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.
Woman arrested for allegedly spitting in two people’s faces while shopping in Di Bruno Bros.
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.
Penn State to freeze tuition in response to pandemic
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.
Philly schools face $1 billion hole over 5 years as Kenney administration asks departments to cut budgets by 20%
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.
Pence: Hospitals should be allowed to resume elective surgeries ‘wherever possible’
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.
At the Jersey Shore, is social distancing even possible? With summer season in view, the question looms heavily
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.
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.
As Pennsylvania forges ahead with coronavirus-driven inmate releases, New Jersey has yet to release anyone
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.”
Congress passes nearly $500 billion more in coronavirus aid
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.
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.
SEPTA fare proposal hearings to be held virtually in May
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 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.”
There’s no timeline to release list of Pa. businesses that received coveted coronavirus waivers, top official says
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.
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.
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.”
PHL COVID-19 Fund awards third set of grants to Philly nonprofits, worth more than $2.5 million
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.
Philly small businesses will get another shot at emergency coronavirus loans after a frustrating first try
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.
Amtrak will lose at least $700 million this year, execs say
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Philly bike sharers using Indego 30-day pass will get a discount
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.”
Philadelphia not ready to consider loosening stay-at-home restrictions
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Pennsylvania officials ‘not satisfied’ with unemployment processing rate
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.”
New York releases preliminary data on statewide antibody test
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.
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
Wolf: Southeastern Pa. will ‘be among the last places to reopen’
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.
All construction can resume in Pa. on May 1, Wolf says
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.
Hite: Philly students will likely have to wear masks whenever they return to school
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.
Robert ‘Bootsie’ Barnes, noted Philly tenor saxophonist, dies of coronavirus at 82
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.
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.
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.
SEPTA’s ‘lifeline service’ during the COVID-19 crisis can mean a grueling commute for essential workers
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.
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.
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.