Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus coverage here
New Jersey is preparing to receive more coronavirus testing supplies and personal protective equipment after Gov. Phil Murphy met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, and Pennsylvania’s top health official said the commonwealth’s testing capacity was also expanding somewhat as officials prepare for the phased reopening of some counties.
In Pennsylvania, the death toll reached 2,292, and officials announced 1,397 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 45,763. Philadelphia announced relatively high death and case numbers Thursday but said the data included old cases that were only recently identified as Philadelphia residents. In total, 607 Philadelphians have died of the virus — 340 of them in nursing homes — and 14,468 have tested positive, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Do these stock market-listed firms from the Philly area deserve forgivable SBA loans? They say yes.
The outcry when more than 100 companies listed on a stock market got forgivable Paycheck Protection Program bank loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, while hundreds of thousands of smaller firms so far have not, has pushed firms such as AutoNation, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Yardley-based Optinose to give the money back.
But similar publicly traded companies are braving the Treasury Department’s May 7 deadline to return the funds or face possible penalties.
They figure that they, too, were hurt by the coronavirus-driven shutdowns — they have furloughed workers and seek new ways to reach customers. They say they should also qualify for aid, so long as they meet the requirement to use the money to keep their people working.
Black artists already had less access to resources. An emergency fund aims to get them through the pandemic.
One used the money for groceries. Another invested in canvas — a luxury after months of painting on Home Depot plywood. A magician invested in better illusions. For one artist, the money was just enough to help bury a family member, a victim of the coronavirus.
All were recipients of the Emergency Gap Fund, a grant program launched by the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia to help black working artists in Philadelphia who were disproportionately impacted by shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic and, on average, have fewer resources and less generational wealth to fall back on.
The idea is simple: Strip away the complexities and bureaucracies of standard grant applications, and get $500 directly into the hands of those who need it most. And, in the face of the dire economic realities that are still unfolding, encourage Philadelphia’s black artists to stick to their dreams.
Former Pa. Gov. Tom Ridge ridicules “selfish” protests against stay-at-home orders, says they dishonor veterans
In a scathing criticism, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge called the protesters against stay-at-home order “self-absorbed and selfish Americans” whose actions are dishonoring the nation’s military veterans.
Ridge, who fought in the Vietnam War and earned the Bronze Star for Valor, opened his piece by marking the coronavirus-related death of Bennie Adkins, a retired Army command sergeant major.
Adkins was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in Vietnam.
"We carried the weapons of war in defense of our nation and our liberties," Ridge wrote.
“In recent days, we have seen images of Americans carrying weapons as part of their protests to immediately reopen society. What are they planning to do, shoot the virus with their AR-15s?” asked Ridge, who served as the governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 until 2001, when he joined the administration of President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ridge said the various state-mandated restrictions in response to the pandemic are a needed sacrifice and recalled how a fellow Vietnam vet, the late Sen. John McCain, was held as a prisoner of war for 5 and 1/2 years.
"That’s 66 months. Our social distancing has not yet reached eight weeks," Ridge wrote.
He later added, "The entire country is under siege, but you are not in the trenches of France, not gaining ground inch by inch in the Pacific, not slogging through the paddies and jungles in Vietnam, and not taking on global terrorists in desert warfare. And you are NOT prisoners of war. You are at home."
Ridge concluded that the nation can prevail if everyone works together.
“Politics be damned. No time for it now. We can sort it out later. Same team. Same fight. Let’s get on with it.”
Coronavirus testing extended to NJ Transit employees
NJ Transit’s front-line workers will soon have access to daily coronavirus testing.
Starting next week, appointment-only testing will be extended to all NJ Transit employees at a site in East Rutherford, with the effort expected to expand into Central and South Jersey, the transportation system announced Thursday.
The access to testing hopes to lead to faster identification, treatment, and isolation of cases, and is part of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s reopening plan.
“The men and women of NJ TRANSIT have been an essential part of our frontline COVID-19 response efforts,” Murphy said in a statement. “With increased access to testing, we can ensure the health and safety of NJ TRANSIT’s workforce and build public confidence in our mass-transit system, as our economy begins to reopen in the weeks ahead.”
Delaware state park visitors required to bring masks
Starting Friday, visitors to Delaware’s state parks, wildlife areas, and reserves must bring face masks with them while enjoying the parks, officials announced Thursday.
All visitors ages 13 or older must bring a mask to enter the park, and should wear it where they cannot maintain social distancing, like on boat ramps, narrow trails, and when interacting with other visitors and staff members, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said in a press release.
Those who do not bring masks may be required to leave.
The decision was made in accordance with Gov. John Carney’s requirement that Delawareans wear face coverings in public settings.
“In order to keep our outdoor public spaces for all members of the public to enjoy, visitors to state parks, wildlife areas and reserves must heed social distancing and mask requirements,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “We need our visitors to do their part to help keep these areas safe for everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Barring restrictions, St. Joseph’s University plans to start fall semester ‘on ground and on time’
St. Joseph’s University intends to start the semester “on ground and on time … barring any restrictions that prevent us from doing so," president Mark Reed said Thursday in a message to the campus community.
Classes will begin Aug. 24 and faculty could pivot to online, as happened this spring, if necessary, he wrote. He outlined four possible scenarios:
A return to campus with social distancing and safety measures
A return to campus in August, the elimination of fall break and then a transitioning to virtual classes after Thanksgiving to limit travel
A virtual start to the semester because of government restrictions, then transitioning to on campus
Virtual instruction for the semester
“We look forward to starting the fall semester and seeing our community back on Hawk Hill soon,” Reed wrote.
Earlier this week, Thomas Jefferson University announced it will allow on-campus living and in-person classes for the fall semester.
Coronavirus is ruining a rite of summer in rural Pennsylvania — the county fair
Every summer, empty acres in all corners of Pennsylvania come alive, bursting with neon light and deep-fried delights. County fairs are ingrained in the commonwealth, like coal mines and dairy farms, but for the first time in more than a half-century, many organizers say opening the midways this summer seems like a long shot.
Some Pennsylvania fairs have already canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, something they haven’t done since World War II. Lycoming County would have been celebrating its 150th fair in July, but that milestone will be marked next year instead.
“Imagine trying to go a fair and social distancing, or everyone wearing a mask and trying to eat concessions. It’s hard to picture,” said Rocky Reed, president of the Lycoming County Fair. “And it’s really sad. I don’t see a light at end of the tunnel. Maybe a speck."
The cancellation of summer fairs and carnivals would affect a wide range of small businesses and workers, including concessionaires, demolition derby operators, and amusement companies, even teachers who own french fry businesses in the summer. Many fairs bring in performers who require nonrefundable deposits. The Bloomsburg Fair, the largest in the state, often hosts major acts, but it doesn’t commence until late September.
Philadelphia to lay off hundreds of city workers due to coronavirus economic downturn
The city plans to lay off hundreds of municipal workers as it navigates the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Jim Engler, Mayor Jim Kenney’s chief of staff, said Thursday.
“There will be several hundred either part time seasonal or full time employees that will be separated from the city,” Engler said.
Aiming to fill a projected $649 million budget hole, Kenney on Friday will deliver to City Council a revised budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that includes tax increases, service cuts, including the closure of city swimming pools this summer and the halting of plans to bring street sweeping to every neighborhood.
The budget plan will include projected savings for laying off or not hiring part-time and seasonal workers, such as those who staff city pools. But the city has not yet determined how many of its more than 25,000 full-time workers it will need to let go.
“We're still working through all of it. It's going to be a substantial number,” Engler said.
The layoffs will include Civil Service workers represented by municipal unions as well as exempt employees, who are often in management roles, he said.
“We’re not certain yet that with the additional social distancing that we’ve had to put in place that it would be safe to operate pools this summer,” Engler said during a briefing for reporters on the city’s revised budget for the next fiscal year.
Philly gig workers could get paid sick leave during coronavirus under a bill by Councilmember Kendra Brooks
City Councilmember Kendra Brooks will introduce legislation Friday to expand the city’s paid sick leave law for Philadelphians working during the coronavirus crisis.
The proposed legislation, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Helen Gym and Bobby Henon, would expand the law to cover all workers, including ones currently ineligible for its protections, like gig workers and those working for companies with fewer than 10 employees. The proposal would increase the number of paid sick days from five to 14 — the recommended quarantine time for exposed individuals — and allow workers to use the days immediately, instead of waiting to accrue them.
The legislation seeks to fill the large gaps left by the federal government’s emergency paid sick leave bill. More than 75% of American workers are employed by companies that qualify for exemptions to the federal legislation. In Pennsylvania, three million workers weren’t covered by the federal bill, according to Brooks’ office. This month, cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. passed their own paid sick leave laws to fill gaps in the federal law.
The coronavirus crisis has renewed calls for mandated paid sick leave, as essential workers, most of whom are low-wage earners, continue to report to work even if they feel sick because they can’t afford to stay home.
New Jersey begins offering universal testing to inmates, officers at state correctional facilities
New Jersey is expanding its coronavirus testing capacity, Gov. Phil Murphy said, and will begin universal testing of all inmates and officers at the state’s correctional facilities.
The universal testing will begin as early as the end of next week, Murphy said, as a result of a partnership between the Department of Corrections and Rutgers University.
“We are on our way” to meeting that crucial requirement for our state to begin reopening, Murphy said. All NJ Transit employees will also have access to tests, Murphy said, a crucial step in ensuring that residents feel safe traveling to work and to grocery stores.
The expanded testing can be partially credited to the anticipated testing supplies shipments the state expects to receive from the federal government. The feds will send 550,000 new test kits and 750,000 new swabs, Murphy said at Thursday’s briefing.
Bucks garden center surprises customer by delivering groceries and hot food with her flowers
When a delivery driver arrived at Mary Johnson’s Bucks County home on Wednesday, she thought he came just to drop off the flowers she’d ordered to brighten her space during this isolated time.
But Dan Owarzani had other plans.
Along with the flowers, the Castle Garden Center driver brought four bags of groceries and a few pre-made meals. He had never met his 74-year-old customer before, but when placing her order she mentioned she hadn’t been out in weeks. Owarzani worried about her.
“That guy, he touched my heart so deeply,” Johnson said. “Words can’t express how I felt when he took those groceries out of the car.”
Owarzani, a 72-year-old retired postal worker and Air Force veteran, summed up his motivation simply: He would want someone to do the same for him.
“I hope she likes it all,” he said.
“How could you not like it?” Johnson said. “For him to do that out of the kindness of his heart, I’ll never forget it.”
Murphy: N.J. to receive hundreds of thousands more coronavirus testing supplies, PPE
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his meeting with President Donald Trump this morning has already yielded results, as the state prepares to receive hundreds of thousands of additional coronavirus testing supplies and personal protective equipment.
The federal government will provide the Garden State with 550,000 new test kits and 750,000 new swabs for the tests. He said hundreds of nursing homes will also directly receive a shipment of PPE, including 220,000 masks, 19,000 goggles, and 200,000 gowns.
“This proves it is possible to put people over politics,” Murphy said at Thursday’s briefing.
New Jersey reported 460 additional coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the state’s death toll up to 7,228. It also reported 2,633 new positive coronavirus cases, with a case total of 118,652.
Murphy said there was a “small uptick” in cases today, but that in the northern part of the state, “the rate of doubling new cases continues to slow.” In South Jersey, though, cases and hospitalizations continue to grow.
“The virus has migrated from North to Central and now to the South,” he said.
“This weekend, with the reopening of our parks and golf courses, will be a crucial test,” said Murphy. “If we see this weekend what we saw that first week of April, I will not hesitate to reverse course and close our parks again.”
2020 Little League World Series, regional tournaments canceled
The Little League World Series and World Series qualifiers have been canceled due to coronavirus precautions, a first in the youth baseball organization’s 74-year history.
The World Series tournament was scheduled for August 20-30 in Williamsport, Pa., but officials said in a statement Thursday they made the “heartbreaking decision” to cancel due to travel restrictions and the testing and coronavirus protocols required to play.
“After exhausting all possible options, we came to the conclusion that because of the significant public health uncertainty that will still exist several months from now, and with direction from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, as well as senior public health officials and government leaders from locations where our other six World Series are held, as well as the their qualifying regional tournaments, it will not be possible to proceed with our tournaments as we’ve hosted them for nearly 75 years,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO.
The organization includes more than 2.5 million kids spread over 6,500 programs in 84 countries.
League officials said in the statement that local programs could explore resuming play after May 11, advising volunteers to look to state and local officials for guidance.
NASCAR announced on Thursday it would resume live racing on Sunday, May 17, with a Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway South Carolina, where all beaches and certain retail stores have been reopened following shutdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The race, NASCAR’s first in more than two months, will not have fans in attendance. A second Cup Series race will be held three days later at the same racetrack under the lights. In all, seven races through May 27 have been announced at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said in a statement.
NASCAR says it has collaborated with public health officials and local leaders to create a plan that follows specific guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to no practice sessions, the use of protective equipment and health screening will be mandated, and social distancing protocols will be enforced.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey golf courses are set to reopen this weekend. Here’s what you need to know before you play.
When Pennsylvania’s courses reopen Friday, to be followed by New Jersey’s a day later, you’ll find the traditional golfing experience has been altered to address lingering concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Golf organizations in both states have issued numerous new recommendations meant to insure the health and safety of golfers and course staff. While some may vary between the two states, or even from course to course, here are some general answers to questions you might have.
St. Joe’s Prep kids raise $3,500 to feed hospital workers, needy students
A school-wide fundraising campaign at St. Joseph’s Prep will provide 500 meals for front-line workers and impoverished students.
Erick Woods, Prep’s campus minister for Ignatian Service, says the pandemic — and all the madness that has come with it — is a chance to teach a life lesson.
“We, as leaders, need to show [students] that they can push through their adversity,” Woods said. “We’re trying to get them to look at what these front-line workers are looking at every day they go in.”
The $3,500 raised by the school enabled Woods to throw some business at Dr. Jerkinstein’s (think jerk chicken), a Logan catering company that has been largely dormant the last two months.
On Friday, Woods and his crew will deliver lunch to Temple's hospital. On Wednesday, they’ll swing by Lankenau Hospital. In between, they’ll give to schools near the Prep’s North Philadelphia home.
“We can put down our school work and our little fatigue and give just a little bit to help others,” Woods said.
LeBron James counters report about canceling NBA season
NBA superstar LeBron James took to Twitter on Thursday to counter a CNBC report that some team executives and agents are calling on the league to cancel the season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s absolutely not true,” James wrote on Twitter. “Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything.”
Saw some reports about execs and agents wanting to cancel season??? That’s absolutely not true. Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything. 👑
CNBC sports business reporter and Temple grad Jabri Young reported that team executives and agents are concerned with liability issues, and some are pushing for an outright cancellation so the focus can be on safely resuming play next season.
Kenney to propose increase in Philly’s parking, wage tax to patch $649 million budget gap
Mayor Jim Kenney wants to hike Philadelphia’s property tax rate, parking tax and wage tax rate for nonresident workers to fill an estimated $649 million budget gap caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The revised fiscal year 2021 budget that Kenney will unveil Friday also includes pausing planned reductions in the wage tax rate for city residents, as well as planned reductions in business taxes, and ending a property tax discount for taxpayers who pay their bills early, according to a budget overview presented to City Council members Thursday and obtained by The Inquirer.
Kenney, who has previously warned that cuts to the city’s budget as a result of the coronavirus pandemic “will be painful," is also implementing a hiring freeze and salary reductions for non-union employees, according to the presentation. Some seasonal employees will be laid off or not hired, according to a source briefed on the budget, and the city would not open pools this summer.
The city’s parking tax would increase from 22.5% to 27% under Kenney’s proposal, and the non-resident wage tax rate would increase from 3.4481% to 3.5019%. The wage tax rate for residents would remain at 3.8712%.
The budget proposal includes increasing the property tax rate by 3.95%, which would result in a $58 tax increase for the owner of a home assessed at $150,000. The additional revenue raised would all go to the city’s school district
Levine: Pa. sends personal protective equipment daily to nursing homes across the state
Pennsylvania health officials are sending personal protective equipment to nursing homes across the commonwealth every day to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday. In April, they sent 1,378 shipments to long-term care and other congregate care facilities, she said, and this includes a “large push out” of N95 masks this week.
As the state looks to relax restrictions in some areas next week, with more details to come Friday, Levine once again asked businesses with a supply of personal protective equipment for sale to the state’s “Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal.”
Officials are continuing to remind health facilities and labs to report race and other demographic data, she said.
“We are doing better in terms of facilities and laboratories doing data but weren’t not there yet,” she said. “We’re calling on them to do it. … We feel they will comply.”
Pennsylvania announced 1,397 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Thursday for a total of 45,763. At least 8,112 cases are associated with 468 long-term care facilities. A total of 2,292 patients have died.
Forty percent of hospital beds and ICU beds remain available, as do 70% of ventilators.
Jefferson University says it will allow on-campus living, in-person classes this fall
Many local universities say it’s too soon to determine whether in-person classes can be held in the fall or students can return to campus and live in the dorms.
Jefferson University is sending a different message.
“We … plan to resume on-campus classes and operations this fall,” the school announced earlier this week. “In delivering your education in-person, we will operate within a framework that maximizes safety and abides by local, state and federal regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The university intends to open the residence halls — with reconfiguring — and resume clinical rotations, said the message from Stephen K. Klasko, president, and Mark L. Tykocinski, provost, both medical doctors.
At the same time, Jefferson is offering students the choice of returning to campus or continuing online learning.
The deluge of newly jobless workers is crashing the Pa. unemployment system as officials field 20,000 calls a week
An increasingly frustrated legion of Pennsylvania workers have been suddenly thrust into an Unemployment Compensation system that advocates say is not so much broken as overwhelmed by an unprecedented volume of claims that caught officials unprepared.
Nationwide, 3.8 million more Americans filed new unemployment applications last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. That brings the total number of jobs lost to 30.3 million in six weeks as the world’s largest economy came crashing to a standstill from the pandemic response.
In Pennsylvania, more than 131,000 workers filed a claim in the week ending April 25 after losing their jobs or getting hours reduced, bringing the state’s total in six weeks to more than 1.6 million, or 24.7% of the workforce.
In New Jersey, the six-week total has climbed to 888,000, or 19.5% of the workforce. More than 71,000 New Jersey workers filed new claims for assistance last week, according to the federal data.
New applications nationwide have declined for five straight weeks since the end of March, but the numbers are unlike anything the nation’s unemployment insurance system has ever experienced.
Philly reports 66 confirmed coronavirus deaths, but not all are new
Philadelphia on Thursday reported 66 new coronavirus deaths, the city’s highest single-day increase in fatalities during the pandemic.
But Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley cautioned that some of those deaths occurred in the past and were only recently identified as city residents.
Overall, 607 Philadelphians have died of the virus, including 340 nursing home residents.
Farley also reported that the city confirmed an additional 665 new cases of the virus on Thursday, bringing the total to 14,468. Like the deaths total, the relatively high number of new cases confirmed Thursday includes some older test results for individuals that were later identified as being city residents.
Still, Farley said, the city is hoping to see the number of new cases confirmed each day fall more quickly than it has.
During April, he said, health officials at first saw the virus spreading rapidly throughout the city, then plateauing as the onslaught of new cases leveled off, and finally beginning to slow in recent days.
“Now it looks like we’re on the downslope, and all of us, particularly me, want the daily numbers to fall faster than they are,” Farley said.
Despite the persistence of the virus, Philadelphia hospitals have had the capacity to deal with the pandemic, he said. There were 964 coronavirus patients in city hospitals on Thursday, and 1,773 throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania.
XPoNential Music Festival canceled due to coronavirus precautions
This year’s XPoNential Music Festival has been canceled.
The sprawling three-day music festival, which is the signature event for adult-alternative University of Pennsylvania radio station WXPN-FM (88.5), was scheduled to take place from July 31 to Aug. 2 at Wiggins Park and the adjacent BB&T Pavilion in Camden.
The station said on Thursday that the decision to cancel the annual festival was made due to “the coronavirus pandemic and concerns for the WXPN community,” in conjunction with the Camden County Board of Freeholders and concert promoters Live Nation.
Over 9 days, Bucks County saw 100 coronavirus deaths. The nexus has been nursing homes.
As the number of coronavirus deaths continue to rise in Bucks County, officials said Thursday there is “no question” that the vast majority of those deaths stem from long-term care facilities for seniors.
The county reported 20 new deaths Wednesday, the end of a nine-day high of 100 new fatalities. That group accounts for more than half of the total deaths from COVID-19 in the county since the first fatality was recorded on March 28.
All of Wednesday’s reported deaths were senior citizens — the youngest 69; the oldest 93. And since April 3 — the date that the county started making age data available — 96% of Bucks County’s COVID-19 deaths have been people 60 or older, according to an Inquirer analysis of county data.
David Damsker, the head of the county’s Health Department, said Thursday that 61 of the long-term care facilities in the county have outbreaks of COVID-19. Additionally, he estimated that half of all the cases in the county are from residents in those facilities, or their staff.
“We are absolutely seeing deaths, and it’s not just one facility,” he said. “I wouldn’t call any one facility a hot spot. I would say any facility that has cases has a potential for death. And we’re working with them to do everything we can to prevent infection.”
How ‘caution fatigue’ may slow social distancing efforts
As Pennsylvanians prepare for the eighth week of social distancing under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order, psychologists warn that “caution fatigue” may start to affect people’s choice to make safe decisions for themselves and their communities.
People who experience caution fatigue become desensitized to warnings because their brain has adjusted to the alarms it’s receiving, explained Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral science at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“When a person is exposed to a warning repeatedly, they start to pay less attention to it and that can lead to either ignoring the alarms or not responding as quickly to them,” Gollan said. “We are adjusting how we perceive that threat — the threat can seem uncertain, or we have a hard time understanding the true threat.”
Already, some people have become more relaxed about social distancing. Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Transportation Institute reported a recent nationwide decline in their Social Distancing Index, which uses location-based service data from cell phones to track compliance with restrictions meant to contain the outbreak.
The decline, which started on April 17 and has continued since, is the first since social distancing measures began in March in the United States.
Philadelphia increases fines for violating Mayor Jim Kenney’s orders on businesses, social distancing
The city has increased the penalties it can issue to businesses and individuals that violate Mayor Jim Kenney’s stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus.
Previously, all fines were at most $300, and the city attempted to encourage cooperation by talking to businesses and having police officers give verbal warnings to individuals not observing social distancing rules outdoors.
Now, businesses can be fined $2,000 for violating Kenney’s orders, which shut down all non-essential private businesses, and individuals may have to pay up to $500 for failing to follow the rules.
“Up until this point we have done our best to rely on verbal warnings,” Kenney said. “But the message should be clear as we ease restrictions. We will need cooperation.”
Officers will also have the option of issuing code violation notices, which would allow individuals and businesses to pay a smaller amount than the full fines if they decline to go to court over alleged violations.
The city so far has received 750 complaints about businesses operating in violation of the orders, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. The city issued 583 warnings to businesses and ordered some to cease operations, but it has not yet issued any fines to businesses.
Police officers issued 25 “failure to disperse” code violation notices to individuals during the pandemic, Abernathy said.
Abernathy said the city was increasing the fines in part because it will soon be reopening parts of the economy.
Construction sites will be allowed to resume operations on Friday, while other businesses subject to the mayor’s orders will have to wait weeks or more, as officials look for the rate of new coronavirus cases to fall significantly.
“We’re about to open up significant number of businesses and want to send a strong signal that should those businesses not operate appropriately, they’re going to see significant fines,” he said.
Gov. Murphy thanks Trump for assistance in New Jersey’s ‘hour of need'
Gov. Phil Murphy thanked President Trump for the federal government’s assistance in New Jersey’s “hour of need” during a meeting at the White House on Thursday.
Murphy, seated next to Trump in the Oval Office, said the Trump administration is currently helping New Jersey “in a big way” to rapidly expand coronavirus testing, a necessary step in the state's plan to reopen parts of the economy.
“I would expect by the end of May, thanks to you and your team’s help, we’ll be able to at least double — and I hope more than double — our testing capability,” Murphy told Trump. “Because of that, that will allow us more aggressively and responsibly do the reopening that we will need to do.”
Murphy once again pressed Trump on the need for federal aid to states like New Jersey, whose budgets have been decimated due to record unemployment claims and a drop in tax revenue. Murphy stressed that New Jersey will need a significant amount of financial assistance to keep firefighters, police and EMS workers on the state payroll.
“We don’t see it as a bailout,” Murphy said. “We see it as a partnership and doing the right thing in what is the worst health care crisis in the history of our nation."
Republicans have voiced opposition to the idea of providing direct assistance to states, and Trump said it was a “tough question.” But the president did tell reporters Murphy was a strong advocate for the idea.
“You can’t have a better representative than this guy,” Trump said.
Wolf: Residents responsible for enforcing social distancing, health guidelines when Pa. golf courses and private campgrounds reopen
When golf courses, marinas, and private campgrounds reopen across Pennsylvania on Friday, customers, employees, and business owners will be responsible for ensuring social distancing and other public health guidelines are followed, Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday.
Approaching the enforcement of this measure the same way he did the stay-at-home order, the governor reiterated that these mandates work best when citizens follow them voluntarily.
“The enforcement comes when folks realize if they don’t practice social distancing they’re actually hurting themselves and their loved ones,” Wolf said on a call with reporters. “Basically this is a self-enforcement thing. You owe it to yourself to stay safe. You owe it to your family to stay safe.”
Philadelphia City Councilmembers to introduce bills to protect tenants from eviction, rent increases during coronavirus pandemic
A group of City Councilmembers will introduce legislation Friday aimed at protecting renters from eviction and rent increases during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are simply humane protections to keep families in their homes,” Councilmember Kendra Brooks said during a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon announcing six bills that they call the “emergency housing protection package.”
The legislation includes a bill that would prohibit rent increases during the pandemic and for a year afterwards, essentially implementing temporary rent control in the city, as well as legislation expanding protections against evictions, preventing landlords from charging late fees, and creating an eviction diversion program.
Councilmembers Helen Gym and Jamie Gauthier are joining Brooks introducing the legislation, and they announced the support of other colleagues.
But they may struggle to gain widespread support on Council for the bills, especially for programs that could cost the city additional money to implement.
“Before we … think about what legislative initiatives will be proffered in response to this pandemic, it’s very important for us to understand what impact all of this is having on the city’s budget,” Councilmember Cherelle Parker said in a separate virtual roundtable with colleagues Thursday morning.
The virtual news conference announcing the housing protection legislation came hours before Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration was set to brief City Council on a new budget proposal. Kenney has warned it will include “painful” cuts due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s finances.
Gym addressed the budget concerns, but vowed to push for the legislation.
“The city budget, while grim, cannot afford to not invest in anti-eviction protection,” she said.
“If we find a glaring problem now, we’re going to make him and his team aware of it immediately so we can try to rectify something in case this gets extended out again and certainly for the next time,” DePasquale said in a virtual news conference. “Hopefully there won’t be another pandemic but you never know.”
DePasquale, a Democrat, said he’d heard from many business owners who found the waiver process “cumbersome,” unfair, and not transparent. Senate Republicans requested the audit earlier this week.
Wolf, also a Democrat, said on a call with reporters that he thought the process was “fair and honest.” More than a third of waivers, which accounted for 1% of all state businesses, were rejected after submitting applications to remain open.
“We tried to do the right thing. Were some mistakes made? Maybe,” he said. “And if they were, the folks in Pennsylvania have every right to know about that.”
New York’s coronavirus death toll exceeds 18,000 as focus turns to tri-state tracing
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced 306 more New Yorkers have died after contracting the coronavirus, the lowest daily number in about a month — a positive sign in the country’s hardest-hit state. But the number also pushed New York’s death toll past 18,000.
Cuomo was joined by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who outlined the state’s regional plan to trace and isolate new cases. But with 4,681 new COVID-19 cases in just the past 24 hours alone, Cuomo stressed how difficult it will be to conduct contact tracing on such a large scale.
Cuomo said the state is currently testing close to 30,000 people a day, with a goal of reaching 40,000 a day. But to trace positive cases, Cuomo said the state will need a "tracing army" of between 6,400 and 17,000 tracers.
“You need 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people. It’s massive,” Cuomo said, adding it will be done on a tri-state basis in a partnership with New Jersey and Connecticut.
Classes in shifts? SEPTA social distancing? Philly schools planning for a fall of ‘challenging circumstances’ because of coronavirus
Even as they gear up for the start of the first day of new instruction since mid-March, Philadelphia School District officials have an eye on what next school year will look like, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday.
That is: Because of COVID-19, children may be brought to school in shifts, and could be required to wear masks. Buses could need to make two or three runs and rules for social distancing on SEPTA, which thousands of students rely on to get to Philadelphia schools, will need to be considered. Lunches and recesses will also likely look different.
“All of that is going to be informed by where we are in terms of the requirements based on social distancing,” Hite said during a call with reporters. “Do we stay in the current state in terms of delivering digital content, or do we try to come back and work through what will be some very challenging circumstances?”
District officials have joined with a city working group to consider at what school might look like when Gov. Tom Wolf allows Pennsylvania to re-open, Hite said.
Teachers and students who are immuno-compromised might not be able to work face-to-face when school begins, Hite said.
The school system is in its second week of formal, teacher-led review and enrichment lessons; on Monday, teachers will begin covering new material.
The point, Hite said, is to “hopefully stop the further regression from students.”
Pa. to provide $324 million in loans to keep hospitals afloat during the COVID-19 challenge
Pennsylvania hospitals will receive nearly $324 million in state funding to help them stay afloat as they battle the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday.
“This funding will allow our hospitals to hold steady in that fight,” the governor said in a statement, “with the peace of mind that they have access to the resources they need to provide critical care to their communities.”
The loans are part of the commonwealth’s Hospital Emergency Loan Program, which Wolf unveiled earlier this month to help hospitals that are struggling financially due to the halting of elective procedures and other effects of the pandemic.
Wolf has said the low-interest loans will “provide immediate working capital” so hospitals can buy personal protective equipment and other needed supplies.
University of Pennsylvania hospitals will receive a total of $50 million. In Delaware County, Crozer Chester Medical Center, Springfield Hospital, and Taylor Hospital will receive a total of $20 million. Delaware County Memorial Hospital will get $15 million. Roxborough Hospital, Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown, Albert Einstein Medical Center, and Albert Einstein Medical Center Montgomery will each receive $10 million. Lower Bucks Hospital will get $5 million, and Wills Eye Hospital will receive $2.9 million.
Hospitals that are eligible for federal grants through the coronavirus stimulus package are also eligible for these state loans.
Fauci: Having a coronavirus vaccine by January is ‘doable’
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infections disease expert, said a coronavirus vaccine could be widely available by January, if testing currently underway is successful.
During an interview on NBC’s Today show Thursday, when asked by co-host Savannah Guthrie if it’s “in the realm of possibility” for hundreds of millions of doses to be ready as soon as January, Fauci said, “I do.”
“We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it’s safe and it’s effective. I think that’s doable if things fall in the right place,” Fauci said, pointing out that back in January he said the timeline for developing a vaccine would take at least a year to 18 months.
The push to speed up the timeline to create a coronavirus vaccine is part of Operation Warp Speed, a Trump administration initiative that Fauci said he is part of. But Fauci warned reaching that January timeline depends entirely if trials currently underway end up showing the vaccine is effective.
Watch @savannahguthrie’s full interview with Dr. Anthony Facui about the potential breakthrough antiviral drug to treat coronavirus, and whether he thinks states are opening up too soon. pic.twitter.com/ihhFfgQx5n
“What the plan is right now ... we’re in the early phases of a trial Phase One. When you go into the next phase, we’re going to safely and carefully — but as quickly as we possibly can — try and get an answer as to whether it works and is safe,” Fauci said.
“And if so, we’re going to start ramping up production with the companies involved. And you do that at risk. In other words you don’t wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing. You, at risk, proactively start making it, assuming it’s going to work. And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully get to that timeline,” Fauci added.
Delaware congresswoman hit with racist messages during 'Zoom bombing’
U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat from Delaware, is speaking out after being the victim of a Zoom video chat bomb that involved racist language, Nazi symbols, and pornography.
About an hour into a Delaware Legislative Black Caucus Zoom conference call on small business assistance Wednesday night, an unknown hacker user wrote a racial slur and posted a swastika. The slurs were removed quickly, but were replaced by pornographic imagery that left many on the call stunned.
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” John Fleming, the district director of Delaware Small Business Administration Office, said in response.
Rochester addressed the situation immediately, calling on people to rebuke the hate on display by loving and caring for each other. She also spoke about the incident on Facebook following the chat, calling it racist, sexist, and immature.
“My first reaction was not to be upset. My first reaction was that we will not let hate take us down. I think that is the message right now for this whole epidemic,” Rochester said. “It’s about who are we, who will we be when this is all over.”
“To that person who was trying to destroy the positivity of what we were doing getting that information out to those small businesses, you did not succeed,” Rochester added. “For those of you who just don’t get it, why we’re on this planet, I feel sorry for you. I pray for you. But I want you to know, you will not steal our joy.”
As people flock to Zoom and other video chat platforms to communicate with co-workers and family members, users are seeing an up-tick in “Zoombombing,” where trolls jump onto public calls and share racist material and graphic content to unsuspecting users.
Last week, a GoToMeeting video chat between members of the Norristown Municipal Council was interrupted by a pornographic video an unknown user displayed on their screen. As a result, residents interested in following the council’s next meeting on May 5 will be able to call in, but won’t have access to the video, according to the Pottstown Mercury.
COVID-19 crisis jobless claims up to 1.6 million in Pa., 888,000 in N.J.
More than 131,000 Pennsylvanians filed a jobless claim in the week ending April 25 after losing their jobs or getting hours reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the state’s total in six weeks to more than 1.6 million, or 24.8% of the workforce.
In New Jersey, the six-week total has climbed to 888,000, or 19.5% of the workforce. More than 71,000 New Jersey workers filed new claims for assistance last week, according to the federal data.
Over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past six weeks
About 3.8 million Americans filed for unemployment for the first time last week, bringing the six-week total to over 30 million following a shutdown of the economy that began in the middle of March to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The unprecedented number of unemployment claims dwarfs the 8.7 million claims filed during the Great Recession, and have more than erased the 22.4 million jobs gained over the last decade.
N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy to meet with President Trump to press for federal help to plug holes in state budgets
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House Thursday morning in a continued push to convince the federal government to help plug state budget holes created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Murphy tweeted Wednesday night he plans to push the Trump administration to provide financial assistance to states and discuss coronavirus testing, which will be critical to getting New Jersey and other hard-hit states to reopen. Murphy will meet with Trump at 11 a.m., then travel back to Trenton to deliver his daily briefing.
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.
“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?” Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
On the front line: Narberth Ambulance paramedics risk their own lives in a battle to save nursing home residents with slim odds
Now, for the first time in his nearly 30 years as volunteer chief of Narberth Ambulance, Christopher Flanagan said he fears for his team’s safety. The 50 paid staffers and roughly 80 volunteers of Narberth Ambulance sleep, cook, and eat together. They bicker and tease and console one another. Like any tight-knit family.
“This makes me nauseous. I’m scared for them. I can see the stress in their face," said Flanagan, whose military buzz cut matches his no-nonsense demeanor. He also is police superintendent in Radnor Township.
“When they see a call come in and they know that they are going to put themselves at high risk again, maybe five, six times in a day, that makes me ill. I want to protect them. I want to do something about it, and it’s just not that easy.”
Narberth Ambulance responds to 911 calls across five towns that straddle Montgomery and Delaware Counties and since the COVID-19 crisis began nine of its members have had to self-quarantine after a coronavirus exposure or positive test.
‘This seems like stolen money,’ one arts official says of Wolf’s sudden move to freeze state grant money for arts groups
Facing his own burgeoning budget problems, Gov. Tom Wolf has directed some state agencies to rescind grant money previously awarded to arts groups.
The decision surfaced Monday when numerous cultural organizations received an email from Karl Blischke, executive director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency, lamenting the “unprecedented impact” of the coronavirus pandemic on state finances and a resulting “marked decrease in revenue.”
“We regrettably must advise you that this means the PCA can no longer guarantee completion of processing for current year grant awards,” Blischke said. “While it is conceivable that the commonwealth will be able to process your grant award agreement at a later date this year, the outcome is highly uncertain, given the aforementioned circumstances.”
In other words, organizations seeking payback of money spent in expectation of state reimbursement — a process that the state mandates for such grants — are out of luck.
It was another sign of improvement after the city avoided a catastrophic surge of cases — and it was also a sign of the caution officials are using as they move forward: As the virus still circulates, the city will keep equipment at the center in case of an unexpected surge or second wave.
“It’s still looking like we’re past the peak of the epidemic and declining,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said, reporting 25 more deaths connected to the virus on Wednesday for a toll to date of 541. “The decline is, unfortunately, very slow.”
The same caution was displayed across the region as more baby steps toward normality began: Gov. Phil Murphy ordered New Jersey parks to reopen; Philadelphia set out guidelines for construction and golfing, which can both resume Friday; and Pennsylvania officials said they would release a plan Friday for testing and contact tracing as the state moves toward its phased reopening.
— Justine McDaniel, Pranshu Verma and Laura McCrystal