Philadelphia announced 130 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Thursday, but noted that the high number of cases was due in part to a large batch of test results.
The city also announced seven new probable cases from rapid tests and one additional death. A total of 1,812 Philadelphia residents have died of COVID-19 and there have been 37,158 confirmed cases of the virus in city residents.
Philadelphia’s contact tracers reached and received cooperation in 64% of the 664 cases they worked to trace last week. Officials said 21% of cases could not be reached, 7% did not have a phone, and 3% refused to participate. An additional 5% of the cases were not traced because there had been too long of a delay between the testing and the positive result.
Of contacts identified, 74% were reached and agreed to self-quarantine.
The apps — COVID Alert NJ and COVID Alert NY — are available at the App Store or Google Play to anyone 18 or older who lives, works, or goes to college in those states, according to a news release from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.
Bluetooth technology is used to determine when another person with the same app is within six feet. While proximity is measured, personal information, location, and GPS data are not, making the apps “completely anonymous,” the release said.
When someone with the app tests positive for COVID-19, they will be contacted by a public health official who will ask if they’re willing to anonymously alert their close contacts, or anyone whom they’ve been within six feet of for more than 10 minutes.
As long as those individuals have opted in to receive exposure notifications, they will be alerted of the exposure and advised of the next steps to take, the release said.
“With the launch of COVID Alert NJ and our regional app network, New Jerseyans and residents in our neighboring states can support our fight against COVID-19 simply by downloading an application on their phone,” Murphy said in a statement. “The app is free and secure, and your identity, personally identifying information, and location will never be collected. The more phones that have the app, the better we can fight this pandemic.”
When the school announced the move less than two weeks into the semester, there were 90 cases of the virus. As of this week, the total had reached 357, all but two among students.
Staff on the central Pennsylvania campus were happy to see the zero reported for new cases on Wednesday, said Tom McGuire, a university spokesperson.
“We’re very pleased with the downward trend and hope it continues,” he said.
Bloomsburg reports new cases on its dashboard every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The highest count — 49 — came on Aug. 31 and again on Sept. 2. New case counts stayed in the double digits until Sept. 21, when there were five.
Only two students who previously tested positive remain in isolation on campus and three off campus, according to the dashboard. The other 350 have completed their isolation.
McGuire credited the pivot to mostly remote learning, the increased attention to the rise in numbers, fewer students living on campus and cooperation from those who remained.
About 1,400 students still live on campus and many more in the surrounding community, McGuire said. About 900 went home, he said.
Wolf applauds court decision restoring coronavirus restrictions on gatherings
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he applauded a federal appeals court decision Thursday to temporarily restore his restrictions limiting gatherings to no more than 25 people for indoor events and no more than 250 people for those held outside.
“We have to recognize that we have a virus out there and I don’t like it, you don’t like it, no one likes it, and yet that virus is out to get us,” Wolf said at a news conference. “So we have to be careful about how we gather together.”
But in the time between a lower judge’s ruling on Sept. 14 that the state couldn’t limit gatherings, and this reinstatement of the limits, many schools districts in the state allowed more fans to watch high school football games.
Wolf said those limits, like the restricting outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 250 people, could change. He said he is working with school districts and others, and recognizes that “the contexts are different in every community."
”I am listening to folks and continue to change as I did with restaurants," Wolf said, “and will continue to make sure the guidelines we have in place are reasonable.”
What does this mean for fans hoping to attend a high school football game Friday?
“You’ll have to stay tuned,” Wolf said. “We’re working on it as we speak. Today is Thursday.”
Pa. restrictions on crowd size restored by federal appeals court
A federal appeals court on Thursday temporarily restored Pennsylvania’s pandemic restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, putting on hold a judge’s ruling that threw out statewide limits on crowd size.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, may once again enforce size limits on gatherings while it appeals the lower court order.
U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV in Pittsburgh, an appointee of President Donald Trump, had ruled against the state’s size limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, saying they violate citizens' constitutional rights to assemble. The state has been enforcing a gathering limit of more than 25 people for events held indoors and more than 250 people for those held outside.
Stickman’s Sept. 14 order prompted many Pennsylvania schools districts to allow more fans in the stands at high school football games and other athletic contests.
The office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro asked the 3rd Circuit to intervene, saying crowd-size limits are a “life-saving mitigation tool” to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Stickman had also invalidated other Wolf administration pandemic orders that required people to stay at home and mandated “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down. Those orders have since lapsed and Wolf has said he has no plans to enforce them again.
Pa. lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19, canceling House session
A Republican state lawmaker representing south-central Pennsylvania has tested positive for COVID-19, canceling Thursday’s House session.
State Rep. Paul Schemel (R., Franklin) said in a statement he was informed Thursday morning that he tested positive for COVID-19. Schemel said he was in the Capitol on Tuesday, but didn’t experience any symptoms until Wednesday.
“As soon as I received a positive test result on Thursday, I informed the appropriate House offices," Schemel said in a statement. "I am following the advice of medical professionals and the protocols of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to ensure the safety of my family, staff, and fellow members.”
Pennsylvania reports 1,156 new cases, 14 additional deaths
Pennsylvania reported 1,156 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. The commonwealth is now averaging more than 900 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, continuing an increase that began at the end of August.
The Department of Health said 205 probable cases are from Philadelphia, which started reporting antigen-positive probable cases on Sept. 30. As a result, most of those cases were reported throughout the month, not just in recent days, the department said.
A total of 187,184 coronavirus tests were administered between Sept. 24 and Sept. 30, the department said, with 6,423 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3.4%. Overall, 160,123 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
At least 8,160 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 18 new deaths reported on Thursday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,456 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
Monmouth University closes campus, imposes new restrictions after increase in new cases
With 36 new coronavirus cases reported this week, Monmouth University in New Jersey is closing the campus to visitors, prohibiting gatherings of greater than five people, and restricting athletics and other activities through Oct. 14.
Most of the university’s classes have been conducted remotely and will remain that way, the school said.
“It is imperative that our students take needed precautions in their social interactions both on and off campus to prevent the spread of this virus,” Monmouth president Patrick Leahy said in a message to the campus.
Leahy said transmission of the virus appears to be limited to student social interactions.
With nearly 6,000 students, the university in West Long Branch has had a total of 89 cases. The 36 new cases reported Monday were from that day and over the weekend. Thirty-four students potentially exposed to the virus are in quarantine on campus and 118 off campus, while 17 students who have tested positive or have symptoms are in isolation on campus and 48 off campus, according to the university’s dashboard.
Under the new procedures in effect until mid-October, dining services will be limited to take out with no indoor seating, while clubs and other activities will be restricted to virtual meetings. The pool and fitness center will be closed, the university said and formal athletic practices and competition will be halted. Computer labs and the library will remain open.
“It is my sincere hope that these actions will help to slow the spread of infection so that we may all continue to enjoy a safe and healthy fall semester here on campus,” Leahy said.
White House ups bid in last-ditch effort on new round of coronavirus relief
The White House is backing a $400 per week pandemic jobless benefit and is dangling the possibility of a COVID-19 relief bill above $1.5 trillion as last-ditch, pre-election negotiations hit a critical phase Thursday.
The offer by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on unemployment is higher than many Republicans would like in any potential COVID deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though less than the $600 per week Democrats are seeking for unemployed workers.
“We’re not going to do a $2.2 trillion deal,” Mnuchin said Wednesday night on Fox Business. “The president instructed us to come up significantly, so we have come up from the trillion-dollar deal that we were working on earlier.”
The White House proposal yielded ground on funding for state and local governments, supporting a $250 billion infusion, and backed $20 billion in help for the struggling airline industry. Details were first reported by Roll Call and confirmed by congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door discussions.
Pelosi postponed a vote Wednesday on a Democratic alternative measure but could take it up again Thursday, depending on the status of the negotiations.
After a 90-minute meeting in the Capitol, Pelosi issued a statement saying that she and Mnuchin would continue to talk. “We found areas where we are seeking further clarification,” she said. Their negotiations were expected to resume Thursday.
Steelers-Titans game won’t be played this week due to new COVID-19 cases
The Pittsburgh Steelers Week 4 game against the Tennessee Titans originally scheduled to take place in Nashville this Sunday will now be pushed back to later this season after another Titans player tested positive for COVID-19.
A total of five Titans players and six staffers have now tested positive for COVID-19, with the NFL reporting the new cases Thursday. The league said a new date would be announced shortly.
SEPTA’s ‘social-distancing coaches’ are sticking around a while longer
Riders seem to really like SEPTA’s social distancing coaches, who hand out face coverings and promote social distancing at stations in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.
SEPTA is once again are extending the program, this time through the end of November, citing an “overwhelmingly positive response” from riders.
The service said the new deployments will begin Monday and continue every Monday and Wednesday through Nov. 18. The coaches will be located at Center City Regional Rail hubs and key locations on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 3 p.m to 5 p.m.
"The feedback from our customers and the coaches has been overwhelmingly positive, program coordinator Jessica Mangold said. “This is a great way to interact with our customers and obtain feedback from employees, as well.”
Layoffs begin piling up again as jobless claims remain stubbornly high
Another 837,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance were processed last week, as concerns swell about the pandemic’s continued effect on the economy.
And 650,000 people had new claims processed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for self-employed and gig workers, up slightly from 630,000 the week before.
There are numerous signs that the labor market is going to become weaker in the fall after several months of gains. Hopes for a swift employment recovery from the pandemic’s initially devastating blow in March and April have faded, especially in certain industries.
Several companies in recent days have announced a brutal string of corporate layoffs, including 28,000 people at Disney from its theme park division, 3,800 people at the insurance company Allstate, and the announcement of tens of thousands of additional furloughs at American Airlines and United Airlines.
Moderna CEO says its coronavirus vaccine won’t be widely available until spring
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine won’t be available to most Americans until spring at the earliest, and the company won’t seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration until at least Nov. 25, CEO Stéphane Bancel said on Wednesday, according to the Financial Times.
“November 25 is the time we will have enough safety data to be able to put into an [emergency use authorization] file that we would send to the FDA — assuming that the safety data is good, i.e. a vaccine is deemed to be safe,” Moderna said, according to the newspaper.
Cases spiking in Ocean County town, where the positivity rate is 27%
New Jersey officials sounded the alarm over Ocean County Wednesday, where a spike in new cases has caused the state to send in more contact tracers and testing capacity.
State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said nearly 30% of all new coronavirus cases in the state over the past six days were from Ocean County, the majority of which were reported in Lakewood, a fast-growing area known for its large Orthodox Jewish population.
In Lakewood, 27% of coronavirus tests have come back positive, a mammoth number compared to the state’s positivity rate of 3%. Both Gov. Phil Murphy and local leaders have linked the increase in part to religious gatherings or parties.
“The reality is the numbers are going up. We expect the numbers to be high and even higher for a couple of days, the more we push testing,” Rabbi Avi Schnall, a community leader and state director of Orthodox Jewish advocacy group Agudath Israel, told the Asbury Park Press.
“This is something we are taking very, very seriously,” Murphy said on Wednesday. “We’re all trying to figure out the Ocean County spike.”
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, shot back at President Donald Trump for taking previous comments about masks “out of context” during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
During the debate, Trump mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for always wearing a mask in public and claimed Fauci initially said “masks are not good. Then he changed his mind.” When Biden pointed out that Trump’s own CDC director said masks save lives, the president shot back, “Dr. Fauci said the opposite.”
In a new interview on ABC News’s Start Here podcast, Fauci said that in the early days of the pandemic, masks weren’t recommended out of fear people would hoard them and create shortages for public health workers. But once scientists realized people could spread the virus asymptotically, masks quickly became an essential tool to controlling the transmission of COVID-19.
“I have been on the airways, on the radio, on TV, begging people to wear masks,” Fauci said. “And I keep talking in the context of: Wear a mask, keep physical distance, avoid crowds, wash your hands and do things more outdoors vs. indoors.”
In a separate interview with Wired, Fauci called himself “the mask guy” and called Tuesday’s debate an “unusual experience.” He also said Trump was right to limit travel from China in early February, which Fauci credited with “the saving of lives, and the saving of infections.”
"I must have said, maybe several tens of thousands of times the importance of wearing masks ... If there was an interpretation that I'm not for masks, that's a misinterpretation."
Cases on the rise in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware
While the number of new cases in Philadelphia has stabilized over the past two weeks, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are all experiencing increases in new cases as we head into the fall and winter months.
American Airlines, the largest carrier at Philadelphia International Airport, said it will begin to furlough 19,000 employees after lawmakers in Washington couldn’t agree on a coronavirus relief bill that would help bailout airlines hit hard by the pandemic.
“I informed the Secretary that if these efforts to extend [the Payroll Support Program] are successful over the next few days, we will reverse our furlough processes and recall any impacted team members,” Parker wrote.
The Payroll Support Program provided $32 billion to airline companies on the condition they guaranteed the jobs and pay rates of employees. That funding expired Wednesday.
United Airlines announced it would furlough 13,000 employees, but also said an extension of the Payroll Support Program would allow them to bring those workers back.
The United States reported 42,812 new cases and at least 946 deaths on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nationally, new cases are up about 14% over the past two weeks, driven by spikes in Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Utah.