Sesame Place employee punched over mask-wearing requirement
A 17-year-old employee at Sesame Place in Bucks County was punched in the face and required surgery for his injury after a dispute with a park visitor over wearing a mask, police said Monday.
Shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, the employee was working at Captain Cookie’s High C’s Adventure ride when he was attacked by a male patron who was accompanied by a female, said Detective Lt. Steve Forman of the Middletown Township Police Department.
The employee had encountered the pair earlier and had reminded them that they were required to wear masks while in the park. When the male suspect saw the employee again at the ride, he punched him, Forman said in a telephone interview.
The pair were chased by park security but were able to flee in a vehicle registered in New York. Middletown police were working with authorities in New York to identify the suspects, who were described as between ages 20 and 30, Forman said.
The employee was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Middletown on Sunday and underwent surgery on Monday for his jaw injury. He also suffered a damaged tooth.
A Sesame Place spokesperson said in an emailed statement: “On Sunday, August 9, a guest assaulted and seriously injured one of our team members. We’ve been in close communication with the family of our injured team member, and are hopeful for a full and speedy recovery. The health and safety of our guests and team members is our top priority, and violence of any kind is unacceptable and not tolerated at our park. We are cooperating with local law enforcement on this ongoing investigation. Any further questions should be directed to them.”
There have been no other reported incidents involving masks at Sesame Place since it reopened late last month, Forman said.
As Cheyney University starts in-person classes, faculty expresses concern
Cheyney University became one of the first colleges in the region to hold in-person classes on Monday, with its 683 students set to take both online and face-to-face instruction.
As the semester began, the university’s faculty senate and faculty union expressed concern about the health risk of teaching in the classroom and called for the university to permit all instructors who want to teach remotely to do so.
”It is not necessary to put faculty at risk when we can just as easily all deliver instruction remotely,” Ivan Turnipseed, chair of the faculty senate, said in an interview Monday. “People could end up getting sick or far, far, far worse.”
The university, which straddles a border between Chester and Delaware counties, said in a statement that all faculty could request to teach online and that six of nine such requests were approved. Cheyney could not move all classes online because not all of its 45 instructors got certified to deliver remote courses, the school said.
The school’s screening measures and other plans are aimed at protecting student and employee health and safety, the university said. Students and staff are required to wear masks in all school buildings and wherever social distancing is not possible, and classrooms have modified seating arrangements to allow social distancing.
”Cheyney will continue to work with faculty so that if in the future, circumstances change and the faculty, as a whole, becomes certified, remote teaching can be reconsidered,” the statement said.
Turnipseed noted that faculty who taught in the spring were already certified to deliver remote instruction, and said instructors who were unable to create proposals for moving each of their courses online shouldn’t be penalized by being forced to teach in person.
Because Cheyney, the nation’s oldest HBCU, has a majority-minority faculty that skews older in age compared to other schools in the state system, Turnipseed said the health risks for instructors are particularly concerning. And with students living on campus and attending classes, faculty are worried about “mixing and mingling.” Turnipseed said he had already seen photos from campus in which people were not practicing social distancing.
Other schools in the state system are taking varied approaches, with some, including West Chester University and EastStroudsberg University, choosing all or mostly remote instruction. Others, including Pennsylvania State University, plan to hold some in-person classes. In a survey of faculty at all 14 universities last month, nearly 75% said they would not feel safe teaching students face-to-face this fall.
Cheyney’s small student population, suburban location, and health and safety measures help the school manage health and safety risks, a spokesperson for the university said, noting that some students — some of whom do not have reliable internet connectivity at home or do not have stable living conditions — remained on campus throughout the spring semester and during a summer program. Among the school’s coronavirus protocols are masks, social distancing, and temperature checks.
The university “gained first-hand experience in creating a safe campus environment in the midst of a pandemic,” it said, and “has implemented additional health and safety measures for the fall semester.”
Cheyney’s Monday opening provided an early start date in order to finish the semester before Thanksgiving. Students moved into campus housing last week.
”We’re almost like a guinea pig. Everyone’s going to look to us to see what happens,” Turnipseed said. “God forbid if two weeks from now we’re reporting results that nobody wants to see.”
Man charged after large party held at North Jersey mansion
A New Jersey man is facing charges after he allegedly threw a large house party in one of the state’s ritziest towns.
Police in Alpine said Monday they responded to a noise complaint on Aug. 1 in the well-heeled suburb across the Hudson River from New York City and allegedly found 300 to 400 people, most not wearing face coverings or practicing social distancing.
Tashay Knight of Newark, who police said hosted the Aug. 1 party, was charged with recklessly creating a risk of widespread injury. He also was issued summonses for maintaining a nuisance, serving alcohol without a license and violating a state executive order on face coverings and social distancing.
Murphy threatens to shut down Shore bars if people can’t wear masks, social distance in line
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy admonished “knuckleheads” once again on Monday, this time calling out mask-less young people who were photographed this weekend packed into lines waiting to get into beach bars in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Attention young bar-goers at Shore bars: You need to wear masks and social distance.
Your responsibility to help stop the spread of #COVID19 doesn’t go on “pause” when you’re standing in line. This virus could easily spread through the line. This is not a game. pic.twitter.com/kRQwhemLKP
While New Jersey’s statewide rate of transmission has slid down to .98, meaning each infected individual is on average spreading the virus to fewer than one other person, the governor said people should not let down their guards.
”Standing around maskless in a crowd outside a bar is just as big a knucklehead move as standing around maskless inside one,” he said. “The patrons in these bars need to get on the same page and quickly.”
Murphy said he will close establishments if this behavior continues.
Over the weekend, there was also a 400-person house party in Monmouth County, he said, which took hours to break up. Officials said the homeowner will be charged.
Philly health commissioner says Philly making progress fighting back COVID-19
Philadelphia reported 319 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, as the city marked five months since its first confirmed case.
Monday’s case total accounts for lab results reported Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Last week, city health officials said that new cases of the virus were decreasing in the city as daily case counts were slightly over 100 per day.
“The five months since then have been difficult: more than 30,000 Philadelphians have tested positive, nearly 1,700 have died, and tens of thousands have lost their sources of income,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a news release.
The city reported one additional death Monday, bringing the city’s total number of COVID-19 deaths to 1,699.
Farley said that the city has made progress in recent months, with recent decreases in case counts and test positivity rates even as the city economy begins to reopen.
“This progress is based on Philadelphia residents doing the right thing, especially wearing masks, and keeping a distance from others,” Farley said. “If we all continue to do that consistently, the next five months will be much better than the last.”
New Jersey can’t afford Trump’s payroll tax deferral program, Murphy says
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday sharply criticized the payroll tax deferral President Trump enacted via executive order over the weekend, as stimulus negotiations stalled in Congress.
The governor said the move is a short-term solution that will not save struggling workers money in the long run, and diverts funds needed for Social Security and Medicare. In addition, he said states are “broke.”
”I could not sit here and say New Jersey could afford to participate in this program,” Murphy said, “and the President’s actions do not provide one dime for state and local governments that are the front-line responders to this pandemic.”
”Not one dime for our first responders who put their lives on the line every day fighting COVID-19. Not one dime for our educators preparing for the new school year. Not one dime to secure healthcare for families who have seen their incomes plummet and in many cases their health coverage evaporate.”
Murphy said he was calling on Congress to act quickly and get a stimulus bill to the President’s desk.
N.J. announces benchmarks that could let long-term care facilities reopen to visitors
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced mandatory benchmarks that the state’s long-term care facilities must meet before they can reopen to visitors and resume congregate dining and other group activities.
“Contact with family, friends, and fellow residents is essential for the emotional well-being of nursing home residents,” she said.
With the help of $155 million in state and federal funds, the directive will establish four phases for nursing home reopening, Persichilli said.
Mandatory benchmarks for reopening include:
A facility that had a coronavirus outbreak must go 28 days without a new positive case among staff or residents
Facilities must be fully staffed and have backup staffing plans
They must have enough PPE and a stockpile only for use in an emergency
They must have an updated, published outbreak plan, which includes a communication strategy for residents and their families and preparations for video visits in the case of another shutdown
Staff testing must be done weekly
Once benchmarks are met, facilities may begin to allow residents who have tested negative for the coronavirus or who have recovered to see up to two visitors at a time, Persichilli said. Visitors must be screened and practice social distancing, she added, and facilities will set visitor capacities and establish visiting hours.
Regardless of a facility’s status, residents who do not have the coronavirus may now be visited by an “essential caregiver” at least once a week, Persichilli said. Precautions, such as the use of PPE, must still be taken, she added.
Facilities and visitors should proceed cautiously, she said, as there remain more than 260 active coronavirus outbreaks at long-term care facilities in New Jersey.
Trump says he may deliver convention speech in Pa.
We have narrowed the Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, to be delivered on the final night of the Convention (Thursday), to two locations - The Great Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the White House, Washington, D.C. We will announce the decision soon!
Central Bucks reverses course on in-person learning
The Central Bucks School District will begin the school year virtually, after determining it did not have adequate staffing to open in person, school officials said Monday.
One of Pennsylvania's largest districts, the Bucks County district had planned to offer families the choice of a traditional in-person program, a hybrid approach that would bring students into classrooms part-time, and a fully virtual option.
But it realized it didn't have enough teachers to staff the various options, according to Superintendent John Kopicki.
"Our faculty and staff are no different than our community in that many of our employees are struggling with countless issues and individual circumstances that prevent them from returning to our schools in person," Kopicki said in a letter to families. He said the district would operate virtually through Nov. 11, while continuing to evaluate staffing and possible solutions.
A growing number of school districts around the region have been announcing plans to start the school year virtually, both due to concerns about continued spread of the coronavirus and staffing arrangements.
As more districts announce virtual plans, some school leaders have predicted staffing complications -- saying teachers who have children to take care of at home may be entitled to take leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Most families in the Central Bucks district, which enrolls 18,000 students, had selected either full in-person or hybrid learning for their students.
In order to offer full in-person learning at the elementary level, the district had said it would provide a minimum of three feet of social distance -- less than the six feet recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three-foot standard, endorsed as an appropriate minimum distance by the Bucks County Health Department, drew objections from the state's largest teachers union last week as "at odds with virtually every generally understood health guidance."
Some Pa. parks asking people to go elsewhere due to large crowds
Driven by COVID-19 and social media, Pennsylvania’s parks, from Chester County’s Marsh Creek to waterfall standout Ricketts Glen and beyond, have become so overcrowded on weekends that officials have taken the extraordinary step of asking people to go elsewhere.
Among those are several parks in the Philadelphia collar counties.
“It’s been remarkable,” Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource, said of the crowds. “It’s been beyond the experience that many of us have had in our careers.”
The DCNR is seeing “significant crowding,” especially on warm weekends, officials said in a press release.
If you get a call from 215-218-XXXX, it’s probably a contact tracer
If you get a call from 215-218-XXXX, pick up the phone - it’s probably a contact tracer.
During a press conference last week, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said about one-third of Philadelphians who have been contacted through tracing efforts have not answered the calls.
Farley urged residents to respond if they hear from the city’s team of contact tracers, echoing a plea by other cities and states. New Jersey officials have also cited problems with people not wanting to cooperate with tracing efforts, even though contact tracers primarily serve to alert people who need to be tested or quarantined. They don’t have the authority to fine or cite someone who doesn’t properly quarantine or follow other coronavirus safety protocols.
“As case counts go down contact tracing becomes even more important,” Farley said.
Philadelphia’s recent COVID-19 cases have largely been in young residents; Farley said he is closely watching case counts among older people. It is still possible that a spike could come if younger people spread the virus to older residents, he said.
“I’m concerned [about] what’s going to happen when the weather turns cold and respiratory viruses tend to get worse,” Farley said. “So we’re not out of the woods, even if the case counts continue to fall over the next few weeks.”
Nearly 5,000 small businesses have received Pa. financial aid, Wolf says
Nearly 5,000 small businesses in Pennsylvania have received financial relief from the commonwealth as they try to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday.
In all, $96 million in state grants were awarded to 4,933 businesses, a little more than half of which are “historically disadvantaged” — run by low- to moderate-income individuals or women, located in impoverished areas, or in industries particularly hard-hit by the pandemic closures.
Most businesses received between $18,000 and $20,000, according to the commonwealth, and more than 2,200 of the businesses that received grants are in Philadelphia or its collar counties.
Philadelphia Public League suspends all sports until Jan. 1
The Philadelphia Public League on Monday suspended all interscholastic athletic competition until Jan. 1 in accordance with recommendations from Gov. Wolf as well as the Pennsylvania departments of health and education.
The decision was announced in an email from Philadelphia school district athletic director James Lynch to athletic directors at schools across the city. The postponement will impact thousands of athletes across Philadelphia in sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, golf, tennis, cross-country and volleyball.
Lynch said Public League officials will work with PIAA to develop alternate schedules in an effort to stage fall sports after the new year. Several states have announced plans to try to hold sports such as football in the spring.
School bus drivers to help pick up trash in Upper Darby
School bus drivers and employees of a private company will be picking up trash in Upper Darby for the next two weeks, Mayor Barbarann Keffer said, as the township’s sanitation employees quarantine due to a coronavirus outbreak.
Starting today, the contingency plan will cover once-a-week trash pickup, she said in a statement. Normally in Upper Darby, trash is picked up twice a week in the summer.
Recycling collection, meanwhile, will be suspended until the week of Aug. 24, when the sanitation department’s quarantine ends, she said.
“We are confident that this plan will ensure the safety of our township employees and their families, while continuing collection service,” the mayor said.
The temporary drivers will be using township garbage trucks that have been professionally sanitized, she added, and trash pick-up will follow the normal “non-summer” collection schedule. Residents can go to the township website to find out which day to put out their trash.
Pa. lawmaker pushes VA about use of experimental drug in Chesco center
A U.S. congresswoman from suburban Philadelphia, riled by the experimental use of hydroxychloroquine in a nursing home for veterans in her home district, is among several lawmakers calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to adhere to science when providing recommendations on future coronavirus treatments or vaccines.
“I urge you to learn from this experience to ensure that our veterans, whether they are in VA’s care or in state veterans homes, get the best possible care based on sound science,” Houlahan, an Air Force veteran who represents Chester and southern Berks Counties, wrote in the July 28 letter.
More than 700 residents in state veterans homes have died from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to a tally of state data by The Washington Post. Homes in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have been hit particularly hard, reporting outbreaks in some facilities of 30 deaths or more.
The Southeastern Veterans’ Center has reported more than 40 deaths.
A growing number of Philly-area school districts are planning virtual openings
A growing number of school districts around Philadelphia are opting to begin the school year virtually — a shift that accelerated last week, with boards all over the region approving and in some cases changing their plans on how to open in just a few weeks.
West Chester, Upper Darby, and Colonial were among the districts that approved virtual openings, as did Haverford — reversing course just one week after saying it would try a hybrid plan.
In Lower Merion, school board members spent four hours Wednesday debating considerations and hearing out parents — including advocates for an in-person return — before voting 8-1 in favor of a virtual plan.
School leaders around Philadelphia — which announced it would open virtually through mid-November — say they’re worried about the potential for spread of the coronavirus, and delays in getting test results. And as other districts have announced virtual starts, officials anticipate effects on their staffs, since teachers live in different communities and may have child-care issues.
Superintendents are also watching as some schools have reopened in other parts of the country, then shut down or imposed quarantines. They say they don’t want to bring students back only to close abruptly because of an outbreak.
Latest coronavirus case counts for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware
Here is are the latest total coronavirus figures for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware as of Monday morning, reported by each state’s respective health departments (though last week’s storm likely impacted the numbers):
Pennsylvania: 115,505 cases, at least 7,314 deaths, 18.7% decrease in new cases last week (8/1 to 8/7) compared to the week before (7/25 to 7/31)
New Jersey: 184,773 cases, at least 14,021 deaths, 41.3% decrease in new cases last week (8/1 to 8/7) compared to the week before (7/25 to 7/31)
Delaware: 15,575 cases, at least 591 deaths, 18.7% decreases in new cases last week (8/1 to 8/7) compared to the week before (7/25 to 7/31)
The Streets Department announced that trash and recycling collection for the week, beginning today, will be collected a day behind the normal schedule. Residents should set their trash and recycling materials one day later than their normal day.
Due to the significant delays in recycling collection, the city said it is only collecting recyclable material on Monday that has been accumulating curbside from previous weeks.
Until the Streets Department gets collection schedules back on track, there are centers where you can dispose of your own trash. They’re called Philadelphia’s Sanitation Convenience Centers. Drop-offs are free, and public hours have been expanded to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The report cited data from 49 states, New York City, Washington, Puerto Rico and Guam, most of which defined children as younger than 19 years old.
As of July 30, there were 338,982 cases reported in children since the pandemic began. Still, that was a relatively small fraction of the total number of coronavirus cases nationally — 8.8 percent. As of April 14, children made up just 2 percent of cases nationwide, according to the data.
The jump in pediatric cases comes as children are entering close quarters for the first time in months as some schools open their doors to students again. For months, teachers, parents and politicians have argued over whether the risks that the novel coronavirus pose to children outweigh the benefits of in-person learning.
COVID-19 has shut hundreds of the Philly-area’s small businesses, Yelp says
In the Philadelphia region, at least 252 businesses have permanently closed between March 1 and July 10, according to Yelp, the business listing and review website. That tally is almost certainly an undercount, as it includes only businesses that reported their closures on Yelp.
More small businesses are expected to go under after weathering the first five months of the pandemic, experts said. Operating a small business is challenging enough in good times, but now they are navigating government restrictions, cautious consumers, and widespread remote work that has slashed downtown foot traffic, experts said.
The widespread loss of so many small businesses is not only a concern for individual owners but will also slow a broader recovery, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics, a consulting firm in Bucks County. “That will contribute to the problems of trying to get the economy growing at a fast pace because that will raise the unemployment rate.”
Jennifer Kinka saw her staff shrink from 21 employees to seven after she closed two of the three storefronts of the Nesting House, a retail business she launched in 2010 to offer cloth diapers, wooden toys and other sustainable child care items to new parents. Though the business has an online presence, most sales are made in-store and foot traffic was suddenly a fraction of what it was before the pandemic, she said. Kinka made the tough choice to shut down her South and West Philly locations in mid-May, leaving only a Mount Airy shop.
“I woke up sick to my stomach when I realized I was going to have to pull these out of the communities,” she said. “There were many, many people who relied on them, but our hands were tied.”