7:49 AM - March 6, 2020
7:49 AM - March 6, 2020

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

Central Bucks School District closed five schools Friday morning after “individuals within the district were exposed to a confirmed case of coronavirus” from a person in another state. Meanwhile, Pa. counties prep for coronavirus without causing panic.

6:25 PM - March 5, 2020
6:25 PM - March 5, 2020

Pa. asks travelers returning from China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea to stay home

Pennsylvanians returning from trips to China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea are being advised to be alert for coronavirus symptoms, to stay home for two weeks, and avoid social contact if at all possible.

The state health department will send notices to travelers arriving from China or Iran, said Commissioner Rachel Levine. Those returning from Italy or South Korea in the last 14 days are asked to call the department at 1-877-724-3258.

The state is advising Pennsylvanians to avoid unnecessary travel to countries affected by the outbreak.

Those who have been to those countries should try to stay home, take their temperatures twice a day, and watch for coughing and breathing trouble.

Anthony R. Wood

4:47 PM - March 5, 2020
4:47 PM - March 5, 2020

U.S. death toll rises to 12

The U.S. coronavirus death toll rose to 12 on Thursday, with the 11th report of a fatality in Washington state. In addition, the number of statewide coronavirus cases there rose to 70 Thursday, up from 39 on Wednesday, Seattle news outlets and CNN reported.

Of the 11 deaths in the state, 10 have occurred in one county. The other U.S. fatality occurred in California.

— Anthony R. Wood

4:24 PM - March 5, 2020
4:24 PM - March 5, 2020

New Jersey patients’ coronavirus test results can take up to 72 hours to process

A paramedic works with a centrifuge to test blood samples taken from patients suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran.
Ali Shirband / AP
A paramedic works with a centrifuge to test blood samples taken from patients suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran.

Coronavirus test results can take up to 72 hours from when a patient first comes to a hospital with symptoms, said Christopher Neuwirth, an assistant commissioner with the New Jersey health department.

That includes time to evaluate the patient, collect specimens, send them to the lab, and run the tests, he said.

Currently, New Jersey is testing patients only at its state lab, using test kits provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but health officials have shared the test guidelines with licensed clinical labs so they can develop their own, Neuwirth said Thursday.

The state has declared two “presumptive” coronavirus cases.

The patient at Hackensack University Medical Center is being kept in a room with lower air pressure than in adjacent rooms and hallways, so that air circulating in his room does not escape, said Ihor Sawczuk, a physician there. Medical devices used in the patient’s care are earmarked for use on him only, the doctor said.

“Equipment does not come in and out,” Sawczuk said. “And we use a limited number of personnel who work with the patient.”

— Tom Avril

4:04 PM - March 5, 2020
4:04 PM - March 5, 2020

Campbell’s increases soup production as coronavirus spreads

Campbell Soup, based in Camden, is increasing its soup production as coronavirus spreads, CEO Mark Clouse said Wednesday.

“We made the decision last week to up production in certain areas where we’re using a little bit the analogy of weather or natural disasters,” Clouse said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

“Where do we see demand coming in a greater rate? And we’ve upped that level of production to be able to maximize our inventory to be prepared for whatever unfolds here.”

Along with hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, consumers have been stockpiling canned soup and other non-perishable foods as coronavirus spreads.

Clouse told “Closing Bell” Campbell’s saw a surge in demand from retailers this weekend, but it’s too early to call it a trend.

The 150-year-old Camden company has struggled for relevance recently, struggling to find its place in a world where consumers are less and less thrilled about canned soup.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

3:43 PM - March 5, 2020
3:43 PM - March 5, 2020

Sweeping Senate vote sends Trump $8.3 billion bill to fight coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence, center, joined at left by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, arrives at the Capitol.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Vice President Mike Pence, center, joined at left by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, arrives at the Capitol.

The Senate passed an $8.3 billion measure Thursday to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak in hopes of reassuring a fearful public and accelerating the government’s response to the virus, whose rapid spread is threatening to upend everyday life in the U.S. and across the globe.

The money would pay for a multifaceted attack on a virus that is spreading more widely every day, sending financial markets spiraling again Thursday, disrupting travel and potentially threatening the U.S. economy’s decade-long expansion. Thursday’s sweeping 96-1 vote sends the bill to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the sole “no” vote.

The House passed the bill Wednesday by a 415-2 vote. The plan would more than triple the $2.5 billion amount outlined by the White House 10 days ago.

The Trump proposal was immediately discarded by members of Congress from both parties. Instead, they negotiated the increased figure in a burst of bipartisan cooperation that’s increasingly rare in Washington.

— Associated Press

3:30 PM - March 5, 2020
3:30 PM - March 5, 2020

New Jersey confirms second ‘presumptive’ coronavirus case

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver Thursday confirmed a second “presumptive” case of coronavirus in the state.

The second case is also a person in Bergen County, State Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli said. More details are expected to be released Thursday evening.

The first patient, a 32-year-old man, first experienced symptoms of coronavirus on March 1, and sought medical care the next day in a Bergen County urgent care and then a hospital emergency room in Hackensack, Persichilli said. There, he was placed in an airborne isolation room and has since had limited close contact with other New Jersey residents outside the health care setting.

Persichilli said officials “expect to see more cases in New Jersey.”

“Currently, we have eight persons under investigation awaiting testing,” she said. The state has previously found 11 negative cases, along with the two people now testing positive for coronavirus.

The 32-year-old is in “stable condition” at Hackensack University Medical Center in Bergen County, officials said. They are working with New York officials to identify all contacts he may have had.

Persichilli noted that most New Jersey residents are still at very low risk of contracting coronavirus.

”The threat to public health in New Jersey remains low," she said. “We urge residents to remain calm. And it bears repeating: this is cold and flu season, and residents with respiratory ailments are more likely to be suffering from a cold or flu, not coronavirus.”

— Tom Avril

2:55 PM - March 5, 2020
2:55 PM - March 5, 2020

New Jersey legislators introduce bill to allow remote education if schools close for coronavirus

After a “presumptive positive” case of coronavirus was reported in New Jersey late Wednesday, Garden State legislators Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to allow school districts to educate students remotely in the event schools are closed for more than three days.

The bill would require the Commissioner of Education to set guidelines for remote education of students who may not have access to a computer or the internet, and direction for districts where students depend on school breakfast and lunch programs.

Under current law, school districts must provide public schooling for at least 180 days during the school year, from July 1 to June 30, to be eligible for state school aid.

“Given current concerns about the coronavirus and extended school closures that have occurred in other places around the world, it makes sense for New Jersey to update our plans to ensure that education can continue in the event of a disruption to the regular school schedule,” said Sen. Gerry Cardinale, who represents Bergen and Passaic Counties, where the case was reported. “Many of our schools have some level of ability to offer remote learning, which many utilize during the occasional snow day. What we don’t have, however, is a clear authorization for e-learning days to count towards the 180-day school requirement. It’s something we must address proactively before it becomes a necessity.”

In and around Philadelphia, colleges have already begun contemplating moving classes online as the virus continues to spread.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

2:10 PM - March 5, 2020
2:10 PM - March 5, 2020

‘Don’t oversaturate yourself’ as coronavirus fears climb, Philly experts advise

As coronavirus cases increase around the country, the idea of a Philadelphia outbreak is causing anxiety for many, therapists and psychologists told reporter Bethany Ao.

From reduced patronage of Chinese-owned businesses to a shortage of hand sanitizer, stoked fears on social media to the effects of actually being quarantined, the virus can take a serious toll on mental health.

“You want to stay informed, but you also want to minimize how much you are listening to, watching or reading the news,” said Holly Sawyer, a therapist who works with Temple students and in a private practice. “Don’t oversaturate yourself, because that is going to increase your anxiety.”

Faith Gordon-Mazur, a licensed professional counselor who works in Society Hill, said the uncertainty surrounding the virus’ spread can be hard to manage.

“We prefer predictability and like to be able to anticipate what is going to happen as it increases a sense of safety," she said. "When that is not present, people try to find it; then when the information is unclear or contradictory, this can sometimes create even more ambiguity resulting in increased stress and fear.”

— Oona Goodin-Smith

1:32 PM - March 5, 2020
1:32 PM - March 5, 2020

Philadelphia religious groups change their age-old practices due to coronavirus

Priests process in for Archbishop Nelson Pérez’s installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Pérez, who was most recently the bishop of Cleveland, succeeds Charles Chaput as the archbishop of Philadelphia.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Priests process in for Archbishop Nelson Pérez’s installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Pérez, who was most recently the bishop of Cleveland, succeeds Charles Chaput as the archbishop of Philadelphia.

Across Philadelphia, congregations are changing age-old religious practices to prevent the spread of coronavirus, reports Jacob Baumgart.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has slightly modified the Holy Communion, no longer drinking wine during communion and instead only eating bread.

Priests, deacons and communion ministers are being instructed to wash their hands before mass, and use hand sanitizer before communion. Handshake greetings are now optional.

“Even in the midst of this possible coronavirus crisis, the emphasis still needs to be on keeping focus on the Lord,” said Rev. Dennis Gill, the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. “That’s always, but even now more so.”

Synagogues, too, are modifying their services, telling congregants to refrain from hugging or kissing, and no longer touching the challah bread.

Some Philadelphia Muslims are concerned with how coronavirus could affect the Hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that takes place during the last month of the Islamic calendar.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

12:48 PM - March 5, 2020
12:48 PM - March 5, 2020

Philadelphia City Council to hold hearings for ‘the inevitable arrival of coronavirus’

City Councilman Allan Domb sits during an October City Council meeting.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
City Councilman Allan Domb sits during an October City Council meeting.

Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted Thursday to hold hearings on the city’s preparedness for “the inevitable arrival of coronavirus."

”The City must be ready to handle an influx of testing demands, treatment needs and capacity issues, emergency service preparations, and an increased demand for information provided to the public," the resolution, introduced by Councilmember Allan Domb, stated. “The City must also be informed about potential costs associated with best serving the public during an outbreak of Coronavirus.”

The city’s health department has created a resource center to explain known information about the virus. Council’s vote authorized the Committee on Public Health and Human Services to hold hearings at a later date.

— Laura McCrystal

11:55 AM - March 5, 2020
11:55 AM - March 5, 2020

Temple tells students who have been in countries on coronavirus alert to stay off campus for 14 days

Hady Kahy, a professor at Temple University's Japan campus, teaches Intermediate Microeconomic Analysis in an empty classroom, while his students watch online via a classroom camera.
George W. Miller III
Hady Kahy, a professor at Temple University's Japan campus, teaches Intermediate Microeconomic Analysis in an empty classroom, while his students watch online via a classroom camera.

Temple University has asked students returning from spring break next week not to come to campus for 14 days if they have been in a country on alert for the coronavirus.

The countries include China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea, Mark Denys, senior director of health services at Temple said in a message to its community.“

"If you have traveled to any of these countries during the past 14 days, including during spring break, this means you must self-monitor for 14 days from the date you arrived back in the U.S.,” the message said. “You may not return to any of Temple’s U.S. campuses during that period.”

Other universities, including Villanova, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pennsylvania, have taken similar steps. Some schools are calling for students to “self monitor.” Others are asking them to “quarantine.” Penn calls it “self isolation.”

“If you do travel to any of these countries, we recommend 14 days of self-isolation before returning to campus,” Penn’s provost Wendell Pritchett said in an email to the campus community.

But there’s really no way for campuses to police their request.

Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said the university won’t know the impact until students start reporting they need to stay off campus. He stressed that no students or staff at any of Temple’s campuses have been diagnosed with the virus.

Faculty have been asked to provide alternative learning options for students who may need to stay off campus.

“We are working to ensure that if you do need to self-monitor, your studies are not disrupted and your academic progress is not affected,” Denys said in the campus message.

— Susan Snyder

11:38 AM - March 5, 2020
11:38 AM - March 5, 2020

Coronavirus could cost airlines up to $113 billion, analysis predicts

Depending on the magnitude of the outbreak, coronavirus could cause airlines to lose between $63 billion and $113 billion, the International Air Transport Association said in an analysis Thursday.

Airline share prices have fallen nearly 25% since the outbreak began — greater than the decline that occurred during the SARS crisis of 2003, the association said.

American Airlines, the world’s largest air carrier and responsible for about 70% of Philadelphia International Airport’s traffic, has seen its stock drop by about 40% since mid-February.

“Travel is part of the lifeblood of commerce,” American Airlines president Robert Isom told reporter Catherine Dunn this week. “So we know that travel demand will rebound, and we have been through situations in the past, with H1N1 [flu] most recently, and we know how to handle situations like this.”

The airline, a spokesperson said, is “in close coordination with government and health officials as we continue to evaluate based on customer and team member safety and travel demand.”

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention operates a standing quarantine station at PHL, the agency is not actively screening for coronavirus there, unless passengers “are believed to exhibit symptoms,” an American spokesperson said.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

11:07 AM - March 5, 2020
11:07 AM - March 5, 2020

Your pets can’t pass on coronavirus, but they can test positive

A dog is seen at a pet shop in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Kin Cheung / AP
A dog is seen at a pet shop in Hong Kong on Thursday.

Pet cats and dogs cannot pass the new coronavirus on to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owners.

That’s the conclusion of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department after a dog in quarantine tested weakly positive for the virus Feb. 27, Feb. 28 and March 2, using the canine’s nasal and oral cavity samples.

A unidentified spokesman for the department was quoted in a news release as saying. “There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they become sick.”

— Associated Press

10:47 AM - March 5, 2020
10:47 AM - March 5, 2020

Coronavirus is not killing 3.4% of patients, but better data is on the way

A paramedic tests a sample taken from a patient suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran.
Ali Shirband / AP
A paramedic tests a sample taken from a patient suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran.

In February, Chinese researchers said 2.3% of people infected in that country had died from the coronavirus. This week, world health officials put the worldwide figure at 3.4%, a figure that President Trump labeled Wednesday night as “false.”

That may not be the best choice of words, but he has a point: any calculation of a death rate is premature at this point, and the real figure is almost certainly lower. Yet with the help of a special kind of blood test, better numbers are on the way.

In all likelihood, epidemiologists say the true death rate is well below 3.4%, and lower than the 2.3% in the Chinese study. Yet that’s not entirely good news, if it means the virus has been circulating undetected in much higher numbers.

— Tom Avril

9:21 AM - March 5, 2020
9:21 AM - March 5, 2020

32-year-old New Jersey man tests ‘presumptive positive’ for coronavirus

An unnamed 32-year-old man from Fort Lee, Bergen County, is the first to test positive for coronavirus in New Jersey, officials told NJ.com.

Mayor Mark Sokolich told NJ.com the man was being treated for the illness at Hackensack University Medical Center, where he arrived on Tuesday and was placed in isolation. Sokolich told NJ.com the man “has no school-age children," and the mayor did not know his occupation.

“We’re hoping to interview him and get more information this morning,” Sokolich told the news outlet. “Our entire community is hoping this man has a fast, painless and speedy recovery.”

The initial positive coronavirus test result was found by the New Jersey Department of Health at the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratories, officials said Wednesday. The case is now being submitted to the CDC for confirmatory testing.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

8:32 AM - March 5, 2020
8:32 AM - March 5, 2020

Starbucks suspends use of personal cups to prevent coronavirus spread

A Starbucks sign.
Gene J. Puskar / AP
A Starbucks sign.

In an open letter Wednesday, Starbucks announced it is suspending its use of all personal coffee cups and “for here” ware to help curb the spread of coronavirus for the foreseeable future.

The company will still honor its 10-cent discount for anyone who brings personal cups to the store.

“We will continue to stay close to our partners and local health officials, and we are optimistic this will be a temporary situation,” executive Vice President Rossann Williams wrote.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

8:00 AM - March 5, 2020
8:00 AM - March 5, 2020

Trump calls coronavirus fatality rate a ‘false number,’ suggests it’s OK to go to work with virus

President Donald Trump called the estimated fatality rate of coronavirus a “false number” and suggested it was okay for infected people to go to work during a phone interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday night.

Trump told Hannity it was his “hunch” that the World Health Organization’s estimated global death rate of coronavirus was too high, based on conversations he’s had with experts.

“They don’t know about the easy cases because the easy cases don’t go to the hospital," Trump said. "They don’t report to doctors or the hospital in many cases. So I think that that number is very high.”

During the interview, Trump also suggested it was okay for people infected with coronavirus to go to work, despite the CDC advising anyone exhibiting symptoms of the virus — such as a fever, coughing, and/or shortness of breath — to remain home and avoid public areas.

“A lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly," Trump said. “We have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better.”

Experts have advised caution surrounding the coronavirus fatality rate provided by world health officials this week. The number is likely higher than the actual fatality rate, they say, because in the heat of an epidemic, patients with mild or no symptoms do not seek treatment, and therefore are not immediately identified.

— Rob Tornoe

7:55 AM - March 5, 2020
7:55 AM - March 5, 2020

How to prepare for coronavirus and reduce your panic

One of the best current defenses against the coronavirus, experts say, is hand-washing. Wash for 20 seconds, or roughly the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
Cynthia Greer / STAFF
One of the best current defenses against the coronavirus, experts say, is hand-washing. Wash for 20 seconds, or roughly the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

When it comes to the spread of coronavirus, it’s most important to stay calm and not panic — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create a game plan in the event you’re stuck in your home for days.

Here are some actions to take now from reporter Grace Dickinson:

  • Take tabs on your medications and flu shot status
  • Make a food plan
  • Talk to your work about telecommuting
  • Make childcare plans so you’re ready if schools close
  • Use common sense and wash your hands
  • Sanitize surfaces and everyday items, like keys and cell phones
  • Forget about face masks

— Oona Goodin-Smith

7:39 AM - March 5, 2020
7:39 AM - March 5, 2020

Another suspected coronavirus case in Philadelphia; ‘presumptive positive’ in New Jersey

A person in Philadelphia who was tested for coronavirus does not have the infection, but another person is now being tested for the disease, officials announced Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Bergen County, New Jersey, state officials announced a “presumptive positive result," which is now being submitted to the Centers for Disease Control for confirmatory testing. The New Jersey case, officials said, involves a male in his 30s who has been hospitalized in the county since Tuesday.

Health officials have been directed to err on the side of caution in deciding who to test, now that cases with no known source of infection suggest the virus is spreading from person to person in California, Oregon, Washington and beyond. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now advises testing anyone with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to an affected country — not just China, the original source — or anyone with severe respiratory illness that has no other explanation.

In the U.S., 10 people in Washington state and 1 person in California have died from the virus. After California announced its first coronavirus-linked fatality Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency. Washington, Florida, and Hawaii have also declared states of emergency due to coronavirus.

County officials said the person who died in California was “an elderly adult with underlying health conditions.” Of the 10 people in Washington who died from coronavirus, five lived in a long-term nursing facility.

Most patients have mild symptoms, but the illness can have severe consequences for older people, smokers, and those with underlying health conditions.

— Oona Goodin-Smith