8:40 AM - April 25, 2020
8:40 AM - April 25, 2020

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

As the Philadelphia area remains “in the thick” of the pandemic, Pennsylvania is bracing for a surge in applications for food stamps and other assistance. Deaths have tripled at a state-run nursing home for veterans in Chester County. And a Delaware County couple eloped on their front porch, as neighbors watched from their driveways and friends and family watched via video feed.

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

11:54 PM - April 24, 2020
11:54 PM - April 24, 2020

I have to cancel my summer travel plans. What are my rights?

American Airlines planes are parked at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa., on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. As airlines cut more service, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh International Airport has closed one of its four runways to shelter in place 96 planes, mostly from American Airlines, as of Monday, March 30, 2020. The airport has the capacity to store 140 planes.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar / AP
American Airlines planes are parked at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa., on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. As airlines cut more service, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh International Airport has closed one of its four runways to shelter in place 96 planes, mostly from American Airlines, as of Monday, March 30, 2020. The airport has the capacity to store 140 planes.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of our plans, and that includes plans for traveling this summer. But if you want to cancel, will you get your money back?

Some travel companies have changed their cancellation policies to handle the uncertainty. But many of these policies only extend to travel in the next weeks and months; if you’re traveling later in the summer, there may not be a lot of extra options available to you yet.

In general, getting a refund for canceling a hotel reservation will be easier than for a canceling a flight. Here are some of the things you need to know:

Canceling your flights

If an airline cancels your flight, you have several options, one of which is to get your money back. Every airline is required by the Department of Transportation to offer cash refunds if the airline cancels a flight.

— Marc Narducci

10:38 PM - April 24, 2020
10:38 PM - April 24, 2020

Coronavirus keeping you up at night? Experts offer 10 tips for better sleep.

A good night's sleep is a key factor in maintaining your health and protecting your immune system. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Dreamstime / MCT
A good night's sleep is a key factor in maintaining your health and protecting your immune system. (Dreamstime/TNS)

There’s nothing like a dark, quiet bedroom to send a stressed-out mind down a rabbit hole of worry, and the coronavirus is giving us all a new set of possible catastrophes to feast upon.

As your head hits the pillow, or maybe when you stir at 2 a.m., you start to wonder: Does that little sore throat mean you’re doomed? What if that guy who stood too close at the grocery store had the virus? Can your father or grandfather — or you — survive this?

It goes on and on, and pretty soon you’re worried that you’ll never get to sleep, and you’ll feel horrible the next day. Plus, you need sleep for a strong immune system, so staying awake could make you sick. This kind of thinking is a recipe for insomnia.

— Stacey Burling

9:52 PM - April 24, 2020
9:52 PM - April 24, 2020

Einstein ends contract with funeral home that transported bodies in a pickup truck

As city workers look on, the driver of the pickup truck stands in the truck bed uncovering the bodies he brought to the Joseph W. Spellman Medical Examiner Building.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
As city workers look on, the driver of the pickup truck stands in the truck bed uncovering the bodies he brought to the Joseph W. Spellman Medical Examiner Building.

Einstein Medical Center has ended its contract with the funeral home responsible for transporting bodies in the back of an open pickup truck last weekend, a spokesperson said.

“Upon learning of this incident, Einstein immediately launched an investigation to understand all the details related to this matter,” Einstein spokesperson Damien Woods said. “As a result of that investigation, we swiftly ended our contract with the funeral home responsible for this occurrence.”

The funeral home has not been identified. Officials have not said if the bodies were of people who died of COVID-19, but hospitals and funeral homes have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

The incident was brought to light earlier this week after an Inquirer photographer witnessed the Ford F-150 pull up to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office.

The driver got out, spoke briefly to a medical examiner’s employee who seemed unnerved by the delivery, and then climbed onto the cargo bed, walking on the bagged bodies that initially had been covered by mats. There appeared to be five or six bodies in the truck.

“We are equally appalled by these photographs and as a hospital in the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Philadelphia, we understand these unprecedented healthcare challenges,” said Woods. “All patients should be treated with respect and dignity at every stage and this should never happen.”

— Ellie Rushing

8:35 PM - April 24, 2020
8:35 PM - April 24, 2020

How to wear a mask and not fog up your glasses

Milo Driscoll, 9, in his mask outside of his home in the Passyunk Square neighborhood in Philadelphia.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Milo Driscoll, 9, in his mask outside of his home in the Passyunk Square neighborhood in Philadelphia.

With Pennsylvanians now required to use face masks when out at essential businesses to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, covered faces are becoming more normal.

But for the bespectacled among us, that can often mean dealing with foggy eyeglasses.

It might seem like a minor issue amid the other disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, but it is annoying. According to the Visual Council of America, an estimated 164 million U.S. adults wear glasses, and now, many of them are required to often mask up, too.

“Everyone is learning what it’s like to be a medical student in an operating room,” says Nicole Jochym, a third-year medical school student at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University working with the Sew Face Masks Philadelphia organization. “It’s a very normal problem.”

— Nick Vadala

7:33 PM - April 24, 2020
7:33 PM - April 24, 2020

Philadelphia Sports Club parent company to provide relief to members who were charged during coronavirus shutdown

The parent company of Philadelphia Sports Club has agreed to changes to benefit members who were charged dues in the last six weeks despite a state order that shut down health clubs and gyms, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Friday.

PSC has already frozen memberships at no cost to members and has pledged to credit members for the time the fitness facilities have been closed, as well as allow members to electronically cancel without penalties or conditions through April 30, Shapiro said. PSC also will resolve all complaints filed with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

Health clubs and gyms were among businesses deemed not to be essential and were ordered closed on March 16.

PSC had refused to comply with consumer-protection provisions under the shutdown, Shapiro said.

Shapiro joined other state attorneys general in demanding changes from Town Sports International Holdings, Inc., the parent company of Philadelphia Sports Club, New York Sports Club, Washington Sports Club, Lucille Roberts, and other health and fitness subsidiaries.

— Robert Moran

7:02 PM - April 24, 2020
7:02 PM - April 24, 2020

One close-knit block is Philly at its best. But the coronavirus casts a dark shadow.

Kevin Smith, center, as a neighbor walks by with his niece on the 2200 block of Beechwood Street.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Kevin Smith, center, as a neighbor walks by with his niece on the 2200 block of Beechwood Street.

These days, a massive, dark cloud hangs low over Beechwood Street. The coronavirus has upended life here, as it has on thousands of blocks across the city. It’s as if someone flipped the switch to end the rhythm of life.

Lost jobs. Lost freedom. Friends, relatives, co-workers, and patients gone too soon.

Resident Kevin Johnson sweeps up Cherry Blossom flowers on Beechwood Street, in Philadelphia, April 19, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Resident Kevin Johnson sweeps up Cherry Blossom flowers on Beechwood Street, in Philadelphia, April 19, 2020.

“I pray every night for everybody to be safe,” said Kevin Smith, who has lived on Beechwood Street for seven years. “We’re close. Real close. Everyone here lives by the Golden Rule. If anything bad happens, we’re here for each other. We’re in this together.”

— Barbara Laker

6:28 PM - April 24, 2020
6:28 PM - April 24, 2020

Philadelphia-based, internationally known karate master dies from coronavirus

Teruyuki Okazaki
Courtesy of the Okazaki family
Teruyuki Okazaki

Known throughout the world as the highest-ranked teacher in Shotokan karate, Teruyuki Okazaki once considered quitting the discipline after twice failing his first and second tests to become a black belt.

“He always talked about it,” said nephew Hiroyoshi Okazaki. “He would explain that it doesn’t matter if you pass or fail, so don’t get discouraged. It doesn’t mean failing. It’s just you need more practice. It’s not only techniques but also your attitude.”

Teruyuki Okazaki, 88, who came to Philadelphia from his native Japan in 1961 to teach karate for what was supposed to be only six months but remained for the rest of his life, died Tuesday, April 21, of complications from the coronavirus.

Mr. Okazaki, a 10th-degree black belt, was considered by one writer to be a “living textbook on the history and practice of Shotokan karate,” the characteristics of which were described by his nephew as “very dynamic.”

“When you strike, one blow, one kill,” Hiroyoshi Okazaki said. “Karate is self-defense, and when you face multiple opponents you have to finish your opponent with one strike in order to face the next opponent.”

— Joe Juliano

5:49 PM - April 24, 2020
5:49 PM - April 24, 2020

New Jersey municipal courts can reopen Monday for remote proceedings

New Jersey municipal courts can reopen for remote proceedings as early as Monday if the parties in a case agree to meeting, the state Supreme Court announced Friday.

Otherwise, court hearings will resume remotely on May 11, the court announced.

All jury trials, landlord and tenant hearings, and grand jury sessions remain suspended till May 31, court officials said.

— Pranshu Verma, Justine McDaniel

5:47 PM - April 24, 2020
5:47 PM - April 24, 2020

Here’s how low Philly’s coronavirus case count has to be for the state to consider reopening

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaking at the virtual press conference.
Commonwealth Media Services
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaking at the virtual press conference.

The coronavirus benchmark Pennsylvania officials released this week for when counties might be considered for reopening under Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan caused confusion across the region, with guidelines posted on the state website contradicting statements from state and local officials.

According to the website, Philadelphia would have already had the case numbers needed to be considered for moving into the first phase of reopening. That prompted headscratching as officials said the hard-hit, population-dense city was “not close” to having a low enough rate of infection, and Wolf said southeastern Pennsylvania would likely be among the last areas in the state to reopen.

Officials clarified Friday that the benchmark refers to a cumulative case count over 14 days, not a daily case count, meaning Philadelphia has not yet reached the goal.

For all counties in the state, the governor’s plan stipulates that the rate of infection in a given area should be about 50 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days for it to consider beginning the yellow phase of the reopening, when some businesses can call employees back to work, the state Department of Health confirmed Friday in response to questions from The Inquirer.

For Philadelphia, that translates to an average of 55 new coronavirus cases each day for 14 days — or a total of 790 new cases over a two-week period, according to calculations provided Friday by state and city health officials.

That means the city’s current rate of infection is about seven to eight times higher than the goal rate: In the 14-day period ending Thursday, the city saw 5,955 new cases, which is an average of 425 per day.

— Justine McDaniel, Laura McCrystal, Anna Orso

5:40 PM - April 24, 2020
5:40 PM - April 24, 2020

Workers at 180-bed South Philly nursing home ravaged by coronavirus have voted to strike

A worker is pictured inside St. Monica Center in South Philadelphia on Friday, April 24, 2020. Workers at the nursing home voted to strike in response to what they say are unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A worker is pictured inside St. Monica Center in South Philadelphia on Friday, April 24, 2020. Workers at the nursing home voted to strike in response to what they say are unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

A majority of the 130 unionized workers at St. Monica Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare, a nursing home in South Philadelphia that’s been hard hit by the coronavirus, voted Friday afternoon to authorize a strike.

The workers — a group of direct-care and service workers represented by District 1199c — say they’ve watched, horrified, as the nursing home has let health and safety fall to the wayside as the coronavirus spreads through the 180-bed facility.

They don’t know the exact count of residents or workers who have tested positive or died, as workers said their employer has not shared that information, but two nurses who spoke on the condition of anonymity said 11 had died on one unit in the last two weeks, and eight residents had been sent to the hospital.

“We’re losing people left and right,” said one nurse. “That’s what’s killing us the most."

— Juliana Feliciano Reyes

5:30 PM - April 24, 2020
5:30 PM - April 24, 2020

U.S. Army Reserve sends 85 medical personnel to Pennsylvania

A Temple medical student walks through the coronavirus facility at the Liacouras Center before it opened earlier this month.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A Temple medical student walks through the coronavirus facility at the Liacouras Center before it opened earlier this month.

The U.S. Army Reserve assigned 85 military medical personnel to bolster Pennsylvania’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Included in the Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces are 14 doctors, 16 medics, 13 nurses, five physicians’ assistants, along with dentists, pharmacists, and mental health professionals, a Friday news release from the Army Reserve stated. Members of the unit arrived in Pennsylvania April 16 to survey the state’s health care sites, and military staff have been at the field hospital established at Temple University’s Liacouras Center since at least April 18, according to the Army Reserve.

All 85 additional personnel will work in the Philadelphia area, said Army Spokesperson Lt. Kara Crennan. The members of the unit have been assigned to Temple University’s Liacouras Center, and Temple, Mercy, Chestnut Hill and Einstein hospitals.

The Pennsylvania team is among 1,275 Reserve medical specialists who are being assigned to areas around the country that are experiencing COVID-19 surges, the Army Reserve press release stated.

— Jason Laughlin

5:20 PM - April 24, 2020
5:20 PM - April 24, 2020

Military funeral honors suspended in wake of coronavirus — but not the respect

With more than 135,000 interments every year at 136 Veterans Affairs national cemeteries, many Americans have firsthand experience with a military honors burial. The solemn folding of the flag into a tight triangle, the sharp salutes of a uniformed honor guard, a 21-gun salute, and a lone bugler playing the somber notes of Taps give deceased veterans a dignified send-off.

With the coronavirus, those ceremonies are no longer being conducted. But at VA cemeteries like Washington Crossing in Bucks County, the burials continue. Immediate family members — limited to no more than 10 people practicing social distancing — are allowed to view the burial. But many deceased veterans are interred with the cemetery staff as the only witnesses to honor their service.

All of the staff members are veterans, who understand what the families of veterans are going through. “We feel obligated to do the best we can given the circumstances,” said administrative officer Jason Guenther, who served in the Army. “We always put service before self.”

Someday, after the pandemic subsides, a grateful nation will, once again, be able to display its appreciation. The VA has said that families will be able to return later to have ceremonies with full military honors.

— Tom Gralish

4:48 PM - April 24, 2020
4:48 PM - April 24, 2020

Photos: Manayunk Brewing Company gives free beer to essential workers

Manayunk Brewing Company is giving away free beer to first responders, health care workers and essential personnel Friday, April 24, and Saturday, April 25.

— Steven M. Falk

4:47 PM - April 24, 2020
4:47 PM - April 24, 2020

What is ‘contact tracing’ and why is it back in vogue?

Katie Strelau, a Ph.D. microbiology student at the University of Pennsylvania, has helped train volunteers to call the contacts of coronavirus patients and also has made calls herself.
Karen G. Wong
Katie Strelau, a Ph.D. microbiology student at the University of Pennsylvania, has helped train volunteers to call the contacts of coronavirus patients and also has made calls herself.

By the end of March, many U.S. health departments, including those in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, stopped trying to figure out where and how coronavirus patients had become infected.

Though testing remained limited, it was clear the virus had long been spreading beyond those who had traveled abroad and their immediate family members. With a mounting number of cases, the job of tracking who had been exposed to whom was just too big.

Now that the rate of new infections is declining in some parts of the country, talk of this practice, called “contact tracing,” is back. But it remains a task of staggering scope, with various public health experts predicting that thousands of tracers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, are needed to keep the virus in check.

— Tom Avril

4:37 PM - April 24, 2020
4:37 PM - April 24, 2020

Montgomery County reports ‘big jump up’ in positive coronavirus cases, attributed to seniors in long-term care facilities

Officials in Montgomery County reported 171 new positive coronavirus cases among residents Friday, a “big jump up” they attributed to seniors living in long-term care facilities.

The total number of cases in the county as of Friday is 3,383, according to Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh. Of those, 189 residents were confirmed to have died from the virus, and another 96 are considered “presumptive positive” deaths, meaning the person was never tested, but believed to have had the virus.

Deaths in long-term care facilities account for 73% of the total number in Montgomery County, both positive and presumptive positive, according to Arkoosh.

She reiterated her comments from earlier in the week that the county is far from reopening under the terms of the plan described by Gov. Tom Wolf. Under Wolf’s plan, the number of cases in a county has to be less than 50 per 100,00 residents over a 14-day period.

Currently, Montgomery County has “14-day number” of 415 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, about eight times higher than the state’s target, Arkoosh said.

“It’s not just about the number of patients,” she said. “It is also weighed with other factors, including availability of hospital beds, availability of testing, and availability of contact tracing.”

— Vinny Vella

4:35 PM - April 24, 2020
4:35 PM - April 24, 2020

Murphy: Still unclear when New Jersey will reopen as some counties see increase in coronavirus infection rates

The Philadelphia skyline is across the Delaware River from Camden's Waterfront Park with a posted closed sign .
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The Philadelphia skyline is across the Delaware River from Camden's Waterfront Park with a posted closed sign .

As the pace of coronavirus infections flatten in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy noted on Friday it is still unclear when New Jersey will restart its economy.

“We had 253 people die today, positive tests are still going up,” Murphy said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Murphy reiterated he will release a set of “broad principles” Monday as to how the state will reopen, but said he will only implement such measures “when the facts suggest” it is safe to start a return to normal life.

This comes as a number of New Jersey counties have “slid backwards” and seen an increase in the rate at which positive coronavirus cases double among their residents.

Murphy implored residents to continue adhering to social distancing so this trend stops.

The governor said he had a “very productive” call with Treasury Department officials to discuss how New Jersey can spend $1.8 billion in federal bailout money it received under the CARES Act. On Thursday, he railed against the federal government for putting significant restrictions on the way state’s can use these funds, indicating the fiscal impact on the state would be dire if guidelines don’t change.

“We’ve got big, big money issues,” Murphy said. “We have to make sure we get what’s rightfully ours.”

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli reported 452 long term care facilities now have a coronavirus patient under their care, accounting for 14,579 positive patients. The facilities also account for 1,652 confirmed coronavirus deaths, while another 1,044 are “suspected.”

She also said 6,847 residents are hospitalized, including 1,933 in critical care. Over 1,480 patients are on ventilators.

And as President Donald Trump faces scrutiny for suggesting people could swallow disinfectants to kill the coronavirus, Persichilli urged residents to “not ingest or inject” those solutions.

— Pranshu Verma

4:31 PM - April 24, 2020
4:31 PM - April 24, 2020

Delaware County has ‘a ways to go’ before considering reopening, officials say

Delaware County has “a ways to go” before economic reopening can begin, officials said Friday.

Their understanding from Gov. Tom Wolf and other local officials is that Philadelphia and its collar counties will likely reopen together under the state’s phased reopening plan, councilman Kevin Madden said. But from there, counties could take different action.

“The governor has been clear with us that the idea has been to think regionally,” Madden said. “Moving forward, we’d probably go from red to yellow or yellow to green as a region. But there may be counties that have to go backward at a point in time.”

Delaware County has recorded more than 3,000 cases and 129 deaths from the virus. They’ve been averaging about 100 new cases a day, Madden said, and will need to get that number down closer to 20 before considering reopening.

The council members reported a declining number of cases at George W. Hill Correctional Facility, with only three new confirmed positive cases in staff and one new positive case in an inmate in recent days. All cases there are mild, they said.

At Fair Acres Geriatric Center, the county-run nursing home in Media, only 4% of the facility’s population has been infected by the virus, councilwoman Christine Reuther said. Of the 25 residents sickened, most have recovered. Only one resident has died, she said, and that person contracted the virus after being admitted to a hospital for an unrelated ailment.

— Erin McCarthy

4:05 PM - April 24, 2020
4:05 PM - April 24, 2020

Murphy: New Jersey tenants can ‘direct their landlord’ to use security deposit to pay rent

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Friday allowing renters to “direct their landlord” to use security deposits towards a portion or all of their unpaid rent.

“We can only emerge stronger when no one fears for their home or residence,” Murphy said. “Renters should have the ability to tap this deposit to help them secure their place in their home.”

This order lifts a ban preventing landlords from using security deposits for rent, according to Murphy’s chief counsel, Matt Platkin. The order also forbids landlords from asking for another security deposit for at least six months after the end of the emergency or lease’s end.

It also requires landlords to use a renter’s security deposit for rent if a tenant asks for such accommodations to be made.

— Pranshu Verma

3:40 PM - April 24, 2020
3:40 PM - April 24, 2020

After threat to SEPTA service, union president says an agreement is ‘99.9% there’

Willie Brown, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 speaks with reporters about the demands they've given SEPTA in Philadelphia, Pa. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Willie Brown, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 speaks with reporters about the demands they've given SEPTA in Philadelphia, Pa. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

SEPTA’s union head said there’s been progress on demands it’s seeking for workers amid the coronavirus following a threat to transit service earlier this week.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown said resolutions on its requests are “99.9% there.”

Brown was preparing workers to take a possible job action Thursday that prompted SEPTA to warn of “significant service disruptions.”

He then postponed the action by “a couple days” following Mayor Jim Kenney’s involvement. Brown called the past week “a rollercoaster ride.”

“I was happy to see the mayor come in,” Brown said. “To me, honestly, like the kids who sees Santa Claus on Christmas, that’s how I felt when he came in, because he came in and then gave everybody a way out.”

TWU’s set of demands include for SEPTA to take employees’ temperatures, test air quality on vehicles, and for greater social distancing measures. During Friday’s coronavirus news conference, Kenney said the administration, union, and SEPTA were still in conversation.

“It’ll probably go through the weekend, hopefully we can resolve it earlier than Saturday or Sunday but we’re at it, and we’re trying to get it resolved,” Kenny said.

There is no indication of any kind of work stoppage, said spokesperson Andrew Busch.

— Patricia Madej

3:16 PM - April 24, 2020
3:16 PM - April 24, 2020

New Jersey tops 100,000 coronavirus cases

Over 102,000 New Jersey residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.

The state’s startling case count is the second highest in the nation, behind New York, and comes seven weeks after its first positive case was confirmed March 4.

The governor reported an additional 3,047 people were added to the state’s positive caseload, pushing the statewide total to 102,196. Another 253 people have also died from the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 5,617.

The curve of coronavirus cases has flattened in New Jersey, and Murphy will announce a blueprint by Monday on how he plans to reopen the state.

It will be “broadly similar” to the color-coded system Pennsylvania has released, Murphy said Thursday, but will have no dates attached.

— Pranshu Verma

3:15 PM - April 24, 2020
3:15 PM - April 24, 2020

Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner: ‘We’re still in the thick of this’

A pedestrian walks along Kensington Ave., past the “Free and Clean,” mural created by Henry Bermudez in Kensington on Friday, April 24, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks along Kensington Ave., past the “Free and Clean,” mural created by Henry Bermudez in Kensington on Friday, April 24, 2020.

Philadelphia reported 651 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, prompting Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley to say the city is “still in the thick of this” as officials battle a pandemic that is known to have infected 11,877 city residents already.

The real number of Philadelphians who have contracted the virus is likely far greater, Farley has said, because of limits on testing and uncertainty about the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers.

The daily tally of new cases, which fluctuates based on when labs report data to the city, is in line with the average from recent days, but the rate of new positive tests does not yet appear to have significantly decreased, Farley said.

“I’m not willing to say that we are past the peak yet,” Farley said.

Farley also reported six new deaths related to the coronavirus. So far, 449 Philadelphians have died of the disease. Of those, 236 were nursing home residents.

The stagnation in Philadelphia’s new cases comes two weeks before Gov. Tom Wolf begins allowing some businesses to reopen in parts of the state that have avoided widespread infection from the virus or appear to have brought it under control. The Southeastern Pennsylvania region, however, will likely have to wait longer before officials clear it for reopening.

— Sean Collins Walsh

3:12 PM - April 24, 2020
3:12 PM - April 24, 2020

Delaware County announces $1.75 million grant program to help small businesses

Delaware County officials announced Friday a new program to help small businesses with a total of $1.75 million in grants. The initiative, called Delco Strong, will give grants of up to $7,500 to cover as many as three months of rent, mortgage payments, utility payments, and inventory, council members said.

Brick-and-mortar businesses with 50 or fewer employees may be eligible, with businesses in blighted areas given priority, said council member Elaine Paul Schaefer.

Businesses can apply beginning on May 6 at delcostrong.delcopa.org.

“As we all know, these small businesses are the back bone of our economy here,” Schaefer said. “The COVID-19 crisis has crippled them.”

Delaware County has also further extended its county tax filing deadline from April 30 to September 30 for all residents.

— Erin McCarthy

3:04 PM - April 24, 2020
3:04 PM - April 24, 2020

Video: A letter of resilience to Philadelphia

The Inquirer asked Philadelphia spoken word artists Luis Marrero and Carina Paulino to write a letter of resilience to Philadelphia. We will get through this together. Stay strong, Philly.

— Astrid Rodrigues

2:49 PM - April 24, 2020
2:49 PM - April 24, 2020

Top Pa. health official: Don’t ingest disinfectants

Pennsylvania’s top public health official knows from professional experience: don’t ingest disinfectants.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said Friday that, as a former pediatrician, she’s seen the “extremely dangerous” nature of consuming disinfectant or cleaning supplies, an idea to kill the coronavirus that President Donald Trump seemed to float during a news conference Thursday.

“I have seen young children who have ingested cleaning materials and they have had very, very severe burns of their esophagus requiring intensive care and operations,” Levine said. “From my clinical experience, that is an extremely dangerous thing to do. I can’t offer my highest recommendation not to do that.”

Levine also announced Friday that another 1,600 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive for the coronavirus, meaning about 38,600 people have tested positive statewide. Nearly 1,500 people have died as a result of complications from the virus.

— Anna Orso

2:46 PM - April 24, 2020
2:46 PM - April 24, 2020

Nearly 100,000 Pa. self-employed or gig workers have filed for unemployment

The sign on the door reads, ’Closed To the Public Due to the CRONA-V RE-Open March 26” at NCS Metals and Jewelry on St. in Phila., Pa. on April 20, 2020.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
The sign on the door reads, ’Closed To the Public Due to the CRONA-V RE-Open March 26” at NCS Metals and Jewelry on St. in Phila., Pa. on April 20, 2020.

Nearly 100,000 Pennsylvanians who are self-employed or gig workers have applied for unemployment compensation, a benefit those workers are newly able to qualify for under federal relief passed amid the pandemic.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday that about 90,000 people had applied for those new benefits in the first week that it was available, and the administration expects initial payments to go out in the next several weeks.

More than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians have applied for unemployment benefits, and many encountered a system snarled by long wait times.

“Our unemployment compensation system just wasn’t built for this volume,” Wolf said.

— Anna Orso

2:25 PM - April 24, 2020
2:25 PM - April 24, 2020

Delaware schools closed through rest of the academic year

Delaware schools will remain closed through the rest of the school year, Gov. John Carney announced Friday.

Students and teachers will continue using remote online learning for the next two months, Carney said at a press briefing. Carney originally closed schools on March 13.

Carney also said the state is preparing a plan for reopening the state’s economy based on CDC guidelines, such as declining cases, strong testing, and diligent contract tracing, to determine when restrictions can be eased. However, the state has not seen a consistent decline in cases yet, Carney said.

One hundred Delaware residents have died from the coronavirus so far, according to a newly launched portal from the Delaware Division of Public Health, and the state has 3,442 total cases.

— Ellie Rushing

1:41 PM - April 24, 2020
1:41 PM - April 24, 2020

Trump says he was being ‘sarcastic’ in encouraging people to ingest disinfectants to fight coronavirus

President Donald Trump signs a coronavirus aid package to direct funds to small businesses, hospitals, and testing, in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, April 24, 2020, in Washington. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., left, and Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration look on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci / AP
President Donald Trump signs a coronavirus aid package to direct funds to small businesses, hospitals, and testing, in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, April 24, 2020, in Washington. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., left, and Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration look on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump denied Friday that he seriously encouraged people to ingest disinfectants into the body to fight the coronavirus. He told reporters he was being “sarcastic.”

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute,” Trump said at his Thursday briefing, looking to Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx for reaction. “Is there a way we do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? You can see it gets in the lungs … It sounds interesting to me.”

Birx did not respond.

The President’s words prompted the makers of Lysol to issue a statement warning customers “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”

— Erin McCarthy

12:53 PM - April 24, 2020
12:53 PM - April 24, 2020

Long cast aside as expendable, Pa.’s public health nurses are now pivotal to easing coronavirus restrictions

For years, Pennsylvania lawmakers considered public health nurses expendable. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, they are critical to the state's plan to reopen. But only a skeleton crew remains.
DAN NOTT / For Spotlight PA / DAN NOTT / For Spotlight PA
For years, Pennsylvania lawmakers considered public health nurses expendable. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, they are critical to the state's plan to reopen. But only a skeleton crew remains.

They are the state’s medical detectives, working against time to stop infectious disease outbreaks. When did your symptoms start? Where have you traveled? Can you remember every person you interacted with during the past two weeks? They trace the clues, then more calls. Days turn to weeks. Case counts surge. Patients die.

There seems to be no stopping the coronavirus.

“You’re trying to take one day at a time so you can survive it,” said one nurse, who asked to remain anonymous because state health officials declined to allow interviews with the media. “It’s also hard because the public doesn’t realize there are people doing this type of work because we’re not in the hospital taking care of your loved ones. They don’t see us.”

As the global pandemic swept across Pennsylvania’s borders, the state’s little-known force of public health nurses were thrust to the front lines. They were the centerpiece of the early response, and their work to trace and contain new cases will be essential to the plan to reopen.

Locating infected individuals and identifying their contacts allows quarantines to be applied more narrowly and future outbreaks avoided. That means more people can go about their lives and more businesses can stay open. The model has proved successful in countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Iceland.

But in Pennsylvania, what should be a fast-running detection system has been slowed to a walk for one reason: There simply aren’t enough public health nurses.

— Aneri Pattani

12:48 PM - April 24, 2020
12:48 PM - April 24, 2020

Trump signs $484 billion measure to aid employers, hospitals

President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated broad swaths of the economy.

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or dramatically alter their operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.

— Associated Press

12:34 PM - April 24, 2020
12:34 PM - April 24, 2020

Meat inspectors lack basic coronavirus protective equipment and have to scrounge from the plants they cover

JBS Beef in Souderton, Pa., closed due to COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
JBS Beef in Souderton, Pa., closed due to COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

One U.S. meat inspector asks himself each morning: “Is this the day that I’m possibly given a death sentence for staying on the job?”

Another inspector says meat company managers “stonewall" her when she asks where in the plant meat-company workers have tested positive for COVID-19 so she can protect herself.

Said a third: “We just want to know that our co-workers who are contracting the virus are OK.”

Across the country, federal meat inspectors say they are terrified about the pandemic and that the agency is failing to take even basic steps to protect them. One chief concern: Federal meat inspectors lack face masks and hand sanitizer as they enter some of the nation’s most virus-ridden workplaces, and are forced to rely on the companies they inspect to provide safety equipment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledges.

— Bob Fernandez

12:18 PM - April 24, 2020
12:18 PM - April 24, 2020

FDA warns of risks with Trump-promoted malaria drug

A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets in New Delhi, India.
Manish Swarup / AP
A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets in New Delhi, India.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning doctors against prescribing a malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus outside of hospitals or research settings.

In an alert Friday, regulators flagged reports of serious side effects and death among patients taking hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine. The drugs, also prescribed for lupus, can cause a number of side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

In one such report, doctors at a New York hospital said that heart rhythm abnormalities developed in most of the 84 coronavirus patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, a combo Trump has promoted.

Last month, the FDA authorized emergency use of the malaria drugs for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who aren’t enrolled in ongoing clinical trials. But regulators said they are investigating life-threatening side effects reported with the drugs to poison control centers and other health authorities.

— Associated Press

12:15 PM - April 24, 2020
12:15 PM - April 24, 2020

New York revenues will drop by $13.3 billion as a result of coronavirus shutdown

New York revenues will drop by $13.3 billion as a result of the coronavirus shutdown, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday as he dared Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, to follow through on his suggestion to let states file for bankruptcy.

“Pass the law, I dare you,” he said, “and then go to the President … You want to send a signal to the markets that this nation is in real trouble? You want to send an international message that the economy is in turmoil?”

As coronavirus deaths drop in New York, the disease epicenter in the northeast, Cuomo also urged the country’s leaders to learn from the mistakes in its initial response as they prepare for a second wave.

He noted it took two months for the United States to act on news that the virus was wreaking havoc in China.

Next time, “just assume the virus got on a plane that night and ... flew to Newark airport and is now in New York,” he said. “This was too little too late.”

— Erin McCarthy

11:25 AM - April 24, 2020
11:25 AM - April 24, 2020

Rutgers University president to propose tuition freeze, wage cuts for senior staff

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi said Friday he will propose a freeze on tuition and fees next year, while enacting a 10% salary reduction for most senior leaders and a 5% reduction for other administrators.

All new major construction projects at the state university also would be halted, he said.

“Rutgers will weather this storm, but our university — and indeed all of higher education — confronts perhaps the greatest academic and operational challenge in its history,” Barchi said in a statement. The university anticipates a $200 million loss of revenue this quarter and expects more losses next year.

The 10% pay cut over the next four months applies to chancellors, executive vice presidents, the athletic director, head coaches for football and men’s and women’s basketball and Barchi. Another 100 senior administrators who make up the administrative council will take the 5% cut.

— Susan Snyder

11:05 AM - April 24, 2020
11:05 AM - April 24, 2020

Coronavirus death toll passes 50,000 mark in U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University

More than 50,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States as of Friday, a month since much of the country was shut down to reduce the virus’s spread and three months since the first case in the states.

In all, the United States has more 870,000 cases, the lion’s share of the world’s more than 2.7 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 5,300 people have died in New Jersey, according to official counts. and more than 1,400 have died in Pennsylvania.

But these numbers are likely an under-count of the virus’s true toll.

“We definitely think there are deaths that we have not accounted for,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security which tracks the virus, told the New York Times earlier this month. “Without a uniform reporting system for coronavirus deaths, protocols vary by area.”

This week, Pennsylvania officials twice changed the way they were counting deaths in the face of scrutiny about the accuracy of their data. Earlier this week, they added probable deaths to their count, then deleted some of them from the tally, and then removed them entirely.

“We realize that this category can be confusing, since it does change over time,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday. “At times, there are things we need to review, and potentially revisit the way the data is being analyzed”

In New York City, which has reported more than 16,000 deaths, several reports have highlighted that the staggering death toll there does not account for people who die at home or on the streets of presumed, but not confirmed, cases.

— Erin McCarthy

10:25 AM - April 24, 2020
10:25 AM - April 24, 2020

Pa. construction sites can reopen May 1. What will that look like?

The construction site of the W and Element hotel tower at 1441 Chestnut in Center City on Tuesday.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The construction site of the W and Element hotel tower at 1441 Chestnut in Center City on Tuesday.

Masks are about to join hardhats as hallmarks of construction sites in Pennsylvania.

All public and private construction sites can reopen May 1, as long as they adhere to safety precautions meant to protect workers and the public from the spread of the coronavirus, according to guidance Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration outlined Thursday evening.

On job sites, construction businesses must keep workers six feet away from each other when possible, provide hand-washing stations throughout, regularly clean and disinfect areas that are high risks for spreading infection, limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, stagger employees’ shifts, limit tool sharing, prohibit sick workers and unnecessary visitors, ensure workers arrive separately and wear masks, and appoint “Pandemic Safety Officers” to enforce the administration’s safety guidance.

Wolf said Thursday that the nature of the work, including the ability of workers to operate at a distance, makes construction a “reasonable place to start” in reopening the economy. The new order applies to all construction businesses, including residential and nonresidential, new construction, renovation, repairs, and design.

— Michaelle Bond

9:25 AM - April 24, 2020
9:25 AM - April 24, 2020

Fear of meat shortages grows as coronavirus outbreaks close more processing plants

File Photo of the Tyson Fresh Meats plant stands in Waterloo, Iowa, that closed Wednesday.
Jeff Reinitz / AP
File Photo of the Tyson Fresh Meats plant stands in Waterloo, Iowa, that closed Wednesday.

The fear of a meat shortage is growing after Tyson Foods’ closed two of its plants amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Waterloo, Iowa, plant suspended operations on Wednesday after nearly 200 coronavirus cases were linked to the facility, which processes nearly 4% of the country’s pork.

In all, about a quarter of the country’s pork processing capacity has been halted, according to multiple reports.

On Thursday, Tyson also closed a Washington state beef plant, which in a day produces enough meat to feed four million people, as employees undergo coronavirus testing.

As a result of these closures and those at other plants, consumers could begin to see fewer meat choices at their grocery stores in the coming weeks, Politico reported.

Julie Anna Potts, president of the North American American Meat Institute, said on CNN Friday that industry officials were working to prevent extreme shortages.

“In terms of the food supply itself and maintaining the supply chain,” she said, “we’re working every day to keep the plants open and operating so people can keep food on the table."

— Erin McCarthy

6:10 AM - April 24, 2020
6:10 AM - April 24, 2020

More people are using antidepressants and antianxiety medications during coronavirus pandemic: survey

To cope with mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, people are increasingly turning to prescription drugs used to treat depression and anxiety.

A report released this month by Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management program, found that the use of prescription drugs to treat mental health conditions increased more than 20% between mid-February and mid-March, peaking the week of March 15, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

During that same period, prescriptions for antianxiety medications rose 34%, while prescriptions for antidepressants increased by 18%. Of the prescriptions filled during that time, more than three-quarters were new prescriptions.

Prior to the pandemic, prescriptions for antianxiety medications decreased 12% between 2015 and 2019, the report found.

— Bethany Ao

4:45 AM - April 24, 2020
4:45 AM - April 24, 2020

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is expanding curbside pickup to nearly all its stores

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

4:30 AM - April 24, 2020
4:30 AM - April 24, 2020

Morning Roundup: Philly region is ‘weeks away’ from seeing the beginning of coronavirus restrictions being lifted

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.

One restriction will lift statewide: All public and private construction across Pennsylvania can resume May 1, Wolf announced, saying that the industry was a “reasonable place to start” in reopening parts of the economy and that strict safety guidelines would be in place.

State and city health officials said Thursday they could not predict when the Philadelphia region might reach the benchmark needed to take the first steps toward reopening. Philadelphia has averaged about 430 new cases per day for the last several days.

"It would certainly be weeks away,” said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. “How many weeks I can’t say. The virus determines its own schedule.”

Justine McDaniel, Anna Orso, Laura McCrystal and Pranshu Verma

4:00 AM - April 24, 2020
4:00 AM - April 24, 2020

Today’s Inquirer Front Page

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Friday, April 24, 2020.
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer front page for Friday, April 24, 2020.