Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus coverage here
While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the country passed a million, and Philadelphia’s death toll climbed above 500, with measured optimism the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania spoke of pressing ahead with plans to reopen their states.
Their timetables suggested a pace more glacial than expeditious, and no one could predict when an outbreak of normality might sweep across the region.
Plus, Philly musicians, including Kurt Vile, Gerald Veasley, and Freeway, are getting together for a three day music festival called Lovely Philly.
Deadly ride: How coronavirus struck down Bells & Evans poultry workers going to work in a crowded van
Elpidio Espinal Rondon started feeling achy and feverish early this month, but he continued working his graveyard shift at the Bell & Evans poultry-processing plant, where he trims fat off chicken breasts as they rumble down a conveyor belt.
He had no idea that fellow plant worker Arismendi Beras-Mendoza was also ill. His Dominican “soul brother,” who loved dominoes and was friendly with everyone as he plucked stray bits of raw meat off the factory floor, never complained about any COVID-19 symptoms.
It was only after Beras-Mendoza’s sudden death from the coronavirus on April 14 that Espinal Rondon called out sick and got tested. He was positive.
He and his late friend were among a group of workers who traveled to and from work in a van driven by a colleague. Crammed together for the 30-mile drive between their homes in Reading and the plant in Fredericksburg, none of the workers could keep their distance from one another en route to jobs they couldn’t afford to give up.
Now, one of their group is dead and the rest are sick — eight virus victims in all.
Family-owned Bell & Evans, which specializes in organic, antibiotic-free chicken that’s sold at Whole Foods, is the latest poultry processing company to be swept up in the pandemic. And while the company with 1,800 employees continues to operate, more than a dozen meat-processing plants nationwide, including four in Pennsylvania, have had to close temporarily for deep cleaning because so many employees contracted the virus.
Chestnut Hill looks for small-business support as its main street, like so many others, remains empty
Instead of corralling tens of thousands of visitors at its annual spring festival, Chestnut Hill is soliciting donations toward small-business support grants to help local entrepreneurs affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chestnut Hill Community Development Corporation set up a fund Monday to assist as many as possible of the 260-some neighborhood businesses that request financial assistance, said Philip Dawson, executive director of the 64-year-old Chestnut Hill Business District, an umbrella organization for the development corporation.
This weekend, the neighborhood was supposed to be jammed with visitors for the annual Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival, a major community event that showcases the area’s renowned trees and flowers, as well as plants and landscaping displays, homemade goods, and live music. A new date has not been announced.
The development corporation is seeking donors from the neighborhood and large companies elsewhere in Philadelphia in hopes of raising at least $30,000 over a month. At the same time, the Chestnut Hill Community Development Corp. and similar economic development organizations representing other neighborhoods are discussing options for businesses weekly with the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Dawson said.
The Bama Booster Club of Bridgeport keeps on bringing good cheer in the COVID-19 era
Joe Kekoanui has spent a lot of time recently bopping around Bridgeport, Collegeville, and the other Montgomery County towns and suburbs that he knows so well, spreading a little cheer to first responders and others on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A couple of senior-care centers in Plymouth? One got 20 breakfast pizzas. One got trays of soft pretzels and cases of water. The Lower Providence Police Department? They got pizzas and Zeps — Norristown’s answer to hoagies. The West Norriton Police Department? The same for them.
“We’re just trying to keep people a little more upbeat about things,” Kekoanui, 35, said.
The meals officially come from the Bama Booster Club of Bridgeport, the social club that has tied the town to the University of Alabama football program for the last half a century. Kekoanui is a member and its unofficial spokesman, and he estimated that the Bama Boosters, with the help of several local restaurants and bars, have fed more than 5,000 people through their donations to area government and public offices and health-care centers.
As anyone who’s spent time under a mask recently can tell you, the practice isn’t often enjoyable. And as the weather warms up, face masks could become particularly sweaty and uncomfortable.
“Philadelphia summers are tough,” says Nicole Jochym, a third-year medical student at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University who works with the Sew Face Masks Philadelphia organization. “People are going to freak out in the summer when it gets hot.”
After all, even as the temperature rises, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends wearing face masks, and in some cases, it is required. Luckily there are some strategies to help make masking up more bearable in warm weather.
Cocktails to go may be coming to Pennsylvania amid coronavirus shutdowns
Pennsylvania is one step closer to allowing many bars and restaurants to sell mixed drinks for takeout, joining other states that are loosening restrictions on alcohol sales during coronavirus shutdowns.
The practice, which would be temporary, has never been legal in Pennsylvania.
The state House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an amendment to House Bill 327 introduced by Rep. Kurt Masser, a Republican whose district encompasses Columbia, Montour, and Northumberland Counties, that would allow the mixed-drink sales by bars and restaurants that have lost 25% or more of their business.
The vote was 193-9. The bill is headed for the Senate, which could vote Wednesday.
Philadelphia-area hospitals begin plans to resume elective surgeries, but still far from ‘back to normal'
As the coronavirus pandemic surged, health systems across the country put off all but the most essential medical procedures in an effort to preserve resources for treating critical COVID-19 patients and reduce the risk of already vulnerable patients contracting or spreading the virus.
But as hospitalizations peak in outbreak hot spots such as Philadelphia, public leaders and health officials are beginning to plot a course to reopening services and getting patients like Johnson back on their feet. Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday authorized hospitals to resume elective and non-urgent surgeries, assuming they have sufficient protective equipment, staff and capacity to treat patients who are both positive and negative for COVID-19.
Hospitals and surgery centers said they are eager to bring their operations back up to speed: these types of procedures account for a sizable portion of hospitals’ revenue, and doctors are eager to bring back patients whose procedures have been delayed, but are still absolutely necessary.
Still, returning to something like normal will take months. Providers will need to work through backlogs of thousands of patients, while still taking on new urgent cases. At the same time, social distancing guidelines that remain in effect will mean office appointments must be more spread out, meaning they can’t see as many patients in a day.
While some Philadelphia-area hospitals outlined aggressive plans to resume elective surgeries as soon as May 1, others are taking a more cautious approach.
Montgomery County’s jail tested every inmate for COVID-19 — and found 30 times more cases than previously known
With coronavirus cases rising in nearly all the region’s jails, prisons and detention centers, Montgomery County officials set out last week to determine just how entrenched the disease had become behind bars and tested every inmate in their custody.
What they found was sobering and could indicate infection rates at corrections facilities across Southeastern Pennsylvania are several times higher than what is currently being detected.
Of the 948 inmates, 177 — or roughly 18% of the county’s incarcerated population — tested positive, a rate of infection more than 30 times greater than what Montgomery County had identified before it began its mass testing over two days last week.
Perhaps more surprising, said Val Arkoosh, chairperson of the county’s board of commissioners, 171 of those positive inmates exhibited no symptoms at the time their tests were administered.
North Carolina pug tests positive for coronavirus, the first known case in pet dogs
A North Carolina pug may be the first canine to test positive for the coronavirus, Duke Health has said.
The dog, whose owners also were diagnosed with the virus, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the coronavirus in humans — after it participated in Duke’s Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection research study.
“To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which the virus has been detected in a dog,” Dr. Chris Woods, the principal investigator on the MESSI study at Duke, said in a statement to TIME Magazine. “Little additional information is known at this time as we work to learn more about the exposure.”
The case, first reported by local news channel WRAL, was discovered after the Chapel Hill household enrolled in the Duke study. The family and their pets, except for their pet lizard, were all tested for the virus. The mother, father, and their son, and the 2-year-old pug, Winston, tested positive for the virus, while the cat tested negative.
The mother told WRAL that she had noticed Winston was gagging and lost his appetite. Four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo, as well as two pet cats, have also been diagnosed with the virus.
Gov. Tom Wolf says he won’t abandon ambitious spending plan as massive budget deficit looms
Facing plummeting revenues, increased demand for public assistance, and a July 1 budget deadline, Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers are trying to piece together how they can spend federal stimulus dollars and simultaneously manage a massive budget hole.
Despite the state’s Independent Fiscal Office projecting an up to $4 billion budget shortfall, Wolf is sticking by his original budget proposal that includes a 4% increase in spending over the current year and relies on relatively robust revenue growth.
Even before the coronavirus, Republicans expressed skepticism about the spending.
During his first year in office, Wolf and the GOP-controlled legislature found themselves in a protracted, and at times nasty, battle over the budget. While they’ve managed to compromise in recent years, the fallout from the coronavirus could set the stage for a contentious fight ahead.
“At this point, we plan to try to work in a bipartisan manner and get a practical solution in place, trying not to make this a political agenda,” said John O’Brien, the senior policy adviser for the House Appropriations Committee. “We’re hopeful that all parties are going to join us in that view.”
As part of the federal stimulus package, which can only be used to cover COVID-19 expenses, Pennsylvania has already received at least $2.9 billion of an expected $4.9 billion in relief, with more than $1 billion allocated to the state’s counties with 500,000 residents or more.
Homeless and hungry college students will face greater challenges because of the coronavirus
A survey of Philadelphia college students found more than half at two-year campuses and one-third at four-year universities reported difficulty attaining adequate food and secure housing.
And that was before the coronavirus upended campus life, forcing many students out of their jobs and residences.
“It is therefore likely that rates of food and housing insecurity among Philadelphia college students have increased since they were assessed,” said the newly released report by the Temple University-based Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
The pandemic “exposed the depth and breadth of vulnerability at Philadelphia colleges and universities, as many students who were forced to leave campuses had nowhere to go and no resources to create safe, alternative plans,” the report said.
And things are likely to get worse, given the millions who have lost jobs nationally, said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an education policy professor who leads the Hope Center. Students’ education could suffer as a result, she said.
SEPTA union president says transit agency has made progress addressing coronavirus safety demands
After a threat to transit service last week, a SEPTA union president said the transportation authority has addressed most of the demands to better safeguard employees against the coronavirus.
Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown said progress has been made on the biggest concerns, including temperature screening for employees. While “not a win-win,” Brown said members are "more comfortable.” He is not calling for any new “job action” at this time.
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” after Mayor Jim Kenney stepped in.
Transport Workers Union Local 234 represents thousands of employees, including drivers and operators.
SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said discussions were moving in “a good direction” at the end of last week.
“We thought we had found enough common ground on the issues that the union had brought up that we weren’t looking at a job action,” he said.
‘We have no idea what is going on there.’ Local coroner, state legislators call for probe of veterans’ nursing home
State and local officials are calling for an “immediate investigation” into how a Chester County nursing home for veterans has responded to the coronavirus pandemic after more nearly 30 people have died there.
State Sen. Katie, a Democrat representing Chester County, and the county’s coroner, Christina Vandepol, issued a joint statement Tuesday condemning the state-run Southeastern Veterans’ Center (SEVC) and its management.
“The sheer number of deaths at the Veterans’ Center in such a short period of time warrants an immediate investigation,” Vandepol said. “We have no idea what is going on there or how this outbreak is being handled.”
Since early April, at least 26 people have died from COVID-19 at the 283-bed facility, located in East Vincent Township. Muth said SEVC staff members have provided her office with disturbing details about the center’s care, including cases of residents with roommates waiting hours for the body of a veteran who died to be removed from the room, improper quarantining of infected residents, and supervisors instructing staff to change or edit medical charts and records.
“Hearing their stories and struggles brought me to tears," Muth said. "This isn’t just a lack of supplies or staffing shortages, this is healthcare providers crying out for help because they feel their patients are at extreme risk because of a failing protocol.”
There’s a catch: If you are insured and you go through your doctor, you’ll pay nothing out of pocket. But if you request the same test on your own, Quest, a leading diagnostics company, will charge you $113, plus a $10.30 service fee.
That’s because of a gray area in the new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It requires diagnostic and antibody tests ordered by a health care provider — including telemedicine providers — to be covered by health insurers without cost-sharing.
Should my kid wear a face mask? What parents need to know about masks, kids and the coronavirus
As with adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises children two years and older to wear cloth face coverings when in public settings. Face masks are one tool being used to protect the spread of the coronavirus, which can be transmitted by carriers who don’t always show symptoms. This makes masks particularly important for all of us — kids included — where social distancing is hard to maintain.
“By and large, children with COVID-19 who do have symptoms have mild ones and they’re not being tested,” says Brad Feldstein, MD, associate medical director of pediatrics for Einstein Healthcare Network. “The mask helps prevent that child who could be infectious from spreading the infection to someone else.”
It’s hard enough to make sure kids wash their hands properly — and avoid touching their face. So how can you get your kid to wear a mask, keep it on, and wear it safely? We talked to local pediatric experts, and checked the latest guidance from American Academy of Pediatrics.
Philly-area public gardens are losing their peak season, and the ‘bloom of the decade,’ to the coronavirus
For the region’s major garden attractions, which count on spring to reawaken the public’s appetite for nature and add measures of growth to their operating funds, April has been the cruelest month.
And May and June aren’t looking much kinder, with coronavirus-related closings likely to persist in the region for weeks: Mother’s Day and the peak azalea season all but shot.
“We have no word on when we will be able to reopen,” Bill Cullina, executive director of the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, said late last week.
“April is when everyone really starts to emerge from hibernation,” said Mark Nardone, communications manager at Winterthur Gardens in Delaware. For Winterthur, losing April “is like losing August at the beach.”
Philly Mayor Jim Kenney orders pay cuts for some city workers beginning July 1, memo says
All non-union city workers in Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration will be taking pay cuts effective July 1, according to a memo to employees obtained by The Inquirer.
The memo is the first known move by the city to reduce labor costs during the coronavirus pandemic. Kenney on Friday will deliver a revised budget proposal to City Council that is expected to include significant cuts.
The pay reductions are scaled to employees’ salaries, ranging from 7% cuts for those earning over $200,000 to 1% cuts for those making between $35,000 and $80,000, the memo said. Anyone earning fewer than $35,000 will not have their pay cut.
The employees affected by the salary reductions will get additional administrative leave days in exchange. All exempt employees making over $80,000 will get five additional days off, while those making $35,000 to $80,000 will get three.
The cuts detailed in the memo apply only to exempt employees, who are often in management roles and are not subject to municipal unions’ collective bargaining agreements. Most of the city’s more than 25,000 workers are unionized.
The cuts also do not apply to exempt employees who work for elected city officials other than Kenney, such as those on staff in City Council, the sheriff’s office, or the district attorney’s office.
It is unclear if the city had implemented other moves aimed at cutting the cost of labor.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Delaware sees large spike in new coronavirus cases, CDC team dispatched
Delaware saw its second-highest one-day spike in coronavirus cases, rising by more than 400 for just the second time since the pandemic began.
Delaware added 413 new positive COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, increasing the number of cases statewide to at least 4,575. A little less than half those cases (2,114) are in Sussex County, which has surpassed the number of cases in New Castle County (1,701), despite having 300,000 less residents.
Gov. John Carney attributed much of the spike to increased testing procedures in Sussex County, which he declared a hot spot for COVID-19, especially between Route 13 and Route 113. Over the next week, Carney said all the health care systems in the southern part of the state will roll-out expanded testing sites. A current list of testing sites is available on the state’s website.
In addition, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has sent an Epidemiologic Assistance (Ep-Aid) team to Delaware to help officials identify and contain the coronavirus outbreaks in chicken processing plants in Sussex County, according to Karryl Rattay, the director of the Delaware Division of Public Health.
“We can’t ignore those spikes,” Carney said during a Tuesday press briefing. “We have to respond strongly to them.”
Despite social distancing rules, spectators crowd Camden waterfront, Philadelphia Art Museum steps for Blue Angels, Thunderbirds flyover
A large crowd of people, some with masks and some without, filled the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum for the much-anticipated Blue Angels and Thunderbirds flyover on Tuesday afternoon. Dogs barked at each other when their owners came in close proximity, carefully choosing their positions. By 2 p.m., hardly any gaps were left between spectators, the museum’s steps completely full.
As the 12 fighter jets made their way over the Philadelphia skyline and towards the sea of dotted spectators, whose phones and cameras were pointed toward the sky, Mark O’Donnell, a paramedic, struck up a slow march on his bagpipe on top of a Philadelphia Fire Department truck belonging to Engine 43. The crowd cheered with appreciation, both for the flyover and for the paramedic who played on, even after the smoke from the jets dispersed.
After a second loop around the city, once it was clear the show was over, the firefighters hopped off their trucks to leave, and the crowd slowly disbanded.
Across the Delaware River in Camden, police blocked the roads leading to the Waterfront Park, so spectators who arrived early were able to maintain social distancing. That was not the case farther south on the waterfront, where hundreds of people parked in the empty parking lots of the closed Adventure Aquarium to watch the flyover.
Pennsylvania officials to unveil state contact tracing, coronavirus case investigation plans by Friday
Pennsylvania officials are set to unveil more comprehensive contact tracing and coronavirus case investigation plans by Friday, the same day on which they will announce which areas of the state can begin reopening around May 8, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. Also included will be “aspirational” benchmarks for adequate testing across the commonwealth.
So far, she said, the state has been able to expand its capacity to test all symptomatic people, not just front-line workers and vulnerable populations, including at the mass-testing site for northeast Pennsylvania residents at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“We do hope in the future to have the resources to be able to test almost anybody,” Levine said. “But the key to remember is a negative test result doesn’t mean you’re going to stay negative.”
Therefore, people might have to be tested regularly at some point, she said.
For now, that capacity doesn’t exist, and officials have no plans to test all nursing home residents and staff or all prison inmates.
Though the southeastern part of the state will be among the last to reopen, Levine concurred with Philadelphia leaders that the area appeared to be past its peak of cases.
United States surpasses 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases
As states begin to rollout their reopening plans, the United States passed yet another grim milestone Tuesday afternoon, as the number of coronavirus cases officially surpassed 1 million people.
There are now at least 1,002,498 COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, by far the most of any country on the planet, and 57,266 Americans have died. It’s taken 17 days for the number of COVID-19 cases to double after topping 500,000 on April 10.
New Jersey has the second-most cases, behind New York, with at least 113,956 positive tests. Pennsylvania has the sixth-most cases, with at least 45,219.
Here are the top five states in terms of coronavirus cases, as of Tuesday afternoon:
Blue Angels, Thunderbirds roar over Philadelphia in salute to health-care workers
The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds roared across the Philadelphia skyline Tuesday afternoon, presenting a loud thank-you to the health-care workers fighting the coronavirus across the region and breaking a weeks-long silence across the city typically charged with honking cars and cheering sports fans.
As the 12 fighter jets looped over the city twice, the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum were packed with a sea of people, all crowding together side-by-side, their phones and cameras pointed towards the sky, despite the social distancing rules.
Dozens of small groups of people gathered throughout Love Park in Center City, their heads snapping up from the red lounge chairs as the sky rumbled. People ran into the street and stood on medians to catch the best view, others sat atop their parked cars like it was a concert.
Brian and Nicole Johnson, and their two sons Tyler and Jayden, drove into the city from Quakertown to see the jets. Jayden, 7, sported a t-shirt covered with hand-drawn pictures of the Blue Angels jets, and wore a beaming smile as the planes passed through.
“It’s really nice to still have stuff to look forward to like this,” said Brian Johnson.
Brian, who works for MAC Trucking, and Nicole, who works in retail, have been out of work since March. Brian said he used to travel to Willow Grove to see the Blue Angels every year.
“It’s really nice to see them right now, especially together,” he said.
The joint mission between the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds sought to display a message of military solidarity towards those on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.
The mission began at noon in New York City, where the aircraft wove through all five boroughs, the New York City suburbs, and Newark, N.J., for about 40 minutes before landing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The planes then took off an hour later to fly over Trenton and Levittown, before turning south towards Philly. The jets arrived over City Hall around 2 p.m. and then turned east and flew over South Jersey suburbs. They then turned slightly northwest and made a loop over Bucks County before heading south, flying over Philly once more before heading towards Washington D.C.
Lancaster County officials say they want to be separated from the Philadelphia region’s reopening plans
Lancaster County officials say they don’t want to be lumped in with Philadelphia and its collar counties as state leaders assess reopening phases.
Commissioners and representatives there have vocalized these concerns recently, according to local news reports, and criticized what they see as a lack of transparency by the state when it comes to reopening plans.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday said they shouldn’t worry, and no county will automatically be linked to another.
“What’s not going to be guiding it is some arbitrary definition of region,” the governor said. “We’re going to be driven by what we think is in the best interest and safety of the people of Pennsylvania.”
Lancaster County had recorded 1,678 confirmed coronavirus cases and 78 deaths as of Tuesday. Philadelphia has reported more than 500 deaths and more than 13,000 cases.
A Bucks County man lost his job because of the coronavirus. Then he threatened to kill Gov. Wolf’s family.
A Bucks County man who lost his job in the state’s shutdown of non-essential businesses was so frustrated about not receiving unemployment benefits that he called Gov. Tom Wolf’s office and threatened his family, police said.
“I live right down the street from the governor’s daughter and granddaughter and they’re dead, you hear me?” Brian Rafferty said, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest. “They’re dead.”
Rafferty, 61, was taken into custody hours after placing that call Monday. The Lower Southampton Township resident was charged with terroristic threats and harassment, and remains in jail in lieu of $20,000 bail. It was unclear Tuesday if he had retained an attorney.
(Bucks County has taken measures to reduce its prison population amid the coronarvirus pandemic, but is detaining inmates who are considered to pose a threat to the community.)
Survey: 70% of New Jersey business owners say they can operate under social distancing guidelines
As New Jersey officials tackle how the state’s economy will reopen, 70% of Garden State business owners say they can operate under federal social distancing guidelines, according to an industry trade group survey.
Slightly more than half of survey respondents said they would need at least a year to turn profitable, or would never generate a profit, if businesses are ordered to reopen at 50% capacity.
“The results of this survey put a finer detail on the true challenges that lie ahead,” New Jersey Business Association’s CEO, Michele Siekerka, said. “Even with a soft opening at 50% capacity, as we work toward a recovery and reinvention framework for New Jersey’s economy.”
Later this afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy will name a panel of public health and economic experts to a commission that will guide him on how businesses are to reopen safely. On Monday, Murphy unveiled a six-point plan for how the state would return to normal life.
While it offered little in specifics, officials require the state to see a 14-day decline in positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, a doubling in the state’s testing capacity, robust contact tracing efforts and an ample supply of isolation facilities to ensure infected patients can quarantine, before measures are enacted to restart the economy.
Pennsylvania developing contact tracing program as officials prepare to reopen parts of commonwealth
Pennsylvania is working on a contact tracing program as it prepares to reopen some parts of the commonwealth, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday. However, officials do not plan to prohibit travel within the state or keep out-of-state residents from visiting tourist destinations such as the Poconos.
“I don’t see that as constitutional or even fair,” Wolf said.
The governor also expounded on his Monday announcement that marinas, golf courses, and state campgrounds could reopen Friday if they followed social distancing guidelines. He does not think it sends a mixed message to residents, he said, since the stay-at-home order always allowed for solitary outdoor exercise.
“Anybody can misinterpret anything, but right from the start the stay-at-home order was accompanied by the idea … to keep yourself mentally healthy,” Wolf said.
The commonwealth reported 1,214 additional positive cases on Tuesday, for a total of 43,264. In all, 1,716 Pennsylvanians have died.
New Jersey reports largest single-day spike in coronavirus deaths as protesters decry state closures
As protesters gathered outside the New Jersey statehouse decrying lasting coronavirus-related closures, Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday announced the largest single-day spike in reported COVID-19 deaths.
Murphy’s administration announced 402 fatalities Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 6,442. The governor said the figure does not necessarily represent a 24-hour total, as some deaths over the weekend had yet to be counted.
“Let this never ever ever be a math reality,” Murphy said. “What really matters are the precious lives we’ve lost.”
The state also announced 2,887 new positive test results, pushing the statewide total to 113,856. And while North Jersey remains hardest hit, the virus could be “sort of migrating,” Murphy said.
Some hospitals in the central region of the state reported intensive care beds were full, officials said, and case numbers are increasing at a faster rate in South Jersey than in the north.
But New Jersey officials said there were glimmers of hope. Hospitalizations in the state overall are “flattening,” Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said, and the “positivity rate” — or the number of people who test positive compared to the number of tests performed — is 42%, the lowest rate since officials started recording.
Demonstrators who gathered in Trenton Tuesday called for the end of state-mandated business closures and some said the lockdown amounts to a form of fascism.
Murphy said he wished protestors would do so virtually, rather than congregating in-person, and called the notion of fascism “ridiculous.”
“We are absolutely, desperately trying to save every life we can,” he said. “Our heart, trust me, is in the right place. We love our country, we love our state. This is the greatest nation on earth. We’re trying to keep as many of us in New Jersey alive as possible. That’s our only objective.”
Murphy on Tuesday also addressed what a socially-distanced Memorial Day might look like, saying he prays the shore could resemble “some semblance of normalcy.” But he said no matter what the beaches look like, “let’s never forget what Memorial Day is about.”
“Let us never, ever forget the service of our veterans to our nation and the entire reason we acknowledge, celebrate and commemorate Memorial Day,” he said.
Philadelphia still reviewing whether city golf courses can reopen Friday
Philadelphia is still reviewing whether golf courses in the city can reopen starting Friday, as Gov. Tom Wolf has announced for the rest of the state.
“We’re currently reviewing that,” Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Tuesday.
The city will allow construction to resume in the city Friday, per Wolf’s order that those projects can start again, but Mayor Jim Kenney said the city plans to release additional guidance on Wednesday about safety and other regulations. There would be “some limited exceptions” to projects resuming, he said.
Kenney said he hopes that construction can bring “a much-needed boost” to the city’s economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
More than 500 people in Philadelphia have died due to coronavirus
Philadelphia has now had more than 500 deaths of individuals who had the coronavirus.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced 32 new deaths Tuesday, bringing the city’s total number of COVID-19 related deaths to 516. Of those, 56% have been in nursing home residents, he said.
The city also announced 577 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday. Many of those were confirmed days ago but are newly confirmed as Philadelphia residents, Farley said.
“It’s still looking like we are past the peak, but the decline we are seeing in daily cases is a very slow decline,” Farley said. “It’s not as fast as we’d all like it to be.”
After a few days of decreases in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Farley said those numbers increased again Tuesday, with 1,001 patients in city hospitals and 1,856 hospitalized in the greater Philadelphia region.
Jersey 4 Jersey benefit raised $5.9 million to fight impact of coronavirus
The Jersey 4 Jersey benefit held last week that drew stars like Bruce Springsteen, Whoopi Goldberg and Jon Bon Jovi raised $5.9 million over the hourlong broadcast, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday.
The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, established to provide grants to organizations fighting the medical, social, and economic impact of COVID-19, has raised a total of $26.6 million to date, Murphy said.
Philly water department faces 12 times more clogging as officials urge public to dispose of masks, gloves, wipes properly
The Philadelphia Water Department is experiencing 12 times as much clogging of its infrastructure as it did before the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday, blaming the increase on the flushing or littering of masks, gloves, and wipes.
The water department typically sees about 100 pounds per year of infrastructure-clogging waste, Kenney said, but is now getting 100 pounds per month. That waste increases the likelihood of damaging water main breaks, he said.
“We want to ask everyone to please be mindful to dispose of masks, gloves, and wipes properly,” Kenney said. “Flushable wipes are not flushable, despite the label, and should not be flushed down the toilet.”
After urging proper disposal of wipes at his daily virtual news briefing, Kenney added: “That was an odd conversation, but we had to have it.”
The water department has extended its no shut-off policy, initially set to continue through May 15, until June 1, Kenney said Tuesday.
Morey’s Piers: Rumors that Wildwood parks won’t open this summer are ‘unfounded’
A spokesperson for Morey's Piers said Tuesday that rampant rumors that the iconic Wildwood attraction would be closed for the summer of 2020 amid coronavirus fears are "unfounded."
Tim Samson, the director of marketing for Morey's, said in an e-mail that "although we are not doing interviews at the present time, I can inform you that the rumors are unfounded."
On its website, Morey's still has a letter posted April 9 announcing a tentative opening date of Memorial Day weekend. That announced date was pushed ahead twice from Easter and Mother's Day weekends.
"We of course will open only when it is safe for guests and staff to do so," the letter states. "Clearly, the level of disruption and uncertainty for all of us is extraordinary."
Gov. Murphy this week set out a six part path to economic reopening that included two weeks of declining positive case reports and increased testing capacity that he said could take five weeks. He did not rule out Memorial Day weekend but cautioned that any reopening would require social distancing and other restrictions, including at the beach.
Bob Rose, a Wildwood tourism official, said last week that Morey's would look to Disney Asia for how to safely open its amusement piers and water parks this summer. One motel in North Wildwood, the Sandpiper, announced last week it would not open at all in 2020. Other business people and local officials are hatching out ways to safely open beaches, which remain either restricted or closed in nearly all beach towns.
Murphy also renewed his request that second-home owners stay in their primary homes for now.
‘You were exposed’: How an appointment at CHOP led to 20 new cases of coronavirus
Angelina and Joe McCreary took their newborn to a pediatric cardiologist to be safe, but ended up as part of the coronavirus pandemic.
The baby was born on the eighth day of February, blue eyes and sandy hair. Angelina and Joseph McCreary had been so anxious about the pregnancy that they had waited nearly 20 weeks to tell their families. But now Baby Joe was here, and not just healthy, but a full nine pounds.
There was just one thing, the doctor told the Collegeville couple: Baby Joe had a slight murmur in his heart. It was probably nothing, but — to be safe — the doctor advised Joe and Angelina to schedule a visit with a pediatric cardiologist.
A new stay-at-home mom after years working in a dental office, Angelina dedicated herself to finding the best doctor to examine her baby boy. Joe, an officer with the Lower Providence Police Department, took the day off work for the appointment.
On Monday, March 2, they pulled into the parking lot of the King of Prussia location of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Don’t touch anything,” Angelina warned her husband and 2-year-old daughter. She was worried about the flu.
In what has become a well-known, early chapter of COVID-19 in Philadelphia, a cardiologist at that office saw 24 patients over four days after traveling to a country where the coronavirus was circulating. By the time the doctor was hospitalized a week later, schools in six districts had to close for cleaning, and the virus was spreading across the region.
In just under a month, coronavirus has upended the lives of Philadelphia’s homeless population
City officials have scrambled to find ways to help the city’s most vulnerable populations — the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill — as the coronavirus spreads.
But a month into the pandemic, many of those efforts are still getting off the ground, and advocates say not nearly enough is being done for people who don’t have a home to quarantine in.
A 168-bed quarantine center at a Holiday Inn in Center City, which the city is renting for $170,000, is limited to only people who test positive for COVID-19 or are showing symptoms. The city expects to open a second quarantine site at the Fairfield Inn, near the Philadelphia International Airport, on Wednesday.
Neither site has the medical staff necessary to quarantine people with serious mental illnesses or addictions that make it difficult to stay in one place. Other large medical facilities, like the Liacouras Center field hospital at Temple University, are also off-limits to people with serious behavioral or addiction issues.
“[Quarantining people] with the most difficult and challenging behaviors — for those suffering mental illness or maybe in the throes of [addiction withdrawal] — we have not resolved that issue, which is not to any of our satisfaction,” said Brian Abernathy, the city managing director.
Camden County focusing on long-term care facilities, east Camden immigrant communities as coronavirus ‘hot spots’
Camden County officials are focusing on two “hot spots” — long-term care facilities in the area and the immigrant communities of east Camden city, they said Tuesday at a virtual town hall.
Of the county’s 123 deaths, about 80 percent are linked to long-term care facilities, said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. 27 of 56 county nursing homes have outbreaks, he added.
“Some of these facilities aren’t doing a very good job quite frankly,” he said.
In East Camden, home to many immigrants, few people are being tested there, but a high percentage of those tested have received positive results, he said. A new testing site will open at Dudley Grange Park in East Camden on Monday.
“When you take out those two hot spots, our test results last week were relatively good,” Cappelli said. “I think we definitely saw a plateau last week in the number of new cases. Our growth rate is at the lowest it’s been since the start of this crisis.”
In all, the county has at least 2,853 confirmed coronavirus cases, but the rate of doubling has slowed and is close to the goals mentioned by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Drexel engineers launch study of park use during coronavirus, will pay ‘citizen’ participants
A team of civil and environmental engineers from Drexel University is launching a study of park use and social distancing in Philadelphia during the coronavirus, paying up to 40 local residents. The team from the school’s Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Laboratory, led by Franco Montalto, will also study parks in New York City.
Starting this week, Montalto is recruiting “citizen scientists” who regularly visit or live near specified parks. Accepted participants will be paid to record their observations from a safe distance.
Ultimately, Montalto’s team hopes to determine whether park usage is increasing the transmission of the coronavirus.
Selected participants will be asked to fill out a survey, twice daily, seven days a week, over the course of eight weeks.
Each entry should take about 15 minutes after a 30-minute observation of a park. Participants will be paid $10 per entry, for a maximum of $140 a week, with a gross of $1,200 over the entire period.
Pennsylvania weighing masks, smaller class sizes, staggered schedules when students return to school
Whenever the coronavirus permits Pennsylvania students to return to class, whether it’s September or otherwise, things will look different, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera said Tuesday.
“We’re planning for the best, but we’re preparing for the worst,” said Rivera.
That could mean masks, smaller class sizes, rethinking school transportation, and other things that students, teachers and parents have not seen in the past.
“We’re looking at a hybrid staggered model that addresses not only the academic needs of students but also their health needs, and I would encourage parents to think the same way,” Rivera said in a call with reporters.
“When we return back to school, it will not look like the schools we participated in just over a month ago,” the education secretary said.
Summer school could also be affected by the pandemic, Rivera said. Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan for reopening the Commonwealth, schools will only be permitted to hold in-person classes when an area is considered in the green zone, with the least amount of restrictions.
White House studying another round of stimulus payments to help individuals and families during the COVID-19 crisis
White House senior advisor Kevin Hassett, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said the Trump administration is studying the idea of another round of stimulus payments to individuals and families as part of the next round of economic aid.
“I think that’s something we’re studying very carefully, that I know people in the House are as well. I expect it’s very likely there will be a Phase 4 deal. We’re going to be speaking with the President throughout the week about what should be in there,” Hassett told reporters outside the White House on Tuesday.
Nearly 150 million Americans will receive a one-time $1,200 stimulus check as part of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill (dubbed “Phase 3”) passed by Congress last month.
Hassett said both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) are currently discussing what will be include in the next round of economic aid.
One COVID-19 test site closing in Camden, two new ones opening
Two new coronavirus testing sites will soon open in the city of Camden, including in the “hot spot” of East Camden, said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.
A site at 2600 Mount Ephraim Avenue will open at noon Wednesday. By Friday, the waterfront testing location at Cooper’s Poynt Park will close, and on Monday a new site will open at Dudley Grange Park in East Camden.
Many residents of East Camden, which has a large immigrant population, have not been tested, Cappelli said, but a large percentage of those who have been tested there have received positive results.
Testing at these sites is accessible on foot or in a car. People must make an appointment and have a doctor’s referral. Appointments can be made by calling 856-968-7100 or 856-342-2881 Monday through Friday 8am-5pm.
Reports: Gov. Murphy personally asked Trump to help plug state budget gaps to protect jobs of first responders, teachers
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy pleaded with President Donald Trump to help plug state budget holes created by the coronavirus pandemic, according to audio obtained by CNN and the Wall Street Journal.
During a conference call Monday afternoon between the White House’s coronavirus task force and governors from across the country, Murphy reportedly asked Trump for direct aid to prevent government workers from being laid off at a time unemployment continues to surge.
Murphy reportedly said:
“I think about it two ways: One is this is really funding for firefighters, the police, the teachers, the EMS folks, that’s where that money would go and we need it. And frankly, we’ve already got unemployment, huge challenge in this country. Let’s keep them on the payroll and not have the unemployment rate get even higher, particularly in the next few months.”
While Republicans have agreed to bailouts for businesses and stimulus checks for individuals, they have resisted offering any assistance to states beyond allocating funds specifically for coronavirus expenses. Due to record high unemployment and a lack of tax revenue, many states — including Pennsylvania and New Jersey — are facing significance budget shortfalls.
“We do want to help [states] with expenses that are directly related to the coronavirus outbreak,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in a Fox News Radio interview on Monday. “But we’re not interested in helping them fix age-old problems that they haven’t had the courage to fix in the past.”
Trump was more direct on Twitter on Monday, blaming Democrats for budget shortfalls in states hit hardest by the coronavirus.
Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?
The white benches that line the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk and the city’s main strip are being removed this week due to crowds of people not adhering to social distancing guidelines in place in Delaware.
Beginning Monday, April 27, the City of Rehoboth Beach is temporarily removing benches city-wide. By removing access to benches that invite multiple touches and close personal contact, we are in a better position to combat the spread of COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/PcVMOUfpoz
The city has already canceled all events through the first week of July, including the annual fireworks display scheduled for Friday, July 3.
“The health and safety of the community is our top priority and at the forefront of all decisions made during this unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation,” Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said in a statement.
Sussex County, where Rehoboth Beach is located, has overtaken New Castle County in terms of coronavirus cases, despite having 300,000 less residents. As of Monday afternoon, 1,870 people in Sussex County have tested positive for COVID-19, about 45% of the state’s 4,162 cases.
Stocks opened up again on Tuesday with investors showing some optimism as the U.S. pivots to slowly reopen parts of the economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened up about 340 points, about 1.4%, as the index tries for five straight days of gains for the first time since January.
The Nasdaq opened up about 75 points (about 0.85%), and the S&P 500 opened up about 35 points (about 1.2%). The S&P 500 has gained 11.4 percent this month, which if it holds would be the index’s biggest one-month jump since 1987, according to CNBC.
First responders to salute COVID-19 medical front liners at Cherry Hill hospital with a parade
Amid a statewide stay-at-home order, there will be a parade today in South Jersey. But it won’t have spectators. At least not in the traditional sense.
At noon, the Cherry Hill Police Department, Fire Department and emergency medical services will host a “Hospital Workers Appreciation parade” to recognize Jefferson Hospital employees as they treat coronavirus patients.
The procession is limited to first responder vehicles and will depart Cherry Hill police headquarters at noon.
According to officials, the parade will then travel north and pass through parts of Mercer Street, Martin Avenue, Marlboro Avenue and Chapel Avenue, ending at the new entrance to Jefferson Hospital.
“Organizers recommend residents view the flyover from the safety of their home-quarantine and refrain from traveling to landmarks and gathering in large groups to view the flyover,” the DRPA said in a statement.
As of Monday afternoon, 47 crew members (roughly 45 percent of the crew) have tested positive for COVID-19. Two sailors have been medically evacuated to the U.S., while 15 have been transferred to the larger USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship, for monitoring due to persistent symptoms.
“I am an optimist, but make no mistake. KIDD is in a fight right now, against COVID and against anyone out there who might want to capitalize on what they perceive as a weakness,” Cmdr. Matt Noland wrote in a post on the Kidd’s Facebook page. “Destroyers are tough ships that breed tough Sailors. Warfighters. We’ve got this.”
Some tenants are calling for a Philly-wide rent strike on May 1. Landlords are holding their breath.
As April 1 approached and millions of Americans were out of work, chatter built about how tenants would make rent — or maybe wouldn’t. Fliers posted around Philadelphia called for a “rent strike,” or a collective withholding to support those who couldn’t pay.
A citywide rent strike didn’t materialize by April 1. At the time, the Philadelphia Tenants Union, one of the most visible groups in the city for supporting tenants’ rights, hadn’t called for such an action.
The goal, Tenants Union member Mat Wranovics said, is to “politicize that nonpayment” and use a widespread rent strike to pressure local, state, and federal officials to cancel rent and mortgage payments for six months, with no debt accrued or back pay required.
Friendly skies to welcome Thunderbirds and Blue Angels in Philly for aerial salute to those on COVID-19 frontline
After days of dreary weather, the sun will be out in the Philadelphia area for the flyover by the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels to salute health care workers.
According to the National Weather Service, it will be about 62 degrees under mostly cloudy sunny skies in Philadelphia area at between 1:45 p.m. and 2:15 p.m., the timing of the flyover that will begin over the Trenton area.
Officials however say that the good weather — the best day we’ll have until the weekend — does not mean you should view the aerial salute from anywhere but your home and stress everyone should maintain safe social distance.
Philly’s tourism economy has already lost $1 billion because of coronavirus — and faces a long road back
Shuttered restaurants and museums. Canceled meetings and events. Even the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are closed.
Philadelphia and its attractions are normally bustling this time of year with springtime tourists and other visitors. Now, a hospitality industry that supports almost 200,000 jobs across the city and its four suburban Pennsylvania counties is practically in hibernation during the coronavirus pandemic.
The days of lost economic activity — already pegged at more than $1 billion — are adding up. And the nights of empty hotel rooms are eating into the budgets of local tourism promotion agencies, like Visit Philadelphia. That’s money for advertising that will eventually be needed to lure tourists back, once it’s safe.
“We’re going to have all these major cities and destinations competing for people’s time and money,” said the group’s CEO, Jeff Guaracino.
And while some businesses like retail are eyeing a partial reopening as early as May, tourism officials are cautiously optimistic that some meetings and leisure trips will pick up in the fall. How, exactly, people will “change their travel behavior” is an open question, Guaracino said.
Morning Roundup: Philadelphia passes its coronavirus peak; N.J. may reopen in ‘weeks’ as governor releases plan
New Jersey will reopen under a six-point plan unveiled by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday, but he did not set a date for when that process will begin, saying the spread of the coronavirus must slow before the state takes further steps. Residents will be under the state’s stay-at-home order — previously set to expire May 7 — until further notice, he said.
Philadelphia has passed the peak of its epidemic, the city health commissioner said, though officials still couldn’t estimate when a reopening might start there. Pennsylvania officials were continuing preparations Monday to determine which other areas of the commonwealth may reopen starting May 8 based on a variety of factors.
But some relief will come on Friday for those pining for outdoor activities: Golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips, and privately owned campgrounds will be allowed to reopen with social distancing and masking measures, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday. The state also issued guidelines allowing health-care facilities to resume elective procedures as long as they have the capacity to do so.
More than seven weeks after the states’ first coronavirus cases, officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are looking toward reopening, but caution against any expectations that the easing of shutdowns would mean an unrestrained return to life.