10:08 PM - August 11, 2020
10:08 PM - August 11, 2020

A longtime Philadelphia judge won’t wear a mask in court, prompting complaints from lawyers and witnesses

File photo of Common Pleas Judge James Murray Lynn in 2001.
File photograph
File photo of Common Pleas Judge James Murray Lynn in 2001.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge James Murray Lynn has repeatedly refused to wear a mask while sitting on the bench, despite pleas from prosecutors, defense lawyers, and witnesses who have expressed concerns about their health and safety.

And according to a written complaint obtained by The Inquirer, the veteran judge has ordered others to remove their masks while in his courtroom.

“It has come to the attention of our offices that Judge Lynn continues to refuse to wear a mask while operating in-person hearings,” wrote Alan J. Tauber, first assistant at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, in a letter dated Friday, to Margaret Murphy, administrative judge for the Family Division, where Lynn sits. “We believe this safety breach needs to be addressed expeditiously.”

“Not only was he not wearing a mask, but he was actively ordering counsel to remove their masks while litigating,” Tauber wrote on behalf of both public defenders and prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office.

— Wendy Ruderman

8:18 PM - August 11, 2020
8:18 PM - August 11, 2020

2 charged with hosting for-profit pool party in Camden County

A homeowner and a promoter have been charged with hosting a for-profit pool party in Camden County despite restrictions from doing so because of the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said.

Jeffrey Davis Jr., 31, of Sicklerville, and Marheem Miller, 28, of Camden, were both charged with three counts of violating N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders on the coronavirus, the Gloucester Township Police Department said on Monday.

The police said they learned about a planned party at Davis's home on Prospect Court in Gloucester Township and warned him on Aug. 6 of potential violations.

On Sunday between 4 and 9 p.m., police said they witnessed approximately 250 people inside and around the house for the pool party. The attendees, who had paid for admission, were seen not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing, police said. Loud music was being played.

Officers ordered the party to be shut down. As attendees left, they littered the street with trash, police said. Davis was cited for the litter violation. Eight vehicles were ticketed for parking violations.

— Robert Moran

7:28 PM - August 11, 2020
7:28 PM - August 11, 2020

Bellmawr Borough revokes defiant Atilis Gym’s business license

Atilis Gym owners Frank Trumbetti (left) and Ian Smith kick down wooden boards covering the entrance to the facility in Bellmawr, N.J., on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. Law enforcement boarded up the entrance and arrested the owners July 27 after they defied a court order to stop operating the gym in violation of state coronavirus restrictions.
DAVE HERNANDEZ
Atilis Gym owners Frank Trumbetti (left) and Ian Smith kick down wooden boards covering the entrance to the facility in Bellmawr, N.J., on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. Law enforcement boarded up the entrance and arrested the owners July 27 after they defied a court order to stop operating the gym in violation of state coronavirus restrictions.

The Bellmawr Borough Council on Tuesday voted 5-1 to revoke the mercantile license of Atilis Gym, whose owners have defiantly tried to reopen in the face of N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus-related restrictions on such businesses.

Co-owner Ian Smith posted a video Monday on Instagram saying he and his partner Frank Trumbetti have been living inside the gym since Aug. 1 when they kicked open a plywood barricade to reopen their business. Smith claimed that authorities will attempt to erect a steel barricade on his doors.

“We will not be leaving. We have not left, and we will not allow them to construct a steel barricade in front of our place of private business,” Smith said.

The gym was closed in March along with thousands of other businesses statewide as Murphy attempted to control the virus’ spread.

In May, riding a wave of publicity from a tour of several Fox News appearances and support from Atilis members, the owners opened the gym. They were later held in contempt of court after a Superior Court judge in Camden ruled that Atilis must comply with an executive order by Murphy that limits indoor gym use to individual training sessions.

Smith said on Instagram that there will be another court hearing on Friday and that the gym faces a possible daily $15,000 fine for violating Murphy’s order.

— Robert Moran

5:16 PM - August 11, 2020
5:16 PM - August 11, 2020

Police tentatively ID suspects in Sesame Place attack over masks

File photo of Sesame Place in Middletown Township, Bucks County.
CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
File photo of Sesame Place in Middletown Township, Bucks County.

The suspects who allegedly attacked a teenage Sesame Place employee in a dispute over wearing masks have been tentatively identified, police in Bucks County said Tuesday.

The 17-year-old employee was working at Captain Cookie’s High C’s Adventure ride late Sunday afternoon when he was attacked by two adult patrons described as a man and woman in their 20s.

The employee had encountered the pair earlier and had reminded them that they were required to wear masks while in the park. Police on Monday said the man punched the employee in the face causing injuries that required surgery on his jaw.

On Tuesday, police in Middletown Township said both the man and woman attacked the employee and knocked him to the ground. The pair, accompanied by others, then fled the park in a vehicle registered in New York.

Investigators reviewing surveillance video and other records were able to tentatively identify the pair.

When positive identification is established, police said they will seek to have charges and extradition approved by the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.

Detectives will then work with police in New York and other agencies to coordinate the arrest of the suspects, police said on Tuesday.

— Robert Moran

2:50 PM - August 11, 2020
2:50 PM - August 11, 2020

Big Ten postpones football season, hopes to play in the spring

The Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game.
Charlie Neibergall / AP
The Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game.

The Big Ten has voted to postpone all fall sports, including football, due to health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference announced in a statement on Tuesday.

Big Ten Commissioner Keven Warren said he and school presidents relied on multiple factors to make its decision, including medical advice from the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“We just believe, collectively, there’s too much uncertainty… to encourage our student athletes to participate in fall sports,” Warren said during an interview Tuesday afternoon on the Big Ten Network.

The fall sports impacted are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

14 schools are members of the Big Ten, including Penn State and Rutgers. The other 12 schools are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said on Tuesday morning he would explore options for the school to play football in the winter if the Big Ten voted to cancel or suspend the season.

“I have a responsibility to my players and their families to exhaust every opportunity and option that’s out there,” Franklin said during an interview on ESPN’s Get Up!

— Rob Tornoe

1:40 PM - August 11, 2020
1:40 PM - August 11, 2020

Fall classes at Penn to be fully virtual

A University of Pennsylvania student wheels her hamper filled with her dorm contents when the school closed in March. Penn will only offer classes remotely during the fall semester, the school confirmed Tuesday.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
A University of Pennsylvania student wheels her hamper filled with her dorm contents when the school closed in March. Penn will only offer classes remotely during the fall semester, the school confirmed Tuesday.

The University of Pennsylvania will hold only remote classes this fall, and the virtually no students will live in its dormitories, officials said Tuesday. Penn will also cut tuition by 3.9%.

Citing the “alarming rate” of COVID-19 spread across the country, officials including Penn president Amy Gutmann said that they could not offer a hybrid learning experience as they had hoped, with students who wanted to living on campus. Instead, all classes will be held virtually and dorms open only to international students and those with “significant housing or personal hardships.”

Gutmann and other top university officials said they made the decision with “an enormous sense of sadness,” but that with the current trends of coronavirus spread, if they did allow all Penn students to live on campus, most would have to go into a two-week quarantine, and that supply chain issues have hampered the availability and turnaround time on COVID-19 tests. “The combination of these factors radically constrains our ability to provide a safe and meaningful on-campus experience for our undergraduates,” the Penn president said in a message to the university community.

Penn had already said most courses would be online, with limited exceptions for some classes, like nursing clinicals. No on-campus activities will be held, either.

“For the safety of our students and the broader community, we are encouraging all other students not to return to Philadelphia,” the university’s message said.

Officials said the university’s faculty would provide robust educational opportunities, but they “deeply regret that these changes represent a significant disappointment to families and students.”

Penn will cut tuition by 3.9%, effectively freezing last year’s tuition rate, and will reduce its general fee by 10%. Those students who have paid housing and dining fees will receive credits or refunds.

— Kristen A. Graham

1:35 PM - August 11, 2020
1:35 PM - August 11, 2020

‘All the trends are good:’ Spread of coronavirus in Philadelphia continues to slow

An unidentified man places his face mask before entering the Fashion District in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Mask are mandatory in all pubic places in Philadelphia.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
An unidentified man places his face mask before entering the Fashion District in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Mask are mandatory in all pubic places in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia continues to see declining rates of newly confirmed coronavirus cases, officials said Tuesday, a reason for optimism that the city’s efforts to control the pandemic are working and a sign that residents should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“As of today all the trends of this are in the right direction. All the trends are good,” Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a virtual news conference. “We want to maintain this momentum. We don’t want to go backward.”

The city reported 145 new cases on Tuesday, for a total of 31,584 since the pandemic began.

For the week that ended Saturday, the city saw an average of 105 new cases per day, which is down from 123 per day the week before and 166 the week before that.

Severe outcomes from the virus are also on the decline, Farley said. The city reported only one death from the virus on Tuesday. In April, Philadelphia saw more than 250 people die in a single week. Overall, 1,700 city resident have succumbed to the virus.

Fifty-nine percent of new cases confirmed Tuesday were of people under 40 years old, Farley said.

Farley cautioned that the good news does not mean that older Philadelphians or those with underlying medical conditions should ease their safety precautions. The city next week will mail postcards to about 14,000 residents who have been identified as being at high risk of having severe cases if they contract the virus, Farley said.

“There really is an extra risk for people who are medically vulnerable,” he said. “Avoid contact without masks, even with your relatives and caregivers who are out and about.”

— Sean Collins Walsh

1:25 PM - August 11, 2020
1:25 PM - August 11, 2020

New Jersey adds two states and one territory to its quarantine list

A motorist passes through a New Jersey Turnpike toll plaza, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Carneys Point, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum / AP
A motorist passes through a New Jersey Turnpike toll plaza, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Carneys Point, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

New Jersey has added two states and one territory to its travel advisory while removing four states, the state announced on Tuesday.

Hawaii and South Dakota, along with the Virgin Islands, were added to New Jersey’s travel advisory, which asks residents traveling from states with high infection rates to quarantine for 14 days. Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island were removed from the travel advisory.

The quarantine, which also applies to residents in New York and Connecticut, now includes 33 states and territories: Alabama; Arkansas; Arizona; California; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Iowa; Idaho; Indiana; Illinois; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Minnesota; Missouri; Mississippi; Montana; North Carolina; North Dakota; Nebraska; Nevada; Oklahoma; Puerto Rico; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Virginia; Virgin Islands; and Wisconsin.

“To protect the steady progress we’ve made on our road back, we need everyone who has traveled to one of these impacted states or territories to practice self-responsibility,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement. “I strongly encourage all individuals arriving from a hotspot to proactively get a COVID-19 test and self-quarantine to reduce transmission across our state.”

— Rob Tornoe

12:40 PM - August 11, 2020
12:40 PM - August 11, 2020

Wearing a neck gaiter may be worse than no mask at all, researchers find

A runner using a mask for protection makes his way along Kelly Drive on April 17, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
A runner using a mask for protection makes his way along Kelly Drive on April 17, 2020.

As masks and facial coverings have become increasingly commonplace in American life, so have questions about efficacy — and now a group of researchers from Duke University are aiming to provide some answers.

In a recently published study, the researchers unveiled a simple method to evaluate the effectiveness of various types of masks, analyzing more than a dozen different facial coverings ranging from hospital-grade N95 respirators to bandanas.

A fitted N95 mask, which is used most commonly by hospital workers, was the most effective. Warren S. Warren, a professor of physics, chemistry, radiology and biomedical engineering at Duke and one of the study’s co-authors, said the mask allowed “no droplets at all” to come out.

The researchers specifically made note of the effectiveness of common cotton cloth masks, finding that several of the ones tested performed about as well as surgical masks, which come in second to the N95.

Meanwhile, a breathable neck gaiter, well-liked by runners for its lightweight fabric, ranked worse than the no-mask control group. The gaiter tested by the researchers was described in the study as a “neck fleece” made out of a polyester spandex material, Warren said.

“These neck gaiters are extremely common in a lot of places because they’re very convenient to wear,” he said. “But the exact reason why they’re so convenient, which is that they don’t restrict air, is the reason why they’re not doing much of a job helping people.”

Other types of face coverings that may fall into that category are bandanas and knitted masks, the study found.

— Washington Post

11:35 AM - August 11, 2020
11:35 AM - August 11, 2020

Wolf says schools are his ‘first priority,’ hasn’t considered rolling back restrictions on restaurants and bars

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf adjusts his mask while in Philadelphia back in June.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf adjusts his mask while in Philadelphia back in June.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said his school reopening guidance which offered instructional-model recommendations to districts based on local rates of coronavirus transmission was an effort to prioritize education, and the approach would not necessarily be transferable to other sectors, such as the bar and restaurant industry.

”There’s a difference between elective things that we do and central things that a society needs to do,” he said. “We need to get our kids back to school. We need to make sure they get an education. That’s our first priority.”

”All these other things will allow us to get back to life as normal as quickly as we can,” he added, “and that includes restaurants and bars, sports.”

The governor said he has not considered rolling back any of the tightened restrictions on restaurants and bars.

After the PIAA paused the start of fall high school sports to “seek dialogue” with Wolf, the governor said he had not “personally” spoken with the association, but the officials in his administration had. They would continue to give the PIAA guidance based on coronavirus transmission data in specific areas, he added.

— Erin McCarthy

11:24 AM - August 11, 2020
11:24 AM - August 11, 2020

Penn State coach says school could still play football if Big Ten cancels season

Penn State head coach James Franklin.
Jose F. Moreno / Staff Photographer
Penn State head coach James Franklin.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said Tuesday that he would look at other options for his players to play football in the fall should the Big Ten presidents decide to cancel the 2020 season.

In an interview on ESPN’s Get Up, Franklin said any move on wiping out football this year should be delayed because more information is needed on what impact the cancellation would have, and perhaps finding alternate solutions such as playing games in domes if the season is delayed beyond the fall.

But he appeared to be ready to follow the suggestion made Monday by Nebraska coach Scott Frost, that his program could seek out its own schedule for 2020 without the Big Ten.

“If we can push things back, continue to gather information, and our trainers and doctors and all the medical personnel feel like this is something we could do and should do, then I think I have a responsibility based on the feedback I’ve gotten from my players and my parents to explore any opportunity possible for our players to be able to continue to reach their dreams,” he said.

— Joe Juliano

10:55 AM - August 11, 2020
10:55 AM - August 11, 2020

Pa. officials optimistic about rapid coronavirus tests being developed by Bethlehem manufacturer

Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday expressed optimism about the expansion of a Bethlehem-based manufacturer that is working on a rapid, self-administered diagnostic test for the coronavirus.

The company, OraSure Technologies, is working two tests — the diagnostic test that they say could be administered and read at home, and an antibody test it says would be reliable (others have been questioned for their accuracy).

Gov. Tom Wolf said he expected OraSure, which has an FDA-approved rapid Ebola test on the market, “to be moving fairly quickly” to submit the coronavirus diagnostic test to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization. The company’s CEO, Stephen S. Tang, said he believed it could be on the market by the end of the year.

Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine said, if approved, these tests have the potential to help the Commonwealth’s nursing home, schools, prisons, and other group settings, especially as lag times at commercial labs continue to be as long as two weeks.

“This would be a game changer,” she said.

The company will receive more than $1 million in state grants and tax credits, which will be distributed when the company adds 177 new jobs to its workforce.

— Erin McCarthy

10:50 AM - August 11, 2020
10:50 AM - August 11, 2020

New cases per capita in and around Philly

— John Duchneskie

10:30 AM - August 11, 2020
10:30 AM - August 11, 2020

Philly mixed recycling in with trash to deal with backup, but city says it will catch up

A Philadelphia garbage truck unloads at the Philadelphia Transfer Station.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A Philadelphia garbage truck unloads at the Philadelphia Transfer Station.

As Philly’s sidewalks became choked with trash in recent weeks, and storms drenched recycling buckets, sanitation workers who could not keep up with the volume began commingling the refuse and recycling together, according to a city official.

That recycling either went to landfills or to waste-to-steam facilities to be incinerated, said Scott McGrath, the city’s environmental services director. It happened only when needed in various neighborhoods and was not a citywide policy, he said.

McGrath, however, said the practice will stop as soon as crews catch up. The crews, he said, were only doing as instructed as the city juggles 200 trash and 70 recycling routes amid a worker shortage stemming from COVID-19.

“We are trying to keep separate collections,” McGrath said, “but there have been occasions where we’re commingling just to get caught up.”

McGrath said heavy rains in recent weeks, particularly during tropical storm Isaias, soaked cardboard and paper mixed in with recycling. The waterlogged paper products could no longer be recycled. Once loads are contaminated, they are rejected by recycling processing facilities.

— Frank Kummer

9:40 AM - August 11, 2020
9:40 AM - August 11, 2020

Trump can’t have a large crowd if he delivers speech in Gettysburg, Wolf administration says

The monument to Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren is shown south of Gettysburg on Little Round Top in Gettysburg, Pa., Monday, June 23, 2020. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Jose F. Moreno / AP
The monument to Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren is shown south of Gettysburg on Little Round Top in Gettysburg, Pa., Monday, June 23, 2020. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

If President Donald Trump delivers his Republican convention speech from Gettysburg National Military Park, he would be limited to a crowd of no more than 250 people due to Pennsylvania’s coronavirus restrictions.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement all gatherings in Pennsylvania, including those held on federal land, “should abide by the Commonwealth’s restrictions, which have proven to mitigate COVID-19.”

“We hope and expect that the President will abide by these commonsense restrictions that will protect the health and safety of the community around Gettysburg and throughout Pennsylvania,” the statement said.

On Monday, Trump wrote on Twitter he was considering two locations to deliver his speech — Gettysburg and the White House. Trump wrote his campaign “will announce the decision soon!”

As my colleague Jonathan Tamari reported on Monday, there are legal questions about whether Trump can hold a formal campaign event at either the White House or Gettysburg, both of which are federal property and therefore usually off-limits for explicitly political events.

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - August 11, 2020
8:00 AM - August 11, 2020

Trump campaign adviser doubles down on transphobic attack against Pa. health secretary

Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks to reporters about COVID-19.
Commonwealth Media Services / Commonwealth Media Services: Natalie Kolb
Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks to reporters about COVID-19.

A Trump campaign adviser says she won’t apologize for a transphobic attack launched against Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, claiming she is “simply acknowledging scientific fact.”

Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to President Trump’s reelection campaign, intentionally misgendered Levine on Twitter Monday afternoon, writing, “This guy is making decisions about your health.”

Gov. Tom Wolf called the comments “hate speech” and “unacceptable.” The Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David denounced the comments in a statement, calling Ellis a “bigot.”

“I won’t apologize,” Ellis wrote in a statement shared on Twitter Monday night, adding that “misgendering a person occurs when you do not accept biological fact.”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Levine is one of just a small group of high-profile transgender public officials in the United States, and she is the first transgender person to lead a Pennsylvania state agency. Last month, she denounced a series of recent transphobic attacks against her, telling reporters she felt compelled to personally address the discrimination.

“While these individuals may think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment,” Levine said.

“I have no room in my heart for hatred,” Levine added. “And frankly, I do not have time for intolerance.”

— Rob Tornoe

7:40 AM - August 11, 2020
7:40 AM - August 11, 2020

New Jersey loosens coronavirus restrictions on computer labs at colleges and universities

Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday he was loosening restrictions on computer labs at private and public colleges and universities in New Jersey, allowing labs to reopen Tuesday morning as the fall semester nears.

Students and teachers are required to wear mask, remain six feet apart, and schools must develop cleaning protocols for the computer labs.

“As college and university students may begin returning to campus for the forthcoming academic year, computer labs serve as a critical resource for students, faculty, and the public,” Murphy said in a statement. “We encourage everyone to continue practicing social distancing and wearing face masks while using computer labs to protect yourself and those around you during this time.”

— Rob Tornoe

7:20 AM - August 11, 2020
7:20 AM - August 11, 2020

Pa. releases guidance for schools to reopen

Walt Carey, 70, of Upper Darby, Pa., School Bus Driver, walks towards his bus he drove at Lower Merion High School.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Walt Carey, 70, of Upper Darby, Pa., School Bus Driver, walks towards his bus he drove at Lower Merion High School.

Under pressure to give schools more guidance about how to safely reopen, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration on Monday issued recommendations to school districts identifying different thresholds for instruction based on local rates of coronavirus transmission.

The guidance places Philadelphia and the surrounding suburban counties in a “moderate” range — meaning either a fully remote program or a “blended” learning model that includes six feet of social distancing during in-person instruction is recommended. Many districts in the region have already announced plans that fall into those categories.

One of Pennsylvania’s largest districts, Central Bucks, will begin the academic year virtually, school officials said Monday.

The 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 school officials realized the district didn’t have enough teachers to staff the various options, according to Superintendent John Kopicki.

He said the district would operate virtually through Nov. 11 while continuing to evaluate staffing and possible solutions. Most families in the district, which enrolls 18,000 students, had previously selected either full in-person or hybrid learning for their students.

— Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy and Maddie Hanna

7:00 AM - August 11, 2020
7:00 AM - August 11, 2020

Tuesday morning roundup