8:04 PM - January 14, 2021
8:04 PM - January 14, 2021

In speech, Biden proposes ‘American Rescue Plan’

Saying the nation faces “a crisis of deep human suffering,” President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up vaccines and pumping out financial help to those struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, he believes it will deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic.

“I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but we simply can’t afford not to do what I’m proposing,” Biden said in a nationwide address. “If we invest now boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course.”

His plan includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. It would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.

The political outlook for the legislation remained unclear. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised Biden for including liberal priorities, saying they would move quickly to pass it. But Democrats have narrow margins in both chambers of Congress and Republicans will push back on issues that range from increasing the minimum wage to providing more money for states, while demanding inclusion of their priorities, such as liability protection for businesses.

“Remember that a bipartisan $900 billion #COVID19 relief bill became law just 18 days ago,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But Biden said that was only a down payment, and he promised another major bill next month, focused on rebuilding the economy.

His relief bill would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic. Aides said Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole. Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable.

Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably linked with controlling the coronavirus. “Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” he declared in his victory speech. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments until we get it under control.”

— Associated Press

5:37 PM - January 14, 2021
5:37 PM - January 14, 2021

Biden to detail $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan tonight

File photo of President-elect Joe Biden. (AP/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh / AP
File photo of President-elect Joe Biden. (AP/Susan Walsh)

President-elect Joe Biden is unveiling a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up the vaccine rollout and providing financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it would deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic, said aides who described the plan ahead of a speech by Biden on Thursday evening.

It includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. The plan would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September. And it shoehorns in the long-term Democratic policy aim of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and expanding paid leave for workers across the economy.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said Biden’s proposal will be his first order of business this year. The emergency legislation would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic.

Aides said Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole. Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the plan ahead of his speech Thursday night.

Under Biden’s multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.

About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.

The plan provides $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration’s first 100 days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.

The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus.

There’s also a proposal to boost investment in genetic sequencing, to help track new virus strains including the more contagious variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Throughout the plan, there’s a focus on ensuring that minority communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic are not shortchanged on vaccines and treatments, aides said.

With the new proposals comes a call to redouble efforts on the basics.

Biden is asking Americans to override their sense of pandemic fatigue and recommit to wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings, particularly larger ones. It’s still the surest way to slow the COVID-19 wave, officials say, with more than 4,400 deaths reported just on Tuesday.

— Associated Press

3:14 PM - January 14, 2021
3:14 PM - January 14, 2021

Wolf urges GOP lawmakers in Pa. legislature to release money for businesses hurt by pandemic

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined fellow Democratic lawmakers on Thursday to urge Republicans to move to allocate $145 million in funds to commonwealth business hard hit by the pandemic.

Wolf noted that he initiated the transfer just before Christmas but the Republican-led General Assembly has yet to authorize turning the money into grants for restaurants, bars, and other establishments.

“All of us have been suffering greatly because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the governor said, “and that includes businesses through no fault of their own.”

Last month, Wolf said he moved the funds from the Pennsylvania Insurance Department’s Workers’ Compensation Security Fund, which has a more than $500 million surplus after the transfer. On Thursday, Wolf said he could not “Constitutionally” act on this alone.

— Erin McCarthy

2:59 PM - January 14, 2021
2:59 PM - January 14, 2021

Pennsylvania will move next week to release plans for vaccinating people 65 and older

Syringes wait on table to be filled with COVID-19 vaccine inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center last Friday morning.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Syringes wait on table to be filled with COVID-19 vaccine inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center last Friday morning.

Pennsylvania will move next week to release plans for vaccinating people 65 and older in line with new federal guidance from outgoing U.S. Health and Humans Services Secretary Alex Azar, Gov. Tom Wolf said.

“This is a work in progress,” Wolf said of the commonwealth’s vaccine plan, which will officially be updated early next week to prioritize people 65 and older, not just those 75 and older as was the previous guidance.

“I’m a 72-year-old,” he said with a laugh, “so ... that is a really good thing to move to 65 and older from 75 and older. And we will do what we can to make sure we’re getting this out as fairly and quickly as we can.”

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday that Pennsylvania planned to implement the federal guidelines once officials review the federal plan.

— Erin McCarthy

2:11 PM - January 14, 2021
2:11 PM - January 14, 2021

Camden County opens mass vaccination site for people 65 and older and those with high-risk conditions

Matthew DiDomenico, 31, of Marlton, a detective with Camden County Prosecutors Office, receives the vaccine by Bonnibelle Arrojo, public health nurse, on Thursday.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Matthew DiDomenico, 31, of Marlton, a detective with Camden County Prosecutors Office, receives the vaccine by Bonnibelle Arrojo, public health nurse, on Thursday.

Almost as soon as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that the state would open COVID-19 vaccinations up to anyone 65 or older, or to younger people with a pre-existing medical condition, Mary Habina of Cherry Hill began finding out how to sign up.

Habina follows Murphy on Facebook and within minutes found a link in a thread for how Camden County residents can register online. By Thursday morning, she had already received the vaccine at a site erected inside Camden County College.

“I’m so excited to get my life back,” said Habina, 49, who has a health condition that qualifies her. “I just want to be a part of the solution and be a part of getting our country back.”

The county transformed a large, open space at the college’s Blackwood campus into a clinic complete with computerized intake stations, injection tables and curtained walls, staffed by nurses from the county health department. The vaccination center is a joint project with Cooper University Health Care and Jefferson Health.

— Frank Kummer

1:30 PM - January 14, 2021
1:30 PM - January 14, 2021

Holiday spike shows signs of subsiding in Philadelphia

Tiffany Roberts-Williams gets a coronavirus test at a testing site run by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, in partnership with Pennsylvania Juneteenth Initiative Inc., in June.
Jessica Griffin / File Photograph
Tiffany Roberts-Williams gets a coronavirus test at a testing site run by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, in partnership with Pennsylvania Juneteenth Initiative Inc., in June.

Philadelphia announced 528 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Thursday.

The city also announced 19 additional deaths. A total of 2,683 residents have now died of the virus. As of Thursday there were 566 COVID-19 patients in Philadelphia hospitals.

The numbers reported Thursday were a sign that a holiday-related spike in coronavirus cases is subsiding, as officials predicted when they announced indoor dining and some other activities can resume Saturday. But social gatherings of all kinds will remain prohibited as the city continues to fight a winter wave of the virus.

— Laura McCrystal

1:30 PM - January 14, 2021
1:30 PM - January 14, 2021

Some Philly students may return to the classroom in February

School Superintendent William Hite addresses a Health Department press conference at the Fire Department's Emergency Operations Center Mar. 12, 2020.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
School Superintendent William Hite addresses a Health Department press conference at the Fire Department's Emergency Operations Center Mar. 12, 2020.

Philadelphia’s youngest public school students can likely return to in-person learning sometime in February, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday.

Families of pre-kindergarten through second-grade students — more than 32,000 kids, roughly a third of district’s students — will have the option of sending them back to school two days a week on a yet-to-be determined date, though the superintendent said it would probably be next month.

About 10,000 children have signed up to return. Students will have the option to remain fully virtual.

Teachers in those early grades would likely need to return to buildings a week to 10 days before students come back. Based on the city’s current plans, it’s likely educators will have access to the coronavirus vaccine the first or second week in February.

— Kristen A. Graham

12:20 PM - January 14, 2021
12:20 PM - January 14, 2021

Cases and hospitalizations remain steady in Pennsylvania

Volunteers with Philly Fighting COVID administer COVID-19 tests to walk-ups sitting at their free testing site in Fishtown on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Volunteers with Philly Fighting COVID administer COVID-19 tests to walk-ups sitting at their free testing site in Fishtown on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.

Pennsylvania on Thursday reported 7,175 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a number that has plateaued in recent days but remains fair higher than any daily case tally before November.

About 5,069 people are being treated for the virus in the commonwealth’s hospitals, nearly double the patients at the spring peak. However, that number has been steadily declining this month, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Of those patients, about 1,035 are in intensive-care units.

Coronavirus-related deaths, meanwhile, have been spiking recently, with daily counts routinely higher than at any point since the spring. On Wednesday, an additional 313 deaths from virus-related complications were reported.

Through Wednesday, at least 373,529 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been given to frontline health workers and nursing home residents and staff. At least 269,279 people have received their first dose and 52,125 have received both. These numbers do not include doses administered at nursing homes by CVS nor do they include numbers for Philadelphia, which has its own vaccine plan and allotment. Health Secretary Rachel Levine has said the vaccination recording system is often delayed by up to several days.

Since the pandemic began, at least 748,564 Pennsylvanians have been infected by the coronavirus and 18,742 have died.

— Erin McCarthy

11:32 AM - January 14, 2021
11:32 AM - January 14, 2021

Atlantic City mega vaccine site to open in 2 weeks, mayor says

The entrance to the Atlantic City Convention Center from the NJ Transit rail station photographed Mar. 26, 2020.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The entrance to the Atlantic City Convention Center from the NJ Transit rail station photographed Mar. 26, 2020.

A mega vaccine site capable of vaccinating 2,400 people a day will open at the Atlantic City Convention Center in two weeks, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said.

Small posted video Wednesday from inside the center, which previously served as a spillover hospital site for COVID-19 patients, that showed chairs set up with spacing between them in one of the center’s vast rooms.Atlantic City has recorded 2,019 cases and 40 deaths from coronavirus, according to county statistics.

New Jersey has opened up vaccination eligibility to 65 and older and 16 to 64 with medical conditions that put them at increased risk of illness from COVID-19. However, for many, actually getting a vaccine slot remains mostly elusive.

— Amy S. Rosenberg

10:04 AM - January 14, 2021
10:04 AM - January 14, 2021

Weekly unemployment claims jump to highest since August

The number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and a sign that the resurgent virus has likely escalated layoffs.

The latest figures for jobless claims, issued Thursday by the Labor Department, remain at levels never seen until the virus struck. Before the pandemic, weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000.

They spiked to nearly 7 million last spring, after nationwide shutdowns took effect. Applications declined over the summer but have been stuck above 700,000 since September.

The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has faltered as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping and eating out in the face of soaring viral caseloads.

More than 4,300 deaths were reported Tuesday, another record high. Shutdowns of restaurants, bars and other venues where people gather in California, New York and other states have likely forced up layoffs.

— Associated Press

9:26 AM - January 14, 2021
9:26 AM - January 14, 2021

Montgomery County rolls out rapid antigen testing in schools

Montgomery County has started conducting rapid antigen tests of its teachers and students, the county commissioners chair Val Arkoosh announced Wednesday.

Through April, the testing will be offered weekly for teachers and high-risk students, as well as for any children and staff who become sick during the school day, she said. The nasal swab test returns results in 15 minutes. This new program is voluntary and free of charge, Arkoosh said.

“School systems can use these tests as an additional screening tool, in some cases to prevent the virus from coming onto campus and provide another source of testing to which the school can quickly respond by removing an individual before they can spread the virus if they’re already on the campus,” said Arkoosh, a physician.

The testing began this week at schools in the Lower Merion and North Penn districts, and later this month it will expand to additional public schools. A similar program will start later this month at private and parochial schools.

The county doesn’t plan to expand the testing to childcare centers, she said. However, she added, staff at the county’s correctional facilities are routinely being tested.

The Food and Drug Administration has said these antigen tests can be used for rapid diagnosis but these tests are not as reliable as molecular or PCR tests, which are sent to laboratories. Positive antigen test results often need to be confirmed by a PCR test.

— Erin McCarthy

8:04 AM - January 14, 2021
8:04 AM - January 14, 2021

In-person classes at large colleges affected coronavirus cases in surrounding communities, new study finds

Penn State University students pass coronavirus signage displaying university policy and guidelines on the Sackett Building on Oct. 20, 2020.
CRAIG HOUTZ / For the Inquirer
Penn State University students pass coronavirus signage displaying university policy and guidelines on the Sackett Building on Oct. 20, 2020.

As more Pennsylvania colleges prepare to bring students back to campus for spring semester, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that doing so in the fall significantly affected the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

The study found that counties with colleges enrolling more than 20,000 students that opted for in-person instruction for the fall 2020 semester experienced a 56% increase in the average number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, while counties with large colleges that chose remote-only instruction saw a 17.9% decrease. Study authors said they could not say whether the spike in cases in surrounding communities were caused by cases on campuses.

But faculty who have been concerned for months about the impact of moving students back to campus for in-person instruction said the information is convincing enough and universities should take heed.

— Bethany Ao and Susan Snyder

7:27 AM - January 14, 2021
7:27 AM - January 14, 2021

President-elect Biden to include ‘significant’ child benefit in new stimulus

President-elect Joe Biden speaks Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del.
AP
President-elect Joe Biden speaks Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to include a significant new benefit for children in poor and middle-class households in the coronavirus relief package he will release this week, according to three people speaking on the condition of anonymity to share details of internal deliberations.

Biden officials are likely to include the expansion of an existing tax credit for children as part of a relief package that will also include $2,000 stimulus payments, unemployment benefits and other assistance for the ailing economy — as well as money to fight the coronavirus pandemic and increase vaccine distribution. Biden is expected to formally unveil his proposal Thursday.

Biden transition officials have not disclosed the overall price tag of the package, but it is expected to be more than $1 trillion.

— Washington Post

7:16 AM - January 14, 2021
7:16 AM - January 14, 2021

New Jersey hospitals brace for coronavirus surge

A health-care worker puts on personal protective equipment before entering a patient room inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A health-care worker puts on personal protective equipment before entering a patient room inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Temple University Hospital's Boyer Pavilion in North Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

New Jersey hospitals are preparing for a surge in coronavirus cases that could start next week, based on a rising rate of transmission and outbreaks throughout the state.

”At this point in New Jersey, the community spread covers the whole state,” health commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “Everybody is in a high-risk situation.”

The rates of positive coronavirus tests between counties are similar, she said, even between urban and more rural areas.

Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly said any future coronavirus-related restrictions could depend on whether hospitals become overwhelmed. Hospitalizations have hovered in the 3,000s for weeks, but modeling shows that number could soon top 4,500, Persichilli said.

Murphy said it would “ring a lot of alarm bells” if they reach 5,000. Hospitalizations exceeded 8,700 during the first wave of the coronavirus last spring.

”This month into early February is make or break time, based on our modeling and based on everything we know,” Murphy said.

— Allison Steele

7:10 AM - January 14, 2021
7:10 AM - January 14, 2021

Thursday roundup: After setting records recently, COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations remain high across the country

  • About 4,022 Americans died of coronavirus-related complications Wednesday, a number only slightly lower than the record-high 4,079 people who died last Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Before this month, daily deaths had not surpassed 4,000. Hospitalizations remain high, too, with 130,383 patients being treated nationwide.
  • President-elect Joe Biden is set to lay out his coronavirus stimulus package Thursday, according to several reports. The New York Times reports the multi-trillion-dollar proposal will likely include $2,000 stimulus deposits to many Americans, aid to small businesses, an expansion of pandemic unemployment benefits, and more money for vaccinations, testing, and contact tracing.
  • Researchers from the World Health Organization touched down in China today to study the origins of the coronavirus. A spokesperson for the government there told the Associated Press the team will “exchange views” with Chinese scientists during the trip, but did not say if they could gather evidence as part of the investigation, of which China has opposed.
  • Pope Francis has received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, days after advising that all people have a ““ethical duty” to get the shot, CNN reports. Former Pope Benedict has also gotten his first dose.