6:20 AM - April 24, 2020
6:20 AM - April 24, 2020

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

Southeastern Pennsylvania will almost certainly “be among the last places” in the commonwealth to see an easing of business closures and social distancing orders, Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday, the day after unveiling a color-coded system for the state’s phased reopening that will allow counties less affected by the coronavirus to begin restarting as early as May 8.

Philadelphia is “not close” to reaching the first phase of reopening, which is coded yellow and would allow the easing of some restrictions, local officials said, and the region’s leaders were unsure whether they would be treated as a bloc or whether counties could reopen at different times.

Plus, the PLCB will now open nearly all of it’s 600 stores for curbside pick up after an overhaul of their ordering systems.

10:20 PM - April 23, 2020
10:20 PM - April 23, 2020

Pa. liquor board to expand curbside pickup to nearly all stores on Monday

Fine Wine & Good Spirits is shown on South Street, Philadelphia. Monday, April 20, 2020. Pennsylvania liquor stores are to reopen today at some locations for curbside pickup.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Fine Wine & Good Spirits is shown on South Street, Philadelphia. Monday, April 20, 2020. Pennsylvania liquor stores are to reopen today at some locations for curbside pickup.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board plans to expand its curbside pickup program to nearly all its stores on Monday.

PLCB press secretary Shawn Kelly said the decision came “after working through the challenges of introducing and refining completely new store processes.”

The PLCB reopened 176 stores statewide on Monday, April 20 after it closed all of its locations in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It had already reopened online sales for home delivery, but due to overwhelming demand, site access was randomized to limit the number of customers placing orders at once.

— Jenn Ladd

9:22 PM - April 23, 2020
9:22 PM - April 23, 2020

Woman arrested for allegedly spitting in two people’s faces while shopping in Di Bruno Bros.

Customers follow social distancing rules outside Di Bruno Bros. market at 1730 Chestnut St. in Center City.
Robert Moran / Staff
Customers follow social distancing rules outside Di Bruno Bros. market at 1730 Chestnut St. in Center City.

A woman who police say spit in the faces of two people at Di Bruno Bros. market in Center City over the weekend has been arrested.

Jacqueline McBride, 27, was charged with simple assault, terroristic threats, and harassment, police said Thursday. Authorities said she spit at a store employee on Saturday and at a customer on Sunday.

“I think the cops did a great job responding so quickly,” said Alexis Danilo, one of the victims. “I’m just happy she’s not going to do it to anybody else."

The incident began while Danilo was waiting in line to enter the market when a woman approached her and got very close, breaking the six-foot social distancing rule. Danilo took a few steps back, she said, which angered the woman.

“She got really upset by that, and then she said, ‘B—, I don’t have the disease,’” recalled Danilo, 36.

— Ellie Rushing

8:02 PM - April 23, 2020
8:02 PM - April 23, 2020

Penn State to freeze tuition in response to pandemic

In this 2011 file photo, a student walks in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus in State College.
Matt Rourke / AP
In this 2011 file photo, a student walks in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus in State College.

Pennsylvania State University plans a tuition freeze for all students next year in response to the coronavirus, President Eric Barron said Thursday.

The move is subject to approval by the board of trustees, he said. It would be the third-consecutive year that tuition was frozen university-wide for Pennsylvania residents. At the main campus, the tuition rate for undergraduates who are full-time, lower-division, and in-state is $8,708 per semester or $17,416 annually.

The freeze for next year also applies to students who are out-of-state residents.

Barron also announced a series of measures to deal with a worsening revenue picture, fueled by likely decline in enrollment and less state funding. The university has lost about $100 million since March and anticipates a $160 million revenue loss in next year’s budget, he said.

The university announced that employees whose jobs are not needed during the virus will take a 50% pay cut from May 4 to June 30. Barron previously pledged to pay all employees through April 40.

“Unfortunately because of COVID-19, we have had to cancel events; our hotels are empty, as are the majority of our residence halls; and our food services operation has been idled," Barron said.

About 2,000 employees are impacted, a university spokesman said. The university also will institute a 3 percent cut on education and general fund budgets for 2020-21. Some capital projects also will be delayed, saving $60 million, he said.

— Susan Snyder

7:34 PM - April 23, 2020
7:34 PM - April 23, 2020

Philly schools face $1 billion hole over 5 years as Kenney administration asks departments to cut budgets by 20%

Mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney and Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. visited John H. Webster Elementary School while staff packed grab-and-go meals for distribution to students in March.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney and Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. visited John H. Webster Elementary School while staff packed grab-and-go meals for distribution to students in March.

The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Philadelphia could include budget cuts of as much as 20% to city departments — including cuts in staffing and services — and a $1 billion budget hole for the school district over the next five years, officials warned Thursday.

The Philadelphia School District is now projecting a $38 million deficit for its 2020-21 budget, CFO Uri Monson said Thursday. The estimates represented a stark contrast to a prior projected fund balance of $167 million for 2021.

Those grim numbers contain no provisions for new contracts for the city’s teachers and blue-collar workers’ unions, both of which have contracts expiring this summer. And, Monson said, “there’s no fund balance to manage unforeseen events,” such as the environmental crisis the district was confronted with this school year.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, meanwhile, is asking departments to trim their budgets by between 15% and 20% as budget officials scrap a previously proposed $5.2 billion spending plan. Kenney is scheduled to present a new budget to City Council next week.

— Laura McCrystal, Kristen A. Graham, Julia Terruso

7:27 PM - April 23, 2020
7:27 PM - April 23, 2020

Pence: Hospitals should be allowed to resume elective surgeries ‘wherever possible’

Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus at the White House this week.
Alex Brandon / AP
Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus at the White House this week.

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday suggested that hospitals should be allowed to resume elective surgeries “wherever possible” but to move forward cautiously.

At the daily White House coronavirus news briefing, Pence noted that two states had announced plans to allow elective surgeries, which are important source of revenue for financially struggling hospitals, and said the procedures could be resumed in safe situations “either statewide or on a county-by-county basis.”

President Donald Trump introduced a science adviser who gave a presentation of research on the affect sunlight, high temperatures, and humidity on the coronavirus.

Trump said he was encouraged by the findings, which indicated that the virus, when on non-porous surfaces — or, in some cases, in the air — dies much faster when exposed to sunlight outdoors and higher temperatures and humidity indoors.

William N. Bryan, head of the science and technology directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, said the findings could be used in consideration with other factors when governors make decisions about reopening states.

— Robert Moran

7:25 PM - April 23, 2020
7:25 PM - April 23, 2020

At the Jersey Shore, is social distancing even possible? With summer season in view, the question looms heavily

Beach Haven, in a 2014 file photo. Jersey Shore towns must figure out how social distancing works in typically crowded beach towns.
David Swanson / Staff Photographer
Beach Haven, in a 2014 file photo. Jersey Shore towns must figure out how social distancing works in typically crowded beach towns.

Most Shore towns have already pretty much written off Memorial Day Weekend and are casting visions toward mid-to-late June or Fourth of July. They will take their cues from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. A surge of coronavirus cases is making its way from north to south, even as daily discussions of reopening proceed.

But as business owners, marketers, property managers and public officials contemplate how to save the shore from the economic disaster of a season lost to coronavirus, the question remains: How do you keep people safely apart in a place whose charm is based, in part, on a gangs-all-here crowding together?

Timed entry on the beach in Cape May? Complimentary masks in Ocean City? Reconfigured miniature golf holes? Bouncers checking people’s IDs and temperatures? Saving the Jersey shore from a calamitous non-summer is weighing heavily in beach towns.

— Amy S. Rosenberg

7:18 PM - April 23, 2020
7:18 PM - April 23, 2020

AARP calls on Pennsylvania to release list of nursing homes with coronavirus cases

The nation’s largest advocate for senior welfare has urged Gov. Tom Wolf to release a list naming which Pennsylvania long-term care facilities have confirmed coronavirus cases.

“With the crisis continuing to worsen, we cannot afford to wait another second to shine a light on the situations facing our nursing facility residents and staff,” AARP State Director Bill Johnston-Walsh wrote in a letter to the governor. “Our system must be more transparent.”

The number of long-term care residents and staff impacted by the coronavirus has nearly doubled in the past week, with 5,679 positive cases among residents and 849 deaths, more than half of all the coronavirus-related deaths in Pennsylvania.

Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Wolf, said she was unsure if the governor had received the AARP letter, which was dated Tuesday.

The state has so far declined to release the names of the more than 400 facilities with reported cases and deaths. Initially, the Wolf administration said nursing home data was being reported through multiple avenues and releasing it could lead to inaccuracies.

— Rebecca Moss

6:58 PM - April 23, 2020
6:58 PM - April 23, 2020

As Pennsylvania forges ahead with coronavirus-driven inmate releases, New Jersey has yet to release anyone

Governor Murphy speaks to press in Wildwood, N.J., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Governor Murphy speaks to press in Wildwood, N.J., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

Two weeks ago, the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey announced similar emergency plans to potentially release thousands of state prison inmates early in hopes of fending off major coronavirus outbreaks behind bars.

To date, Pennsylvania has freed more than 100. In New Jersey, not one has been released.

That delay in the Garden State has left hundreds of potentially eligible inmates and their families concerned the state isn’t moving swiftly enough to outpace a virus that has already proven capable of overwhelming detention facilities across the country.

And with each day that passes, Stephanie Maldonado, whose fiance of three years is incarcerated at Northern State Prison in Newark, wonders when state officials will make good on their promise.

“It’s like a false sense of hope,” she said. “[They’re] leading people to believe maybe they’re coming home, but that was two weeks ago.”

— Pranshu Verma, Jeremy Roebuck

6:37 PM - April 23, 2020
6:37 PM - April 23, 2020

Congress passes nearly $500 billion more in coronavirus aid

In this image from video, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday.
AP
In this image from video, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday.

Congress delivered a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending Thursday, rushing new relief to employers and hospitals buckling under the strain of a pandemic that has claimed almost 50,000 American lives and one in six U.S. jobs.

The measure passed almost unanimously, but the lopsided tally belies a potentially bumpier path ahead as battle lines are being formed for much more ambitious future legislation that may prove far more difficult to maneuver through Congress.

— Associated Press

6:01 PM - April 23, 2020
6:01 PM - April 23, 2020

Pa. removes more than 200 deaths from official coronavirus count as questions mount about reporting process, data accuracy

Twice in the past week, Pennsylvania's official COVID-19 death count spiked.

Then, on Thursday, the number plummeted.

Officials from the state Department of Health provided several justifications for the fluctuations, citing technical issues, lengthy investigations, and the addition of “probable” deaths — those considered to be caused by the coronavirus but without confirmation from a test.

But facing mounting questions about the accuracy of the count, officials on Thursday removed more than 200 probable deaths from the tally, further complicating the state’s accounting of the pandemic. Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the change was made in an effort to be transparent.

“We realize that this category can be confusing since it does change over time,” Levine said.

“At times, there are things we need to review, and potentially revisit the way the data is being analyzed,” she said. “And this is one of those times.”

The coronavirus surge in Pennsylvania has posed major technical challenges for the state health department, the clearinghouse for the data critical to make decisions about what public policies to implement in order to keep people safe. In addition to inconsistencies around death counts, the department has also struggled to attain complete and accurate demographic data for positive patients, as well as those who have been tested.

At the same time, the state’s coroners — tasked with investigating suspicious deaths — have grown increasingly frustrated by the health department’s reluctance to seek their help.

— Sara Simon

5:48 PM - April 23, 2020
5:48 PM - April 23, 2020

Comcast is still charging late fees, but you don’t have to pay them

Comcast Technology Center is Philadelphia's tallest building and currently the 10th tallest building in the United States.
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Comcast Technology Center is Philadelphia's tallest building and currently the 10th tallest building in the United States.

If you’ve been dinged with late fees on your Comcast bill, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to pay them.

In mid-March, the company announced it would not impose penalties for late payments, as a response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So why are the fees showing up on people’s bills?

You can have the fees waived, a Comcast spokesperson confirmed, but you have to ask.

— Nick Vadala

5:19 PM - April 23, 2020
5:19 PM - April 23, 2020

SEPTA fare proposal hearings to be held virtually in May

SEPTA has a temporary closure notice for station ticket windows and waiting rooms at the Overbrook Station.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
SEPTA has a temporary closure notice for station ticket windows and waiting rooms at the Overbrook Station.

Public hearings for SEPTA’s latest fare restructuring proposal and operating budget have been rescheduled for late May, SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said during the authority’s board meeting Thursday.

The planned effective date for the proposed changes, including a free transfer and price hike for SEPTA Key riders using Travel Wallet, will be determined at a later date.

The meetings will be held virtually on May 26 at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. as well as May 27 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Registration details will be posted on SEPTA’s website.

SEPTA did not hear public comments that were submitted ahead of Thursday’s board meeting, held via telephone. Comments will be included in the board’s transcript and made available online.

Richards acknowledged financial challenges facing the authority, as well as employees who have died or fallen ill due to the coronavirus. The authority has been “working with union leadership” and looks to “continue to work together to make SEPTA a safe place to work,” she said.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s involvement prompted Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown to “postpone” a job action that could have severely impacted SEPTA service Thursday. TWU Local 234 represents thousands of SEPTA employees, including drivers and operators.

During the city’s news conference Thursday, Kenney said the two had "a really good conversation" and he understands the concerns of the union members.

“We’re trying to work through the issues,” he said. “I don’t think they want to go on strike or want to take the job action but we have to work hard over the weekend to resolve those issues so his members are comfortable.”

— Patricia Madej, Laura McCrystal

5:08 PM - April 23, 2020
5:08 PM - April 23, 2020

There’s no timeline to release list of Pa. businesses that received coveted coronavirus waivers, top official says

A closed-off business and lone pedestrian is photographed by Broad and Chestnut Streets.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A closed-off business and lone pedestrian is photographed by Broad and Chestnut Streets.

More than a month after the process was first announced, there is still no timeline for when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration will release the list of Pennsylvania businesses that received coveted waivers and were allowed to reopen during the ongoing coronavirus shutdown.

During a hearing Thursday, members of the Republican-controlled state Senate lambasted the secretive nature of the waiver process, arguing the state was deciding the fate of businesses without providing any transparency, leading to confusion and inconsistencies, even among businesses in the same industry.

“With such an unprecedented situation comes unprecedented decisions, with no handbook or established guidelines,” Sen. Mike Regan (R., York) said. “Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration that waivers were issued and denied with no basis, and especially with no transparency.”

In March, Wolf shuttered most of the state’s economy in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But, in a nod to the complexity of the situation, the governor opened up a waiver process to allow businesses to apply and make the case for why they should be allowed to reopen.

— Cynthia Fernandez

4:43 PM - April 23, 2020
4:43 PM - April 23, 2020
A pedestrian walks past a painting of a bear holding a sign thanking doctors, nurses and medical staff members on a bus stop shelter at the corner of 34th and Spruce Streets in University City near the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday, April 23, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks past a painting of a bear holding a sign thanking doctors, nurses and medical staff members on a bus stop shelter at the corner of 34th and Spruce Streets in University City near the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

— Yong Kim

4:20 PM - April 23, 2020
4:20 PM - April 23, 2020

Montco officials encourage residents to stay home as other Pa. counties discuss easing restrictions

Officials in Montgomery County, reacting to Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-stage “Stoplight” plan for re-opening the state, said Thursday that the safest places residents can stay is home, even as other counties ease social distancing requirements.

Under Wolf’s plan, Montgomery County and its immediate neighbors in Southeastern Pennsylvania would be the last to ease shutdown orders and other restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other, rural parts of the state, especially the northern and northwestern portions, could a change in policy as soon as May 8.

County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh said that no one “should assume they’re free of the virus,” and everyone bears personal responsibility for its spread.

“We really are all in this together,” Arkoosh said Thursday. “If one person leaves an area where there’s still a high degree of virus present, like ours is, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing that. You’re putting another community at risk.”

An area would have to see a declining number of cases for a two-week period before moving from the red to yellow phase or from yellow to green, and the region’s hospitals must have adequate capacity, according to Wolf.

That isn’t the case in Montgomery County. Arkoosh announced 119 new cases Thursday, bringing the total to 3,212. Those cases included 1,215 residents and staff members in the county’s long-term care facilities for seniors. As of Thursday, 179 people have died from the virus in Montgomery County.

“There will be no way we can stop people from going to another part of the state where things are open, but we would certainly tell people to do so cautiously, follow all the social distance guidelines and really be serious,” she said. “And remember that they could carry something from our region to another.”

— Vinny Vella

3:57 PM - April 23, 2020
3:57 PM - April 23, 2020

PHL COVID-19 Fund awards third set of grants to Philly nonprofits, worth more than $2.5 million

Lafae Duhaney, a student at Florida State University, led a music therapy session in 2018 for a group of girls at Camp Dreamcatcher. The nonprofit is one of dozens that have received grants through the PHL COVID-19 Fund.
MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer
Lafae Duhaney, a student at Florida State University, led a music therapy session in 2018 for a group of girls at Camp Dreamcatcher. The nonprofit is one of dozens that have received grants through the PHL COVID-19 Fund.

The PHL COVID-19 Fund announced its third round of grants Thursday, totaling more than $2.5 million for 72 Philadelphia-area nonprofits. For the second week in a row, the highest grants in the batch were for $50,000.

The fund, which formed on March 19, has awarded more than $7.3 million to 195 nonprofits. A total of $14.5 million has been raised in gifts and pledges from 3,600 donors, including businesses, foundations, and individuals. The fund is a collaboration established by the City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Foundation, and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to help nonprofits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fund organizers say they have received about $26 million in requests from about 900 area nonprofits.

— Marc Narducci

3:34 PM - April 23, 2020
3:34 PM - April 23, 2020

Philly small businesses will get another shot at emergency coronavirus loans after a frustrating first try

Boyds’ owner Kent Gushner, left, and his son Alex Gushner.
MCHAEL BRYANT
Boyds’ owner Kent Gushner, left, and his son Alex Gushner.

Small businesses in the Philadelphia region and across the country are about to get a second chance at emergency financial relief to keep their companies afloat during the coronavirus crisis. But if the first round was any indication, the Mom-and-Pop shops, restaurants, and other small enterprises for whom the money is intended may not get it unless banks and the federal government have sped up systems that frustrated many early applicants.

The House was expected to give final passage Thursday to a measure that would provide more than $300 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a troubled Small Business Administration program that was meant to help firms keep employees on payroll during the pandemic with 75% forgivable, federally backed loans. But many banks disbursing the loans were overwhelmed by demand, many of the smallest businesses struggled to get cash, and PPP quickly burned through its first $350 billion.

— Erin Arvedlund, Joseph N. DiStefano, Sam Wood

3:04 PM - April 23, 2020
3:04 PM - April 23, 2020

Amtrak will lose at least $700 million this year, execs say

Amtrak Police walk through an almost empty 30th Street Station on March 23, 2020, the first day of the stay at home policy mandated by Philadelphia City Mayor Jim Kenney as an answer to the growing coronavirus.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Amtrak Police walk through an almost empty 30th Street Station on March 23, 2020, the first day of the stay at home policy mandated by Philadelphia City Mayor Jim Kenney as an answer to the growing coronavirus.

Amtrak will lose at least $700 million this year, company executives say, after ridership dropped 95% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to the virus, the railroad company has suspended some lines, including its nonstop Acela service from New York to Washington. It is operating others — including service on the Northeast Corridor, which includes Philadelphia — on a limited schedule with trains at no more than half capacity.

“Certainly this has presented an enormous challenge to the company,” board chairman Tony Coscia said Thursday on a call with reporters. “Challenges in business are certainly commonplace, but this took that to a new level.”

After record ridership in 2019, Amtrak was set to break even in 2020 for the first time ever, Coscia said. In early March, as concerns about the virus began to intensify in the U.S., ridership dropped about 7%. Executives say they hope the current 95% drop-off is as bad as it’s going to get.

The company earlier this month received more $1 billion in federal aid, $492 million of which will go to the Northeast Corridor, to help offset losses.

Amtrak is conducting research on what a “new normal” of service could look like as the economy reopens, president and CEO Bill Flynn said. That might mean slowly increasing service in the summer and then ramping it up toward the end of next year.

But officials say they don’t have a clear picture yet. They pointed to a recent Harris Poll that indicated more than half of Americans won’t want to travel again for at least three months.

— Erin McCarthy

2:48 PM - April 23, 2020
2:48 PM - April 23, 2020

EPA warns Facebook, Ebay, other sites to remove ‘illegal’ disinfectants claiming to kill the coronavirus

The federal EPA said Thursday it is advising eight technology companies, including Facebook and Ebay, to scrutinize their sites for “unscrupulous dealers” fraudulently selling products that claim to disinfect for the coronavirus. The other companies include Alibaba, Shopify, Qoo10, JoyBuy.com, Wish.com and banggood.com.

“EPA takes our responsibility to protect Americans from fraudulent surface disinfectants seriously,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. Wheeler previously met with online retailers and third-party platforms asking them to police their sites. Now he is calling for them to remove the products immediately.

The EPA has a list of registered disinfectants it says will kill the virus. Under federal law, products claiming to kill or repel viruses are considered pesticides and must be EPA-registered. Products that claim to prevent the coronavirus fall under that law.

“Unregistered disinfectants can put consumers at risk, as they may be ineffective against the virus that causes COVID-19,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine.

Earlier this month, the agency, working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it had prevented shipments of an illegal health product from entering U.S. ports.

— Frank Kummer

2:31 PM - April 23, 2020
2:31 PM - April 23, 2020

Murphy: N.J. reopening plan may be ‘broadly similar’ to Pennsylvania’s

The Philadelphia skyline is across the Delaware River from Camden's Waterfront Park with a posted closed sign April 21, 2020, two weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy closed all state and county parks during the coronavirus pandemic to further reduce instances of individuals gathering in groups and further New Jersey’s social distancing efforts.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The Philadelphia skyline is across the Delaware River from Camden's Waterfront Park with a posted closed sign April 21, 2020, two weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy closed all state and county parks during the coronavirus pandemic to further reduce instances of individuals gathering in groups and further New Jersey’s social distancing efforts.

Gov. Phil Murphy said on Thursday his plan to reopen New Jersey’s economy may be “broadly similar” to Pennsylvania’s color-coded system released Wednesday.

Murphy said he hopes to provide a blueprint on reopening the state’s economy by Monday.

He indicated it will be a broad set of principles officials will use to gauge when to reopen the state, with no dates attached to the plan.

— Pranshu Verma

2:21 PM - April 23, 2020
2:21 PM - April 23, 2020

Pennsylvania health officials no longer counting ‘probable’ coronavirus cases in state death toll

Pennsylvania public health officials have revised the way they’re counting deaths related to complications from COVID-19 and will now no longer include “probable” cases in overall counts.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said Thursday that 1,421 people statewide have died as a result of the coronavirus in total, which is 200 lower than the amount reported Wednesday. Of the 1,421 deaths, 27 are considered “probable,” Department of Health spokesperson Nate Wardle said. The figured represented 69 new deaths of COVID-19 patients

Levine said probable cases were removed from the count because some are still “under investigation” while others will likely remain a probable case because the person died, so “we may never be able to confirm it.”

“We continue to refine the data that we are collecting to provide everyone this information in as near-time as we possibly can,” Levine said. “This is really difficult with thousands of reports each day.”

Levine said as of midnight Thursday, there are now 36,665 confirmed cases and 388 probable cases statewide.

— Anna Orso

2:09 PM - April 23, 2020
2:09 PM - April 23, 2020

Murphy: New Jersey may ‘have to return a good chunk’ of $1.8 billion in federal bailout money

Gov. Phil Murphy railed against federal officials Thursday, claiming much of the money allocated for New Jersey in the nation’s first coronavirus bailout cannot be used.

Murphy said New Jersey may “have to return a good chunk” of the $1.8 billion in federal funding it received under the CARES Act because of guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department which puts significant restrictions on how bailout money can be used by state officials.

“We may not be able to keep our teachers, cops, firefighters and paramedics employed,” Murphy said. “Sadly, the message from Washington to our first responders is clear; as you work tirelessly, our national leadership thinks you are not essential.”

Murphy also announced a new federally approved saliva-based test created by Rutgers University will be distributed to the state’s five centers which house the developmentally disabled, so all staff and patients can be tested.

He noted this saliva-based test will be used among a number of the state’s 86 testing centers, as he looks to “at least roughly double” New Jersey’s testing capacity before ordering parts of the economy to restart.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted the rate of coronavirus hospitalizations remains flat in New Jersey. She said 7,240 residents are hospitalized, with 1,990 in critical care. Over 1,460 residents are on ventilators.

Persichilli noted 446 long term care facilities are reporting at least one coronavirus patient under their care, accounting for a total of 13,769 of the state’s positive cases.

State officials have partnered with Cooper University Hospital to test 3,000 long term care residents and staff at 16 facilities in southern New Jersey, hoping to prevent the surge of positive cases that have plagued facilities in the northern part of the state.

New Jersey reported another 4,427 people have tested positive for the disease, bringing the state total to nearly 100,000. Another 307 people have died, increasing the state’s death toll to 5,368.

— Pranshu Verma

1:42 PM - April 23, 2020
1:42 PM - April 23, 2020

Philly bike sharers using Indego 30-day pass will get a discount

The Indego bike docking station in Point Breeze. (Photo by Lora Reehling for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia)
The Indego bike docking station in Point Breeze. (Photo by Lora Reehling for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia)

Indego is extending a discount to riders needing to get around during the coronavirus, Mayor Kenney announced Thursday.

Riders can now sign up for a 30-day pass for $5 for the first month, or $2.50 for those with a Pennsylvania ACCESS card. Monthly pass options provide riders with unlimited one hour rides.

The offer expires May 21, and is redeemable with the promocode INDESAFE on Indego’s website or app.Kenney, who said he uses Indego himself for exercise, said the service is an essential travel option and a good way to get around while still practicing social distancing.He said the bike share service is regularly disinfecting surfaces.

“When I ride, I also use plastic gloves which is a good way to avoid touching surfaces," he said.

The program, sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, is also celebrating its fifth anniversary. Chris Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, said there’s been “a real shift” in who’s using Indego.

Overall ridership is down, but its highest ridership locations have become places near grocery stores or healthcare facilities.

Use by low-income pass holders has increased by 20%, he said.“Indego is providing an essential service right now,” Puchalsky said.

“People who maybe don’t have other options are using it right now to get to where they need to go.”

— Patricia Madej, Laura McCrystal

1:32 PM - April 23, 2020
1:32 PM - April 23, 2020

Philadelphia not ready to consider loosening stay-at-home restrictions

A sign in a window of the Goldtex apartment building on N. 12th Street in Philadelphia, PA on April 14, 2020 encourages people to “stay home” during the coronavirus outbreak.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A sign in a window of the Goldtex apartment building on N. 12th Street in Philadelphia, PA on April 14, 2020 encourages people to “stay home” during the coronavirus outbreak.

Philadelphia officials are reviewing the reopening guidelines outlined Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf, but said they are not ready to consider loosening stay-at-home restrictions.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city continues to make progress in its fight against the coronavirus, as he announced a new case count Thursday in line with the daily count of new cases for the past week.

But the number of new cases confirmed per day is still too large to lift the stay-at-home order, he said.

“Philadelphia, I should point out, is not close to advancing to yellow yet,” Farley said, referencing the first phase of lifting restrictions in Wolf’s reopening plan.

Additional testing will also be needed to lift social distancing guidelines. City officials announced Thursday that 10 community health clinics in neighborhoods around the city will begin offering testing. The city will provide them with testing materials, Farley said, but testing is still only recommended for health care workers and people over age 50 who have symptoms of the coronavirus.

Farley announced 20 new deaths of Philadelphia residents from COVID-19 Thursday.

As of Thursday there were 953 patients with the coronavirus in Philadelphia hospitals and 1,806 patients hospitalized in the Greater Philadelphia area. After days of steady increases in hospitalization, Farley said it was a good sign that those numbers were about level with the previous day.

— Laura McCrystal

1:24 PM - April 23, 2020
1:24 PM - April 23, 2020

Bucks County officials question what Pa. reopening will look like for Philadelphia region

Bucks County officials say they have questions about what Gov. Tom Wolf’s phased, “county-by-county” reopening will mean for the Philadelphia region.

Citing a Thursday morning phone call with officials from Philadelphia and the three other collar counties, Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie said the region’s leaders are unsure whether the five counties will be treated as one region or whether some individual counties will be able to open earlier than others. Gov. Tom Wolf said southeastern Pennsylvania counties “will be among the last places” to reopen.

Harvie said they also found the reopening requirement that a region have an average of 50 or less new cases per 100,000 residents per day over a 14-day period to be "curious."

But Bucks County Health Director David Damsker said those logistics probably won’t matter much, as he doesn’t foresee a scenario where cases in one county are decreasing while a neighboring county sees an increase.

“I think it’s going to end up being relatively the same across Southeastern Pennsylvania,” he said. “But I definitely agree if we reach the plateau first and other counties are pretty close, I would like to be able to move forward in Bucks County if possible.”

With community spread cases continuing to decrease in Bucks County, officials remain concerned about long-term care facilities, more than 50 of which have seen outbreaks. On many days, he said, cases from these facilities account for two-thirds or more of new cases. The county has not released specific numbers regarding cases in residents and staff.

“If we weren’t in the situation we are in with the nursing home facilities, I’d say we’d be much closer” to reopening, Damsker said. “I think we’ll be able to make a pretty good decision [on reopening] pretty soon, in the next couple weeks I believe.”

The county on Thursday reported nearly 100 new cases and five additional deaths, he said, for a total of about 2,300 cases and 123 deaths.

Echoing the pleas of other health officials, Emergency Services Director Scott Forster asked businesses to donate to the county any personal protective equipment, particularly surgical gowns, supplies of which “are almost nonexistent.”

— Erin McCarthy, Anna Orso

1:16 PM - April 23, 2020
1:16 PM - April 23, 2020

Philadelphia Department of Prisons employee dies of coronavirus

Another Philadelphia city employee has died of the coronavirus, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Thursday.

The individual, whom Kenney said he would not identify out of respect to the family’s privacy, worked for the Department of Prisons.

While there have been cases of the virus in the city’s prison system, Kenney did not specify that the employee was exposed to the virus at work.“We are unsure where and how the employee contracted the virus," he said.

The announcement came one month after the city’s stay-at-home order took effect.

“The death of another city worker and almost 400 other Philadelphians who we’ve lost is a stark reminder that one month in, the threat of this virus is still very much with us," Kenney said.

As of Thursday there were 59 positive cases of COVID-19 in city jails, with 10 new inmates testing positive in the last day, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

— Laura McCrystal

12:51 PM - April 23, 2020
12:51 PM - April 23, 2020

Philadelphia School District to get $500,000 state grant for laptops, remote education

Eight grade student, Kyree Williams holds his new Chromebook outside the Universal Alcorn Charter Middle School in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday, April 2, 2020. schools and districts are pivoting their curriculum from entirely in person to entirely online.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Eight grade student, Kyree Williams holds his new Chromebook outside the Universal Alcorn Charter Middle School in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday, April 2, 2020. schools and districts are pivoting their curriculum from entirely in person to entirely online.

Some Pennsylvania school districts and charters are getting state grants to buy laptops and connect students to remote instruction while schools remain closed due to the coronavirus.

The Philadelphia School District is getting one of the biggest chunks — $500,000 — of the $5 million awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Spokesperson Rick Levis said the department considered poverty rates and percentages of students not able to participate in their schools' continuity of education plans.

Other area districts awarded grants include Upper Darby, which is getting $491,000, and Norristown, receiving $291,000. Both said they will use the money to buy additional Chromebooks. The Chester Upland School District was awarded $156,000, while local charter schools, including Olney Charter and several Mastery schools, are also receiving grants.

In addition to laptops and internet hotspots, schools can use the grants on paper and postage to mail materials to students, as well as “accommodations that increase student access and participation” in remote instruction. Levis said.

— Maddie Hanna

12:40 PM - April 23, 2020
12:40 PM - April 23, 2020

Delaware Valley University to freeze tuition for 2020-21 school year

Delaware Valley University will freeze tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year, given the impact of the coronavirus, the school announced Thursday.

"We understand the economic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on many of our students and their families,” president Maria Gallo said in a statement. Tuition currently is $38,070 and fees are $2,550.

— Susan Snyder

12:35 PM - April 23, 2020
12:35 PM - April 23, 2020

Pennsylvania officials ‘not satisfied’ with unemployment processing rate

A closed sign hangs outside of a business in Philadelphia on Friday, March 20, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A closed sign hangs outside of a business in Philadelphia on Friday, March 20, 2020.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday he is still “not satisfied” with the amount of unemployment claims the state has been able to fully process thus far, and acknowledged the introduction of a system to provide benefits to self-employed and gig workers wasn’t a “completely smooth rollout.”

More than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians have applied for unemployment benefits, representing nearly 20% of the state’s workforce, and the Department of Labor and Industry has struggled mightily to keep up with the demand. Many workers have reported jammed phone lines, or problems in the protocols, like being initially approved for benefits but never receiving needed information to claim them.

“I’m not satisfied with where we are, and neither is anybody in Labor and Industry,” Wolf said Thursday in a call with reporters. The governor didn’t say exactly how many claims have been processed or how many are in waiting.

Wolf also acknowledged a system that went public Friday aimed at providing benefits to gig and self-employed workers — which Pennsylvania launched a week before required under federal guidelines — “was not a completely smooth rollout.”

Wolf said state officials are adding workers to staff its unemployment call center and implementing new technology to better handle the demand.

The governor pointed out that initial unemployment claims were 15-times the highest level the state has ever seen before.

“I’m not making excuses,” he said. “That’s like having a snowstorm that’s 15 times the biggest snowstorm we’ve ever had. It has created all kinds of challenges for us.”

— Anna Orso

12:31 PM - April 23, 2020
12:31 PM - April 23, 2020

New York releases preliminary data on statewide antibody test

People walk at night on a quiet street in the Bronx borough of New York on Friday, April 17, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Mark Lennihan / AP
People walk at night on a quiet street in the Bronx borough of New York on Friday, April 17, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shared preliminary results from the first phase of a statewide antibody test, revealing 13.9% of people tested positive.

“These are people who were infected [with COVID-19], and developed the antibodies to fight the infection,” Cuomo said during his daily press conference on Thursday.

Cuomo cautioned the results are only preliminary, but said if you extrapolate the data, it would mean about 2.7 million New Yorkers have contracted coronavirus, well above the 263,000 that have tested positive as of Thursday morning.

The test involved about 3,000 residents from 19 different counties and 40 different localities. All the tests were administered to people shopping at grocery stores or big box stores, which Cuomo said was important because people who are isolated or quarantined at home will likely have a lower infection rate.

According to weighted results Cuomo showed during the press conference, 21.2% of residents in New York City tested positive for having antibodies. Outside of the city and the surrounding area, just 3.6% of New York residents tested positive.

— Rob Tornoe

12:29 PM - April 23, 2020
12:29 PM - April 23, 2020

Penn will not accept $10 million in federal coronavirus relief money

A University of Pennsylvania student wheeled her hamper filled with her dorm contents after the university suspended classes in March.
File Photograph
A University of Pennsylvania student wheeled her hamper filled with her dorm contents after the university suspended classes in March.

The University of Pennsylvania will not apply for or accept the nearly $10 million in federal stimulus funds it was to be allotted, the school announced Thursday.

Harvard, Princeton and Stanford made similar declarations earlier this week after President Trump criticized Harvard for taking the relief funds despite its $41 billion endowment before the coronavirus hit.

Penn made the decision “despite the serious financial impact to [the university] as a result of the pandemic” and “after analyzing the full scope of the regulations involved,” the school said in a statement.

About half of the money was supposed to go directly to students in the form of emergency aid.

The university said in its statement that its “commitment to providing financial aid and support to students in need is unwavering, and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure the educational success of all Penn students.”

The university earlier this week announced it was offering summer savings grants to students whose jobs may not be available and who rely on need-based financial aid.

With a $14.6 billion endowment before the coronavirus hit, the Ivy League institution is much better off financially than many other colleges. The university also is one of few in the country that offers all grants in its financial aid packages rather than loans

— Susan Snyder

12:12 PM - April 23, 2020
12:12 PM - April 23, 2020

Wolf: Southeastern Pa. will ‘be among the last places to reopen’

A pedestrian in a mask walks along 9th street at the Italian Market in Philadelphia on Saturday, April 11, 2020. All nonessential businesses are closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian in a mask walks along 9th street at the Italian Market in Philadelphia on Saturday, April 11, 2020. All nonessential businesses are closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only.

Counties in southeastern Pennsylvania that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus will almost certainly “be among the last places” in the commonwealth to see an easing of business closures and social-distancing orders, Gov. Tom Wolf said in a call with reporters Thursday.

“What’s good for Philadelphia is not going to be good for Cameron County; what’s good for Tioga County is not going to be good for Montgomery County,” Wolf said. “We need to recognize that reality as we move forward.”

Counties that meet certain benchmarks in terms of new cases will be eligible to move to the “yellow phase” of reopening, meaning some businesses can reopen but other strict measures will remain in place. That process will begin May 8, and it appears counties in the northwest and central-west portions of the commonwealth, which have had the lowest number of cases statewide relatively, will be considered first.

Wolf said local officials will have a say in whether a county that is eligible will ultimately get the green light to begin reopening. Some benchmarks will be established in terms of testing capacity and the amount of tests that should be performed in a given area before it’s ready to reopen, but it won’t be “hard and fast,” Wolf said.

“We’re going to have to make subjective decisions,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is create a reasonable and logical and informed reopening strategy, but it has to be one that is sensitive to the possibility that we move too quickly.”

He said the state has “the ability to backtrack” if a flare-up of cases happens in an area that has partially or fully reopened.

— Anna Orso

12:01 PM - April 23, 2020
12:01 PM - April 23, 2020

All construction can resume in Pa. on May 1, Wolf says

A worker exits the construction site at Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A worker exits the construction site at Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2020.

All public and private construction across Pennsylvania can resume May 1, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday.

Nonessential construction projects — defined as everything except emergency repairs and the construction of healthcare-related facilities — were supposed to halt in March as part of social distancing measures put in place by state leaders amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Wolf said construction is an industry that is a “reasonable place to start” in terms of reopening parts of the economy because it’s “low-density.”

He said his administration is working with the industry to ensure there are “strict guidelines” regarding safety, social distancing and mask usage.

Officials in Philadelphia sent a letter last week to thousands of registered contractors, threatening fines and stop-work orders against firms that flouted the state’s requirements.

— Anna Orso

11:40 AM - April 23, 2020
11:40 AM - April 23, 2020

Hite: Philly students will likely have to wear masks whenever they return to school

People were making use of Clark Park in West Philadelphia to escape the concerns of the virus and to get some exercise and fresh air on March 19, 2020. Nafi Cannady, 8, wears a mask as he swings. His mother, Trinia Cannady, said “The mask was for his safety and the safety of others.” Her philosophy for her son is “to come out get some air and then go back inside.”
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
People were making use of Clark Park in West Philadelphia to escape the concerns of the virus and to get some exercise and fresh air on March 19, 2020. Nafi Cannady, 8, wears a mask as he swings. His mother, Trinia Cannady, said “The mask was for his safety and the safety of others.” Her philosophy for her son is “to come out get some air and then go back inside.”

Whenever children are allowed to return to schools, they will almost certainly need to wear masks, Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday.

Referring to the color-coded system Gov. Tom Wolf introduced this week for reopening the state, Hite, in a call with reporters, said the directions were clear.

“In the governor’s plan, it had the wearing of masks into the late fall,” said Hite. “We are planning as if … we would need masks for young people to show up for school.”

Pennsylvania has ordered in-person classes canceled for the remainder of the school year, and it’s not yet clear whether students who qualify will be able to attend in-person summer school or even whether school doors will open in the fall.

Kristen A. Graham

11:10 AM - April 23, 2020
11:10 AM - April 23, 2020

Robert ‘Bootsie’ Barnes, noted Philly tenor saxophonist, dies of coronavirus at 82

Local legend tenormen Bootsie Barnes (left) and Larry McKenna. To celebrate their 80th birthdays they recorded the 2018 album "The More I See You." Barnes died Wednesday from the coronavirus.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Local legend tenormen Bootsie Barnes (left) and Larry McKenna. To celebrate their 80th birthdays they recorded the 2018 album "The More I See You." Barnes died Wednesday from the coronavirus.

Robert “Bootsie” Barnes, the Philadelphia tenor sax player who played with Lee Morgan, Philly Joe Jones and Albert “Tootie” Heath among many other jazz luminaries, died on Wednesday at Lankanau Medical Center in Wynnewood at age 82.

His wife, Sandra Tuner-Barnes, confirmed her husband’s death on Thursday. She said he had been hospitalized for 22 days, and the cause of death was coronavirus.

Mr. Barnes was widely respected and well known in the jazz world for his hard driving playing, earthy tone and adventurous spirit. He grew up in the Richard Allen Homes in North Philadelphia, was particularly in demand as a horn player who paired off with organists in the great Philadelphia tradition, teaming with Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Trudy Pitts and Shirley Scott. When starting out, he also frequently played with his childhood friend Bill Cosby whom he met in kindergarten, and who was a jazz drummer before he moved on to comedy.

In the 1970s, Mr. Barnes toured with saxophonist Sonny Stitt. Over the decades, he served as a mentor to generations of young Philadelphia jazz musicians. In recent years, he frequently played with fellow Philly sax man Larry McKenna, with whom he recorded the 2018 album The More I See You, in celebration of both of their 80th birthdays.

— Dan DeLuca

10:40 AM - April 23, 2020
10:40 AM - April 23, 2020

Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded system on the road to reopening Pa. amid the COVID-19 crisis explained

A pedestrian walks under the marquee at the Theater of Living Arts along South Street, telling the public to stay home on Friday, March 20, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks under the marquee at the Theater of Living Arts along South Street, telling the public to stay home on Friday, March 20, 2020.

Gov. Tom Wolf has unveiled a color-coded system that will serve as a road map for the reopening of Pennsylvania counties, all of which are currently shut down due to the coronavirus.

For some more rural areas that are less affected by the virus (read: not Philadelphia or its surrounding suburbs), the gradual, phased reopening process could begin in about two weeks — around Friday, May 8.

Wolf calls the phases red, yellow, and green.

Red marks the most restrictive phase, the one we’re in now, during which non-essential businesses are closed and Pennsylvanians are advised to stay put except for absolutely necessary outings.

The yellow phase is less restrictive than red, and allows for some businesses that can’t operate remotely to call employees back to the workplace as long as they practice social distancing and follow public health guidelines. In this phase, people can travel more freely and see relatives and friends in small group settings. Businesses like gyms, theaters, and restaurants would still remain closed.

The green phase comes with no restrictions, although individuals and businesses will still have to follow state and federal recommendations, including the wearing of masks in public.

Still a little confused? Click on the Read More link to get answers to some of your questions.

— Erin McCarthy

9:45 AM - April 23, 2020
9:45 AM - April 23, 2020

Stocks open up slightly

Stocks opened slightly higher on Thursday despite a new labor report that showed 4.4 million more Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the first time last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose about 200 points, about 0.85%, mostly due to a recovery in oil prices from record lows earlier this week.

Both the Nasdaq and S&P 500 also opened slightly higher on Thursday.

All three indexes have seen a significant rebound since coronavirus-created lows on March 23, but they remain well below market highs set in February.

— Rob Tornoe

8:45 AM - April 23, 2020
8:45 AM - April 23, 2020

Another 4.4 million Americans file for unemployment, bringing COVID-19 crisis total to almost 26.5 million

About 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment for the first time last week, bringing the five-week total to almost 26.5 million following a shutdown of the economy that began in the middle of March to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Job losses have now erased the 22.4 million jobs gained over the last decade, dating back to February 2010. New unemployment claims far exceed the 8.7 million claims filed during the Great Recession.

In Pennsylvania, more than 198,000 workers filed new jobless claims in the week ending April 18, bringing the state’s four-week total to nearly 1.5 million, or 23% of the workforce. In New Jersey, 139,000 workers filed new unemployment claims, pushing the state’s five-week total to 856,000, or 18% of the workforce.

Though the number of new claims in the states and nationwide declined from previous weeks, joblessness now runs so deep and wide that that economists say that it will take years to recover.

“The apex of the hit to the economy is now, in April,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester. He expects the jobless rate will subside to around 8-9% by year’s end as some economic sectors begin to reopen in May. But he said the economy will remain “in quicksand” until a coronavirus vaccine is developed, and consumer confidence is restored.

— Rob Tornoe, Andrew Maykuth

5:00 AM - April 23, 2020
5:00 AM - April 23, 2020

SEPTA’s ‘lifeline service’ during the COVID-19 crisis can mean a grueling commute for essential workers

Miguel Garcia uses hand sanitizer after boarding a bus in Chester, Pa., for the first leg of his commute to work in Horsham, Pa. Due to SEPTA's reduced service during the coronavirus pandemic, Garcia has to take two subways and two buses to get to his job — a journey that takes several hours.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Miguel Garcia uses hand sanitizer after boarding a bus in Chester, Pa., for the first leg of his commute to work in Horsham, Pa. Due to SEPTA's reduced service during the coronavirus pandemic, Garcia has to take two subways and two buses to get to his job — a journey that takes several hours.

Until recently, Miguel Garcia had about an hour-and-a-half commute from his home in Chester to his job in Horsham. Regional Rail made it easier.

Then, the coronavirus came, and SEPTA’s ridership nosedived. The authority slashed service, one schedule change after the other, and Garcia’s trip to work as a logistics coordinator at Clinical Ink became jam-packed.

He gets there in about 2½ to three hours now, taking two buses and both the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines.

While much of the region is ordered to stay home, tens of thousands still take SEPTA daily. They’re the people who stock grocery store shelves, staff front desks at apartment buildings, and care for the sick. Their jobs require them to risk exposure to COVID-19 at work — and on the way there. SEPTA’s much-depleted service has turned their trips into grueling endurance tests.

— Patricia Madej and Jason Laughlin

4:30 AM - April 23, 2020
4:30 AM - April 23, 2020

Social Security and Medicare funds at risk even before coronavirus hit

WASHINGTON — The financial conditions of the government’s two biggest benefits programs remain shaky, with Medicare projected to become insolvent in six years and Social Security on track to no longer be able to pay full benefits starting in 2035.

And that's without accounting for the impact of the coronavirus, which is sure to impose further pressure on the two programs.

For Social Security, the projected 2035 date for exhausting the trust fund reserves means that it would be able to pay only 79% of benefits at that time.

The projected timetables, which remained unchanged from last year’s estimates, were revealed Wednesday with the release of the annual trustees reports of both programs.

Even if employment rebounds by the end of this year and payroll taxes return to near-normal levels, the shock from the pandemic shutdown could accelerate the depletion of the Social Security trust fund by about six months, officials told reporters.

— Associated Press

4:15 AM - April 23, 2020
4:15 AM - April 23, 2020

Morning Roundup: Gov. Wolf spells out requirements for lifting coronavirus limits in Pa.; as pandemic was peaking, Philadelphia undercounted the cases

Ada Balderramos (left) and Shakir Salaam package up items during a food distribution for casino workers at Harbor Square in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., on Wednesday. Hundreds of cars lined up to receive food at the event, which was organized by Unite Here Local 54 and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Ada Balderramos (left) and Shakir Salaam package up items during a food distribution for casino workers at Harbor Square in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., on Wednesday. Hundreds of cars lined up to receive food at the event, which was organized by Unite Here Local 54 and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Gov. Tom Wolf has announced new guidelines for reopening the state, outlining a phased approach to easing restrictions region-by-region as cases decline.

The three phases, labeled red, yellow and green, will be based on a region meeting criteria similar to those outlined by the White House, including seeing only 50 new cases per 100,000 people across 14 days, as well as strong testing rates and contact tracing.

North-central and northwestern Pennsylvania could be the first areas to see restrictions lifted as early as May 8, Wolf said at Wednesday’s press briefing.

Meanwhile, in announcing that Philadelphia’s coronavirus case total had passed 10,500, city officials said Wednesday they encountered a surprise when they looked at their updated figures: When the pandemic was peaking earlier this month, they were underestimating the case counts.

During that April 8 to 10 period, about 545 cases were confirmed daily, which was “higher than what we previously thought,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. The new counts added 50 or more cases to each of those three days, the Public Health Department said.

— Angela Couloumbis / Spotlight PA and Anthony R. Wood and Pranshu Verma / Inquirer Staff Writers

4:00 AM - April 23, 2020
4:00 AM - April 23, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Thursday, April 23, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Thursday, April 23, 2020.