“We’re all on the same page of wanting to get these vaccines out as quickly as possible,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. He said he was not asked to sign a letter from eight Democratic governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, to the federal government asking them to do just what Biden’s team later announced. Wolf did not say whether he would have signed it if asked.
Pa. seeing ‘vaccine hesistancy’ in hospitals, nursing homes, health secretary says
Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the daily reports of coronavirus vaccines administered was not an accurate barometer of how many shots have gone into arms of health workers and nursing home residents and staff due to reporting lags of up to several days.
However, she said, “we are seeing some vaccine hesitancy in hospitals. We are seeing vaccine hesitancy in nursing homes.”
Pennsylvania officials have talked with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team about launching a more robust national effort to communicate facts about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, she said. They are already trying to do that at the state level, she said.
At least 235,000 Pennsylvanians have been vaccinated so far, Levine said Friday, and about 827,300 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been delivered.
Levine says new Pa. cases likely caused by holiday infections
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said it is not a coincidence that the commonwealth reported more than 10,000 new confirmed coranvirus cases on Friday, two weeks after Christmas and a week after New Year’s.
The commonwealth last reported more than 10,000 cases a day in mid-December, and Levine said Friday’s numbers marked “the beginning of an increase” that public health officials predicted.
“We think this is an increase from the holidays,” Levine said. “This is not completely unexpected.”
People can become sick with the virus between two and 14 days after exposure, experts say. Levine noted that hospitalizations often increase in the weeks after case counts rise, and said the state is working with hospitals to prepare for the potential uptick in patients.
After that, perhaps in late spring but “certainly by the summer,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said anyone 16 and older may be vaccinated.
This is in line with the current federal guidance, which Levine has said for months the commonwealth will follow.
“We don’t know exactly when every group is going to be able to get vaccinated,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “However, we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure this process is as smooth and quick as it can possibly be. We also want to make sure this process is as fair as it can possibly be.”
The essential workers in group 1c, according to the plan, include a broad array of business sectors: transportation; food service; housing construction; finance and banking; information technology; communications and media; energy; legal services; federal, state, county and local government workers; public safety; and public health.
While details have yet to be solidified, Wolf and Levine said they are planning to ramp up their vaccine distribution methods as the group of eligible candidates expands. They plan to partner with pharmacies, they said, and send notices to residents when it’s their turn to make an appointment.
For now, Levine said residents can reach out to their doctor, if they have one, to confirm they are a candidate for the vaccine in an upcoming priority group, and follow public health guidelines to protect themselves as they await their shots.
No Pennsylvanians have had severe reactions to the vaccine so far, Levine said, though some may have a sore arm, feel tired, or even run a low-grade fever afterward as they do when they get other vaccines.
The 76ers are expected to have multiple players miss time due to contact tracing and are still awaiting results of today’s coronavirus testing, sources tell ESPN. Those players were in close contact with Seth Curry, who sources say returned a positive test on Thursday.
Philly plans to let indoor dining resume if cases don’t spike
Philadelphia restaurants will be able to resume indoor dining Jan. 16 if there is no surge in coronavirus cases over the next week, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Friday.
“Assuming we don’t have a spike in COVID-19 cases between now and Jan. 15, we plan to allow limited indoor dining to resume on Jan. 16,” Kenney posted on Twitter.
Kenney’s administration banned indoor dining and other high-risk activities on Nov. 20 amid a rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases. Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said that the restrictions helped slow the spread of the virus, with the rate of new cases steadily decreasing, except after holidays, despite increases in other parts of Pennsylvania and in neighboring states.
It is not yet clear what occupancy restrictions restaurants will have to follow if indoor dining returns next week. The city will announce further details Tuesday.
Pennsylvania unemployment checks will soon see $300 boost
Tens of thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians will see a $300 boost in their unemployment check as soon as Tuesday, the commonwealth announced.
The boost, which will be received by about 127,000 claimants in the Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs, is part of the recent coronavirus stimulus bill that Congress passed last month. The program runs until March 13, according to the Department of Labor & Industry.
“This boost in unemployment benefits is vital to hardworking Pennsylvania families who have lost their income as a result of the global pandemic,” Jennifer Berrier, the acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, said in a statement. “I am pleased that L&I was able to work with the federal Department of Labor to get the information needed to quickly restart this program and get payments into the pockets of Pennsylvanians in need.”
The Department of Labor & Industry said it is waiting on more information from the federal government for both the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs. Currently, claimants of those programs aren’t able to file claims for any week after Dec. 26.
When payments resume, the department said it will backdate eligible claims to the week of Jan. 2 to ensure claimants do not miss out on any eligible weeks.
“We’re urging the federal Department of Labor to give us the information we need to make the required changes to the program,” Berrier said. “Once we get it, we’ll work as quickly as possible to get the extra $300 weekly payments to people in the PUA and PEUC programs.”
Pennsylvania reports more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, 215 additional deaths
Pennsylvania on Friday reported more than 10,000 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus for the first time since mid-December as officials wait to see how severe the post-holiday surge could be.
Along with the 10,178 new confirmed cases, the commonwealth reported an additional 215 deaths from virus-related complications.
In Pennsylvania hospitals, 5,491 people were being treated for the virus, nearly double the spring peak but slightly less than the record highs of last month. Of those patients, 1,113 were in intensive-care units.
More than 235,000 health workers and nursing home residents and staff have been vaccinated as of Friday, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said.
Since the pandemic began, at least 703,265 Pennsylvanians have been infected by the virus and 17,394 have died.
Philly opens new mass vaccine clinic in Center City
City officials and the leaders of the organization Philly Fighting COVID on Friday said they plan to inoculate 2,400 home health-care workers over the next two days at a new mass vaccine clinic in Center City.
City officials said it was important to reach out to home healthcare workers, who often work with patients at a high risk for COVID-19 but don’t have as easy access to the vaccine as hospital workers, who can get the vaccine through their employers.
”We have been studying the [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines and have convened our own advisory committees to guide us through this process and what’s fair and equitable,” said acting Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson. “Along the way, we learned that there are a lot of healthcare workers not affiliated with hospitals, but serve very important functions.”
The city worked with home health-care agencies to sign up workers for the vaccine this week. An additional 1,000 are on a waiting list, said Karol Osipowicz, the chief science officer at Philly Fighting COVID, which has been distributing free COVID-19 tests during the pandemic in partnership with the health department.
”We are here as long as the city needs us,” he said.
Eventually, as the city works its way through vaccine distribution tiers — starting with health-care workers and essential workers at high risk of catching the virus — the clinic will be open to the general public, he said. Located at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and staffed by nurses and physician’s assistants, it has the capacity to inoculate between 100 and 450 people per hour.
”It’s designed to be scalable and replicable across the city — we’ve built a way for everyone who wants to get it to get it,” he said.
Philly Fighting COVID says all Philadelphians who want the vaccine can sign up on their website to “pre-commit” to getting a vaccine. Because vaccine supplies are limited and the city is still working its way through distribution tiers, people who sign up will not immediately be given an appointment, but they will receive updates on the vaccine distribution process and when it’s their turn.
Health care workers interested in getting a vaccine should register to be contacted through the Philadelphia Department of Health.
Speaking at the Convention Center Friday morning, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city “has my word we’ll continue working diligently until everyone who wants the vaccine gets it.”
Biden plans to release all available vaccine doses
President-elect Joe Biden will attempt to release all available coronavirus doses to states when he takes office, his office announced Friday morning.
The move could help speed up the number of people able to receive a coronavirus vaccine, but it could also lead to situations where people might be forced to adjust their dosage or delay receiving their second vaccinations.
“The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible. He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now,” T.J. Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden’s transition, said in a statement.
The Biden transition team is expected to share additional details next week, Ducklo said.
The move is a break from the Trump administration’s strategy of holding back doses, an attempt to make sure those receiving their first inoculations are able to get their second doses when needed. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been proven to be about 95% effective, but they both require two doses to achieve that effectiveness.
“Operation Warp Speed is continuing to ensure second doses are available to vaccine administration sites, at appropriate intervals, as directed by jurisdiction leaders,” a spokesman for Health and Human Services told CNN. “We would be delighted to learn that jurisdictions have actually administered many more doses than they are presently reporting. We are encouraging jurisdictions to expand their priority groups as needed to ensure no vaccine is sitting on the shelf after having been delivered to the jurisdiction-directed locations.”
One year into a changed world, the numbers defy comprehension. More than 21 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States — a rate approaching one in 15 people — plus untold millions who had mild or no symptoms and were never identified. Add the millions who have now received their first doses of vaccine, and it is fair to wonder:
Can we start to look forward to when life returns to normal?
For a reality check on how far we’ve come, we spoke to three researchers who study the spread of infectious disease: Temple University epidemiologist Abby Rudolph, Drew University biologist Brianne Barker, and Pennsylvania State University biologist Maciej Boni.
New Jersey’s first “megasite” for coronavirus vaccinations opened Friday at Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Morris County, a facility that could eventually serve up to 2,400 people a day and operate seven days a week.
Gov. Phil Murphy, health commissioner Judith Persichilli and other state officials toured the 30,000-square-feet building, which was opened in partnership with the national guard. Administrators said they would aim to give vaccines to about 100 people on the first day.
On a livestream released by the governor’s office, Murphy and others were shown roped-off lines where members of the public will enter, and observation areas for those who receive the shots to wait for 15 minutes afterwards on folding chairs spaced six feet apart.
Though the site is only serving healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters now, Murphy said the megasites will eventually offer vaccines to the general public. Whether the Morris County site will be able to administer the maximum 2,400 shots a day will depend on how many doses the state receives in the weeks and months to come.
”We’ll begin to slowly but surely widen the circle of folks who are eligible, but we continue to have a big supply-demand imbalance. We need more from the feds,” Murphy said, noting that the pending transfer to the incoming Biden presidency could also complicate the timeline. “But God willing, as the next number of weeks go on, that imbalance begins to slowly but surely cure and correct itself.”
A second megasite is also opening in Gloucester County Friday.
U.S. loses 140,000 jobs, first monthly loss since spring
U.S. employers shed jobs last month for the first time since April, cutting 140,00 positions, clear evidence that the economy is faltering as the viral pandemic tightens its grip on consumers and businesses.
At the same time, the unemployment rate stayed at 6.7%, the first time it hasn’t fallen since April.
Friday’s figures from the Labor Department suggest that employers have rehired roughly all the workers they can afford to after having laid off more than 22 million in the spring — the worst such loss on record.
With consumer spending barely growing over the past few months, most companies have little incentive to hire. The economy still has 9.9 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic sent it sinking into a deep recession nearly a year ago.
Philadelphia Museum of Art and other cultural institutions to reopen today
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and several other cultural institutions in Philadelphia will reopen to the public on Friday following temporary closures mandated over the holiday season to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Mütter Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts are scheduled to reopen next week, while the Eastern State Penitentiary will reopen in the spring, though an exact data has not been announced.
The list of Friday reopenings includes:
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.
National Liberty Museum: Friday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Post-infection coronavirus immunity usually robust after 8 months, study shows
The human body typically retains a robust immune response to the coronavirus for at least eight months after an infection, and potentially much longer, researchers said in a study published in the journal Science. About 90 percent of the patients studied showed lingering, stable immunity, the study found.
The coronavirus has been shrouded in unknowns and uncertainties since it emerged a little more than a year ago, and one of the biggest questions has been whether people can get reinfected, and if so, how quickly. There have been isolated reports of people having a second case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, but that appears to be rare, and the new study bolsters the case that immunity usually persists.
The review of blood samples from nearly 200 patients also saw that multiple elements of the immune system — not just antibodies — continued to be effective at recognizing and responding to the virus. The human body appears to retain a memory of the invader and is poised to generate a coordinated counterattack of antibodies and killer T cells quickly if exposed again.
Sixers forced to quarantine after player tests positive
Sidelined 76er Seth Curry was informed early in Thursday night’s 122-109 loss to the Brooklyn Nets that he had tested positive for COVID-19. That forced the team to quarantine and contact trace in a New York hotel late Thursday after the game and early Friday morning, league sources confirmed.
The sources added that the team will be tested Friday morning, the NBA will let the Sixers know the next step. There was no word if their scheduled 3 p.m. contest Saturday with the Denver Nuggets will be postponed. ESPN reported Curry’s test after the game.
Curry, who has a sore left ankle, spent the first quarter on the bench next to teammates Joel Embiid and Sam Cassell. Once the Sixers were alerted of his test results, the shooting guard immediately went to an isolation room at the Barclays Center. He left the arena separate from his teammates. His teammates were informed that Curry tested positive at intermission.
The 30-year-old wore a mask while on the bench. However, he was seated in the front row in close proximity to the starting lineup and coaches.
Cases on the rise again in Pa. as death toll remains high
After declining in mid-December, case counts in Pennsylvania are on the rise again following the holiday season. The commonwealth is averaging nearly 8,000 new COVID-19 cases a day over the past seven days, down from a pandemic peak averaging above 10,000 cases a day, but up 11% over the past 10 days.
Pennsylvania’s death toll continues to remain high, with the commonwealth reporting 265 new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and 368 on Wednesday. Overall, at least 17,179 Pennsylvanians have died after contracting COVID-19, with at least 2,573 deaths in Philadelphia. Nationally, the United States reported more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, the most in a single day.
Here’s where COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations, and vaccinations stand through Thursday’s data across the region and country, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University, and the COVID Tracking Project.
Vaccinations: 177,229 vaccine doses administered out of 753,000 doses promised (about 23%)
Cases: Averaging 7,798 new cases a day, down 10% compared to this time to two weeks ago (8,722 new cases a day)
Hospitalizations: 5,491 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, down nearly 10% compared to two weeks ago (6,077 hospitalizations)
Deaths: Averaging at least 172 COVID-19 deaths a day, down 9% compared to two weeks ago (189 deaths a day)
Vaccinations: 155,458 vaccine doses administered out of 572,250 doses promised (about 27%)
Cases: Averaging 4,568 new cases a day, down slightly compared to this time to two weeks ago (4,714 new cases a day)
Hospitalizations: 3,711 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, down slightly compared to two weeks ago (3,802 hospitalizations)
Deaths: Averaging at least 3 COVID-19 deaths a day, up 10% compared to two weeks ago (6 deaths a day)
Vaccinations: 18,732 vaccine doses administered out of 53,650 doses promised (about 35%)
Cases: Averaging 785 new cases a day, basically flat compared to this time to two weeks ago (780 new cases a day)
Hospitalizations: 453 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up 6% compared to two weeks ago (426 hospitalizations)
Deaths: Averaging at least 3 COVID-19 deaths a day, down 50% compared to two weeks ago (6 deaths a day)
Vaccinations: 5.9 million vaccine doses administered out of 21.4 million doses received (about 28%)
Cases: Averaging 229,422 new cases a day, up 11% compared to this time to two weeks ago (206,595 new cases a day)
Hospitalizations: 132,370 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up 10% compared to two weeks ago (120,151 hospitalizations)
Deaths: Averaging at least 2,782 COVID-19 deaths a day, up 7% compared to two weeks ago (2,605 deaths a day)
Friday morning round-up: Coronavirus vaccine likely to protect for a ‘couple of years,’ CEO says
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is likely to offer “protection potentially for a couple of years,” CEO Stephane Bancel said Thursday, according to Reuters, though he added that more data is needed before making a definitive assessment.
Modeling from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of all coronavirus cases were spread by people without symptoms, the Washington Post reports, confirming what many scientists had estimated.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were denied approval to allow fans in the stands for their home playoff game this weekend, the team announced Thursday. Instead, 2,500 friends and family members of players and staff will be permitted into Heinz Field to watch.
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