5:58 PM - September 2, 2020
5:58 PM - September 2, 2020

‘Urgent’ request sent to states in push for coronavirus vaccine delivery by Nov. 1

FILE - This March 16, 2020 file photo shows vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Ted S. Warren / AP
FILE - This March 16, 2020 file photo shows vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent a letter last week to the nation’s governors with an urgent request. The Trump administration wanted them to do everything in their power to eliminate hurdles for vaccine distribution sites to be fully operational by Nov. 1.

The Aug. 27 letter, obtained by McClatchy, asked governors to fast-track permits and licenses for new distribution sites. “The normal time required to obtain these permits presents a significant barrier to the success of this urgent public health program,” Redfield wrote.

“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities,” he said, “and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020.”

“The requirements you may be asked to waive in order to expedite vaccine distribution will not compromise the safety or integrity of the products being distributed,” he added.

It was the latest hurried federal request of state governments to prepare for the arrival of a vaccine for COVID-19, the pandemic disease that has killed roughly 185,000 Americans.

Last month, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official working on the federal coronavirus response, warned that state public health departments are “running out of time” to draft plans for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines — and requested states submit proposals by Oct. 1.

Delivery firms have received guidance from Trump administration officials to prepare freezer farms in the heartland and get ready to load vaccines onto trucks no later than Nov. 1.

The rush is putting pressure on state health systems already strapped for resources — and appears out of sync with the progress of ongoing clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines, which are still recruiting volunteers who will test the safety and effectiveness of the drugs.

Some supply-chain experts are expressing concern that Trump administration officials with “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal program accelerating vaccine development, have failed to adequately communicate the responsibilities that state and local governments will take on once the logistically demanding task of distributing a COVID-19 vaccine is upon them.

“At this point, we should know much more about what the intended distribution system looks like, and what the plan is,” said Dr. Julie Swann, head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University and an adviser to the CDC during its response to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

The first vaccines most likely to emerge from Phase III clinical trials will pose exceptional challenges to public health officials, requiring storage in subzero temperatures and two doses per individual spread weeks apart.

Others have expressed concern that the timeline set out by Operation Warp Speed — setting a deadline that would offer the first vaccines to Americans just days before the presidential election — is motivated by politics over science.

Warp Speed officials have told reporters to expect an “overwhelming” public messaging campaign come November. And at the Republican National Convention last week, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House senior adviser and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump all touted the Warp Speed program, claiming a vaccine could be approved before the end of the year.

Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, said in an interview that guidance from the administration is to be ready to put the vaccine on trucks by Nov. 1. “It will be preceded by a practice run — we’re talking about having early discussions in September and October about how this will actually work,” he said.

“I think we’ll all be given instructions on how it will work — we haven’t seen that yet,” Wheeler said. “They’re talking about ten million doses in November.”Dr. Larry Corey, who is co-leading the coronavirus vaccine clinical trials for the COVID-19 Prevention Network under the National Institutes of Health, told McClatchy this week that he does not expect results from the trials to be ready for approval or delivery by that time.

“All the trials are designed, if everything goes well, to get an answer about seven months from the time that the trial starts,” Corey said. “Vaccines with 90% efficacy will give a readout sooner than with 50% efficacy, but I would still say that it would require probably the difference between five months and seven months.”

The first Phase III trial began in mid-July, making it extremely unlikely his team could fully enroll the volunteers, provide each volunteer with two doses, track their progress and reach conclusions by November, Corey said.

“It’s incredibly important for our country and the world to know which vaccine works, how well it works,” said Corey, a virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “They look like they’re going terrifically well, and what we need is to let science take over, because without that, we have no public policy.”

— Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau

4:48 PM - September 2, 2020
4:48 PM - September 2, 2020

Montco board chair expects rise in COVID-19 cases after Labor Day

Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, speaks during a news conference on March 18, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, speaks during a news conference on March 18, 2020.

Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh said she is expecting to see coronavirus cases increase after the Labor Day weekend, similar to previous holiday spikes during the pandemic.

She urged residents to stay vigilant and continue following public health guidelines.

”Just because it’s a holiday from work, it’s not a holiday from the coronavirus. And in fact, if people are lax in their behavior it just increases the chances that coronavirus will get to work overtime on Labor Day,” said Arkoosh, who is also a physician. “Keep those masks on, keep that social distancing, be very, very careful at any social gatherings, and do your best to not bring this virus back to our community.”

Montgomery County officials reported 337 new cases of COVID-19 and one death since Aug. 26, for a total of 10,933 cases and and 827 deaths during the pandemic. The age range of the positive cases are those as young as 3 months-old to 95-years-old. The county continues to see 40 to 45 new cases each day and, consistent with state and national trends, people 30-years-old and younger are increasingly becoming infected with the coronavirus.

”Nobody is immune from this disease,” Arkoosh said. “While younger individuals do not appear to be getting hospitalized as often as older individuals do, younger individuals can certainly transmit the disease to parents, grandparents, or others, who might be at risk of a much more serious case of covid-19.”

This is the county’s third week partnering with Mako Medical Laboratories for its rapid coronavirus tests. Results are consistently available within 36 hours and the county is able to administer about 300 tests per day, Arkoosh said.

If a county resident tests positive and receives a call from a county contact tracer, Arkoosh urged them to answer. Officials have been able to reach about 60% to 70% of people and of those, 97% of those are fully cooperating with contact tracers.

”If you get a voicemail from a contact tracker,” Arkoosh said, “please, please, please call them back.”

— Ellie Silverman

3:10 PM - September 2, 2020
3:10 PM - September 2, 2020

Sea Isle City bar owned by local mayor shown in TV report with customers not following COVID-19 rules

A Sea Isle City bar owned by the city’s mayor was packed with people who weren’t wearing masks or social distancing, according to a report by CBS3.

Mayor Leonard C. Desiderio is one of the owners of Kix McNutley’s, a mainstay bar on 63rd Street. Over the weekend, patrons were filmed Saturday standing close together on the patio, mingling and talking while maskless, in violation of Gov. Phil Murphy’s public health guidelines.

Employees of the bar were wearing masks, according to the report.

Asked if people at the bar were adequately social distancing, Desiderio told CBS3, “I think they’re doing the best they can and I think people want to get out and there are only so many things they can do. And this weekend inside dining begins and we’ll see how that goes. But we have followed the rules to the best we could follow them. And I think if I wasn’t the mayor you wouldn’t be here.”

Murphy, when asked about the bar at his Wednesday coronavirus briefing, said he had not seen the footage but said the matter should be handled by local authorities.

”We all gotta play by the rules,” he said. “That includes social distancing, face coverings, doing the right thing…If you’re closely congregating without face coverings. You are running a public health risk, period.”

Allison Steele

2:30 PM - September 2, 2020
2:30 PM - September 2, 2020

Philly reports 235 new coronavirus cases, a rise partly due to Temple’s outbreak

Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner, at a press conference in July.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner, at a press conference in July.

Philadelphia announced 235 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, which the city said was due in large part to the outbreak at Temple University.

”The number of new cases that we’re seeing on Temple’s campus is extremely worrisome,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “We continue to work closely with Temple University to try to contain this outbreak.”

Of the cases reported Wednesday, 53% were for people under age 30.

The city’s overall positivity rate for test results reported Wednesday was 8.3%, which is unusually high; last week the positivity rate was 3.7%. But 15% of tests taken at Temple on Monday were positive.

Farley has said he is concerned that the outbreak among Temple students could also spread into the rest of the city’s population.

Philadelphia also reported seven deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. A total of 1,758 Philadelphians have now died of the coronavirus.

— Laura McCrystal

1:55 PM - September 2, 2020
1:55 PM - September 2, 2020

Philly students head back to class, virtually; education leaders demand more funding

Mayor Jim Kenney (right), councilmember Helen Gym (center) and councilmember Derek Green stand outside of Lowell Elementary School in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia Wednesday.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Mayor Jim Kenney (right), councilmember Helen Gym (center) and councilmember Derek Green stand outside of Lowell Elementary School in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia Wednesday.

Despite it being the first day of school, there were no students inside Lowell Elementary Wednesday, and without significant federal help, it will be difficult to safely bring them back this year, local, state and national leaders said outside the redbrick building.

Officials including Mayor Jim Kenney and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten took aim at President Donald Trump and Senate leaders who have failed to pass the Heroes Act, a COVID-19 relief package that would send billions to cities and school systems like Philadelphia’s, which opened fully virtually Wednesday.

“This is clearly not a typical first day of school for anyone,” Kenney said. “Under normal circumstances, we’d be in school buildings, greeting students and teachers, we’d be celebrating all the promise a new school year brings. Had the White House led a competent national pandemic response under the direction of medical experts, we might very well be in a different position today. But here we are.”

The costs of the coronavirus have proven steep for schools: Philadelphia School District officials have said they will spend at least $60 million on COVID-19-related purchases, from masks and desk partitions to extra cleaning staff and hand sanitizer. It is money they cannot afford.

— Kristen Graham

1:25 PM - September 2, 2020
1:25 PM - September 2, 2020

New Jersey schools are set to reopen next week and prepared to handle potential outbreaks, Murphy says

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state’s school districts are prepared to open the school year next week, saying that they have plans in place to handle any potential outbreaks.

He said 434 districts will start next week with a hybrid model of teaching, 68 will open to all in-person classes, 242 will start the year teaching all classes remotely, and 22 districts will use some combination of all three plans.

”We are committed to the success of every district, every school, evert teacher, and most of all, every student,” Murphy said. “It’s fair to say that we are ready.”

— Allison Steele

1:15 PM - September 2, 2020
1:15 PM - September 2, 2020

Temple sees 15% positivity rate from Monday’s coronavirus tests, ’indicative of an outbreak,’ health department says

Temple University students wait to gain access to COVID-19 testing taking place inside Temple University Aramark Student Training and Recreation (STAR) Complex on Monday.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Temple University students wait to gain access to COVID-19 testing taking place inside Temple University Aramark Student Training and Recreation (STAR) Complex on Monday.

Sixty more cases of the coronavirus were discovered at Temple University on Monday, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said.

Roughly 15% of the nearly 400 tests conducted by the health department on Temple’s campus came back positive, according to Jim Garrow, a spokesperson for the health department.

The city as a whole hasn’t seen that level of positivity since mid-May, Garrow said. Higher positivity rates concern health officials because it’s likely that there are many more people infected in the community than they know about.

”From our perspective, a 15% positivity rate is indicative of an ongoing outbreak on Temple’s campus,” Garrow said.

Temple was reporting 212 total cases Wednesday, up from 103 on Sunday.

“Like the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Temple takes these results very seriously, and will continue to work with the city on reducing the number of active cases,” Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said.

Garrow said the city as a whole has been running at between a 3% and 5% positivity rate. He didn’t have data on how many of the 60 cases were showing symptoms. Testing at Temple is continuing on Wednesday, Garrow said.

Temple on Sunday switched to mostly remote instruction for two weeks as case counts continued to climb. On Aug. 24, the first day of classes, there were 10 cases.

Garrow said the health department will continue discussions with Temple on the possibility of restarting classes after Sept. 11. If the outbreak appears to be slowing, they may be able to resume in-person classes, but otherwise would have to remain remote, he said.

— Susan Snyder

12:15 PM - September 2, 2020
12:15 PM - September 2, 2020

Pa. reports 816 coronavirus cases as virus spreads through schools and nursing homes

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference.
Commonwealth Media Services: Natalie Kolb
Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference.

Pennsylvania on Wednesday reported an additional 816 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21 deaths from virus-related complications, as officials reminded residents that the case counts in schools and nursing homes are impacted by the actions of the broader community.

”The mitigation efforts in place now are essential as we protect our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, including our children as they start school and our loved ones in long-term care facilities,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a statement.

“We know that the cases in schools and in facilities such as nursing homes are often a reflection of the spread of the virus in the local community,” she said.

A day after officials touted the completion of universal testing at all nursing and personal-care homes, the commonwealth reported 25,683 resident and staff cases at 934 facilities in 61 counties. It was unclear whether those numbers included any data from the most recent round of universal testing. Officials said Tuesday it would take them a while to parse through the reports.

In all, at least 135,611 Pennsylvanians have been sickened with the coronavirus and 7,712 have died since March. Of those deaths, 5,213 were residents of care facilities.

— Erin McCarthy

10:30 AM - September 2, 2020
10:30 AM - September 2, 2020

Holy Family University closes main campus, moves classes online

Holy Family University closed its main campus in Northeast Philadelphia on Wednesday due to possible coronavirus exposure, the school said on its website.

The school said all classes would be held remotely and that its Newtown campus would remain open.

Holy Family was notified late Tuesday of one positive case, a spokesperson said.

The university will remain closed through Friday, as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health completes contact tracing, the spokesperson said.

— Susan Snyder

10:20 AM - September 2, 2020
10:20 AM - September 2, 2020

Don’t expect theater to return to Philly Sept. 8 just because city says it can

The lights may be on, as they were in this picture taken in April, but the stage and seats at the Wilma Theatre remain empty. That's something that's not expected to change as the city begins to allow live indoor performances, with many restrictions, on Sept. 8.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
The lights may be on, as they were in this picture taken in April, but the stage and seats at the Wilma Theatre remain empty. That's something that's not expected to change as the city begins to allow live indoor performances, with many restrictions, on Sept. 8.

Live, indoor theater is included in the list of activities that can resume in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean the shows must go on. The accompanying restrictions, meant to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, make it unlikely that we’ll see curtains rising here anytime soon.

Among the things the city is calling for:

  • A cap on attendance of 50% of capacity, with no more than 25 people per room, with individuals or groups spaced at least 6 feet apart, and masked.
  • Performers to wear masks or face shields, or if not feasible, for there to be either a physical barrier or a distance of at least 20 feet between performers and the audience.
  • Performers to remain at least 6 feet apart from one another, especially if not masked.
  • Selecting pieces that require fewer than 10 performers to minimize the number of contacts for cast and crew.
  • No food or drink to be sold or consumed in public spaces.

In New Jersey, where indoor performance venues are allowed to reopen on Friday, the rules limit attendance to 25% capacity or 150 people — whichever is lower — and require at least 6 feet between those who haven’t bought their tickets together.

— Ellen Gray

10:00 AM - September 2, 2020
10:00 AM - September 2, 2020

Despite remote instruction, 42 coronavirus cases at Penn

Katie Murray, a University of Pennsylvania freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, pushes her hamper filled with the contents of her dorm room across Spruce Street on March 12, 2020.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Katie Murray, a University of Pennsylvania freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, pushes her hamper filled with the contents of her dorm room across Spruce Street on March 12, 2020.

The University of Pennsylvania, which started the semester with largely remote instruction, has announced 42 cases of the virus among students in the last two weeks, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper.

Most of the students that have tested positive are living off campus, a university spokesperson confirmed.

Penn has allowed few students to live on campus. Since the pandemic began last winter, Penn has been reporting on its website the number of Penn students who have tested positive. As of Wednesday, the number stood at 241.

— Susan Snyder

9:55 AM - September 2, 2020
9:55 AM - September 2, 2020

Lock Haven University suspends in-person classes through Sept. 21

Lock Haven University has suspended in-person classes until Sept. 21, following an uptick in coronavirus cases on campus.

The campus is reporting 43 cases of the virus and nearly a 5% positivity rate. About 85% of classes were being conducted online before the school decided to pivot, said Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

“This situation should demonstrate to everyone the insidious nature of COVID-19, its infectivity, and the critical nature of individual personal responsibility,” said Robert Pignatello, president of Lock Haven.

As at other schools, student gatherings where rules were not followed appear to be catching the blame.

”We have determined that off campus gatherings in confined areas where social distancing and mask wearing were not practiced is the culprit here,” Pignatello said. The school is planning to resume classes Sept. 21 and will offer voluntary testing for students and staff before that.

Lock Haven becomes the second Pennsylvania state university to pivot and move instruction fully online. Bloomsburg University reverted to online instruction last month and is now reporting 168 cases of the virus. Temple University earlier this week also announced a two-week suspension of most in-person classes through Sept. 11.

— Susan Snyder

8:50 AM - September 2, 2020
8:50 AM - September 2, 2020

Nursing home COVID-19 case, death data still missing from Pa.’s public reports

The Wolf administration has been criticized for its slow response to the coronavirus in Pennsylvania nursing homes, and is only now mandating universal testing.
DAN NOTT / For Spotlight PA / DAN NOTT / For Spotlight PA
The Wolf administration has been criticized for its slow response to the coronavirus in Pennsylvania nursing homes, and is only now mandating universal testing.

During the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic, the public had no way to measure which Pennsylvania nursing homes were hardest hit.

Amid mounting complaints from advocates and lawmakers, the state Department of Health in late May began releasing the number of resident cases and deaths by facility, but those early reports were incomplete and contained errors.

Even now, more than six months after COVID-19 arrived in Pennsylvania, the public still doesn’t have a complete picture of how many people have died or been sickened by the virus inside these vulnerable facilities.

Weekly reports released by the Department of Health are consistently missing data for more than 100 of the state’s 693 nursing homes. In at least one case, those omissions obscured a deadly outbreak from the public. While the specific facilities missing data varies each week, 42 have not shown anything for more than two months.

It’s not clear why, week after week, some facilities are still missing the counts.

— Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA

8:05 AM - September 2, 2020
8:05 AM - September 2, 2020

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is reopening indoor dining. Restaurants are still worried.

Maureen Lemanski and Greg Lemanski, of Toms River, N.J., are eating indoors at Lakeside Diner in Lacey Township, N.J.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Maureen Lemanski and Greg Lemanski, of Toms River, N.J., are eating indoors at Lakeside Diner in Lacey Township, N.J.

Two months ago, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy cited spiking coronavirus infections in other states as a reason to postpone the return of indoor dining. As restaurants opened across the country, he said, it was clearly sparking new outbreaks.

Now, as the state’s restaurant industry prepares to open indoor dining rooms on Friday, some fear the fate of their businesses will continue to depend on how others handle the pandemic.

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said her group’s members have been working for months on sanitation procedures and improvements to airflow in their buildings. But as gyms and schools open alongside her industry’s businesses, she fears restaurants will be blamed for any resurgence of the virus.

“I never want people to think we are dismissive of public health and safety,” Halvorsen said. “But through these months when we saw things opening, and saw that restaurants that deal with sanitation protocols weren’t part of it, we wanted to show [Murphy] what we’re about, and walk him through what we do.”

— Allison Steele

8:00 AM - September 2, 2020
8:00 AM - September 2, 2020

For 125,000 Philly students heading back to school today, there’s ‘a level of excitement,’ but concerns about finances

A long line in the parking lot of the School District building as people wait to pick up laptops.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
A long line in the parking lot of the School District building as people wait to pick up laptops.

Launching a school year fully remotely will without doubt be a challenge, Philadelphia’s schools chief said.

How will students and teachers build community? How will they overcome technology challenges? What about parents who lack child care, and kids starved for socialization and face time with educators?

But as 125,000 Philadelphia School District students prepare to return to class Wednesday, “there’s still a level of excitement and optimism” with the launch of a new term, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Tuesday.

The district will not hold in-person classes at least until mid-November, though Hite said the school system’s most vulnerable students could return earlier if building and health conditions permit.

— Kristen Graham

7:00 AM - September 2, 2020
7:00 AM - September 2, 2020

‘Assume that everyone around you is infected,’ city tells Temple students; Cherry Hill schools go virtual

Folks walk on the Temple campus in Phila., Pa. on Aug. 30, 2020.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Folks walk on the Temple campus in Phila., Pa. on Aug. 30, 2020.

Philadelphia’s top health official told Temple University students on Tuesday that “you should assume that everyone around you is infected” as the number of cases associated with the school increased.

The university is up to 127 confirmed cases after reporting 103 over the weekend. Temple and city health officials tested nearly 500 Temple students Monday and are awaiting the results, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

Contact tracing has shown that Temple students have most likely been exposed to the virus in off-campus apartments and at small social gatherings. Temple has moved most instruction online at least through Sept. 11.

Because many students live off campus, Farley said there could be “substantial risk” that the outbreak among Temple students could spread to other Philadelphia residents — though that has not yet been seen.

“This is our nightmare, that Temple could [drive] a COVID outbreak that puts the work that the entire city is doing in jeopardy,” said Steve Newman, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, the faculty union. “The fact that it’s a possibility should be deeply concerning to all of us, and suggests that this two-week pause is not enough.”

— Justine McDaniel, Laura McCrystal, Susan Snyder