A year without a commute for many in the Philadelphia region
There’s been so much nostalgia for things lost in 2020, a year filled with enough pain and heartache to fill a few lifetimes.
To ease the agony, there’s yearning for the simple things: the small talk we once rolled our eyes over, the smell of last night’s dinner lingering in a friend’s house, the pre-rehearsed hoots and hollers for an encore performance already planned.
Some of those privileged enough to be able to telecommute during the COVID-19 pandemic miss treasured parts of their old ways of getting to work: sunrises over the Delaware River, bike rides with a backdrop of Philadelphia’s skyline, or designated time with a favorite podcast or audiobook. Essential workers, of course, have not had the option to get sentimental.
“It was my chance to see how the city truly breathes during the morning,” William Clark, 25, said of his mile-long walk to his job in Center City. That half-hour was his “source of solitude,” he said.
Montco expects to vaccinate 800 health care workers this week
Montgomery County opened its first immunization clinic at Montgomery County Community College, in Blue Bell, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and this week anticipates vaccinating 800 health care workers there.
People eligible for vaccination in the first stage of immunizations are able to be screened for vaccination through an online portal and will be contacted with a time to be vaccinated. That portal will eventually be expanded as additional groups become eligible for doses. The county anticipates its vaccination efforts will act as a backup for people who aren’t able to receive doses through doctors offices or employers. “If a personal physician has offered you a vaccine I would take it,” said Janet Panning, interim administrator for the county’s office of public health.
As vaccines become available to people 75 and older, possibly as soon as early February, Panning said, she expected many would receive shots through doctors’ offices. She also anticipated some long term care facilities would be able to distribute vaccines to residents in independent living facilities. “I think it’s a fluid playing field right now that will be clarified through the next few weeks,” Panning said.
For people who don’t receive doses through a health care provider and don’t have internet access to use the county’s online registration, health officials expect to reach out to them through senior services and may set up mobile clinics to provide vaccines at some congregant living locations.
Temple University to begin administering second vaccine doses for workers
This week, Temple University Health System will begin the process of giving second vaccine doses to its workers, said Tony Reed, the hospital system’s chief medical officer. It received about 2,000 doses at the end of last week for people who received the first dose, and anticipates receiving another 2,000 doses this week for workers who have not yet received a shot.
So far, Temple has been scheduling about 1,900 people a week for first doses, and is typically over the course of a week all the doses it receives. An excess of 50 or so doses typically remain each week, Reed said, largely due to many vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine containing more than five doses, the amount hospital officials plan for when scheduling vaccinations. Doses not used are the first administered in the next week’s inoculations, and being able to nurse an extra sixth dose out of some vials has allowed the hospital system to schedule more shots in the next two weeks, Reed said.
It is likely the hospital system will finish getting first doses scheduled to most of its 18,000 employees, affiliated physicians, and students by the end of the month, Reed said. A small number of employees have said they want to wait to be vaccinated, and those people, along with any others who fell through the cracks of the initial scheduling effort, should receive their doses. Meanwhile, he said, doctors are preparing to start giving doses to older patients. “Primary care doctors and specialists are getting multiple calls a day from patients who want to know when they can be vaccinated,” Reed said.
If Philadelphia approves people 75 and older for vaccination — after health care workers and nursing home residents — priority will likely be given to seniors with serious illness. “For our patient population in the later stages of disease, generally those are our cadiac and pulmonary patients,” Reed said.
Those patients’ numbers, email contacts, and addresses are on file, he said, and they will likely be contacted by their doctors and given shots in their doctors’ offices. Most people in that 75 and older group, though, will likely schedule their shots through a call center. As populations qualify for immunization in the phased vaccination plan, people in those groups will likely be able to call in, provide their information, and schedule a time to be vaccinated. That could happen in a doctor’s office, at a central location, or at a community vaccination site.
Temple is already expecting to partner with churches and community centers to bring doses into Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, Reed said. “In the end, we’re ready as soon as government says we should do it,” Reed said.
The hospital system has the capacity to store tens of thousands of doses of vaccine at any time, he said, and he is primarily concerned with the federal government increasing the number of doses the hospital received with each shipment. “We gotta have the supply,” he said. “If the city and feds can get us allocation faster, I can use it faster.”
In the fall, before any vaccines were approved for emergency use, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 73-page “interim playbook” for immunizing the nation.
Every state, territory, and big cities including Philadelphia, submitted their own plans for everything from vaccine storage, to reporting data, to notifying people when it’s their turn to get the shots.
But making plans on paper is one thing. Rolling them out it in real life (amid holiday interruptions and disruptions) is another.
One tiny example: Philadelphia reports that hospitals and nursing homes in the city have so far administered more than a third of the 68,000 doses delivered to them. But according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health — which reports vaccinations based on the county where the recipient lives — only 3,700 shots had been given in Philadelphia by last week.
”And this week will get more complicated as we start reporting second-dose administrations,” said James Garrow, spokesman for Philadelphia’s health department.
Meanwhile, people lower on the priority list are clamoring to know when they will be eligible, how they will be notified, and where they will go. The answer is that plans exist — on paper.
New Jersey, for example, plans to “launch a statewide vaccine scheduling system to help consumers connect with identified nearby points of dispensing sites,” the state’s website says. “This online portal will enable the … general public to register and then find a vaccination site, and schedule an appointment.”
Some states are opting for an online registration and scheduling system called PrepMod, which is already used by some flu vaccination programs. But that, too, has pitfalls. A Maryland health system said Saturday that some of its health workers mistakenly forwarded a PrepMod sign-up email to family and friends, even though they they aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine, as Bethesda Magazine reported.
Online vaccine appointments could roll out for some N.J. residents in ‘a couple of weeks’
Online appointments for some New Jersey residents to receive vaccines for the coronavirus could roll out in “a couple of weeks,” state health officials said, as soon as enough healthcare workers are vaccinated and the vaccine becomes available to a wider group of people.
“That’s assuming the feds continue to deliver the goods,” Gov. Phil Murphy said, noting that previous deliveries of the vaccines have fallen short of initial projections.
Those who will qualify for the next round of vaccine distribution are likely to be essential workers, but health officials said they are still finalizing the details.
“We’re balancing the number of healthcare workers remaining to be vaccinated...versus vaccine availability,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “Those numbers don’t match yet.”
Persichilli said the state also needs more staff to help keep the doses moving quickly off the shelves, and urged residents who are certified to administer vaccinations to sign up with their county’s medical reserve corps.
The state has received about 400,000 doses, Persichilli said. Of those, 120,000 doses have been set aside for long-term care facilities. About 101,000 have been reported to have been administered, but the actual number may be higher due to a lag in reporting, Murphy said.
Some health-care workers also said they wanted to wait until after the holidays to get the vaccine, in case it made them feel ill, Persichilli said, but there have been no widespread reports of serious allergic reactions.
“I think people, after the holidays, will be lining up,” she said.
Murphy also said there was no broad resistance to the vaccine that he was aware of, in either long-term care facilities or health-care settings. Surveys done by the department of health have found that most people plan to take the vaccine, particularly older residents.
“I certainly would take my odds with the vaccine over the virus any day of the week,” said state medical director Edward Lifshitz.
Villanova forced to postpone 3 games after positive tests
Jay Wright’s plan to resume coaching No. 3 Villanova following a bout with COVID-19 was put on hold Monday when two players tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the program to postpone its next three games.
The Wildcats were scheduled to play Tuesday at DePaul, Friday vs. Marquette and Jan. 13 at Xavier. No makeup dates have been announced.
“We are one of the unfortunate ones right now,” Wright said Monday.
The Wildcats are the latest team to have their season thrown into disarray by the pandemic, though Wright has remained steadfast that the season should continue. The Wildcats are tested daily and practiced Sunday without any positive test results. Then came Monday’s results — Wright said the two unidentified players who tested positive have symptoms and learned of their results before the Wildcats were set to travel to DePaul.
“We were suited up for practice,” Wright said. “We just kind of assumed everybody would be negative. We were dressed and ready for practice.”
At least 135,000 Pennsylvania health workers have received their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, as well as some residents and staff at 113 skilled nursing facilities, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said.
This week, the commonwealth expects to receive 166,725 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, she said. Of those, 97,500 are second doses set aside for health-care personnel who received their first shots last month; 30,255 are first doses for workers in healthcare facilities; and 39,000 are for the federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities, she added.
In addition, she said, 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are set to be shipped out across Pennsylvania.
”I remain very positive and optimistic about the rollout of the vaccine and how it’s going to gear up,” Levine said. “There are many variables that determine how fast the vaccination program goes. The biggest one is how much vaccine we get.”
It is estimated it will take months before the general public is vaccinated, and Levine has said repeatedly the commonwealth is at the will of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed and the allotment of doses it gets each week. However, nearly 400,000 vaccine doses have been distributed in Pennsylvania since last month, and about 135,000 health workers had gotten shots as of Monday. These numbers do not include vaccines shipped and administered in Philadelphia, and the number of Pennsylvania nursing home residents and staff who have been vaccinated in the first week of the federal pharmacy partnership program was not immediately available.
The commonwealth has asked all hospitals and health care facilities to hold 10% of their vaccine doses for non-affiliated health workers, Levine said, and by Wednesday those providers must provide contact information and locations for these non-affiliated frontline workers to get their shots.
So far, only frontline health workers and nursing home residents and staff are eligible to be vaccinated in Pennsylvania. Next up will be people 75 and older and some frontline essential workers, such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers, transit operators, and postal workers, but Levine said it is too soon to know when they can begin getting shots.
”I wouldn’t say we’re far behind. 1A [the first priority group] just started several weeks ago, and we’re just working to ramp up 1A,” Levine said. “When we come to when 1B [the second group] will start, I promise you we will be ready.”
Mass vaccination sites will be part of the rollout going forward, she said, and the commonwealth expects to work with pharmacies, county health departments, health centers, volunteers, and contracted agencies to staff these sites. Levine said they plan to fund the staffing with money from the latest stimulus. The state plans to have “an information system” where the general public can sign up for appointments to get the vaccine, she said, and wants to avoid large lines and crowds that have been seen at first-come, first-serve sites in other states.
Right now, she said, the best thing people can do is be patient; follow public health guidance; stay in contact with their doctor, if they have one; and follow the news and updates from the health department.
More than 100,000 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered in N.J., Murphy says
New Jersey has administered 101,417 vaccines to people around the state, Gov. Phil Murphy said, speaking hours after healthcare workers began getting their second of two doses of the Pfizer shot.
Two vaccination “mega sites” will open Friday, Murphy said, including one in Gloucester County. For the time being, healthcare workers only can receive an estimated 1,000 doses per week there.
Healthcare workers are still receiving most of the inoculations, but health commissioner Judith Persichilli said that close to 4,300 residents of long-term care facilities have also been vaccinated. More than 3,800 staff at those facilities have received shots, and about 800 such facilities have vaccination clinics scheduled this month.
There are currently outbreaks at 428 long-term care facilities in New Jersey, health officials said, meaning more than two cases at each place.
“It is still circulating at high levels in our communities,” Persichilli said.
Despite lower case numbers, test positivity rate remains high in Philly
Philadelphia announced 1,576 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Monday, representing test results reported since Thursday.
While the case total is relatively low for a four-day count, Health Department spokesperson James Garrow said that the city received a smaller number of test results in recent days than is typical.
But the test positivity rate remains high, he said.
”We’re still at about 11% positive, which is much higher than we want,” Garrow said. “This is the reason the higher risk settings aren’t opening up with other settings today, we wanted to make sure we had a good sense of what was happening over the holidays before we made any changes in those situations.”
The city also reported 37 additional deaths due to COVID-19. A total of 2,486 residents have now died of the coronavirus, 41% of whom lived in long term care facilities.
As of Monday, there were 685 patients with the coronavirus in Philadelphia hospitals. Of those patients, 107 were on ventilators.
Health secretary says current COVID-19 numbers ‘encouraging,’ but holiday impact still unknown
Pennsylvania’s coronavirus hospitalization numbers and daily case counts continue to plateau as the commonwealth’s temporary mitigation measures, including a three-week moratorium on indoor dining, were lifted as scheduled on Monday, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said.
Levine called the slowing surge an “encouraging” piece of “good news” to start off 2021, but said it was too soon to tell whether the commonwealth had evaded a “holiday bump” in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
“We do know that there were a large amount of people who did travel but in terms of how many people stayed at home within their household or how many people may have had large or small gatherings, I have no way to assess that,” she said. “We’ll be watching our numbers really closely to see if there’s a holiday bump or not.”
It can take up to 14 days after exposure for someone to become sick with the virus, and surges are typically reflected in hospitalization and death data several weeks after increases in case counts.
On Monday, about 5,529 patients were being treated for the virus at hospitals across the commonwealth, a few hundred less than were receiving care last month, she added. 1,149 of those patients were in intensive care units, she said, and 674 were on ventilators.
Pennsylvania reported 4,579 additional confirmed cases on Sunday and 3,226 on Monday, though Levine said those numbers were “abnormally low” due to technical maintenance done on the state reporting system. She said the numbers could spike tomorrow as a result.
Last week, the percent positivity of tests again fell slightly, this time to 15%, she said.
On Sunday, 56 additional deaths were reported, and another 66 were reported on Monday. The death numbers were not affected by the technical maintenance, Levine said.
Since the pandemic began in March, at least 665,097 Pennsylvanians have been infected by the coronavirus and 16,361 have died of virus-related complications.
Franklin Institute, Philly Museum of Art announce reopening dates
Several cultural institutions in Philadelphia have announced public reopening dates following temporary closures mandated over the holiday season to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
“Despite the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience of the cultural sector shines through and cultural experiences remain essential to the well-being of the human spirit, providing inspiration, enrichment, and rejuvenation,” the leaders of the Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, The Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Eastern State Penitentiary said in a joint statement.
Separately, the Museum of the American Revolution announced it plans to reopen on Friday at 10 a.m., though the museum’s Revolution Place discovery center and Battlefield Theater will remain closed.
Here are the scheduled reopenings. A spring reopening of the Rodin Museum will be announced at a later date:
Franklin Institute: Wednesday, Jan. 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Academy of Natural Sciences: Friday, Jan. 8, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Barnes Foundation: Friday, Jan. 8, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Friday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Museum of the American Revolution: Friday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Thursday, Jan. 21, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The U.S. vaccination rate is around 1 percent. Israel, with a much smaller population and socialized health care, has reached 12 percent of its residents with the initial dose. Since rolling out the campaign on Dec. 20, Israel has repeatedly surpassed its goal of 150,000 vaccinations a day.
New Jersey health care workers receive second dose of vaccine
Frontline health care workers in New Jersey began receiving their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine Monday morning.
“This is a big day,” Gov. Phil Murphy said after the shots were delivered at Rutgers Medical School. “This goes to show you how this is going to go through the whole system.”
Like other states, New Jersey has been slow to administer vaccine doses. Nearly 93,000 residents have received the vaccine as of Saturday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 28% of the more than 332,000 doses the state has received. The slow rollout could threaten the state’s goal of inoculating 70% of the population — about 4.7 million adults — in the next six months.
New Jersey plans to open six “megasites” by mid-January to administer vaccines, including ones in Burlington and Gloucester Counties and Atlantic City. Shots will also be administered at about 200 locations statewide, including hospitals, retail pharmacies, primary care offices, and urgent-care centers.
He thought he was over COVID-19. Then had a stroke.
Troy Randle’s COVID-19 symptoms were difficult yet bearable. After recovering from fever, cough, and headache that started in late March, he was cleared to return to work as a cardiologist in the Virtua Health network in South Jersey.
But after Randle was back on the job for two days in mid-April, his head began to ache again, and it was different. He felt as if it were being squeezed in a vise.
An MRI revealed that a blood clot had blocked an artery in Randle’s brain. He was suffering a stroke.
Physicians worldwide were starting to report the same thing in some of the sickest patients with COVID, as well as a mysterious increase in smaller blood clots elsewhere in the body. In the lungs, the liver, the kidneys — even the toes, as in those purplish “COVID toes” depicted in many a social-media feed months ago. Many hospitals began treating COVID patients with high doses of blood thinners as a preventive measure.
Three international studies of whether that was the right call, including one overseen by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, are starting to yield results. For patients in intensive care, to the surprise of some physicians involved in the trials, the answer seems to be no.
What’s reopening Monday in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Restaurants in most of Pennsylvania will be allowed to resume indoor dining and gyms throughout the commonwealth can reopen starting Monday, according to Gov. Tom Wolf, who said that the restrictions reinstated Dec. 12 had successfully flattened the COVID-19 curve.
However, Philadelphia officials have extended the ban on some activities until Jan. 15, saying they anticipate a spike in coronavirus cases from Christmas and New Year’s Day. All of the regulations are subject to change depending on case numbers, said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
Indoor dining won’t be allowed in Philadelphia just yet as city leaders have pushed back the expiration date of COVID-19 restrictions jfor two more weeks. The end date for the ban on indoor dining is set to expire on Jan. 15, although that could be sooner, depending on case numbers for the next two weeks.
Outside of Philadelphia, indoor dining will be allowed at self-certified restaurants at 50% capacity, while restaurants that have not been self-certified are allowed to have indoor dining at 25% capacity. Customers can only drink alcoholic beverages at a bar or a restaurant if it is part of a meal, and restaurants have to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m.
Any personal-care services, including hair salons and barbershops, must operate at deducted capacity in Philadelphia and across the commonwealth. Outdoor sports can also resume across Pennsylvania but indoor organized sports will continue to be banned until Jan. 15 in Philadelphia.
Philly museums will be allowed to reopen on Jan. 4, but theaters and casinos have to wait until Jan. 15. Indoor gatherings will also continue to be banned until Jan. 15. Casinos, theaters, and museums outside of Philadelphia will be allowed to reopen at 50% occupancy starting Monday.
Coronavirus death toll remains high in Pennsylvania
The number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to trend downward in Pennsylvania and across the region, but health officials expect the impact of holiday gatherings to begin showing up in the data this week.
Despite the positive trend in some COVID-19 numbers, the pandemic’s death toll remains high in Pennsylvania. The commonwealth is averaging 184 coronavirus-related deaths a day over the past seven days, down from a pandemic high of 201 deaths a day in the middle of December, but higher than the first peak in the spring.
Here’s where COVID-19 numbers stand through Monday across the region, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department. Vaccine data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was last updated at 9 a.m. on Jan. 2.
155,983 vaccine doses administered out of 489,850 doses received (nearly 32%)
Averaging 7,407 new cases a day, down 19% compared to this time to two weeks ago (9,129 new cases a day)
5,529 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, down 9% compared to two weeks ago (6,074 hospitalizations)
92,934 vaccine doses administered out of 332,825 doses received (about 28%)
Averaging 4,428 new cases a day, down slightly compared to this time to two weeks ago (4,569 new cases a day)
3,521 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, down slightly compared to two weeks ago (3,571 hospitalizations)
11,066 vaccine doses administered out of 44,925 doses received (roughly 24%)
Averaging 629 new cases a day, down 14% compared to this time to two weeks ago (737 new cases a day)
421 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up slightly compared to two weeks ago (410 hospitalizations)
The United States has ramped up COVID-19 vaccinations in the past few days, after a slower-than-expected start, bringing the number of shots dispensed to about 4 million, government health officials said Sunday.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, also said on ABC’s This Week that President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office is achievable.
Fauci said he has seen “some little glimmer of hope” after 1.5 million doses were administered in the past 72 hours, or an average of about 500,000 per day, a marked increase in the pace of vaccinations. He said that brings the total to about 4 million.
He acknowledged the United States fell short of its goal of having 20 million doses shipped and distributed by the end of December.
“There have been a couple of glitches. That’s understandable,” Fauci said. “We are not where we want to be, there’s no doubt about that.”
But he expressed optimism that the momentum will pick up by mid-January and that ultimately the United States will be vaccinating 1 million people a day. Biden’s “goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days is a realistic goal,” Fauci said.
Monday morning roundup: U.S. surpasses 350,000 COVID-19 deaths as officials brace for holiday spike
The United States surpassed 350,000 COVID-19 deaths on Sunday, a number President Donald Trump falsely claimed was “far exaggerated.” At least 351,590 Americans have been killed by COVID-19 as of Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, the most of any country.
Despite a lag in reporting due to holiday closures, the United States reported 297,491 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the most in a single day since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country is currently averaging about 213,000 new cases a day, and at least 125,00 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday night, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
All 54 countries in Africa have reported fewer COVID-19 deaths than France, despite having hundreds of millions of more residents. That doesn’t mean people aren’t dying from the virus, the New York Times reports.
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