Battle lines forming over high school sports in Pa. and N.J. as coronavirus cases among young people are on the rise
As concerns grow about the spread of the coronavirus among young people, the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey on Monday adopted different responses to impassioned but sharply divided calls to resume team sports.
Gov. Phil Murphy said he was confident New Jersey high school sports can safely resume this fall, calling them necessary for the mental and physical well-being of the state’s 95,000 student athletes. But his Pennsylvania counterpart, Gov. Tom Wolf, said again that school athletics should be paused until 2021.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association “will do what they want to do, and the school districts will do what they want to do,” Wolf said, noting that as a parent of former athletes, he wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing his daughters to participate even in outdoor individual sports like cross-country. “I’m giving guidance here, but I think it’s interesting to note that the Big Ten and the PAC-10, they’ve all basically said they’re not going to do fall sports, they’re not going to do it in the field of football especially.”
Pa. casino revenues return to pre-pandemic levels, but online gambling soars
Pennsylvania casinos reported that revenue returned to pre-pandemic levels in July, but the numbers also show how dramatically legal gambling has shifted from brick-and-mortar casinos to the internet in the era of COVID-19.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Monday reported total gaming revenue of $283 million in July, up from $281.5 million a year ago, a 0.5% year-on-year increase that would be nothing to crow about during normal times. But it is remarkable because July was the first time since the coronavirus lockdown that most casinos were operating.
A significant amount of business has shifted from casinos to online platforms in the last year. Online slots, table games, and poker generated $54.4 million in July. Along with online sports betting, internet gaming generated $61.2 million in revenue in July, or nearly 22% of all casino gaming revenue.
Pa. students in school now subject to more-stringent mask rules
Pennsylvania school students are now subject to more stringent mask-wearing requirements, the state Department of Education reported on Monday.
Students in a school now must wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking at least six feet apart, also six feet apart during “face-covering breaks” that last no longer than 10 minutes, or when wearing a face covering creates an “unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task,” the department said on its website.
Previously, students could be maskless while seated at desks that were six feet apart or in other socially-distanced work spaces, or engaged in other activities as long as they were six feet apart.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced another 316 COVID-19 cases during a news conference Monday, bringing the state’s total to 187,767 cases.
Murphy also announced another four fatalities that are now confirmed to be from COVID-19 complications. Those deaths occurred on Aug. 11, July 9, July 2, and May 11.
This brings the state’s total to 14,077 deaths and an additional 1,839 probable deaths. While 10 deaths were reported in hospitals yesterday, Murphy said they are not yet lab-confirmed.
The daily positivity rate on Aug. 13 was 1.65%, meaning an overwhelming percentage of people tested were negative. In South Jersey, the positivity rate is 3.12%.
On average, every one person infected is transmitting the virus to 1.03 others. This is still significantly less than the 5.31 rate from March, but higher than the 0.7 rate shortly before the state moved to Stage Two of its reopening.
In New Jersey hospitals, there are 472 patients confirmed to have COVID-19 or awaiting a COVID-19 test result being treated. Of those, 91 were in intensive care and 38 required the use of a ventilator.
Murphy, legislators express hope that outdoor high sports will play in fall
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, and State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen, Passaic), and General Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly (D., Bergen,Passaic) all said during Monday’s news conference that they hope outdoor high school sports will continue this fall.
They said the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) will make the final decision (Sarlo and Wimberly are both on the executive committee of the NJSIAA). Sarlo said he hoped that decision would come by the end of the week.
The three said they believe it is possible for sports to be carried out safely outdoors, limiting travel and implementing social distancing for spectators and the athletes when they are not on the field.
They also said the return of high school sports is necessary for the mental and physical wellbeing of 95,000 student-athletes. They are concerned, they said, that if NJSIAA does not allow high school sports then these student-athletes will still participate in activities, just not those sanctioned and regulated by the association.
”Outdoor sports that limit travel to your local region and keeps student athletes here in the state, that are organized and structured by the NJSIAA, create an environment that one, holds our student athletes accountable and responsible to their team for their actions both on and off the field,” said Sarlo, who is also the mayor of Wood-Ridge in Bergen County and the Wood-Ridge Devils youth baseball coach.
“And number two, by keeping them in that structure it greatly reduces the likelihood that our student athletes will engage in that reckless behavior off the field that could cause the spread of COVID-19,“ Sarlo said.
Wimberly, who is also Hackensack High School’s head football coach, said that the student-athletes need “the bond that is created in that locker room,” saying it “transcends all areas from race, religion, gender, you name it, and guys always come together.”
High school sports, he said, can bring communities together in a way that is desperately needed after months of shutdowns and protests.
”With the challenges of COVID-19 nationwide and worldwide and the racial unrest here in the country, we need that locker room camaraderie to bring our communities back together,” Wimberly said. “It’s part of the recovery that I think we seek as a country.”
Murphy said he is confident student-athletes can play sports safely, pointing to what he called a lack of evidence of outdoor flare-ups of the coronavirus, but will wait to hear from the NJSIAA.
”I am hugely of the opinion we need sports,” Murphy said. “It needs to be responsible. And at this point it needs to be outside.”
Murphy clears way for high school sports to resume
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday cleared the way for high school sports to resume with coronavirus precautions.
Murphy said that the final decision on playing will be made by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“The NJSIAA is taking seriously the need for protecting our school communities, and will only pursue a sports schedule if they feel the proper health and safety requirements can be met,” Murphy said on Twitter.
The NJSIAA issued a statement under the hashtag of #ReturnToPlay and said it would issue updates on its plans later this week.
The final determination on the fall high school sports seasons will be made by the @NJSIAA.
The NJSIAA is taking seriously the need for protecting our school communities, and will only pursue a sports schedule if they feel the proper health and safety requirements can be met.
“The safest way to vote is, is to vote from home so that you don’t have to go and stand in long lines like they did in Wisconsin or Georgia, that you can vote over that 50-day period,” Wolf said. “We have the longest period of time to vote in Pennsylvania of any state in the United States to take your time and do it safely.”
A new Pennsylvania law allowing any voter cast a ballot by mail, coupled with coronavirus-stoked fears of in-person voting led to a huge increase in mail voting during the June 2 primary — and a long wait for results —and served as a trial run of the system, Wolf said.
He added that the Department of State is working with counties that may need more help to prepare for November.As the 2020 presidential election draws nearer, Trump has asserted without evidence that universal mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud.
”It seems to me that it should have increased accessibility to the vote, which is what we all ought to be wanting, Republicans and Democrats in a democracy,” Wolf said Monday.
The governor’s comments came following a press conference in York County at Magical Days Learning Center, a beneficiary of a $96 million state grant package for Pennsylvania small businesses. After minority-owned small businesses were largely shut out of early coronavirus financial aid, 51% of the latest state grants were awarded to minority-owned businesses, said Daniel Betancourt of the Community First Fund.
The application period for the final round of small business state grants is now open, Betancourt said. Businesses who previously applied for funding but did not receive will be considered in the final round.
People of color most likely to be sickened by workplace outbreaks, CDC finds
Non-White and Hispanic employees were much more likely than their White co-workers to get infected amid workplace outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in Utah, says a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus’s disproportionate effects on non-White Americans are well-documented, with Black and Hispanic getting infected and dying at higher rates. As the CDC explains, there are a host of systemic issues and inequalities blame, including uneven access to health care, inability to stay home from work and concentration in the jobs most likely to expose someone to infection.
The Utah study released Monday quantifies this phenomenon in workplace settings, showing just how starkly the pandemic’s racial disparities play out within affected industries.
Non-White and Hispanic people accounted for 73 percent of coronavirus cases associated with work outbreaks, the report states, even though they represent 24 percent of the workforce in the sectors where those outbreaks occurred.
The reason may be non-White and Hispanic staffers’ concentration in “front-line” positions at higher risk, though data on workers’ specific occupation would shed more light on that, the authors write. They conclude that attempts to address the coronavirus should be “culturally and linguistically responsive to racial/ethnic minority workers disproportionately affected.”
The report’s data spans March 6 to June 5. Most of the state’s 277 documented coronavirus outbreaks during that period unfolded in workplaces, through workplace outbreaks account for only 12 percent of Utah’s known cases.
Fifteen out of 20 sectors examined had known coronavirus outbreaks, defined as two or more confirmed cases occurring within a two-week period among people who work in the same facility.
Three industries accounted for 58 percent of the nearly 1,400 cases linked to work outbreaks: manufacturing, construction and wholesale trade, the CDC’s report says.
Philadelphia reports 291 additional cases over the weekend
Philadelphia reported 291 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, representing cases confirmed since Friday.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said new cases of the virus had been decreasing in recent weeks. But he noted last week that he would continue to closely monitor data trends, after the city received news of more positive cases in daily lab results than they had in the prior week.
The city also reported two additional deaths due to COVID-19. A total of 1,717 Philadelphia residents have now died of the virus.
Pennsylvania’s child care centers to lose $209 million
Child care centers across Pennsylvania will face combined costs of $209 million due to shutdowns and new regulations caused by the coronavirus, according to a study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
That figure includes facility costs — such as rent or mortgage payments — made while the businesses were closed, the payroll required to re-hire workers once doors open again, and the expenses required to safely sanitize the centers themselves, according to Dr. Philip Sirinides, the director of Penn State Harrisburg’s Institute of State and Regional Affairs, which published the study late last month.
COVID has “highlighted the fragility of the system,” Sirinides said during a call with reporters on Monday, noting that 213 childcare centers — about 4 percent of the state’s total — have permanently shut their doors since March.
DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said that federal funding through the CARES Act has provided much-needed financial relief, but that additional funding is required, especially as more businesses slowly re-open, and some schools make the decision to switch to all-virtual instruction.
”If the pandemic were over today and our economy was back to where it was pre-pandemic, we would probably be in a pretty good place,” Miller said. We’ve been able to address issues we’ve seen so far, but out concern comes in when we look at the future.”
Small group of students, teachers protest Temple’s reopening
Around 20 cars and a handful of bikers took to Broad Street Monday morning in a car caravan to protest Temple’s decision to reopen campus this semester.
The rally, planned for the University’s first day of move-in, was co-organized by the Student Coalition for Change and Rank-and-File Temple Caucus, a union of adjuncts, and graduate students concerned with all workers receiving the proper care and security they need amid the pandemic.
”It’s really not ethical to have face-to-face classes, and so we’re trying to embolden people to really push Temple to do the responsible thing,” said Larisa Kingston Mann, professor of Media Studies and Production, RAFT member and member of the Temple Association of University Professionals.
”Many of our students, especially our first-year students, told us they wanted to have an on-campus component if it could be done safely,” said university spokesperson Raymond Betzner. “We’ve also heard from faculty who are eager to get back on campus.”
But for the Student Coalition for Change and RAFT, that desire does not outweigh the public health costs of in-person classes.
“While [Temple is] doing a lot of things on campus to protect students, it’s doing very little to protect faculty, and it has not acknowledged the community around us whatsoever,” Student Coalition for Change co-founder and Temple senior Teresa Swartley said.
The two organizations also called for more transparency in the university’s contingency plan for when people get sick, as well as for more support for workers and community members. Temple students and passersby stopped and filmed the caravan, intrigued by the shouts and decorated cars.
”College students are going to have social events off campus, they’re going to be partying, they’re going to be acting irresponsibly, and it’s important to recognize that,” she said. “I think there will be an outbreak, inevitably, and the community is going to take the brunt of it.”
Pennsylvania reports no additional coronavirus deaths, but remains concerned about young people
Pennsylvania on Monday reported an additional 384 confirmed coronavirus cases but no deaths. The case count does not include numbers from Philadelphia, however, due to reporting delays, the state Department of Health said.
The department continues to voice concern about an uptick in cases among young people, particularly those between the ages of 19 and 24. In the Southeastern region of the state, nearly 17% of cases so far in August are in that age group, compared to 4% in April. Statewide, the department said, there are currently more cases among younger age groups than among people 50 or older.
Since the pandemic began, at least 124,844 people have been sickened and 7,468 have died of complications of the virus.
What you need to know about the different kinds of coronavirus tests
“Do I have COVID-19?”
In Pennsylvania and across the country, coronavirus test results are sometimes taking weeks to come back. Those delays are frustrating for those who might be sick, and just plain unacceptable to state officials.
“Two weeks, that’s almost useless,” Gov. Tom Wolf said recently.
There’s a promising solution, state officials announced Aug. 11, and it’s coupled with an economic boon. A company in the Lehigh Valley, OraSure Technologies, is expanding its operations and working to develop two kinds of rapid COVID-19 tests.
But there’s a catch.
Neither antibody tests nor antigen tests — the two kinds OraSure is developing — are the gold standard for determining if a person actively has COVID-19.
In Kensington, “business reigns” in the drug market despite the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended supply chains around the globe, as corporations, governments, and consumers search for everything from surgical masks and hand sanitizer to boats and bicycles.
Yet for one pocket of commerce in Philadelphia, supplies appear as plentiful as ever.
In Philadelphia’s Kensington district, home to one of the largest open-air drug markets in the United States, crowds of sellers and buyers flock to corners as if there never were a pandemic.
“The blocks [where drug dealing takes place] never closed,” said Christine Russo, 38, who’s been using heroin for seven years. She waited Friday near Kensington and Allegheny Avenues, at the heart of the city’s opioid market, while a friend prepared to inject a dose of heroin. “Business reigns. The sun shines.”
Yet plentiful supply does not mean that what is on offer isn’t dangerously unpredictable. Over the last few years, Philadelphia’s drug supply has been contaminated with fentanyl and other adulterants. Now, that danger has been compounded by the financial, social, and emotional upheavals of the coronavirus pandemic.
Doctors are “very concerned” that fewer people will get flu shots due to the coronavirus
Bad as it has been these past few months to live with the danger of coronavirus, things are about to get worse. Fall is approaching and with it comes that other respiratory virus that puts thousands of Americans in the hospital every year: influenza.
Prepare for an onslaught of public service messages begging you to get a shot not only to protect yourself and your vulnerable loved ones but an entire health system already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospitals often fill up in December and January when flu season really takes off, said Susan Bailey, an allergy and immunology specialist in Fort Worth who is president of the American Medical Association. “If hospitals are already full of coronavirus patients, where are the influenza patients going to go?” she asked. The AMA encourages flu vaccines every year, but will have a larger campaign with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ad Council this year.
Murphy, co-chair of the Democratic National Convention, said this week’s virtual convention should be just as unifying as past year’s, especially since people have had a “warm up” to online events over the past five months.
“I think it will be an incredible week, and it will set a big contrast to all this other unproductive noise of ‘us vs. them,‘” he said. “This is going to be a week where Democrats show, as big as our tent may be, we know how to bring people together. We know how to unite America.‘”
As for coronavirus reopenings in the Garden State, Murphy reiterated his desire to see schools resume some in-person education as soon as possible. He anticipates “a very significant number of districts” will start in-person education in some form, he said.
Gyms, indoor dining, and theaters will be “the last three” New Jersey businesses to reopen, he said.
“We’re still not out of the woods,” Murphy said. “We’re going to take this one carefully.”
But not Christina Young. The 29-year-old is healthy, but her 20-month-old son, Jackson, has cystic fibrosis, a progressive lung disease that can turn a cold into a severe infection. If he got the coronavirus, he could suffer severe lung damage.
So for Young, reopening meant only more anxiety. She, her partner, and Jackson remain isolated in their Cherry Hill home, going out only for Jackson’s doctor’s appointments, during which she places a sign on his stroller to encourage people to keep their distance. Next to the cartoon image of a bear cub, it reads: “I have cystic fibrosis so please be fair. Your germs are more than I can bear.”
“We have to look at everyone as a potential threat to our son,” she said. “There is so much stress every day.”
This emotional turmoil is one shared by many people across the region and the country. For people who live with or care for vulnerable loved ones, this summer has not been an introduction to society’s “new normal.” Instead, they have watched as friends press play on their lives, while theirs remain on an indefinite pause.
In Philly and Upper Darby, garbage collection still backed up
Due to last week’s rainstorms, the Philadelphia Streets Department said residents should expect trash to be “slightly delayed” while “recycling will be significantly behind as crews continue to prioritize trash collections to mitigate the threat to health and safety.”
Despite the backup, trash and recycling should still be put on its regular day, the department said in a statement.
In Upper Darby, where sanitation staff enters its second week of quarantine due to a coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Barbarann Keffer said the township is contracting with a second waste disposal company to assist the school bus drivers who were called in to help.
On Monday, workers will collect trash from the routes missed on Thursday and Friday, she said in a statement. Through Wednesday, trash collection will be delayed by one day, she added, and then pick-ups should be back on schedule.
For Upper Darby residents who want to toss their trash sooner, dumpsters will be open for them at Naylors Run Park, 1500 Garrett Road, and Scullion Park, 295 Whitehall Drive, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, she said.
Unclothed bicyclists will not take to the streets of Philadelphia en masse this year, as organizers of the annual Naked Bike Ride announced they had canceled the event due to the coronavirus.
Organizers said cases of the virus in Philadelphia spurred them to cancel the ride, which had been scheduled for Aug. 29.
“After much debate, we feel that canceling this year’s event is the most responsible thing to do,” they said in a statement on the event’s website, encouraging people to “keep up your (socially distant) riding and be safe.”
As new Villanova students arrived on campus this week, some participated in a large outdoor gathering that quickly drew attention for its lack of social distancing.
Video footage on local and national television programs — one of which dubbed the event a “pandemic party” — showed students crowded near a tent Wednesday evening. A number of students did not appear to be wearing masks.
A Villanova spokesperson on Saturday confirmed the gathering, which he said was attended by “a few hundred” students Wednesday, the second of two scheduled move-in days for incoming freshmen.
The university’s public safety department “responded to reports of the gathering and the crowd quickly dispersed,” said the spokesperson, Jonathan Gust. He said that “social distancing was not being maintained, and, while many students were wearing masks, others were not.”
More than 5.4 million American have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. That number is a 2 million cases more than have been reported in Brazil, and 3 million more than have been reported in India — the countries with the second- and third-highest case counts. America is No. 1. More than 170,000 people have died in the United States.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works to get a handle on the coronavirus, and sometimes reportedly clash with the Trump administration, two of its top officials resigned Friday. They say they were not forced out.
The Democratic National Convention is here through Thursday. And by here, we mean on your computer and TV screens. The event is taking place entirely virtually due to the coronavirus. It will air each night from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday’s speakers include former First Lady Michelle Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. Former Vice President Joe Biden will speak and accept his party’s nomination on Thursday. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, is set to speak Wednesday.
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