‘We’re scapegoats,’ say suburban Philly restaurant and bar owners fighting back at tighter coronavirus restrictions
A grassroots group of suburban Philadelphia restaurant and bar owners, frustrated both by tightened government restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, as well as the sloppy habits of bad apples in their profession, are trying to get their voices heard in Harrisburg.
“We’re scapegoats,” said Rui Lucas, who owns Iron Abbey and naBrasa, side by side in Horsham. “The [Wolf administration’s] first thing is to shut down the restaurants. That is a blanket approach that the governor has taken. When there’s a crime in the neighborhood, it’s not right to arrest everyone in the whole neighborhood.”
Major change could be coming for Pennsylvania’s state universities
Citing years of falling enrollment, the system that oversees Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities will use a new state law to conduct a financial review that ultimately could result in fewer schools.
The board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on Thursday agreed to allow the chancellor’s administration to study the financial implications of integrating three pairs of universities in the western and north-central areas of the state: California and Clarion, Edinboro and Slippery Rock, and Lock Haven and Mansfield. Other options also will be explored.
The integration could leave the system with 11 universities, but even if approved, the implementation is at least two years away.
The decision comes as financial challenges mount for the state universities amid a pandemic that has only exacerbated the problem. The schools are expected to use about $260 million of their $724 million in reserves to balance their budgets by 2022. Four universities would be left with less than $10 million each and five others with about $20 million, said Daniel Greenstein, system chancellor.
N.J. Gov. Murphy signs authorization for $9.9 billion in borrowing to fill coronavirus budget hole
Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed into law an emergency measure authorizing up to $9.9 billion in borrowing to help balance the state’s budget for two fiscal years in response to the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democrat-controlled legislature approved the measure earlier in the day after a deal was reached last week with Murphy. Legislative Republicans have said they would sue to stop the borrowing, warning that it would lead to property tax hikes.
In a news release, the governor's office said the new law would allow the state to issue bonds totaling $2.7 billion for the remainder of the ended 2020 fiscal year, which run through Sept. 30, and up to $7.2 billion for the nine-month 2021 fiscal year that run from Oct. 1 through June 30, 2021.
“The passage of this legislation is an important step in New Jersey’s recovery from the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Murphy said in a statement. “While this is by no means a silver bullet, the ability to responsibly borrow is essential to meeting our fiscal needs in the coming year.”
Gov. Tom Wolf followed through on his threat to yank COVID-19 funding from a county that defied his shutdown orders, while his administration targeted bars, restaurants and large gatherings statewide Thursday in an effort to prevent a wider resurgence of the virus that officials say could jeopardize students’ return to school.
Wolf withheld nearly $13 million in funding from Lebanon County, where local Republican leaders voted in mid-May to lift pandemic restrictions in defiance of the Democratic governor. Pennsylvania distributed $625 million of its federal coronavirus relief allotment to counties that did not get direct aid from the federal government. Wolf’s decision left Lebanon as the only one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to have not gotten any of the federal money.
Asked about it at a news conference Thursday, Wolf blamed the county’s GOP-controlled Board of Commissioners and suggested that Lebanon residents should kick them out of office.
“Don’t come and say you want something from the state when you haven’t followed the rules. There are consequences. These are the consequences. I think I’m being consistent here,” he said.
“I can’t say at this point whether or not we know if it’s definitely going to be additional losses,” said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, “but we know that we need to factor in some things that have come up more recently that are impacting our region, and things outside of our region that are starting to have an impact as well.”
Pennsylvania officials issued new guidance to schools Thursday on reopening during the pandemic — while emphasizing that residents needed to comply with public health requirements in order for students to be able to return this fall.
”We all agree that opening schools in the fall is so very, very important,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said on a conference call with reporters, as the state released guidelines for social distancing in schools, symptom screenings, and other safety protocols.
The guidance — which largely tracks prior recommendations from the education department — specifies that all schools should have protocols for spacing students and staff six feet apart “to the maximum extent feasible,” from hallways to playgrounds and cafeterias (though it recommends that “the best option” is to serve individual meals to students in classrooms.)
It also specifies that parents should screen students for possible coronavirus symptoms before arriving at school or the bus stop each day.
Officials did not comment Thursday on whether Pennsylvania might bar schools from reopening, depending on the virus’s spread.
”It’s very hard for me to predict what things will be like in the fall,” Levine said. “What we absolutely need to do now is everything we possibly can” to enable a safe reopening, including wearing masks and abiding by new restrictions the state imposed this week on restaurants, bars and gatherings of people.
Sesame Place announced on Thursday that it will reopen starting July 24 on select dates with required safety precautions, including the wearing of face coverings.
Tickets can only be obtained through an advance online reservation system starting next Monday and capacity will be limited.
The amusement park in Langhorne will require face coverings for anyone ages 2 and older with no exceptions. Face coverings can be removed while eating and drinking and in “designated relaxatioin areas” or while in water areas.
All visitors will be tested for fever before the can enter.
Anyone unable to wear a mask for any reason will not be allowed entry.
We’ve got BIG NEWS… Sesame Place will be opening on select dates starting July 24th! 💚 To help manage capacity,...
N.J. Gov. Murphy pledges to expand online learning
New Jersey will spend millions to help bridge the digital divide so all students have access to remote learning opportunities during the pandemic and beyond, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.
The state is pledging $54 million to connect thousands of New Jersey’s nearly 2 million school-age children who now lack computers or internet access, Murphy said at a news conference outside an Irvington, Essex County, elementary school.
The governor said he expects that given COVID-19 conditions, virtual instruction will be part of most children’s learning experiences for the entire 2020-21 school year.
“We are committed to bridging the digital divide among our students in the long-term,” Murphy said. “We will not leave districts to figure this out on their own.”
The governor said districts will be able to apply for grants funded by federal coronavirus relief programs but also by New Jersey’s coronavirus relief fund. Murphy said he would seek further philanthropic support to help put technology in children’s hands.
Roughly 230,000 students could see help from the effort, officials said, including students in nonpublic schools.
Pennsylvania to hand out $50 million in grants for hazard pay for front-line workers
Employers offering hazard pay to employees in life-sustaining occupations can apply for state grant funding to help cover the cost, a move Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday aims to increase the pay of front-line workers.
The state will provide $50 million in grant funding to help employers in vital industries provide hazard pay during the coronavirus pandemic. Employers can apply for up to $3 million in grant money and up to $1,200 per full-time equivalent employee.
The money will go to industries including healthcare, social assistance, hospitals, residential care facilities, transit, food manufacturing and retail, security, and janitorial services, according to the governor’s office.
”Our front-line workers have put themselves at risk every day in order to continue to provide life-sustaining services to their fellow Pennsylvanians, and this funding will increase their pay in recognition of those sacrifices,” Wolf said in a statement. “These grants will help businesses retain employees, ensure that Pennsylvanians keep working and avoid disruption of critical goods and services.”
Businesses, healthcare nonprofits, public transportation agencies, and certified economic development organizations are eligible to apply for the funding. The state is using coronavirus aid money that it received from the federal government through the CARES Act.
The funds are subject to various qualifications and can be used for hazard pay for full-time and part-time employees earning less than $20 an hour from Aug. 16, 2020, to Oct. 24, 2020.
Applications can be submitted at www.esa.dced.state.pa.us from July 16 to July 31. The Department of Community and Economic Development can be reached with questions at (717) 787-6245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gathering size restrictions don’t apply to Pa. houses of worship
Pennsylvania officials this week put in place new restrictions on crowd sizes as the coronavirus spreads rapidly in other states, requiring a 25-person limit on indoor gatherings at businesses, but the rule does not apply to houses of worship.
The Wolf administration “does not want to impede any religious gatherings and supports the right to the gather for worship,” a spokesperson said.
While Philadelphia officials are discouraging religious gatherings that could create a heightened risk of spreading the virus, Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city has handled enforcement of social distancing rules at houses of worship differently than at businesses due to First Amendment protections for religious freedom.
And the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which serves more than a million Catholics in the region, said an exception was provided for houses of worship weeks ago when the archdiocese announced the resumption of public Masses. “Nothing has changed in that regard,” spokesperson Ken Gavin said.
He noted that parishes are following guidances on cleaning, sanitizing and social distancing, and said the obligation to attend Sunday Mass — which was lifted in the spring — remains suspended.
The new requirement will take effect Aug. 1. Target will provide disposable masks to shoppers who need them at its store entrances.
Among the stores that have or will begin to require customers wear masks are: Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Kohl’s, Costco, Best Buy, and CVS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly said masks greatly reduce the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, CDC director Robert Redfield said if every American started wearing masks outside their homes, the country could “drive the epidemic to the ground” in four to six weeks.
Masks are already required inside stores and outside when social distancing is difficult in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Bucks County experiences ‘uptick’ in cases from out-of-state travel
Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker said the county has seen an “uptick” in cases from out-of-state travel to places like Myrtle Beach, the Jersey Shore, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Delaware. And the health department has also seen a couple cases where someone who has traveled out of state then spread the virus to their household.
Overall, there has been “small” bumps in cases following Easter, Memorial Day, and Fourth of July parties.
Through contact tracing, the department is seeing more people than usual who are hesitant to share details about where they went. Still, more than 90% of people are “very cooperate,” he said.
“This whole thing kind of falls apart if people start becoming selfish or hesitant to tell us information that we need to know,” he said. “People need to be honest with us so we can do the actual contact tracing.”
New cases in Philly continued to be concentrated among younger residents
Philadelphia on Thursday reported 157 new confirmed coronavirus cases, an increase that is in line with recent daily totals for the city despite spikes in the region and in other states.
Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, however, cautioned that increasing delays in test results from national laboratories have made it more difficult for the city to accurately track the virus’ spread on a day-to-day basis. The delays have been caused by surging testing across the country as outbreaks occur elsewhere.
In total, 28,024 Philadelphians have tested positive for the virus. The city on Thursday also reported 18 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the pandemic’s death toll in Philadelphia to 1,664.
That higher-than-usual daily total was due to a weekly reckoning of death certificates, Farley said. On average, the city is seeing one to two deaths per day, he said.
Farley said the new cases continue to be concentrated in younger residents. Of Thursday’s new confirmed cases, 32% were of people under 30 years old, and 58% were under 40.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 21% of coronavirus cases have been among people under 30, and 39% were under 40.
Philly to let gyms and fitness centers reopen Monday
Gyms in Philadelphia will be allowed to reopen Monday, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday.
Farley said gyms will have to follow strict social distancing rules if they open next week. Everyone in the gym must wear masks and be six feet away from each other, and classes must have fewer than 10 participants.
Gyms have been closed in Philadelphia since March under Mayor Jim Kenney’s executive orders to control the spread of the coronavirus. Elsewhere in the state, gyms are already allowed to operate.
Farley warned that, if case counts rise again in the city, gyms may be ordered to close again, possibly within a few weeks.
The city will conduct unannounced inspections of gyms to ensure the facilities are following safety rules. Gyms that violate rules or that are found to be related to newly confirmed coronavirus cases will be shut down.
Farley encouraged gyms to hold outdoor classes when possible, and instructed Philadelphians who do not or cannot wear masks while exercising to avoid indoor gyms.
CDC coronavirus hospital data disappears following Trump administration order
As hospital intensive care units overflow in hotspot states, data on hospital capacity was gone on Thursday from the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a day after the Trump administration ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC in submitting COVID-19 data.
Instead of updated hospital numbers and a national map, the CDC’s web page on Thursday had a note that said the CDC’s data “does not include data submitted to other entities contracted by or within the federal government.”
Reaction to the disappearance was swift.
”Withholding details on hospital capacity from the public and health officials is an outrageous abuse of power by the Trump Administration,” Zac Petkanas, a former communications advisor to Hillary Clinton and now director of the Coronavirus War Room website, said in an statement. “Intentionally keeping people in the dark about our overwhelmed hospital system is a new and recklessly dangerous low that will get even more people killed. It’s that simple.”
”How is less public info at good thing?” tweeted Charles Ornstein, deputy managing editor of ProPublica, a nonprofit that does investigative journalism in the public interest.
It’s unclear whether the data is gone for good from the CDC website. CNBC reported that HHS spokesman Michael Caputo said in a statement on Thursday that the CDC was directed to make the data available again.
Parents are panicked over Philly’s school reopening plan
Icylee Basketville worries about putting her daughter on a school bus. Jessika Roche isn’t sure how she’s going to educate her two children full time at home and work enough to make ends meet. And Gretchen Dahlkemper laments the fact that her best option is sending her children to live in another city.
The Philadelphia School District on Wednesday released its school reopening plan, offering families the choice of either a two-day-a-week face-to-face option or the choice of going 100% virtual.
It put parents in an immediate panic, worried about both their children’s health and their own ability to support their families, and laid bare the lack of a safety net for working families. The district said it would work with the city and outside providers to make child care available for days when students are not in school, but there’s no guarantee those solutions will work for everyone.
“What are single parents doing? What resources are available for me as a parent, and now as a teacher? Who can I go to with my questions and concerns? What are people doing for us parents? What do we do about money?” asked Roche.
Fall sports to continue as scheduled, PIAA announces
Despite a surge in new coronavirus cases forcing some schools to limit in-person education, high school fall sports will continue as scheduled, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association announced in a statement.
The heat acclimation period for football is scheduled to begin Aug. 10 , while practices for other fall sports are slated to start Aug. 17. The first football games are scheduled to take place Aug. 28.
Where coronavirus rates are the highest in the Philly suburbs
Yeardon, the Delaware County town of fewer than 12,000 people, has seen the highest rate of coronavirus cases of any suburban municipality or Philadelphia zip code with at least 10,000 residents, according to an Inquirer analysis. It has held that unfortunate distinction since before June 15, when its case rate was 360 cases per 10,000 residents. That’s now up to 379.
There are signs of improvement. In the past week new cases in Yeadon were up just 1% — slower than Delaware County as a whole. The entire region is seeing a gradual uptick in cases, especially among young adults who may not be following safety practices as diligently as they should.
U.S., Canada and Britain accuse Russia of hacking coronavirus vaccine trials
Britain, the United States and Canada say Russia is trying to steal information from researchers seeking a COVID-19 vaccine.
The three nations alleged Thursday that hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear and said to be part of the Russian intelligence service, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical research institutions involved in coronavirus vaccine development.
The persistent and ongoing attacks are seen by intelligence officials as an effort to steal intellectual property, rather than to disrupt research.
It was unclear whether any information actually was stolen but Britain’s National Cypersecurity Centre says individuals’ confidential information is not believed to have been compromised.
17.3 million Americans are receiving jobless benefits; U.S. added 1.3 million new claims last week
The number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits remained stuck at 1.3 million last week, an historically high level that indicates many companies are still cutting jobs as the viral outbreak intensifies.
Rising infections paralleled rising applications for aid in some states getting hit right now, and fell in states with declining infections, like New Jersey. In Florida claims doubled to 129,000, and in Georgia they rose nearly one-third to 136,000. In California they increased 23,000 to nearly 288,000. Applications also rose in Arizona and South Carolina.
The total number of people who are receiving jobless benefits dropped 400,000 to 17.3 million, the government said. That suggests that some companies are continuing to rehire workers, which could offset some of the job losses reflected in the still-high level of claims.
Though still tremendously elevated, both new and ongoing unempl claims continued to trend downward, albeit at a slow pace. Watch for any signs of renewed layoffs as states roll back reopening plans. pic.twitter.com/3iQQdQQhwK
Meanwhile, companies continue to lay off people. American Airlines warned its workers Wednesday that it may have to cut up to 25,000 jobs in October because of sharply reduced air travel. Airlines are barred from layoffs until then as a condition of federal aid they have received. United Airlines has already told 36,000 workers they may lose their jobs.
New Pa. restrictions on restaurants, bars take effect today
New restrictions on Pennsylvania bars, restaurants, and indoor gatherings announced Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf are effective today, and official hope they will help stop a new surge in cases across the state.
The restrictions are:
Indoor dining is reduced to 25% capacity, down from 50%.
Bars can only serve alcohol with dine-in food orders or carry-out — bar service is prohibited.
Nightclubs must close.
Telework is mandated for all employers, except in situations where it is not possible.
Indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people.
Outdoor gatherings are limited to 250 people.
At the state’s pandemic peak in April, it confirmed 2,000 new virus cases in one day. By mid-June, the counts had dropped to 300 or 400 new cases per day, but the number of daily new cases has risen again, hitting 1,000 last week and 994 on Wednesday.
After averaging about 400 new cases a day less than a month ago, the state is now averaging close to 800. Case counts have increased in 43 counties and the percentage of people testing positive has increased in 28 counties over about a week, said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.
“This action is necessary now to stop the spread of COVID-19 and stop the disease transmission cycle from repeating,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said during a press briefing Wednesday. “By acting now ... we can get ahead of the curve.”
N.J. can ‘go after’ people who violate coronavirus quarantine, Gov. Murphy says
Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey can “go after” travelers who violate the state’s coronavirus quarantine, but stopped short of saying what that punishment could look like.
“Something will happen to you,” Murphy said during an interview on 1010 WINS in New York City on Tuesday, according to NJ Advance Media. “If you’re a real knucklehead and you come in and you flagrantly violate this, the commissioner of health in New Jersey has the teeth to go after you. And she won’t hesitate to do that.”
New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut are asking people traveling from 22 states with high infection rates of coronavirus to self-quarantine for 14-days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that New York will fine travels who don’t follow the state’s guidelines up to $2,000, but Murphy has said multiple times he’s relying on individuals to comply to the rules.
“We’re just asking folks to do the right thing here,” Murphy said.
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry reopened for walk-on passengers Wednesday, though there are capacity limits and a new on-boarding process, the Delaware River & Bay Authority announced Wednesday.
Up to 50 foot passengers per vessel will be able to travel across the Delaware Bay. Reservations are required, passengers must arrive at least 45 minutes before their departure, and face masks are required for the 85 minute ride and while in the terminals.
The United States reported 66,273 cases on Wednesday and 941 new deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Texas and Florida each reported more new yesterday than the entire European Union.
Nearly 1 in 3 children in Florida under the age of 18 have tested positive for coronavirus, according to data published by the state. As of July 9, over 17,703 children had tested positive in the state, at least 213 have been hospitalized, and four have died.