Pa., N.J. report highest COVID-19 case levels since late spring as cases also rise in Philly
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are entering October with coronavirus case levels at the highest they’ve been since the end of spring, when the region was recovering from the first devastating wave of the pandemic.
From Penn State to Rowan University, students have spurred driven increases since they returned to college towns in August. But data analyzed by The Inquirer indicates that the spread of the virus is also increasing in some counties that aren’t home to universities. Public health experts say community transmission is not a surprise as cold weather nears, but it is a possible sign that residents should renew efforts to prevent spread.
Since the end of August, the average number of new coronavirus cases reported each day nearly doubled in Pennsylvania and almost tripled in New Jersey. Compared to a month ago, average new cases a day has jumped by more than 400 in Pennsylvania, surpassing 1,000 per day last week, and increased by nearly 340 in New Jersey to more than 650, according toan Inquirer analysis of a New York Times case data.
Philadelphia’s case numbers now show a “substantial increase” too, which is “a reason for concern,” city health commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday, though city rates are not rising as steeply as some counties.
“I don’t think there’s anything surprising about this,” said Michael LeVasseur, a Drexel University epidemiologist. “The weather is getting colder, we’re doing some back-to-school things, people are spending less time staying at home. I think the question is how bad is this going to get.”
White House approves FDA coronavirus vaccine standards it tried to derail
The White House on Tuesday approved tough new standards for coronavirus vaccines after weeks of delay, but only after the Food and Drug Administration unilaterally published the guidelines on its website as part of its briefing materials for outside vaccine advisers.
The standards, which would be used for an emergency authorization of a vaccine, are the same ones the agency proposed weeks ago as part of an effort to boost public confidence in an eventual vaccine.
In many cases, they are close to the standards for a full approval of the vaccine. But the White House, worried the criteria would delay authorization of a vaccine, presumably beyond the Nov. 3 election, sat on the guidance.
On Tuesday, FDA officials circumvented the White House by publishing the criteria online as part of a briefing package for its vaccine advisory committee, which is meeting Oct. 22. Shortly afterward, the White House cleared publication of the standards, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to talk publicly.
“Being open and clear about the circumstances under which the issuance of an emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine would be appropriate is critical to building public confidence and ensuring the use of COVID-19 vaccines once available,” Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, which oversees vaccines, said in a statement.
Gov. Wolf’s coronavirus business waiver program was inconsistent, unfair, auditor says
The Wolf administration’s coronavirus business waiver program was inconsistent and confusing, creating an unfair playing field for companies across Pennsylvania, according to the preliminary results of a state audit.
“The waiver program appears to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners,” state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale told reporters Tuesday.
Some businesses also had the benefit of support from legislators and lobbyists, who called or emailed the Wolf administration on their behalf, though DePasquale noted that his auditors had not yet unearthed any evidence of undue influence.
Yet other business owners were forced to deal with the whiplash of having their waiver applications initially denied, only to be later told by the administration that they could reopen — without any explanation as to the change of heart.
“That, to us, is a major problem,” DePasquale said, who characterized the waiver program this way: “This was not a level playing field.”
Philly’s current limits on gathering sizes remain in place as officials consider increases
For now, Philadelphia’s limits on gatherings will remain 25 people for indoors, and 150 people for outdoor events.
Mayor Jim Kenney said the city had learned of Wolf’s new guidance Monday afternoon, and needed more time to consider the health implications of increasing crowd limits. As Pennsylvania’s largest city, Kenney said Philadelphia is much different that “a small town in the middle of the state."
”I want to go to a football game, too," he said. “There’s nothing I miss more than Eagles football on Sunday. But I don’t think it’s worth putting people’s health in jeopardy or people’s lives in jeopardy.”
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said one concern of large gatherings is that people will gather closer together than six feet and “take their masks off in the excitement of the moment."
”If you have hundreds or thousands of people, there’s a huge number of people that could be exposed at a single event," he said. “That could really greatly influence the course of an epidemic if they do have that level of exposure.”
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing in Delaware, Gov. Carney says
In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Delaware governor John Carney said that the state is experiencing an uptick in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Over the past week, 8.1% of those tested were positive for the virus, and there has been an average of 139.7 new cases in the state per day. Carney said he hopes to bring the percent positive rate down to at least 5%, and the average number of daily cases must drop to around 80 to more fully open businesses and school across the state. Currently, 87 people in Delaware are hospitalized with the virus.
“We’re seeing an uptick across the board. It is concentrated again in that young adult demographic, ages 18 to 34,” Carney said. “A good portion of that comes more recently from college and university towns as students come back to campus, and off-campus parties and social events.”
Carney said that despite the state’s upward case trend, there are no specific events or areas traced to the uptick. Instead, there is more generalized community spread.
“We’re just not seeing one area that is more pronounced than another,” Carney said. “It’s kind of a general malaise across the whole state, where you’re seeing a little bit of cases in every geographic area, and of course, that’s not where we want to be.”
Though Carney does not expect to implement more drastic quarantine restrictions or regulations, he advised the public be cautious, wear masks, and practice social distancing.
“If we don’t want to go backwards, let’s follow the guidelines,” he said. “Let’s not make masks a political statement. Let’s wear masks because it’s good public health practice.”
Stocks fall 500 points on news of halted stimulus talks
Stocks dropped suddenly on Wall Street Tuesday afternoon after President Donald Trump ordered a stop to negotiations with Democrats over another round of stimulus for the economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average swung instantly from a gain of about 200 points to a loss of about 300 points.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell had urged Congress to come through with more aid, saying that too little support “would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses.”
Trump halts COVID-19 stimulus talks until after election
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he has instructed aides to stop negotiating on another round of COVID-19 relief until after the election.
Trump tweeted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “not negotiating in good faith” and said he’s asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to direct all his focus before the election into confirming his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump tweeted.
Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19. We made a very generous offer of $1.6 Trillion Dollars and, as usual, she is not negotiating in good faith. I am rejecting their...
Senior military officials quarantining after Coast Guard admiral tests positive
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in isolation after the Coast Guard’s No. 2 officer tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Pentagon said Tuesday in a statement.
Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, first tested positive for the virus on Monday, said Rear Admiral Jon Hickey, a service spokesman. It is not clear when or where the admiral was infected, but his travels in recent days include attending a Sept. 27 event at the White House recognizing Gold Star military families and a meeting at the Pentagon on Friday with the military’s top generals.
Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday that defense officials are aware of Ray’s diagnosis and that he was at the Pentagon last week “for meetings with other senior military leaders.”
Steelers-Eagles game will have fans at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh
The Steelers will open up about 5,500 seats to fans at Heinz Field Sunday for their game against the Eagles.
Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement the seats will be in the stadium’s lower seating bowl, and priority will be given to season ticket holders. All fans entering the stadium will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, and tailgating will not be permitted in stadium parking lots.
It will be the first game this season the Eagles play in front of fans.
Philly will announce a decision on crowd sizes next week
Given the increase in cases reported over the past week, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city will not necessarily adapt new crowd size regulations issued Tuesday by Gov. Tom Wolf.
“We do have concerns about Philadelphia because we do have unique risks in the city,” he said, and many large venues that draw visitors and tourists.
He said the city will announce its own guidelines next week.
Philly health commissioner calls increase in new cases a ‘reason for concern’
A substantial increase in recently confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Philadelphia is “reason for concern,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.
Farley said there have been clusters of the virus in college students in the city, but also in other age groups — including increased transmission concentrated in Northeast Philadelphia.
“It’s unclear why we’re seeing increased transmission there,” he said.
The city had an average of 110 new confirmed cases per day in the last week, with a 3.9% positivity rate for tests. That represents a large increase from the previous week, in which there was an average of 86 cases per day and a 2.9% positivity rate. Farley said the city received 250 confirmed positive test results Tuesday, but noted that at least some of them are delayed reports from tests taken days ago.
Most new cases appear tied to social gatherings, Farley said.
Farley said President Donald Trump’s diagnosis of COVID-19 is proof that wearing a mask is crucial, and that testing is not a substitute for wearing masks.
“You should be afraid of the coronavirus,” he said. “I strongly disagree with the president on this one.”
Pennsylvania reports 1,036 new cases, 17 additional deaths
Pennsylvania reported 1,036 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. The commonwealth is now averaging over 1,060 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis.
The Department of Health said a total of 187,157 coronavirus tests were administered between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, with 7,381 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3.9%. Overall, 165,243 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
At least 8,244 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 17 new deaths reported on Tuesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,497 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
Penn State won’t allow fans at Beaver Stadium, but family members will be welcome
No fans will be allowed at Penn State football games when the team kicks off its season later this month, despite Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s loosened capacity limits at outdoor sporting events, a university athletic department spokesperson said Tuesday.
However, the updated guidelines will allow players' families to watch the games from inside Beaver Stadium, which can fit nearly 110,000 spectators in normal times. “Essential staff involved in the game day operation” will also be able to be on site, the spokesperson said.
“We are pleased to be able to accommodate those closest to our football program and enable them to cheer on their family members,” Penn State’s athletic department said in a statement. “The Big Ten’s guidelines of families only will not permit us to welcome additional fans to Beaver Stadium in 2020.”
Federal Reserve chair warns of severe, ongoing risks to the economy
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned on Tuesday of ongoing risks to the economy and the consequences of insufficient support from policymakers, offering a sharp reminder that the economic recovery remains fragile and has a long way to go.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, Powell emphasized that a rise in coronavirus cases could weigh on economic activity. Public health officials have warned about an uptick of cases during the upcoming flu season this winter.
Powell compared the pandemic’s initial shock to “a case of a natural disaster hitting a healthy economy.” But he cautioned that if the pace of the recovery persistently slows down, the markings of a more typical economic downturn could bubble to the surface “as weakness feeds on weakness,” according to his speech.
“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said. “Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy, and holding back wage growth. By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller. Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste.”
Pa. to allow up to 7,500 fans into sporting events, but Philly restrictions remain in place
Pennsylvania is loosening restrictions on gatherings that will allow fans back into the stands at stadiums across the commonwealth, the Department of Health announced Tuesday.
Beginning Friday, large stadiums with a capacity of more than 10,000 people will be allowed 15% of their maximum occupancy, up to 7,500 people, according to the new guidelines.
The Eagles are scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday. Last week, Steelers president Art Rooney II told KDKA Radio the team submitted a plan to state officials that would allow “around 12,000 fans socially distanced” to watch games in the stadium.
Venues must require attendees to wear masks, comply with social distancing requirements, and implement best practices such as timed entry, multiple entry and exit points, multiple restrooms and hygiene stations, the Department of Health said.
“Pennsylvanians must continue to social distance and wear masks as we prepare to fight the virus through the fall and winter,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “We know everyone has sacrificed in many ways and today’s announcement reflects a gradual adjustment to our lives as we learn how we can do things safely until we have a cure, or an effective vaccine is widely available.”
For Eagles fans to return to Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney would have to loosen restrictions in the city. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley will address the new guidelines at a 1 p.m. briefing Tuesday afternoon.
The Union would be allowed up to 2,775 people at Subaru Park in Chester, where the capacity is 18,500. The Big Ten announced last month that no fans would be allowed in the stands at games, which includes Penn State games at Beaver Stadium in University Park.
Here are the new guidelines from the Department of Health:
Capacity of 0 to 2,000 people: 20% of maximum occupancy
Capacity of 2,001 to 10,000 people: 15% of maximum occupancy
Capacity over 10,000 people: 10% of maximum occupancy up to 3,750 people
Capacity of 0 to 2,000 people: 25% of maximum occupancy
Capacity of 2,001 to 10,000 people: 20% of maximum occupancy
Capacity over 10,000 people: 15% of maximum occupancy up to 7,500 people
Pa. extends testing site in Centre County, adds new site in Indiana County
Pennsylvania will extend a coronavirus testing site in Centre County and add a new testing clinic in Indiana County as it tries to get a grip on outbreaks in both areas, the Department of Health announced Tuesday.
Centre County, where cases are being driven by students at Penn State University, has a test positivity rate of 9.4%, the highest in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Health. As a result, the temporary testing site at Nittany Mall in State College will remain open through Saturday.
Health officials said they’re also launching a new testing site at Indiana Mall in Indiana County, which currently has a test positivity rate of 5.9%, but in previous weeks exceeded 10%. Free testing will be available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Thursday through Monday.
“Since the beginning of September, we have seen an increase of 324 cases in Indiana County, which gives us significant cause for concern,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a statement. “These testing sites will be open to anyone who feels they need a test. It is important that even people with no symptoms who test positive isolate and quarantine to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Fauci optimistic about COVID-19 drug cocktail given to Trump
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is “really quite optimistic” about a coronavirus treatment involving monoclonal antibodies given to President Donald Trump.
Monoclonal antibodies are potent immune-system proteins derived from the blood of patients who already have recovered from the disease.
“Regeneron monoclonal antibodies was one of the two types of antibodies that was very successful with Ebola,” Fauci said during an interview on CNN Monday night, adding that its ability to be produced in large amounts “has the potential to really be something very, very important in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.”
“I think that the monoclonal antibody made a difference. And it is in clinical trial now to try and prove definitively if it works,” Fauci added. “But I know from experience that we had, in Africa, with Ebola, that monoclonal antibodies can really do a knockout punch to a virus.”
It is plausible that treatment contributed to his recovery, but formal studies remain underway, said Gerard J. Criner, director of the lung center at Temple University Hospital, one site where the antibodies are being tested.
Dizzy with a soaring fever and unable to breathe, Scott Sedlacek had one thing going for him: He was among the first people to be treated for COVID-19 at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, and the doctors and nurses were able to give him plenty of attention.
The 64-year-old recovered after being treated with a bronchial nebulizer in March, but the ensuing months have done little to dull the trauma of his illness. Hearing of President Donald Trump’s advice by Tweet and video on Monday not to fear the disease — as well as the president’s insistence on riding in a motorcade outside Walter Reed Medical Center and returning to the White House while still infectious — enraged him.
“I’m so glad that he appears to be doing well, that he has doctors who can give him experimental drugs that aren’t available to the masses,” Sedlacek said. “For the rest of us, who are trying to protect ourselves, that behavior is an embarrassment.”
The world’s highest-profile coronavirus patient tweeted on Monday, as he was due to be released from the hospital following a three-day stay: "Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.
I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!
Dr. Tien Vo, who has administered more than 40,000 coronavirus tests at his clinics in California’s Imperial County, had this to say: “Oh, my Lord. That’s a very bad recommendation from the president.”
“We have people dying and this is a joke to him,” said Candy Boyd, the owner of Boyd Funeral Home in Los Angeles. “I don’t take that lightly. This is sad. This is absurd.”
The United States reported 39,557 new cases and at least 460 deaths on Monday, as the number of new daily cases continues to increase heading into the fall and winter, according to Johns Hopkins University. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wisconsin have all seen cases spike over the past two weeks.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who moderated the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, tested negative for COVID-19, the network announced Monday night.
Doctors from across the country expressed their concern after Trump — who is currently being treated for COVID-19 — took his mask off before entering the White House. “Epidemiologists just wanna vomit," tweeted Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist with the Federation of American Scientists.
The White House blocked new coronavirus vaccine guidelines proposed by the FDA aimed at ensuring the treatment’s safety, the New York Times reported. The provisions would have pushed emergency approval past Election Day.
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