Cheerleading squad in Chester County suffers COVID-19 outbreak
A Downingtown-based high school cheerleading team is experiencing a coronavirus outbreak, the Chester County Health Department said today.
Six team members, age 15 to 17, have tested positive for the virus, health officials said. The team has attended a private camp through the school and has practiced at a gymnastics facility, the county said but did not provide further detail.
The outbreak was started after one cheerleader attended practice “after unknowingly being exposed to someone outside of cheerleading” who had tested positive a few days earlier. During the contact-tracing process, the five other girls were found to be infected.
”The Chester County Health Department is working hard to identify and reach all possible exposures with information to be provided by the gymnastics facility,” the county said.
Birx credits Children’s Hospital in Philly with helping to mitigate COVID-19 spread
A model developed, in part, at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia showing the effects of various coronavirus mitigation efforts helped officials across the United States to stem the spread of the virus this summer, said Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator.
Speaking to reporters in Harrisburg Thursday, Birx said the work from a group at CHOP, which showed scientists how the coronavirus may spread when bars are closed, restaurants are kept at 25% capacity, and gatherings are limited to 10 people, proved “really helpful to us.”
”It is that model that we then go across the south and meet with every single governor and local mayor and community and say, ‘This is what the model says,’ and they did exactly that, or some type of that, and dramatically brought cases down,” Birx said.
“I think that’s what every governor and mayor is looking at, but I really want to applaud that group, because they really helped us think through this, and really take new ideas into the field,” she said. “Because you can’t keep locking down America, you have to have a way forward that brings common sense and practical measures together, that the American people can follow.”
Birx, a Pennsylvania native and Carlisle High School graduate, also commended the work of the residents and officials in Allegheny County for their collective efforts in tamping down the outbreak there. She visited Pennsylvania as a part of a multi-state tour, stopping in Pittsburgh earlier Thursday to meet with the local health department.
As the Labor Day weekend approaches, Birx said, people should continue to wear masks at any social event, continue to social distance, and avoid large gatherings.
“Pennsylvania has done a remarkable job,” she said, “and together we need to get through the Labor Day weekend really protecting one another, so please, wear a mask.”
South Jersey restaurant losing liquor license after violating state COVID-19 rules
A South Jersey restaurant that violated the state’s coronavirus orders and threw a “raucous” Fourth of July party with a crowd of 500 people is losing its liquor license and permits to serve alcohol, New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General announced today.
The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has suspended the licenses and permits of Il Portico Ristorante, an Italian restaurant in Burlington City. The agency said it will seek to revoke the restaurant’s liquor license entirely after a follow-up visit amid the suspension showed it was still violating the state’s public health measures.
Police were called to the restaurant in the early morning hours of July 4 and found a crowd of about 500 people, the Office of the Attorney General said in a statement. The party was allegedly called a “quarantine release party,” and patrons were not wearing masks or social distancing. People were also being served indoors at a time when indoor dining was prohibited.
”Multiple law enforcement agencies were needed to ensure that the large crowd safely left the premises,” the statement said.
“The actions announced today puts licensees on notice that they will be held accountable if they violate the safety measures in place to protect the public from the unnecessary risk of COVID-19 spread,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “We will not allow our State’s reopening efforts to be compromised by bar and restaurant owners who conduct themselves with disregard for the laws and regulations of this State.”
The ABC issued a 145-day suspension of its liquor license, but in a follow up visit in August, investigators found that Il Portico was still serving patrons alcohol, pushing the state to seek to revoke its license entirely.
Legalizing recreational marijuana would help businesses hurt by coronavirus shutdown, Gov. Wolf says
Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday renewed his push for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to legalize recreational cannabis for adults in the commonwealth, a move he said is an economic boost needed “more than ever, especially right in the middle of this pandemic.”
Speaking at a press conference in Harrisburg, Wolf said legalization could provide the state “millions of dollars in much-needed revenue” — a figure he estimated at $90 million last week — and suggested earmarking some of the money for historically disadvantaged businesses which may have had difficulty finding financial assistance during the pandemic. Wolf also urged the legislature to pursue criminal justice reform policies for people previously convicted of cannabis-related offenses, a move he said could help Pennsylvania’s workforce by eliminating previous conviction records.
Both Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman referenced Fetterman’s 2019 statewide listening tour, where he said at least 65% of the commonwealth is in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. The governor has backed recreational legalization since September 2019, but Republicans in the Capitol, who are expected to return to Harrisburg in the coming weeks, have said they are not on board with the governor’s plan.
“The time has come to legalize adult use cannabis in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “It will help our economic recovery. It will help Pennsylvania families, and will help make our criminal justice system fairer, it’s what the majority of Pennsylvania has wanted.”
The renewed call for legalization comes as Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program continues to boom, with dispensaries having sold just as much marijuana since February as they had in the previous two years combined. Industry analysts estimate that, even without legalization of recreational marijuana, sales of medical could hit $1 billion within three or four years.
In November, New Jersey will vote on a bill to legalize recreational cannabis. If the vote passes, Fetterman noted, “40% of our state’s population will be a half an hour drive or less from legal marijuana.”
”I think our legal marijuana would be better than theirs,” he said. “I mean, although I’m biased. I would rather have it be ours, not New Jersey’s.”
Health officials noted the day’s numbers included high case counts in both the Pittsburgh and York areas, as well as in Philadelphia, where an outbreak at Temple University has led to a spike in cases.
New Jersey, meanwhile, reported 455 additional confirmed cases and nine additional deaths.
In all, at least 136,711 Pennsylvanians have been sickened and 7,732 people have died from virus-related complications. At least 192,973 New Jerseyans have been infected, and 14,188 have died.
Senior athletes torn as coronavirus shuts down fall sports at some high schools but not others
On the brink of his senior season, Archbishop Wood High School linebacker Shane Collier has been stopped in his tracks.
Like many other athletes in the Philadelphia Catholic League as well as the Philadelphia Public League, Inter-Ac League and other leagues in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Collier is looking at a fall season without his favorite sport, an empty autumn. And that’s created disappointment, frustration and, in his case, a brief period of indecision.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Collier said. “It was so frustrating. But now I know I want to stay with my teammates and my coaches.”
Collier made waves on local television on Monday night when he told Fox29 that he was planning to leave Archbishop Wood and transfer to nearby William Tennant High School to play his senior season. William Tennant, like most other schools in the Surburban One League, plans to stage football and other traditional fall sports.
Later that night, Collier changed his mind. After talking with family, he decided to remain at Archbishop Wood, holding out hope the Vikings will take the field for an abbreviated football season after the new year.
Thousands of area athletes find themselves in the same position, and the frustration is particularly acute for seniors planning to use their 12th-grade season to attract interest from college recruiters.
Uptick in Philly coronavirus cases driven by Temple outbreak, city says
The rate of newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Philadelphia has ticked up this week, driven primarily by the outbreak at Temple University, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
“Our contact tracing continues to show that the cases were predominantly among students who live off-campus,” Farley said. The city on Thursday reported 166 new cases, for a total of 34,310. On Wednesday, there were 235 new cases. In recent weeks the city had been averaging just over 100 new cases per day.
Farley said the Temple outbreak was primarily a result of small social gatherings in off-campus apartment buildings outside the university’s control.
Temple on Thursday announced it will transition almost all classes to a virtual setting for the remainder of the fall semester and is refunding students who live in dorms for their room and board costs.
Farley encouraged students living on campus to leave their apartments if possible, while also being careful about not infecting their families upon returning home. Students should “work under the assumption that everyone who is around you is infected,” he said.
Farley and Mayor Jim Kenney thanked Temple for helping the city early on in the pandemic by allowing it to treat and house recovering coronavirus patients in the Liacouras Center. They said the school did everything it could to limit the spread of the virus while also offering in-person learning, and was successful in doing so in settings it could control, such as classrooms and dorms. They were unsuccessful, however, in encouraging students to practice adequate coronavirus safety measures in off-campus apartments.
Philadelphia police zip-tied and detained 17 protesters who blocked entrances to Philadelphia Municipal Court and the District Attorney’s Office Thursday in an effort to stop landlord-tenant court from reopening. Police said the individuals would be issued a citation and released.
The detainments came after dozens of police, both with bicycles and some in tactical gear from the counter-terrorism unit, surrounded the protesters in an effort to clear the entrances. As officers detained some people, others yelled “shame on you!” and “housing now!” After police cleared three of four blocked entrances, they mostly cleared out of the area.
As of about 1 p.m., about two dozen protesters remained in front of the court entrance near Broad and Chestnut streets.
The groups had been gathered since early this morning, when they met at City Hall, marched around downtown, and then set up outside the municipal courts just days after Pennsylvania’s temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired. While a federal eviction ban should, in theory, protect the commonwealth’s renters through the end of the year, much remains uncertain about whether it will survive legal challenges.
“No evictions today! No evictions tomorrow!” the groups chanted. “All power to the people!”
“A lot of people have been trying to get in” to the District Attorney’s Office and municipal courts, Maddie Rose, an organizer with the Philadelphia Tenants Union, said Thursday morning. “The cops are sending them to another entrance, but we have the other entrances blocked, too.”
When a man approached the Chestnut Street entrance wearing a suit and pulling a briefcase behind him, Rose called out, “Sorry, court is closed today.”
Pa. nursing home residents can have visitors — as long as they test negative for COVID
Pennsylvania’s Department of Health on Thursday released new coronavirus testing and visitation guidance for nursing home residents and staff members. The new guidance allows nursing home residents to receive visitors, such as family members and friends, as long as the visitor presents proof of a negative coronavirus test within seven days; passes screening tests, such as temperature readings; and wears a mask at all times in the facility, said Secretary of Health Rachel Levine.
“Compassionate caregivers play an important role in improving a residents’ emotional, mental, and physical health,” Levine said. The caregivers will be “permitted to provide care to residents if there are two or more documented changes in residents’ conditions.”
Levine said that the coronavirus enters nursing homes through staff members, and that routine testing should increase to keep these vulnerable populations safe. She said that all nursing homes will soon receive an antigen testing machine.
For facilities located in counties with low coronavirus case levels, the state recommends that asymptomatic staff members be tested every four weeks. The state is not recommending that asymptomatic residents be tested. Facilities in counties with moderate coronavirus case levels should test asymptomatic staff once per week, and weekly testing of asymptomatic residents who have had outside contact is also encouraged. In areas with high case levels, asymptomatic staffers should be tested twice per week, and residents should be tested weekly if they have had outside contact.
“The prevalence of cases in nursing homes is directly proportional to the spread of cases in the county in which they are located,” she said.
Virtual attendance up for Philly students as they start the school year online
On the first day of school for Philadelphia students, 82% of the public school system’s roughly 125,000 pupils managed to log on and be marked present, despite technical issues, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday. Those numbers were higher than attendance generally was in the spring during remote learning for Philadelphia.
When district students and staff logged on Wednesday, the server was overwhelmed, limiting access for some to Chromebooks, Google Classroom, Zoom, and other tools. Emails were also delayed.
The server issues that marred the first day for some largely have been resolved, Hite said.
“We did add significant capacity overnight, and it looks like the server is able to meet the need,” Hite said at a Thursday news conference. The superintendent said the district’s information technology department did anticipate the crush of students and staff logging on, but was unable to control for it at first.
An estimated 18,000 students still lack internet access, also. In partnership with the city and Comcast, no-cost internet is available to families, but all parties are still working through the logistics of registering families, Hite has said.
Some 800 families who lack other childcare options will have access to city-run Access Centers, which will provide supervision, meals and enrichment activities — but not instruction — beginning next week. The city will expand capacity later in the month, eventually making room for about 2,200 children. Interested families can call call 215-709-5366 or visit https://www.phila.gov/programs/access-centers.
Healthy teachers should feel safe returning to in-person learning, Fauci says
The nation’s top infectious disease expert reiterated Thursday that schools should resume in-person learning as soon as safely possible in their region.
In areas with relatively low case counts and positivity rates, schools can safely reopen, as long as they’re taking precautions and have plans in place to handle outbreaks, said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview with CNN.
What message does Fauci have for teachers as the school year begins?
“I think you have to respect the concerns of people who have underlying conditions,” he said. “If someone really is concerned, you have to respect the fact that they may not want to be there. But for others who are generally healthy and don’t have underlying conditions, I would encourage them to go and begin the in-person teaching.”
“Because obviously, even though I’ve given a lot of caveats over the last weeks and months, fundamentally we should do the best we can to get the children back to school,” he added, “because we know very well of the deleterious consequences upon them if we keep them out of school.”
Wear a mask, stack your plates, and always tip 20%, servers say as indoor dining resumes in Philly
Bartender and comedian Alyssa Al-Dookhi used to enjoy whipping up pickletinis while getting a laugh out of her Devil’s Den customers. But these days, her job is goes far beyond serving up cocktails and citywides, and there’s rarely time for jokes.
“The hustle has quintupled,” says Al-Dookhi. “Now I make the drinks, I manage the reservations, bus the tables, run the food, answer the phones, prepare the takeout orders, and wait on the tables. All while trying to enforce the laws mandated by the city and state.”
Like nearly every other restaurant right now, staffing at Devil’s Den is tight, and dining capacity limited. Two servers juggle all front-of-house duties, running to wash their hands every time they touch money or doors, or answer the phone, and running after customers, too, who seem to never remember the rules.
“It feels like working in Groundhog’s Day, we have the same conversations over and over again,” says Al-Dookhi. “Not just with guests, but with each other as a team — about folks not wearing masks, about how scared we are.”
As indoor dining resumes across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, we talked to servers to find out what they wish you knew when dining out right now.
Protesters block entrances to Philly eviction court
More than 60 people blocked four separate entrances to Philadelphia Municipal Court and the District Attorney’s Office Thursday morning as eviction proceedings were scheduled to restart in Philadelphia.
The protesters, who began their demonstration at about 8 a.m. and plan to stay all day, held signs reading “Eviction Defense Team” and “Keep the courts closed!” The demonstration is sponsored by the Philadelphia Tenants Union, who say their message is clear: “no evictions during a pandemic.”
Leo, an organizer with the tenants’ union who asked to use only his first name due to concerns with his employer, tied the demonstration to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying the coming wave of evictions will disproportionately impact Black women and children.
”We consider evictions a form of police brutality,” he said. He said demonstrators plan to stay all day with the goal of keeping the courts closed.
Cases scheduled for hearings Thursday would likely have been initiated prior to the pandemic. New cases likely won’t be heard until November due to the backlog.
A few dozen people are blocking multiple entrances to Philadelphia Municipal Court today, the day eviction proceedings were scheduled to restart (these would be pre-pandemic cases rescheduled) pic.twitter.com/4NXl0yiHCL
While protesters blocked entrances, attorneys milled about. One was Jonathan Stanwood, who told the protesters he represented tenants and needed to get into the building for a hearing he hoped would serve to keep his clients housed.
”They don’t care,” Stanwood said of the demonstrators.
Temple to do remote learning for rest of semester after outbreak
With case counts mounting, Temple University announced Thursday it will keep most classes online for the rest of the semester.
About 95% of classes will be online, the school estimates, all but essential in-person teaching.
“We have concluded that the data indicate it is time to pivot to primarily online education, as we said we would be prepared to do,” president Richard M. Englert and provost JoAnne A. Epps said in announcement to the campus.
For students who choose to leave university housing by Sept. 13, the school will provide a full refund for housing and meals, Englert said.
The university reported 212 active cases of the virus on Wednesday, up from 127 the day before. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health found 60 of those cases on Monday out of nearly 400 tested, a 15 percent positivity rate that concerned health and university officials.
People march for tenants’ rights as much remains uncertain about pandemic eviction ban
People gathered early Thursday at City Hall and planned to march through Center City to draw attention to tenants’ rights just days after Pennsylvania’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired.
On Tuesday morning, thousands of other renters across Pennsylvania were at risk of being evicted for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit the state, after Gov. Tom Wolf said he was powerless to extend his temporary moratorium.
But, in a dramatic turnaround, tenants will now be safe from eviction until the end of the year — at least in theory — because of a new federal order.
That afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an order to ban most evictions nationwide through the end of the year, arguing it was necessary to slow the spread of the virus. The order caught housing advocates and landlord groups alike by surprise.
The new eviction ban will prevent homelessness, help state and local governments implement stay-at-home orders, and avoid sending people who have been displaced to crowded shelters where they would be more likely to get sick, the agency said.
Much remains uncertain about how the new eviction ban will work in practice — and whether it will survive legal challenges.
Companies keep slashing jobs, but unemployment numbers are falling
The number of laid-off Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to roughly 880,000 last week, a sign of possible improvement but evidence that the viral pandemic keeps forcing many businesses to slash jobs.
The latest figures, released Thursday by the Labor Department, suggest that nearly six months after the eruption of the coronavirus, the economy is still struggling to sustain a recovery and rebuild a job market that was devastated by the recession. In the previous week, more than 1 million had sought jobless aid.
All told, the government said that 13.3 million people are continuing to receive traditional jobless benefits, up from 1.7 million a year ago.
The roughly 1 million people who keep applying for unemployment aid each week point to a sluggish pace of improvement. Before the pandemic struck the economy in March, the number of people seeking jobless aid had never topped 700,000 in a week, not even during the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. The economy has recovered 9.3 million, or only 42%, of the jobs that were lost in March and April.
On Friday, when the government issues the jobs report for August, it’s expected to report that employers added roughly 1.4 million jobs last month. That would still leave the economy about 13 million jobs short of the number it’s lost to the pandemic.
Women, people of color most hurt by coronavirus-induced recession
The recession caused by the coronavirus has hit Pennsylvania women and people of color particularly hard, as they are more likely to work in jobs that can’t be done remotely, according to a new report.
Bars, restaurants, and retail stores that were forced to close their doors disproportionately employ women and people of color, the Keystone Research Center said in a report released Wednesday. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania workers in health care, warehouses, and grocery stores — who have worked front-line jobs during the pandemic — are nearly two-thirds female, 50% more likely to be Black, and slightly more likely to be Hispanic.
“I suppose a silver lining of sorts out of this crash is that the language of ‘essential workers’ has resulted in some broader recognition of the importance of the work those folks do,” said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center. “What that debate drives home is that those workers need, in general, to be paid more.”
With concerns growing about the politicization of the FDA amid a botched White House rollout of the agency’s emergency authorization of convalescent plasma and sharply criticized comments by FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, some scientists and bioethicists are demanding the agency forgo use of its emergency authority for a vaccine. They worry its very flexibility, which gives FDA officials broad latitude, could make it easier for the White House to pressure the agency into clearing an unproven vaccine before Election Day, Nov. 3.
Trump’s repeated promise to deliver a safe and effective vaccine this year, “or maybe even sooner,” has become central to his reelection campaign and has sparked concerns in the scientific community in particular that the White House could pressure regulators to cut corners.
Those concerns come against the backdrop of an accelerating race to develop a coronavirus vaccine as three vaccine makers — pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, biotechnology firm Moderna and drugmaker AstraZeneca — conduct Phase 3 clinical trials, the last before seeking a green light from regulators.
Keep college students on campus after outbreaks, Fauci advises
If outbreaks occur at reopened colleges, don’t send students home. That’s the latest advice from Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“That’s the worst thing you could do,” Fauci said Wednesday on the “Today” show. “Keep them at the university, in a place that’s sequestered enough from the other students. But don’t have them go home, because they could be spreading it in their home state.”
Several universities, including the University of North Carolina and James Madison University, have taken the opposite approach, telling students to pack up and move out after cases spiked.
Rochelle Walensky, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an infectious disease physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that risks spreading the virus to others in the students’ home towns. It also increases the likelihood of a young person spreading the virus via asymptomatic transmission to their older, vulnerable parents .
“You potentially have a ton of people who don’t even know they have disease,” she told NBC News. “Five days later, they’re going to come down with symptoms — or maybe even not — and now they’re living with their parents.”
Remote learning could harm kids’ vision, but may not affect emotional and social functioning, experts say
People intuitively understand the importance of good eyesight; we use it almost every moment of our awake hours to navigate our environment and to absorb information. But for school age children in most public and private schools, good vision is one of the key fundamentals to learning — children with vision problems may not absorb information the teacher is writing on a chalkboard or, in our new COVID-19 world, displaying on a screen.
In this “digital learning environment,” children will be even more attached to technology. As parents and caregivers prepare for these difficult and very new challenges, they must remember that having the best vision a child can have, corrected where necessary with glasses or visual aids, is essential and an important first step for any student.
Parents may also be more worried than ever about the association between screen time and their children’s well-being. Specifically, when there are limited opportunities for socializing and playing beyond use of electronic devices, how much screen time is too much? Is there an amount of time where engagement with screens becomes harmful?
In Philadelphia, city and university officials continued reckoning with the outbreak among Temple University students — and hoping it would not would not spread to the community.
Temple identified 85 more cases of the coronavirus among students so far this week, bringing the known total to 212 cases, according to the university. The majority of them were identified through testing by the city health department.
About 15% of the 400 students tested by the city on Monday had the coronavirus, said James Garrow, a health department spokesperson, a positivity rate that is considered indicative of an outbreak — meaning there are many more people infected than health officials know about.
The outbreak skewed Philadelphia’s daily case report; the city had 235 new cases and a positivity rate of 8.3% for test results reported Wednesday. Philadelphia’s positivity rate has been 5% or lower in recent weeks; last week’s was 3.7%. It has not been as high as 15% since mid-May.