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Spike in new cases shows signs of slowing in Pa. and N.J.; Biden receives his first vaccine dose; when you can expect to receive new stimulus check

While daily COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Pennsylvania, the pace of the surge has slowed over the past week as we move further away from Thanksgiving.

Steam coming out of sidewalk at 16th and Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia on Monday, December 21, 2020. Todays morning commute started in low 30's.. ... Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
by Rob Tornoe, Erin McCarthy, and Robert Moran
Dec. 22, 2020

House passes $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, catchall measure

// Timestamp 12/21 10:34pm

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a joint press conference with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Capitol Hill in Washington on November 12, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS). ... Read moreYuri Gripas / Abaca Press File

WASHINGTON — The House easily passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year.


The lopsided 359-53 vote was a bipartisan coda to months of partisanship, politicking as lawmakers wrangled over the relief question, a logjam that broke after President-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.

The relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon, sped through the House in a matter of hours. A Senate vote that would send the bill to President Donald Trump appeared likely to follow soon.

» READ MORE: House passes $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, catchall measure

— Associated Press


Lawsuit alleges veterans at state-run nursing home were abandoned during first COVID-19 wave

// Timestamp 12/21 9:26pm

The state-run Southeastern Veterans' Center in Chester County suffered a devastating outbreak of coronavirus cases in spring 2020 that took dozens of lives.. ... Read morePA Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs

The families of five Southeastern Veterans’ Center residents who died of COVID-19 filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday alleging that the operators of the state-run nursing home in Chester County failed to protect them and dozens of other residents who succumbed to the virus.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), which runs the state’s six nursing homes for veterans, as well as former SEVC commandant Rohan Blackwood and his director of nursing, Deborah Mullane.


Blackwood and Mullane were suspended in May following reports in The Inquirer, citing internal documents, on the high number of coronavirus deaths at the East Vincent Township nursing home — as many as four a day.

“The residents of Southeastern Veterans’ Center … dedicated their lives to protect this nation,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer Robert Daley said in a statement. “When it came time to protect these veterans and their spouses, Southeastern Veterans’ Center failed to take the necessary precautions regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, and as a result, the brave men and women at the facility were left vulnerable and unprotected.”

» READ MORE: Lawsuit alleges veterans at state-run nursing home were abandoned during first COVID-19 wave

— William Bender


NIH launching study on rare allergic reactions to coronavirus vaccine

// Timestamp 12/21 5:44pm

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, a nurse prepares a shot 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). ... Read moreHans Pennink / AP

Officials at the National Institutes of Health are rushing to devise a study to find out why, in a few rare cases, people have had severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The goal is to identify the component of the vaccine most likely to be responsible for these potentially life-threatening incidents, known as anaphylaxis. No cases have yet been associated with the other newly authorized vaccine, made by Moderna, but it is being administered to the general public for the first time this week and has similar components to the one developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.


This is a challenging task for researchers, who hope to get an answer within a matter of weeks. The study will recruit volunteers who have had a history of severe allergic reactions and who will receive the vaccine under close clinical supervision, according to Daniel Rotrosen, director of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“This is not a simple study design,” Rotrosen told The Washington Post. “We expect to be looking at highly allergic individuals. They will be not necessarily so easy to recruit, either. A lot still needs to be done to be sure we have the optimal study design. That said, we’re trying to move as quickly as we can, for obvious reasons.”

» READ MORE: NIH launching study on rare allergic reactions to coronavirus vaccine

— Washington Post

Philly announces deployment of new mobile testing truck

// Timestamp 12/21 4:25pm

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health on Monday announced a new mobile COVID-19 testing truck to be deployed to infection hot spots and underserved communities around the city.

The agency said that it worked with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to identify eight locations where more testing is needed. The truck also will be used to provide support at an existing facility in case of concentrated outbreaks.

The upcoming calendar of testing events can be found here.

The city is using a truck from Aardvark Mobile Health.

— Robert Moran

President-elect Biden receives vaccine shot in Delaware

// Timestamp 12/21 3:52pm

President-elect Joe Biden receives his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del., Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, from nurse practitioner Tabe Mase.. ... Read moreCarolyn Kaster / AP

On live video, President-elect Joe Biden received his first vaccine shot for COVID-19 at a hospital in Delaware and assured Americans that they don’t have to worry about its safety.

“I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared, when it’s available, to take the vaccine. There’s nothing to worry about,” Biden said after getting the shot from a nurse practitioner at ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital in Newark.

Jill Biden also received a vaccine shot on Monday.

“The administration deserves some credit for getting this off the ground with Operation Warp Speed,” Biden said about the effort launched by President Donald Trump to accelerate development of vaccines against the coronavirus.

“This is just the beginning…it’s going to take time” to get everyone vaccinated, he said.

Biden also urged everyone to continue mask-wearing and social distancing during the holiday season, and “if you don’t have to travel, don’t travel.”

» READ MORE: Biden gets COVID-19 vaccine, says ‘nothing to worry about’

— Robert Moran

Moderna vaccines on the way to N.J. hospitals and healthcare sites

// Timestamp 12/21 2:44pm

Moderna vaccines are on the way to 18 hospitals and four other healthcare sites in New Jersey, health officials said. In addition to healthcare workers, residents of longterm care facilities and other congregate care homes will start being inoculated in a week.

Health commissioner Judith Persichilli said the projected numbers of vaccines allotted to the state from both Pfizer and Moderna are continuing to shift, and that the total amount of what the state expected for this month is down 20%. She said the vaccines will continue to be administered out as they arrive, and Gov. Phil Murphy said the logistics of the rollout are complex and ever-evolving.

“This is one of the most ambitious federal government initiatives ever undertaken,” he said. “It is not a straight line.”

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, 26 hospitals have reported administering 8,740 doses to healthcare workers, though Gov. Phil Murphy said there may be delays in reporting.

The state added 3,186 cases and 29 deaths. Cases, hospitalizations, ICU capacity, and ventilator use have all increased since Thanksgiving, but Murphy said that anecdotal evidence suggests that most people heeded public warnings about keeping holiday dinners small, and urged residents to continue taking precautions over the coming weeks.

“This is not the year for Christmas as usual or New Year’s Eve as usual,” he said, asking residents not to hold large indoor parties. “Let’s see 2020 off in a way that sets us up for a strong and healthy 2021.”

— Allison Steele

Philly will test all inmates and staff members as coronavirus surges in prisons

// Timestamp 12/21 2:30pm

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia.TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia prisons officials pledged Monday to complete and release coronavirus test results for all inmates and staff members by the end of January, after a federal judge mandated universal testing amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in city prisons.

Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney explained the testing plans as she faced tough questions from City Council during a hearing on coronavirus inside the prison system.

Councilmembers expressed concern about the practices of placing inmates exposed to the virus in solitary confinement and charging families for virtual visits with inmates, and about a lack of clear data on prison staff members who have tested positive for the virus.

The city’s prisons have been under shelter-in-place restrictions, allowing inmates to leave their cells only for showers and virtual visits with attorneys or relatives since earlier this month. A similar policy was in effect during a spring wave of the virus, but restrictions were eased during the summer and early fall, during which Carney said inmates were spending up to six hours per day outside their cells.

» READ MORE: Philly will test all inmates and staff members as coronavirus surges in prisons

— Laura McCrystal

Health secretary once again urges Pennsylvanians to avoid gatherings this holiday season

// Timestamp 12/21 1:44pm

Four days before Christmas, as Pennsylvania’s coronavirus surge appears to be plateauing and vaccines are administered to frontline health workers, residents have the power to keep the hopeful news coming, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Monday.

”As we approach the holiday season, we cannot let our guard down,” she said, noting health workers across the state are on guard preparing for the possibility of a post-Christmas surge in coronavirus patients. “All of our jobs is to make sure that surge doesn’t happen or is as small as possible.”

Levine reiterated the pleas that she, Gov. Tom Wolf, and other officials have been making for weeks now, urging Pennsylvanians not to travel for the holidays, to celebrate in-person only with immediate household members, to go out just when it’s necessary, and to follow other public health guidelines, such as wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping social distance from others during essential outings.

In Pennsylvania and across the country, the same pleas were made last month before Thanksgiving, and many disregarded them. In the weeks after, Pennsylvania’s daily case counts and hospitalizations rose to record levels, prompting the commonwealth to implement a stricter set of temporary restrictions set to be in place through Jan. 4. Levine did not say whether officials have discussed extending those measures or replacing them with others if the holidays are again followed by a surge.

”If people travel, if they have large and small gatherings, we’ll be more challenged,” Levine said, “so we’ll see how things go.”

At the same time, however, she expressed optimism about the first months of the new year, encouraging residents to channel similar optimism as they make sacrifices this holiday season.

”There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Levine said. “We now have two safe and effective vaccines that are being rolled out as we speak.”

”There is absolutely hope for the future,” she added. “Next year at this time, things will look so much better. But right now, please stay the course.”

» READ MORE: Sorry, but a negative coronavirus test doesn’t mean it’s safe to see your family for the holidays

— Erin McCarthy

Philadelphia reports 1,629 new cases since Friday

// Timestamp 12/21 1:32pm

Philadelphia announced 1,629 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, representing test results reported since Friday.

The city also reported five additional deaths, bringing the total number of residents who have died of the coronavirus to 2,223.

As of Monday, there were 844 patients with the coronavirus in Philadelphia hospitals. Of those patients, 128 of them were on ventilators. The number of people hospitalized has decreased since last week, when there were more than 900 patients in city hospitals.

— Laura McCrystal

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 surge starting to ‘plateau,’ according to health secretary

// Timestamp 12/21 1:15pm

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine meets with the media back in May at The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa. . ... Read moreJoe Hermitt / AP

Pennsylvania is seeing “a plateau” in its coronavirus surge, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said Monday, as Pennsylvania reported 7,745 additional confirmed cases.

These numbers are still far higher than any reported during the virus’ spring surge, but are lower than the more than 10,000 cases a day that were regularly reported earlier this month.

On Sunday, the state reported 7,355 additional confirmed cases, Levine added. The statewide percent positivity of tests fell slightly, to 15.8% last week from the prior week’s mark of greater than 16%.

”Right now we are seeing certainly a plateau, perhaps maybe a slight decrease in those numbers,” Levine said, noting however that Sunday and Monday numbers are typically lower than other days of the week. “If everybody does the right thing … and pretty much stays home for the holidays, then things look much more hopeful for January.”

In the commonwealth’s hospitals, about 6,074 patients are being treated for the coronavirus, with 1,230 of them in intensive care units and 720 on ventilators. In the spring and summer, the state never reached 3,000 reported hospitalizations.

On Sunday, Pennsylvania reported 99 additional deaths from virus-related complications and on Monday, the commonwealth added another 57 deaths.

In all, at least 563,589 people have been infected by the coronavirus since March and 13,981 have died.

Amid reports of a coronavirus mutation leading to “significantly faster” transmission in England, Levine said Pennsylvania has seen no evidence of the mutation here.

”We are watching the news out of England,” she said. “A lot of that has to be evaluated by virologists and people who study and specialize in viruses to really outline the possible mutations. We’ll be watching that data really closely.”

She added, it’s “nothing that I think that people in Pennsylvania have to worry about at this time.”

— Erin McCarthy

Pa. expects nearly 200,000 Moderna vaccine doses this week

// Timestamp 12/21 12:20pm

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., Sunday, Dec. 20. . ... Read morePaul Sancya / AP

At least 17,700 Pennsylvania frontline health workers have received their first doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the initial week of inoculations, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Monday.

The commonwealth anticipates 30,225 additional Pfizer doses to be delivered to hospitals this week, she said, and next week’s allotment will include shipments for residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities, where CVS and Walgreens teams will administer the vaccine on site.

Meanwhile, many hospitals are also still administering the remaining 79,800 of last week’s 97,500 doses, many of which did not arrive until Thursday or Friday, to their frontline employees, she said.

These numbers do not include shipments to Philadelphia, which has its own vaccine plan and dosage allotment.

Two days after the Army general in charge of federal vaccine shipments apologized for miscommunications regarding this week’s Pfizer shipments to states, Levine said Pennsylvania’s numbers were “anticipated” after conversations with Operation Warp Speed last week.

”I wouldn’t say we were impacted,” she said. “A week ago Friday, we had a conversation with Gen. Perna, regionally, and he told us the numbers that were in the system were estimates and it might turn out to be less.”

Just days after a second vaccine, this one developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, was granted emergency use authorization, Levine said 198,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to start arriving this week, also for frontline health workers.

Officials estimate the general public won’t be able to be vaccinated until spring or summer.

» READ MORE: All your COVID-19 vaccine questions, answered

— Erin McCarthy

Temple student thought her COVID-19 was mild. Then came heart failure

// Timestamp 12/21 11:20am

Madeline Neville of Gouldsboro, Pa. at her home alongside her parents Fran (right) and Christine. Madeline tested positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms then virus reemerged leading to heart failure. Pictured with . ... Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Maddie Neville contracted COVID-19 in October while living in an apartment off-campus near Temple University. She developed only mild symptoms — some coughing, plus she couldn’t smell or taste anything.

After quarantining and feeling back to her usual healthy self, Neville traveled home to Gouldsboro, in Monroe County, for Thanksgiving, the coronavirus seeming a thing of the past.

But while there, Neville found herself gasping for breath and gripped by intense chest pain. She had tested negative for COVID-19 before returning home, so she assumed the symptoms were unrelated. After a trip to an urgent care center and two hospitals, her condition worsened.

“My limbs started to tingle and I passed out,” Neville said. “I woke up and there were 16 doctors and nurses standing around me screaming.”

She was airlifted Dec. 2 to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where doctors diagnosed her with congestive heart failure brought on by complications of COVID-19.

Neville, who turns 21 Monday, is now back at her parents’ house recovering, but still fighting the physical and psychological effects of severe inflammation that left her heart pumping at 10% of its capacity.

» READ MORE:  Temple student thought her COVID-19 was mild. Then came heart failure: ‘It was horrible.’

— Frank Kummer

When you can expect to receive next round of stimulus checks

// Timestamp 12/21 10:10am

President Donald Trump's name is seen on a stimulus check issued by the IRS back in April. . ... Read moreEric Gay / AP File

Congress is nearing the finish line on a second relief package with $600 stimulus checks, plus supplemental $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits if you’re not working, and deferred student loan payments until the end of January 2021.

The same Americans who got stimulus checks last March should be eligible for this second round — individuals making less than $75,000 and married couples making less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income. As in the first round, folks with dependents receive extra money, including for children up to 16 years of age.

Direct checks are estimated at $600 per adult and $600 per child, with the amounts decreasing for Americans making more than $75,000 in income and $150,000 for couples.

Dependents over the age of 16 don’t qualify, just as in the first round of stimulus payments. That means households don’t get payments for college students.

Checks should go out a few weeks after President Donald Trump signs the relief bill.

“The good news is this is a very, very fast way of getting money into the economy. Let me emphasize: People are going to see this money at the beginning of next week,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in CNBC Monday morning.

If you file taxes and receive refunds electronically or via direct deposit with the I.R.S., your stimulus money may arrive sooner.

» READ MORE: Americans get $600 direct payments, $300-a-week federal unemployment in next stimulus

— Erin Arvedlund

Pennsylvania, New Jersey to hold coronavirus briefings Monday

// Timestamp 12/21 9:30am

Officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will offer coronavirus updates on Wednesday. Here’s a schedule of how to watch and stream:

  • Pennsylvania, 11:30 a.m.: Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine, live-streamed via the department’s Facebook account and available on the state’s website via livestream.

  • New Jersey, 12:30 p.m.: Gov. Phil Murphy and public health officials, live-streamed on the governor’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.

— Rob Tornoe

COVID-19 vaccinations in Pa. and N.J. nursing homes to start Dec. 28

// Timestamp 12/21 9:00am

Adrian Alexis Ruiz receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia.. ... Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be part of the second wave of COVID-19 vaccination clinics, CVS and Walgreens say.

The two chains are participating in the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program that will bring vaccine to most of the nation’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Staff and residents of care homes, which have been hotbeds of coronavirus deaths, are in the top priority group to receive vaccines.

Also included in the first group are other health-care workers. Many hospitals began vaccinating frontline workers last week.

Both CVS and Walgreens said they would begin giving shots in Pennsylvania and New Jersey on Dec. 28.

» READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccinations in Pa. and N.J. nursing homes to start Dec. 28, CVS and Walgreens say

— Stacey Burling

Spike in new cases shows signs of slowing in Pa. and N.J.

// Timestamp 12/21 8:00am

Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Claire Raab (left) receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Shakay McClean at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia.. ... Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

While daily COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Pennsylvania, the pace of the surge has slowed over the past week as we move farther away from Thanksgiving.

Pennsylvania is now averaging 9,126 new cases a day, a slight increase compared to this time two weeks ago and down from an average of 10,241 new cases last week. New COVID-19 hospitalizations have also slowed somewhat over the same timeframe, though remain far higher than during the spring peak.

In New Jersey, the average number of new daily coronavirus infections is down slightly compared to this time two weeks ago. Hospitalizations also appear to have leveled off over the past week, and remain well below the state’s peak in April, when northern New Jersey was in the epicenter of the country’s first outbreak.

Here’s where new cases and hospitalizations stand through Monday across the region, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department:


  • Averaging 9,126 new cases a day, up slightly compared to two weeks ago (8,988 new cases a day).

  • 6,074 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up 15% compared to two weeks ago (5,300 hospitalizations).

New Jersey

  • Averaging 4,569 new cases a day, down 6% compared to two weeks ago (4,844 new cases a day).

  • 3,574 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up 10% compared to two weeks ago (3,241 hospitalizations).


  • Averaging 737 new cases a day, a jump of 10% compared to two weeks ago (666 new cases a day).

  • 410 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up 30% compared to two weeks ago (315 hospitalizations).

— Rob Tornoe

Lawmakers agree on new COVID-19 relief bill that includes new round of stimulus checks

// Timestamp 12/21 7:45am

Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal Sunday on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.

The agreement, announced by congressional leaders, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

House leaders informed lawmakers that they would vote on the legislation on Monday, and the Senate was likely to vote on Monday, too. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) announced additional details, including $25 billion in rental assistance, $15 billion for theaters and other live venues, $82 billion for local schools, colleges and universities, and $10 billion for child care.

» READ MORE: Lawmakers finalize nearly $900 billion coronavirus relief package, Mitch McConnell says

— Associated Press

What we know about the new European coronavirus mutation

// Timestamp 12/21 7:30am

A man walks past a closed shop on Regent Street in central in London, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. . ... Read moreStefan Rousseau

A flurry of European travel restrictions announced Sunday over worries about a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus have spurred curiosity and concern that the mutation could infect Americans.

After officials in the United Kingdom said Saturday that the variant first identified there was spreading 70 percent faster than others, Google searches about the mutation have spiked. But American public health experts and federal officials say that although it appears that the variant may be more contagious, it is not any more dangerous than others already detected in the United States.

“I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Adm. Brett Giroir, who has been in charge of testing, told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week.

In September, U.K. researchers discovered the variant’s prevalence when they collected samples from infected people in southeastern England. It seemed to spread quickly.

Since then, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands have identified cases of the variant in their countries, the World Health Organization told the BBC. On Sunday, Italian officials announced that a patient returning from Britain “in the last few days” was in isolation after scientists detected the mutation.

The virus has not been detected in the United States, but officials are watching for developments in Britain, Giroir told Stephanopoulos.

As of now, experts say there has been no indication that the variant is resistant to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines authorized by the FDA.

— Washington Post

Monday morning roundup: Birx draws heat for Thanksgiving trip to Delaware with family

// Timestamp 12/21 7:00am

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx speaks during a November news conference at the White House in Washington. B. ... Read moreSusan Walsh / AP
Dec. 21, 2020
I cover COVID-19, the media, and national stories that have interest in Philly. I also draw cartoons.
I write about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted life in the Philly region, sports, and whatever else gets newsy.
I cover breaking news at night in the Philadelphia region.