5:42 PM - September 30, 2020
5:42 PM - September 30, 2020

The Salvation Army starts Christmas fundraiser early, citing projected Red Kettle Campaign losses due to COVID-19

The Salvation Army is starting its Christmas fundraising campaign early for the first time in 130 years because it could see up to a 50% decrease in donations to its iconic red kettles manned by bell ringers during the holiday season as a result of COVID-19.

In a news release, the Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware said diminished foot traffic, shuttered retail stores, and consumers carrying less cash could significantly affect the amount of donations to its annual Red Kettle Campaign. Last year, the campaign raised $3.3 million in the region and $126 million nationwide.

Ben Franklin impersonator Robert DeVitis slips into character to ring the Salvation Army kettle bell outside City Hall.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Ben Franklin impersonator Robert DeVitis slips into character to ring the Salvation Army kettle bell outside City Hall.

The donations go to paying for food, shelter, bills, and Christmas gifts for those most in need.

In response to the projected loss, the organization has started a Rescue Christmas campaign, asking people to donate on its website or by texting “KETTLE” to 41444.

Bell ringers will still be out come early November and all of them will be masked and have their red kettles cleaned daily, the release said. The kettle signs will also be enabled with options for touchless donations via Apply Pay and Google Pay.

— Stephanie Farr

2:42 PM - September 30, 2020
2:42 PM - September 30, 2020

New COVID-19 test site opening in Northwest Philly

Jefferson Health and the City of Philadelphia will open a new COVID-19 test site in Northwest Philadelphia on Thursday to offer free, twice-weekly testing for the next six months.

The test site is located in the school parking lot at St. Raymond of Penafort Church, 7940 Williams Ave. It will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

The new test site is funded by the city and will be managed by Jefferson Health.

People experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus will be given priority in testing. Those who are asymptomatic but suspect or know they were exposed to the virus should wait seven days (the average incubation period for COVID-19) to get tested, according to Jefferson Health.

Jefferson plans to follow up with every patient who takes a test — regardless of the result — to share more information about ongoing safety measures they can follow. A medical professional will talk to patients who test positive about how to self-isolate, monitor symptoms, and access additional care.

Testing is free for all patients — even those who are uninsured. Patients who have health insurance should bring their insurance card, and everyone should bring an ID.

Walk-up patients are welcome, but appointments are encouraged and can be scheduled by calling 833-533-3463 (833-JEFF-4ME).

— Sarah Gantz

2:30 PM - September 30, 2020
2:30 PM - September 30, 2020

N.J. officials concerned about COVID-19 spike in Ocean County

New Jersey officials are increasingly concerned about spiking coronavirus cases in Ocean County, noting Wednesday that 188 of the state’s 722 new reported cases came from there.

Of those 188, 134 cases were reported in Lakewood, a fast-growing area known for its large Orthodox Jewish population. This week, Gov. Phil Murphy has said some cases could be linked to religious gatherings or parties.

Overall the state reported a 3% positivity rate, or the proportion of positive tests taken, which is the highest it has been in more than two months. In Ocean County, that number is 5.44%, and in Lakewood, it’s 27%, health commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

In addition to the new reported cases, the state reported nine more deaths. The statewide rate of transmission remains above one, meaning each case is leading to at least one more infection.

Health officials have sent additional contact tracers to Ocean County and will be visiting this week to meet with community leaders and assess the situation. Murphy said he will be holding his regular news conference there on Friday.

“This is something we are taking very, very seriously,” Murphy said. “We’re all trying to figure out the Ocean County spike.”

— Allison Steele

2:00 PM - September 30, 2020
2:00 PM - September 30, 2020

7 South Jersey schools have confirmed COVID-19 cases, state says

Gov. Phil Murphy speaking at the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May, N.J., earlier this month.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Gov. Phil Murphy speaking at the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May, N.J., earlier this month.

New Jersey officials on Wednesday launched a dashboard residents can use to track in-school transmission of coronavirus cases, and said a number of such outbreaks have been reported. The dashboard is part of the state’s main COVID-19 page.

The dashboard currently shows confirmed outbreaks of in-school transmission in 11 different schools across seven counties — including three in Cape May County, two in Burlington County, and two in Gloucester County. Those outbreaks consist of 43 cases among staff and students, dating back to early September.

Murphy said the scope of the outbreak was “probably as good as I would have hoped...but the last thing we want to do is pat ourselves on the back and wake up the next day and find that number went up by multiples. But I would say as objectively as I can, it’s a pretty darn good result.”

“We’re talking about roughly 3,000 schools,” education commissioner Kevin Dehmer said.

Educators, families and others connected with schools are informed of positive cases, Persichilli said.

An outbreak is defined by two or more cases among students or staff who have become sick within the same two-week period in a school setting. Schools with two cases from the same classroom can remain open, Persichilli said, provided that contacts of those who were infected stay out of school for two weeks.

A “significant outbreak” occurs when multiple staff members, students and families served by one school become sick. In that case, Persichilli said, local health officials could recommend that the school be closed for two weeks. If a clear connection between the cases can’t be traced, the school should be closed. Schools in high-risk areas should be closed until transmission decreases, she said.

The state will soon receive shipments of rapid-result tests from the federal government, which Murphy said will help schools quickly respond to positive cases in the future.

— Allison Steele

1:50 PM - September 30, 2020
1:50 PM - September 30, 2020

Philadelphia reports 141 new cases, 10 additional deaths

Waitress Danielle McGlew carries food on a tray during the first day of reopening indoor dinning at the Melrose Diner in early September. Now, restaurants will be able to operate with 50% capacity in Philadelphia.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Waitress Danielle McGlew carries food on a tray during the first day of reopening indoor dinning at the Melrose Diner in early September. Now, restaurants will be able to operate with 50% capacity in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia reported 141 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a slight increase over the roughly 75 new cases a day the city has averaged over the past two weeks.

Overall, 37,028 Philadelphia residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 1,811 have died, with 10 additional deaths reported Wednesday. Of those, 892 (49%) were residents of long-term care facilities.

Restaurants and bars in Philadelphia will be allowed to increase their indoor dining capacity to 50% starting Friday, though restrictions will remain in place: tables six feet apart, servers wearing masks and face shields, no bar seating, and only four people per table.

“We want only household members to be dining together,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

— Rob Tornoe

12:45 PM - September 30, 2020
12:45 PM - September 30, 2020

With cases rising, Pa. officials concerned about college-age students and ‘long haulers’

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

Pennsylvania on Wednesday reported 1,153 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 19 additional deaths from virus-related complications.

As schools reopen in-person or in a hybrid form, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said her department remains most concerned about college-age students and is in regular discussion with officials at Penn State University and in State College, the town where the university is located. Through their joint efforts, they hope to help decrease the number of new cases being reported there, Levine said.

Since some Penn State students returned to class on the campus in August, the university has reported 2,475 cases, 701 of which were active as of Monday, the last time the school’s virus dashboard was updated.

Pennsylvania health officials also remain concerned about “long haulers,” people who contracted the virus months ago but still have symptoms, although they do not have data on how many commonwealth residents fall into this category.

As they work to reduce the spread of the virus before flu season, Levine urged Pennsylvanians to download the commonwealth’s contact tracing app. So far, she said, nearly 174,000 people had done so as of Wednesday. Pennsylvania is home to about 12.8 million people. It is unclear how many people need to download the app in order for it to be effective.

Since the pandemic began here in March, at least 158,967 Pennsylvanians have been sickened by the virus and 8,142 people have died.

— Erin McCarthy

12:00 PM - September 30, 2020
12:00 PM - September 30, 2020

Rutgers eliminates hundreds of adjunct positions

Prospective students and their parents at a Rutgers campus tour.
Tom Gralish / Staff photographer
Prospective students and their parents at a Rutgers campus tour.

Karen Thompson has worked at Rutgers-New Brunswick as an adjunct professor in the writing program for more than 40 years.

But come spring, she won’t have a job.

Thompson is among dozens of adjuncts, or part-time lecturers, whose positions have been eliminated, at least for the next semester.

“It was like a lightning bolt,” said Amy Higer, a political scientist and president of the union representing adjuncts at Rutgers, where she has taught for more than 20 years. “It’s so demoralizing.”

The cut follows a larger reduction in adjuncts this semester. The university said it has about 25% fewer adjunct positions this fall compared with last year. The decision was made because of fluctuations in enrollment “as well as efforts by the university to control costs at a time of unprecedented pandemic-related economic pressures,” said spokesperson Dory Devlin.

At Rutgers University, with campuses in Camden, New Brunswick and Newark, about 2,100 adjunct professors typically teach during any given semester, Higer said. This fall, there are about 1,600, she said.

— Susan Snyder

11:28 AM - September 30, 2020
11:28 AM - September 30, 2020

NFL postpones Sunday’s Titans-Steelers game due to coronavirus cases

Sunday’s matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers in Nashville has been postponed after four Titans players and five staffers tested positive for coronavirus, the NFL announced Wednesday.

Instead of taking place Sunday, the game will now be played either Monday or Tuesday, the league said. That would give the Titans an extra day of practice and allow for further testing after their facilities were shut down through Saturday following the positive cases.

The Eagles are scheduled to play the Steelers in Week 5 in Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.

The Titans played the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. So far, no Vikings players or staffers have tested positive for coronavirus, but the team suspended operations as a precaution.

— Rob Tornoe

10:45 AM - September 30, 2020
10:45 AM - September 30, 2020

Treasury secretary ‘hopeful’ for a deal on new round of coronavirus relief, including stimulus checks

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin departs after a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) on Capitol Hill.
Yuri Gripas / MCT
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin departs after a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) on Capitol Hill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s “hopeful” the White House and House Democrats can strike a deal on a new round of coronavirus relief funds.

“I say we’re going to give it one more serious try to get this done and I think we’re hopeful that we can get something done,” Mnuchin said during an interview on CNBC Wednesday morning. “I think there is a reasonable compromise here.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) unveiled a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill Monday in an attempt to compromise with Republicans, who have pushed for slimmed-down proposals since passing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March.

The Democrats' bill would bring back the added $600-a-week payment to unemployed workers and send a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks to most Americans. It would also commit $436 billion to state and local governments and devote $225 billion to help schools and universities reopen safely amid the pandemic.

Mnuchin said the White House would deliver a counter-proposal later Wednesday and suggested it could include liability protection for businesses and schools, which Democrats have opposed.

“Let’s see if we can get a compromise agreement with the speaker, something that works, and then we’ll continue to work with both sides on all the exact language and the policies,” Mnuchin said.

House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion plan in May that went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate attempted to pass a $500 billion coronavirus relief bill earlier this month, which was blocked by Democrats, who called it inadequate.

— Rob Tornoe

9:40 AM - September 30, 2020
9:40 AM - September 30, 2020

Pennsylvania, New Jersey officials to offer coronavirus updates Wednesday

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine (left) speaks as Gov. Tom Wolf listens during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine (left) speaks as Gov. Tom Wolf listens during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

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

— Rob Tornoe

8:52 AM - September 30, 2020
8:52 AM - September 30, 2020

Economy plunges 31.4% in spring, but big rebound expected

A young woman peers through doors of the soon to close Lord & Taylor on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
A young woman peers through doors of the soon to close Lord & Taylor on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.

The U.S. economy plunged at a record rate in the spring but is poised to swing to a record increase in the quarter that just ended.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the gross domestic product, the economy’s total output of goods and services, fell at a rate of 31.4% in the April-June quarter, only slightly changed from the 31.7% drop estimated one month ago.

The new report, the government’s last look at the second quarter, showed a decline that was almost four times larger than the previous record-holder, a fall of 10% in the first quarter of 1958 when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Economists believe the economy will expand at an annual rate of 30% in the current quarter as businesses have re-opened and millions of people have gone back to work. That would shatter the old record for a quarterly GDP increase, a 16.7% surge in the first quarter of 1950 when Harry Truman was president.

Many are forecasting that growth will slow significantly in the final three months of this year to a rate of around 4% and could actually topple back into a recession if Congress fails to pass another stimulus measure or if a rising number of coronavirus cases sharply curtails economic activity.

— Associated Press

8:30 AM - September 30, 2020
8:30 AM - September 30, 2020

Trump downplays masks and contradicts scientists during debate

President Donald Trump holds up his face mask during the first presidential debate Tuesday.
Julio Cortez / AP
President Donald Trump holds up his face mask during the first presidential debate Tuesday.

During a chaotic and fiery presidential debate Tuesday night, President Donald Trump once again claimed a potential coronavirus vaccine was just “weeks away,” contradicting his own public health officials.

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Moncef Slaoui, the director of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine project, remain cautiously optimistic a COVID-19 vaccine will make it to the general public by the middle of 2021. Trump said he “disagreed with both of them,” and continued to push the idea that a vaccine might be approved before Election Day.

“We’re going to deliver it right away,” Trump claimed. Former Vice President Joe Biden pushed back, repeating statements from public health officials that a vaccine may be available to some by the end of the year, but most won’t receive it until 2021.

Trump also mocked Biden for wearing a mask and continued to downplay the importance of facial coverings, which public health officials say are essential in lowering the rate of infections.

“Masks make a big difference,” Biden said. “His own head of the CDC said if … everyone just wore masks and social distanced between now and January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters.”

“And they’ve also said the opposite,” Trump interrupted.

“No serious person said the opposite,” Biden responded.

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - September 30, 2020
8:00 AM - September 30, 2020

Cases on the rise in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

While Philadelphia has seen two weeks with an average of fewer than 75 new cases a day, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are all experiencing increases in new cases as we head into the fall and winter months.

On a positive note, hospitalizations remain low, as the increase in new cases is being driven largely by a spike in cases among people aged 18 to 22.

Here’s where things stand at the moment, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department:

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 881 new cases a day, about 38% higher than Aug. 30 (637 cases a day on average)
  • New Jersey: Averaging 569 new cases a day, about 92% higher than Aug. 30 (295 cases a day on average)
  • Delaware: Averaging 110 new cases a day, about 66% higher than Aug. 30 (66 cases a day on average)

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - September 30, 2020
8:00 AM - September 30, 2020

The NFL has its first coronavirus outbreak. Here’s how it plans to respond.

Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, is shown Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Nashville.
Mark Humphrey / AP
Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, is shown Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Nashville.

The Tennessee Titans, who defeated the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis, shut down in-person activities Tuesday after three players and five team staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, the NFL and the players' union announced.

On Tuesday afternoon, Tennessee placed defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, long snapper Beau Brinkley and tight end Tommy Hudson on its COVID-19 reserve list. That list can be used for players who test positive or for those found through contact tracing to have been exposed.

The Vikings announced that they have not seen any positive test results as of Tuesday morning, though they also suspended in-person club activities.

The Titans are scheduled to host the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Vikings are slated to visit the Houston Texans on Sunday, and as of Tuesday afternoon the NFL was proceeding as if both games will go on as scheduled, Maske reports. However, the league did not include any specifics about rescheduling when it announced its coronavirus protocols earlier this year, so we’re left to speculate about what might happen if one or more teams cannot play.

Should the Titans-Steelers game become unplayable Sunday, the NFL schedule does offer some room for maneuvering.

The league could make Week 4 the bye week for both teams and reschedule the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game for Week 7, when Tennessee originally was supposed to have a bye and the Steelers were to face the Baltimore Ravens. Week 7 would then become the Ravens' bye week. Baltimore could then face Pittsburgh in Week 8, which is the Steelers' scheduled bye week. Also, playing Monday is a possibility for Titans-Steelers, and that would give the Titans one more day to practice.

The solution seemingly is more complicated if the Vikings and Texans cannot play in Week 4. Minnesota’s bye week is Week 7, and Houston’s is Week 8.

— Washington Post