struggling financially.

— Erin McCarthy

7:00 AM - April 21, 2020
7:00 AM - April 21, 2020

N.J. has charged more than 1,700 for violating stay-at-home orders but just a handful of citations have been issued in Pa.

When two guitarists allegedly held a cover concert of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits on a porch in Rumson, N.J., on April 4, a simple hey you! from the cops didn’t get the crowd of about 30 to disperse.

The band kept playing and the crowd kept swaying in direct violation of Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order, according to police.

“We were met with well wishes of ‘F-the police’ and ‘Welcome to Nazi Germany’ from this group of ‘40-50 year old ADULTS,’ ” Rumson police wrote on Facebook. And yes, they capitalized adults.

As a result of the gathering, the 54-year-old homeowner — who was one of the performers — was charged with violating the governor’s emergency orders.

He’s just one of more than 1,700 people charged with breaking the stay-at-home order in New Jersey from March 21, when they went into effect, through April 15, according to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal’s office, which releases a daily list of violators.

— Stephanie Farr

5:30 AM - April 21, 2020
5:30 AM - April 21, 2020

Hospital cleaners are ‘the unsung heroes’ in the fight against coronavirus

Elizabeth Mitchell, left, and Debbie Johns, right, are cleaners who work at the Chestnut Hill Hospital.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Elizabeth Mitchell, left, and Debbie Johns, right, are cleaners who work at the Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Each workday morning, Debbie Johns drives her 23-year-old Ford Probe a little more than two miles from her lifelong Mount Airy home to Chestnut Hill Hospital, where she clocks in for her 7 a.m.-to-3:30 p.m. shift. On the cobblestone sidewalk outside the hospital, scrawled in pastel-colored chalk, are the words: “Because of You, We Have Hope."

At the entrance, there’s a big, hand-painted wooden sign in blue, dug deep into the grass: “Heroes Work Here.”

Johns, 53, smiles to herself. No, she’s not a doctor or a nurse struggling around the clock, desperately and tirelessly, trying to save lives from the deadly coronavirus. But she’s in this war.

“We’re a part of it,” she said.

As hospital housekeepers, Johns and her cleaning partner, Liz Mitchell, are trying to stop the spread of the virus, pick up the pieces, and prep each room for the next scared patient.

— Barbara Laker

5:00 AM - April 21, 2020
5:00 AM - April 21, 2020

Why Pa. dairy farmers dumped milk even as Philly buyers couldn’t find enough of it

Stephanie Younker, 18, dumps out 7,000 pounds of milk -- more than 800 gallons -- after her family's dairy farm in Bethel, Pa., was told by its buyer that there was an oversupply of milk because of the coronavirus outbreak. The buyer, Clover Farms, normally sells a lot of milk to restaurants and schools, which are all closed because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The milk, dumped into a manure pit, will be spread on the Younker's fields as fertilizer.
Melanie Younker
Stephanie Younker, 18, dumps out 7,000 pounds of milk -- more than 800 gallons -- after her family's dairy farm in Bethel, Pa., was told by its buyer that there was an oversupply of milk because of the coronavirus outbreak. The buyer, Clover Farms, normally sells a lot of milk to restaurants and schools, which are all closed because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The milk, dumped into a manure pit, will be spread on the Younker's fields as fertilizer.

At about 8 a.m. on a recent morning, Stephanie Younker connected a hose to a tank containing two days of milk production at her family’s Berks County dairy farm and pumped more than 800 gallons of perfectly good milk into a manure spreader.

“We spread it on the fields, because we had no place to store it,” said Younker, 18. The Younkers’ milk buyer, Clover Farms, directed them to dump the load. Clover’s biggest commercial customers — restaurants, schools, coffee shops — stopped buying after they closed under the coronavirus lockdown, and the processor already had more milk than it could sell.

While the Younkers dispensed the cocktail of milk and manure on their farm in Bethel, Pa., retail customers 75 miles away in Philadelphia were clamoring for more milk than many grocery stores were able to supply. Refrigerated dairy shelves stood empty, picked clean by panicked customers, while dairy farmers an hour away poured fresh milk into the soil.

The supply chain is broken.

— Andrew Maykuth

4:30 AM - April 20, 2020
4:30 AM - April 20, 2020

Morning Roundup: Gov. Wolf sets May 8 target for first moves toward a Pa. reopening — but that likely won’t apply in Philadelphia

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday told Pennsylvanians they should stay home for at least three more weeks, setting May 8 as a target to begin the state’s slow reopening — though any return to normalcy is likely to come later for the especially hard-hit Philadelphia region.

“If we open in Cameron County [in north-central Pennsylvania], for instance, that doesn’t mean we’re ending the restrictions and things people have to do in Philadelphia,” Wolf said, describing the data-based, region-by-region reopening he announced in a broad plan last week.

As he spoke from Harrisburg about his “measured” plan for restarting the economy — one that will use public-health guidelines and monitor for spreading of the virus — protesters against social distancing and shutdown measures rallied outside the state Capitol demanding that Pennsylvania reopen for business. Monday afternoon, Wolf vetoed legislation passed by the legislature last week that would have allowed more businesses to reopen.

Nowhere in the state will initial reopenings mean “resuming operations as they were in February,” and social distancing will remain important, Wolf said, noting there is still no effective vaccine, antibody test, or cure for the coronavirus. “Life is going to be different on the other side of this,” he said.

— Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy and Pranshu Verma

5:05 AM - April 22, 2020
5:05 AM - April 22, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Tuesday, April 21, 2020.