7:41 PM - December 1, 2020
7:41 PM - December 1, 2020

Advisory group targets health workers, nursing home residents for first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, Nurse Kathe Olmstead, right, gives volunteer Melissa Harting, of Harpersville, N.Y., an injection as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
Hans Pennink / AP
FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, Nurse Kathe Olmstead, right, gives volunteer Melissa Harting, of Harpersville, N.Y., an injection as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

An important federal advisory group Tuesday recommended that the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine be offered to medical workers and the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Health care workers — from frontline doctors and nurses to aides and housekeeping staff — are considered a high priority because of their heightened exposure to the virus and because they need to stay healthy to care for others as cases surge in much of the United States.

Nursing home and assisted living residents, who make up just 1% of the population, have accounted for 6% of cases and 39% of deaths. Cases have been rising again in nursing homes since September, according to the American Health Care Association, which represents senior residential care providers. It, along with LeadingAge and other senior housing organizations, Monday endorsed vaccination for residents and staff.

Health settings also have the practical advantage of offering relatively efficient access to large numbers of people as well as the cold storage the first vaccines will require. Plus, experts on public health communication believe medical personnel may influence a populace that is leery of vaccines developed at record speed.

— Stacey Burling

5:13 PM - December 1, 2020
5:13 PM - December 1, 2020

Pushed to rush, FDA head says feds will get vaccine ‘right’

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2020, file photo Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn speaks during a media briefing in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Hahn, the head of the agency responsible for approving any COVID-19 vaccine, was summoned to the White House Tuesday, Dec. 1, as an increasingly frustrated President Donald Trump complained that approval hasn't moved faster. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Alex Brandon / AP
FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2020, file photo Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn speaks during a media briefing in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Hahn, the head of the agency responsible for approving any COVID-19 vaccine, was summoned to the White House Tuesday, Dec. 1, as an increasingly frustrated President Donald Trump complained that approval hasn't moved faster. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The head of the agency responsible for approving COVID-19 vaccines said Tuesday after a meeting at the White House that federal officials would take the time needed to “get this right,” despite increasing pressure and growing frustration from President Donald Trump that approval is taking too long.

”No one at FDA is sitting on his or her hands. Everyone is working really hard to look at these applications and get this done,” Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, told ABC in an interview on Instagram live. “But we absolutely have to do this the right way.”

Hahn’s comments came not long after he was summoned to the White House by Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows as the agency weighs whether to allow emergency use of the first vaccines that could help defeat the coronavirus in the U.S.Trump has been livid with the FDA for not moving faster, blaming the fact that a vaccine was not developed ahead of the Nov. 3 election in part for his loss. He also has leveled unfounded claims that drug companies deliberately delayed vaccine development to hinder his chances, though there is no evidence to suggest that took place.

Hahn emerged from the White House meeting with his job intact, but it was a sign of the pressure he is under that the FDA offered guidance that “Dr. Hahn remains FDA Commissioner.”

Hahn said the FDA will thoroughly review each vaccine before making it available to the public.

— Associated Press

5:00 PM - December 1, 2020
5:00 PM - December 1, 2020

GOP leadership silent after Pa. senator tests positive for COVID-19 following maskless election event

Doug Mastriano celebrates his reelection campaign on election night with poll workers and campaign volunteers at the Mont Alto Fire Hall. November 3, 2020.
Amanda Berg / For Spotlight PA / Amanda Berg / For Spotlight PA
Doug Mastriano celebrates his reelection campaign on election night with poll workers and campaign volunteers at the Mont Alto Fire Hall. November 3, 2020.

HARRISBURG — A hearing organized by a group of Pennsylvania Republican senators last week drew dozens of spectators, many of them maskless, to a Gettysburg hotel conference room for nearly four hours of speeches on unfounded claims of widespread election fraud.

Yet Republicans who control the chamber have gone silent since one of their members — and the lead organizer of the event — tested positive for COVID-19 mere hours after the event ended. Their silence comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge, making mitigation efforts like wearing masks and not gathering in small spaces more important than ever.

Despite repeated requests for comment, Senate GOP leadership has refused to disclose whether other senators in attendance received a positive test result, or if there have been efforts to track down the roughly 100 people who attended the hearing at the Wyndham Gettysburg to let them know that they may have been in contact with an infected person.

— Angela Couloumbis and Cynthia Fernandez

3:45 PM - December 1, 2020
3:45 PM - December 1, 2020

Fox 29′s Mike Jerrick tests positive for COVID-19

File photo of "Good Day Philadelphia" coanchor Mike Jerrick.
VINCENT DeFRUSCIO / Fox 29
File photo of "Good Day Philadelphia" coanchor Mike Jerrick.

Good Day Philadelphia coanchor Mike Jerrick was on vacation from the station last week, but this week he’s home after testing positive for COVID-19.

Jerrick announced his test result on Facebook Tuesday afternoon in a post with a picture taken of one of the windows of his Center City high-rise.

“My view for a while,” he wrote. “Thanks for reaching out asking, ‘where am I?’ I’m right here on my couch. On vacation last week. But out sick this week. Yes, I’ve tested positive for Covid. After reporting on this nightmare for 9 months, and trying my best to avoid it, I now join the millions who know the real fear of this virus. Quarantine will give me lots of time to get better, and appreciate all of you even more.”

— Ellen Gray

2:35 PM - December 1, 2020
2:35 PM - December 1, 2020

Pa. to open free testing clinics in 61 counties, including Delco

A nurse holds a nasopharyngeal swab (left) and the sample tube (right) for a coronavirus test.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
A nurse holds a nasopharyngeal swab (left) and the sample tube (right) for a coronavirus test.

Over the next 12 weeks, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health will deploy regional strike teams to open coronavirus testing clinics for 61 counties, including Delaware County, in an attempt to increase access to free testing for any resident who wants one, officials announced Tuesday.

The strike teams will not open clinics in the six counties — including Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia — that already have their own health departments, said Gov. Tom Wolf and Michael Huff, the director of testing and contact tracing. The drive-through and walk-in sites will be able to test as many as 450 people per day per location on a first-come, first-serve basis, Huff said.

The PCR testing will be free for all, they said, and open to any resident age 3 or older, regardless of whether they have symptoms. Results can be expected in two to seven days. They will not replace pop-up testing sites that are deployed to areas seeing outbreaks, Huff said.

The first round of this testing will begin Wednesday in Bedford, Mifflin, Northampton, and Tioga Counties, which have seen some of the state’s most severe surge, and a site in Butler County will open Friday. Testing will be available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday at these sites.

The strike teams will be roving, moving to five different sites the following week, Wolf said.

The governor said health officials hope the new testing initiative will reduce the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, which have been rapidly rising in recent weeks as the fall resurgence has taken hold of the region.

”Both of those things are cause for real concern in Pennsylvania,” the governor said. “Every day COVID continues to spread, and every day our numbers continue to rise. That puts our healthcare system at risk and it puts our healthcare workers at risk.”

Reiterating Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s comments a day earlier, Wolf urged residents to hunker down and recommit to following public health guidelines as cases spread and the nation awaits a vaccine.

”It’s essential that every single Pennsylvanian take the threat of this virus seriously and we all follow mitigation measures,” he said. “If we work together, if we follow mitigation measures, if we stay home whenever we can, if we wear masks whenever we have to leave our homes, we actually can stop the spread of this virus and we can save lives. This holiday season, what a wonderful thing to do.”

— Erin McCarthy

2:00 PM - December 1, 2020
2:00 PM - December 1, 2020

New Jersey reports more than 4,600 new cases, 90 additional deaths

New Jersey reported 4,661 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, and is now averaging more than 4,000 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis. Overall, 341,910 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

A total of 3,129 coronavirus patients were hospitalized through Monday, a 28% increase from 2,446 hospitalizations two weeks ago. It’s the highest number of hospitalized patients in more than six months, but still well below pandemic highs set during the spring.

At least 15,254 New Jersey residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 90 new deaths reported on Tuesday.

“We need all hands on deck to beat back the second wave,” Gov. Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter. “Mask up. Social distance. Wash your hands. Be smart.”

— Rob Tornoe

1:42 PM - December 1, 2020
1:42 PM - December 1, 2020

Philly COVID-19 numbers show signs of improvement, but Thanksgiving impact unknown

With the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend coming to a close, travelers hug and head for other destinations after being dropped off at Philadelphia International Airport on Sunday.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
With the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend coming to a close, travelers hug and head for other destinations after being dropped off at Philadelphia International Airport on Sunday.

The recent surge in new coronavirus cases in Philadelphia is showing signs of slowing down, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

Farley, however, also cautioned that it is too soon to tell whether Thanksgiving gatherings have fueled a new wave of cases.

The city reported 601 newly confirmed cases on Tuesday, for a total of 67,025 since the pandemic began.

For the week that ended Saturday, there were on average 606 new cases per day, which is down from 894 cases the week before.

Additionally, testing positivity rates have fallen, with 9.4% of tests coming back positive last week, compared to 10.6% the previous week and 11.7% the week before.

“We are seeing a declining trend in the past couple weeks. That’s clearly better news,” Farley said at a virtual news conference.

But the city is not of the woods yet and may not know until the end of the week whether Thanksgiving led to a new spike, he said.

“It’s still too early to say what happened with the holiday,” Farley said. “The number of daily cases we’re seeing now is still extremely high.”

The city on Tuesday also reported nine new coronavirus-related fatalities, bringing the pandemic’s death toll to 1,985 in Philadelphia.

But with two vaccines nearing Food and Drug Administration approval, Farley said the city may begin distributing its first round of the drugs by mid-December.

“I think it’s going to get better from here. I’m very optimistic about 2021,” he said. “We just need to get there safely.”

— Sean Collins Walsh

1:31 PM - December 1, 2020
1:31 PM - December 1, 2020

Kenney announces new measures to help Philly businesses weather the pandemic

The normally packed Chickie's & Pete's sports bar and restaurant in South Philadelphia is empty during the Eagles game on Monday night.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The normally packed Chickie's & Pete's sports bar and restaurant in South Philadelphia is empty during the Eagles game on Monday night.

Mayor Jim Kenney on Tuesday announced new measures aimed at helping Philadelphia businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic by giving them breaks or delays on paying city taxes and fees.

“Rest assured that, within the constraints of the city’s own budget, we will be looking at new ways to provide relief,” Kenney said at a virtual news conference.

First, the city will allow restaurants calculating what they owe for the use and occupancy tax to exclude the square footage of their businesses that are not open to customers due to the city’s ban on indoor dining. City Finance Director Rob Dubow said the tax change would cost the city about $10 million in revenue this year.

Second, the city Department of Revenue is allowing business to revise their income estimates for the year, potentially lowering their expected tax payment installments.

Third, businesses that use city trash services can delay their first of two semiannual $250 payments, which were coming due soon, until June.

Lastly, the city is creating a new payment agreement plan for businesses struggling to pay their taxes this year. The payment plan option will only be available to businesses that were not previously delinquent on their city taxes. No down payment will be required.

“Please reach out to the Department of Revenue to get into an agreement, but you need to reach out,” Kenney said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

12:07 PM - December 1, 2020
12:07 PM - December 1, 2020

Pennsylvania reports more than 5,600 new cases, 180 additional deaths

Pennsylvania reported 5,676 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, and is now averaging more than 6,500 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis.

The commonwealth’s test positivity rate was 11.7% last week, up from 9.6% the previous week and 6.8% two weeks prior, according to state data.

Overall, 367,140 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. The commonwealth added over 47,000 new positive cases last week and 153,437 new cases in November, by far the most of any month during the pandemic.

At least 10,563 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 180 new deaths reported on Tuesday. Of the commonwealth’s deaths, 6,507 (about 61%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:35 AM - December 1, 2020
11:35 AM - December 1, 2020

Wolf warns Pennsylvania is projected to run out of ICU beds this month

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf warned on Tuesday that Pennsylvania is on track to run out of intensive care hospital beds at hospitals due to a spike in COVID-19 patients.

“PA is projected to run out of ICU beds this month,” Wolf wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. “That won’t just affect COVID patients; it will harm anyone who needs life-saving treatment, and will exhaust our health care professionals.”

As of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, 4,744 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the commonwealth, according to the state’s dashboard, an increase of 113 patients since midnight. Of those patients, 967 were in intensive care units, and the Department of Health reported 649 intensive care beds were available, down from 796 beds on Monday.

Wolf’s comment echoes a blunt memo written by Health Secretary Rachel Levine at the end of November and sent to the executive officers of the state’s 250 hospitals and health systems, warning of capacity issues amid a spike in new hospital admissions that has since intensified.

“Current national modeling projections indicate that Pennsylvania is at risk of having our health care system become overwhelmed,” Levine wrote.

— Rob Tornoe

10:15 AM - December 1, 2020
10:15 AM - December 1, 2020

How Santas are spreading holiday cheer this COVID-19 Christmas

Santa Kringle (Frank Naimoli) holds a bottle of customized sanitizer at his space in the trees at Triple Dog Dare Ya Christmas Tree Farm in Franklinville, N.J.
Santa Kringle (Frank Naimoli) holds a bottle of customized sanitizer at his space in the trees at Triple Dog Dare Ya Christmas Tree Farm in Franklinville, N.J.

In normal times, Delaware County’s “Santa Kringle” is honored each holiday season when families welcome him into their Christmas celebrations. “One of the biggest honors,” he said, is when parents hand him a newborn for the child’s first Santa photo, one that “will be around far longer than I am.”

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kringle — who also goes by Frank Naimoli — has had to change the way he interacts with the wide-eyed children who now visit him at outdoor, socially distanced photo shoots.

“They can’t sit on my lap. I can’t hold them,” he said. “But you can still hear their wishes. That’s the most important part.”

Local Santas, who are usually — by nature of the Santa trade — older and overweight, making them more susceptible to complications of the coronavirus, are taking precautions. At area malls, guests who want pictures with Santa have to adjust to new rules.

At the King of Prussia Mall, guests of Santa are encouraged to make reservations, instead of waiting in long lines that in years past often wrapped around the mall’s Christmas display. Santa, his helpers, and his visitors are masked up, according to the mall, and photo shoots are done in compliance with social distancing.

— Erin McCarthy

9:45 AM - December 1, 2020
9:45 AM - December 1, 2020

Philadelphia and Delaware holding coronavirus briefings today, while Pennsylvania will give an update on testing

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney will offer an post-Thanksgiving update on the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney will offer an post-Thanksgiving update on the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday.

Officials in Philadelphia and Delaware will offer coronavirus updates on Tuesday. Here’s a schedule of how to watch and stream:

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - December 1, 2020
8:00 AM - December 1, 2020

CDC panel overseeing vaccine prioritization to meet today

The first patient receives Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine in this May photo as part of a clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
/ AP
The first patient receives Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine in this May photo as part of a clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

A panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss who should get coronavirus vaccines first.

An estimated 21 million health-care workers are likely to be at the top of the list, with nursing home residents and staff coming soon after. The nation will probably have enough doses for about 20 million people by the end of the year, Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health and human services, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“We have to immunize for impact,” Giroir said. “The rest of America will get it in the second quarter, third quarter of 2021, but we could maximize our impact right now.”

Demand for the vaccines will far exceed supply for months, and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, has said each state will take into account “strong recommendations from the CDC” to make its own decision about the order in which people will be inoculated.

The agency has already laid out four groups that should be considered for priority: health-care personnel, workers in essential and critical industries, older adults and people with certain underlying medical conditions — including “severe obesity.” But it is unclear to what extent the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will prioritize this group.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and biotechnology company Moderna have applied for emergency authorization for their vaccine candidates from the Food and Drug Administration, which could grant approval by mid-December.

— Washington Post

7:45 AM - December 1, 2020
7:45 AM - December 1, 2020

Wolf vetoes Republican coronavirus bill on limiting liability

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf adjusts his face mask to protect against COVID-19 while attending a news conference on Nov. 4, 2020, in Harrisburg.
Julio Cortez / AP
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf adjusts his face mask to protect against COVID-19 while attending a news conference on Nov. 4, 2020, in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday rejected a bill that would have made it harder to sue schools, health care providers and other businesses for coronavirus-related claims.

Wolf, a Democrat, said the measure’s liability protections were so broad the legislation would have invited “the potential for carelessness and a disregard for public safety.”

The bill would have applied to cases of exposure to the coronavirus during a governor-declared disaster emergency.

Supporters argued the pandemic should not impose on businesses and others expensive or even ruinous litigation. The bill had been supported by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

“It’s really a shame after all the governor has done to stand in the way of small business and devastate our economy he is once again blocking our attempt to do what needs to be done to help our businesses at this time,” state House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said.

Wolf’s veto message argued that with the pandemic spreading, it is not a good idea to be providing legal protections “for noncompliance or carelessness.”

— Associated Press

7:30 AM - December 1, 2020
7:30 AM - December 1, 2020

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia climbing

Because of the coronavirus, reminders to wash hands often flash on the monitors in the baggage claim area at Philadelphia International Airport.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Because of the coronavirus, reminders to wash hands often flash on the monitors in the baggage claim area at Philadelphia International Airport.

More than 4,600 Pennsylvania coronavirus patients were in hospitals Monday night, hours after Health Secretary Rachel Levine warned the commonwealth has reached “a concerning milestone” in the pandemic.

A total of 4,631 patients were hospitalized, a nearly 90% increase compared to just two weeks ago, when 2,440 coronavirus patients were in the hospital. There were 970 patients being treated in intensive care units and 499 on ventilators, according to the Department of Health’s dashboard. Across the commonwealth, 796 adult ICU beds remained available, according to the data.

Since the beginning of November, the average daily number of people hospitalized has more than tripled in Pennsylvania and more than doubled in New Jersey, state data indicates. More than 500 Pennsylvanians have died of virus-related complications in the past week; that number is just above 200 for New Jersey.

Though Pennsylvania has far surpassed the number of people hospitalized at any one time during the spring surge, none of the commonwealth’s health-care regions have reached the metrics set by the state last week that would require hospitals to cut down elective procedures to free up space.

Still, Levine said, some areas are strained and state officials are “very concerned about the hospital capacity.”

In Philadelphia, 788 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Monday, the city reported, up 48% since Nov. 18, when 530 coronavirus patients were in the hospital. The city also reported 1,784 new cases since Friday, lower than recent weekends, likely due to Thanksgiving lab closures.

More than 500 Pennsylvanians died of virus-related complications in the past week. Levine said officials are seeing more deaths outside of care facilities than they did during the initial spring.

— Rob Tornoe, Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy and Jason Laughlin

7:15 AM - December 1, 2020
7:15 AM - December 1, 2020

COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

7:00 AM - December 1, 2020
7:00 AM - December 1, 2020

Controversial White House coronavirus adviser resigns

White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas alongside President Donald Trump during a press briefing in September.
MANDEL NGAN / MCT
White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas alongside President Donald Trump during a press briefing in September.

Scott Atlas, a science adviser to President Donald Trump who was skeptical of measures to control the coronavirus outbreak, is leaving his White House post.

A White House official confirmed that the Stanford University neuroradiologist, who had no formal experience in public health or infectious diseases, resigned at the end of his temporary government assignment. Atlas confirmed the news in a Monday evening tweet.

Atlas joined the White House this summer, where he clashed with top government scientists, including Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, as he resisted stronger efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 267,000 Americans and embraced a controversial “herd immunity” strategy.

Atlas has broken with government experts and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community to criticize efforts to encourage face covering to slow the spread of the virus. Just weeks ago on Twitter he responded to Michigan’s latest virus restrictions by encouraging people to “rise up” against the state’s policies.

His views also prompted Stanford to issue a statement distancing itself from the faculty member, saying Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic.

Atlas defended his role in his resignation letter, saying, “I cannot think of a time where safeguarding science and the scientific debate is more urgent.”

— Associated Press

6:45 AM - December 1, 2020
6:45 AM - December 1, 2020

Tuesday morning roundup: U.S. hospitalizations doubled in November

  • The United States reported more than 157,000 new cases and 1,172 deaths on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University, numbers that are expected to climb over the next few days as state labs get back online following the Thanksgiving holiday. More than 96,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, a number that’s doubled since Nov. 1 and tripled since Oct. 2, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
  • While many public health professionals have asked Americans not to congregate in large groups over the holidays, the White House is planning a spate of indoor holiday parties, the Washington Post reports.
  • David Prowse, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader in Star Wars, died after contracting COVID-19, his daughter told UK’s The Sun. He was 85. “It’s horrible that COVID restrictions meant we did not get to see him and say goodbye,” she told the newspaper.