9:35 PM - August 13, 2020
9:35 PM - August 13, 2020

Coronavirus and heart inflammation in athletes: What we know about myocarditis

In this photo taken Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, CSKA Moscow's Daniel Hackett, front, drives to the basket as Red Star's Michael Ojo blocks him during their Euroleague basketball match in Belgrade, Serbia. Former Florida State center Michael Ojo has died after collapsing during training in Serbia. Serbian Media and his former teammates say the 27-year-old Nigerian-born basketball player was on Friday taken to a hospital in the Serbian capital, but doctors failed to reanimate him. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Darko Vojinovic / AP
In this photo taken Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, CSKA Moscow's Daniel Hackett, front, drives to the basket as Red Star's Michael Ojo blocks him during their Euroleague basketball match in Belgrade, Serbia. Former Florida State center Michael Ojo has died after collapsing during training in Serbia. Serbian Media and his former teammates say the 27-year-old Nigerian-born basketball player was on Friday taken to a hospital in the Serbian capital, but doctors failed to reanimate him. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

A small but growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 can damage the heart, sometimes fatally, even in a previously healthy young athlete.

This frightening fact is shrouded in so many unknowns that even expert medical groups can offer only limited guidance. That’s why collegiate athletic conferences, professional sports leagues, and high school teams are debating what to do. The Big Ten Conference’s debate ended with a decision to err on the side of caution.

“We just believed, collectively, there’s too much uncertainty,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said Tuesday in explaining why the conference decided to suspend all fall sports competition.

Here are some of the questions medical and sports authorities are grappling with.

What is myocarditis? Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, or myocardium, usually triggered by infection with a virus, including germs that cause the common cold. The inflammation is generally mild and goes away with rest. But it can also cause temporary or permanent heart problems, notably abnormal rhythms, progressive heart failure, even sudden cardiac death.

— Marie McCullough

9:05 PM - August 13, 2020
9:05 PM - August 13, 2020

Temple University unveils testing plan for students in on-campus housing

File photo of the Bell Tower on the Temple University campus in Philadelphia, Pa. on Thursday, May 7, 2020.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
File photo of the Bell Tower on the Temple University campus in Philadelphia, Pa. on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

Temple University on Thursday unveiled its COVID-19 testing procedures and requirements for students moving into on-campus housing for the fall semester as well as faculty and staff.

Students were asked in a July 30 email to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to arriving on campus.

Students moving into on-campus housing who arrive before Aug. 17 will be tested on Aug. 17. Afterward, students will be tested on the day they arrive or the day after.

There is no charge to Temple housing students for the test, the university said.

Students who test positive will be asked to return home or be directed to an on-campus housing site to isolate for a minimum of 10 days.

All students, as well as faculty and staff, who have traveled in the past 14 days from a "hot" state will be tested for COVID-19.

Each week through September, the university will test symptomatic and asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff.

— Robert Moran

7:52 PM - August 13, 2020
7:52 PM - August 13, 2020

Philly-area congresswoman seeks answers on bogus report of PPP loan to long-closed Buca di Beppo restaurant in Wynnewood

A former Buca Di Beppo location that closed in 2013, now a pediatric urgent care office, is pictured in Wynnewood, Pa., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Newly released federal records erroneously show the Italian restaurant chain received a Paycheck Protection Program loan to save jobs at its long-shuttered Wynnewood location.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A former Buca Di Beppo location that closed in 2013, now a pediatric urgent care office, is pictured in Wynnewood, Pa., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Newly released federal records erroneously show the Italian restaurant chain received a Paycheck Protection Program loan to save jobs at its long-shuttered Wynnewood location.

When the Trump administration released the results of its much-touted anti-virus loan program last month, it said a loan of at least $5 million had saved 500 jobs at an Italian restaurant on Lancaster Avenue. Trouble was, Buca di Beppo had shut seven years earlier.

Now an area congresswoman is demanding that the Small Business Administration explain the mistake in the data for Payroll Protection Plan loans.

“According to the SBA’s data, a PPP loan saved 500 Buca di Beppo jobs in my district that do not exist,” U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a newly elected Democrat, wrote the agency. “It is important that we conduct thorough oversight of the funds that have already been dispersed so that future funds can be fairly and effectively distributed.”

In a letters sent Monday, Scanlon called for investigations into how the loan under the PPP came to be linked in government data to the long-shuttered store in her district that’s now the site of a pediatric clinic. She sent the letters to the SBA, to the restaurant chain’s parent, Earl Enterprises of Orlando, Fla., and to PNC Financial Services Group, the Pittsburgh-based bank that originated the loan.

— Jacob Adelman

6:10 PM - August 13, 2020
6:10 PM - August 13, 2020

AMC announces theater reopenings in Pa., but not yet in Philly or New Jersey

FILE - In this April 29, 2020 file photo, the AMC sign appears at AMC Burbank 16 movie theater complex in Burbank, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
FILE - In this April 29, 2020 file photo, the AMC sign appears at AMC Burbank 16 movie theater complex in Burbank, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

The AMC movie theater chain announced Thursday that it would reopen many venues in Pennsylvania later this month or early September, but would remain closed in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

AMC multiplexes at Plymouth Meeting, Neshaminy, and Marple will reopen Aug. 20, the company said. Other theaters in the Philadelphia suburbs will reopen on Aug 27 or Sept. 3.

Theaters in Philadelphia and New Jersey “will reopen when local guidelines allow,” the company said on its website.

Some non-AMC theaters have reopened in Pennsylvania but have struggled to attract moviegoers with a restricted experience due to the ongoing pandemic.

The company said masks will be required except when eating and drinking, and “neck gaiters, open-chin bandanas, and masks with vents or exhalation valves are not acceptable at this time, based on World Health Organization guidelines.”

Masks at the theaters will be available for purchase for $1.

Seatind capacities will be reduced to 30% or less.

More information is available from the AMC website.

— Robert Moran

4:40 PM - August 13, 2020
4:40 PM - August 13, 2020
3:57 PM - August 13, 2020
3:57 PM - August 13, 2020

Some people in Philly still ‘basically not cooperating’ with effort to trace spread of COVID-19, health commissioner says

Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner, speak to members of the media during a press conference announcing the safety procedures in place for the reopening of the Philadelphia Zoo, in Philadelphia, Pa. Monday, July 6, 2020
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner, speak to members of the media during a press conference announcing the safety procedures in place for the reopening of the Philadelphia Zoo, in Philadelphia, Pa. Monday, July 6, 2020

Philadelphia’s contact tracers reached 65% of people with new COVID-19 cases last week, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday.

But of the people who the city reached, one-third did not give any names of people to whom they may have spread the virus.

”I don’t think that they’re being totally truthful,” Farley said. “I think they’re basically not cooperating. People are reluctant to give us the names of folks they’ve been around. There is a lot of fear and mistrust out there.”

Of people who did report recent contacts, Farley said they averaged three contacts per case, and 77% of those contacts were reached and agreed to self-quarantine.

Many Philadelphia residents may be getting COVID-19 from people they know; 41% of people interviewed by contact tracers said they believed they knew who gave them the virus. Farley said 18% of them reported out-of-state travel, which decreased from a previously-reported 27%.

Farley said contact tracing has not led the city to identify any large events that led to a number of new coronavirus cases.

”There’s probably been some social gatherings where they have been a small number -- two, three, four -- but we have not identified any large ones,” he said.

One good sign, Farley said, is that the city has not traced a large number of cases to businesses that have been permitted to reopen, such as barbershops and salons.

— Laura McCrystal

3:38 PM - August 13, 2020
3:38 PM - August 13, 2020

Biden calls for nationwide mask mandate: ‘Protect your fellow citizens'

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden joined by his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., replaces his face mask after speaking at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden joined by his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., replaces his face mask after speaking at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.

Joe Biden is calling for a nationwide protective mask mandate, citing health experts’ predictions that it could save 40,000 lives from coronavirus over the next three months.

“Wearing the mask is less about you contracting the virus,” Biden said. “It’s about preventing other people from getting sick.”

The Democratic presidential candidate also responded to those who push back against such mandates.

“This is America. Be a patriot. Protect your fellow citizens. Step up, do the right thing.”

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum — every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing,” Biden declared.

— Associated Press

3:00 PM - August 13, 2020
3:00 PM - August 13, 2020

Fauci says he’s ‘not pleased’ with how things are going, says temperature checks are unreliable

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s infections disease expert, said Thursday he was not pleased with the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bottom line is, I’m not pleased with how things are going,” Fauci said during a National Geographic panel discussion.

Fauci also said that temperature checks are not a reliable method for screening for the virus, noting his own temperature has read as high as 103 degrees after being outside during the summer. He said that both the White House and the National Institutes of Health have abandoned temperature checks for screenings.

“We have found at the NIH, that it is much, much better to just question people when they come in and save the time, because the temperatures are notoriously inaccurate.” he said.

— Rob Tornoe

2:40 PM - August 13, 2020
2:40 PM - August 13, 2020

Pa. officials defend recommendation to halt high school sports

Pennsylvania officials on Thursday defended their recommendation to halt high school sports, saying it was based not on data conclusively linking coronavirus outbreaks to athletic practices in the commonwealth but on the same factors that were causing college athletic conferences to call off their fall seasons.

”Kids aren’t back at school, and they’re not in school sports, so I can’t have the data about that until it would happen,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. But officials are looking at the same evidence from scientists, experts, and other states that prompted conferences such as the Big Ten to postpone competition.

”The idea that children are somehow immune from this disease is untrue,” she said. “That they can’t have serious side effects from this disease is untrue. Also, children don’t live in a vacuum. They come back to their parents, who are adults who could get very sick. And then they have contact with other family members.”

”So, as the governor said, the priority is education,” she added, “and not sports.”

— Erin McCarthy

2:05 PM - August 13, 2020
2:05 PM - August 13, 2020

Philly officials say they’re unlikely to permit Eagles fans at the Linc for home opener

Lincoln Financial Field is shown in South Philadelphia, Pa. Wednesday, July 15, 2020.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Lincoln Financial Field is shown in South Philadelphia, Pa. Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

It is unlikely that Philadelphia will permit the Eagles to host fans in their stadium by the time of the team’s scheduled home opener Sept. 20, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday.

Farley said the city’s current coronavirus guidelines would not allow the Eagles to host fans.

”It’s going to be unlikely that that situation will change by Sept. 20,” Farley said.

Mayor Jim Kenney said that he would strictly follow medical advice when determining whether any sporting events could occur with fans — including for the Army vs. Navy football game currently scheduled for December.

”If the numbers continue to improve and it’s medically safe to do it, yeah. And if it’s not medically safe to do it, no.” Kenney said.

— Laura McCrystal

2:03 PM - August 13, 2020
2:03 PM - August 13, 2020

Pa. health secretary says race, ethnicity reporting on coronavirus tests are ‘not good enough'

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a visit to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in June.
Commonwealth Media Services
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a visit to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in June.

Despite a Pennsylvania mandate months ago that race and ethnicity data be reported with all coronavirus test results, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday many providers are still not doing so.

”Since that time, we have made progress, but not enough progress,” Levine said.

In April, when the commonwealth gave the order, about 20 to 30% of results had racial data attached to them, Levine said, and now that number is above 60%. Ethnicity data reporting has increased from 10 to 20% to about 40%, she added.

”Better, but not good enough,” Levine said. “We need to continue to work with all of our healthcare providers, the laboratories, and also the people ordering the tests to make sure they add that demographic information that is so critical to us making the right decisions and to be able to understand our data.”

— Erin McCarthy

1:55 PM - August 13, 2020
1:55 PM - August 13, 2020

Pa. health officials warn of community spread in Philly, Delco, and Allegheny County

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Thursday called out Delaware and Philadelphia Counties, as well as Allegheny County, as among the commonwealth’s top areas for community spread of the coronavirus.

“Overall, we have been making progress,” Levine said. But the 991 new cases reported across the state on Thursday, is “increased from what we’ve had over the last two weeks. There is no particular data dump that’s responsible for that increase.”

“We know that there is still significant community spread and community transmission in Pennsylvania,” Levine said.

Gov. Tom Wolf continued to hold firm on his increased restrictions on bars and restaurants, as well as his guidance for the upcoming school year.

Renewed mitigation measures “have had an impact,” he said. “All of this was caused, because Pennsylvania did have an upsurge, and I think we need to be concerned about this.”

— Erin McCarthy

1:50 PM - August 13, 2020
1:50 PM - August 13, 2020

Philly health commissioner recommends masks with a tight fabric weave

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Philadelphia Zoo last month.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Philadelphia Zoo last month.

In response to a study questioning the effectiveness of popular neck gaiters in limiting the spread of COVID-19, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley recommended Thursday that residents wear masks that have a tight fabric weave.

Farley said the city would look into research and make recommendations about the effectiveness of different types of masks.

Fabric are generally most effective if they have a tight weave, Farley said, which can be determined by holding a mask up to a light. A tightly woven mask will not show much light through it.

”My first message is if you’re wearing any type of mask at all, thank you,” he said. “You’re doing the right thing.”

Farley also said masks should be tight around cheeks and chins. A bandana that is loose around the chin, for example, does not stop the spread of droplets.

The city is now selling masks online with the phrases “Love your neighbor wear a mask” and “Philly never backs down. Mask up,” as part of its Mask Up PHL campaign. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Black Doctors Consortium.

The city also has new guidance for ventilation inside buildings, which is a potential risk for spreading the coronavirus.

Farley said special filters or ultraviolet lights for HVAC systems are not necessary, but he does recommend opening a door at both ends of a building so that air flows through it, and to optimize ventilation in HVAC systems.

But Farley said good ventilation is not a replacement for other safety measures.

“No matter how good your ventilation system is, it’s not a replacement for masks, not a replacement for people keeping distance,” Farley said.

— Laura McCrystal

1:43 PM - August 13, 2020
1:43 PM - August 13, 2020

Officials release recommendations to combat health disparities in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania officials on Thursday released the findings of a health disparities task force, which was put together in response to the coronavirus pandemic but also covered inequalities related to housing, criminal justice, food insecurity, and educational and economic opportunities.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said all of these factors impact resident’s access to coronavirus testing and care, and she hopes lawmakers will be able to make some of these recommendations law.

“Even though COVID-19 is in the task force title,” Gov. Tom Wolf said, “you’ll note many of the recommendations are looking at a much broader set of disparities that exist throughout our commonwealth and our country and have for a long, long time.”

The policy recommendations include the implementation of a driver’s license amnesty program that would retroactively allow people to have their licenses restored for past non-driving-related offenses , said Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the task force chairman. The task force also recommended a standardized remote learning model, greater broadband internet access, and increasing the threshold for food assistance programs.

Some of the recommendations would help Black and brown communities get better care for the coronavirus in the short term, the officials said, while others could improve their health and their access to healthcare in the long term.

”What the pandemic did was point out once again the special vulnerabilities of certain segments of the populations of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.

— Erin McCarthy

1:25 PM - August 13, 2020
1:25 PM - August 13, 2020

Philly officials concerns about coronavirus lab delays

Dr. Ala Stanford, M.D., center left, founder of the Black Doctors COVID19 Consortium, shown here about to administer a coronavirus test to Tatyana Kelly, right, at a testing site at the Global Leadership Academy in West Philadelphia.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Dr. Ala Stanford, M.D., center left, founder of the Black Doctors COVID19 Consortium, shown here about to administer a coronavirus test to Tatyana Kelly, right, at a testing site at the Global Leadership Academy in West Philadelphia.

Philadelphia reported 185 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, representing an increase from recent days.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city received a large number of test results Thursday, and will “need a few more days to determine if that’s the trend.”

The city had reported a decrease in the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the past couple of weeks.

"We are seeing somewhat higher case counts from coronavirus in Philadelphia so far this week," Farley said.

Thursday's large batch of test results had a 5% positivity rate, which Farley said is slightly higher than the recent trend in positivity.

The city continues to struggle with delayed reporting of test results from some labs, Farley said, particularly Quest Diagnostics. Farley said Quest, a large lab, is returning test results in eight days, on average.

— Laura McCrystal

1:23 PM - August 13, 2020
1:23 PM - August 13, 2020

Buck County purchases nearly 200,000 face shields for its schools

N.C. State University student Nathan Hsieh wears a face shield in Raleigh, N.C. Buck County officials said they have purchased nearly 200,000 face shields for schools.
Gerry Broome / AP
N.C. State University student Nathan Hsieh wears a face shield in Raleigh, N.C. Buck County officials said they have purchased nearly 200,000 face shields for schools.

Bucks County has purchased nearly 200,000 face shields for its schools, officials said at a virtual news briefing Thursday.

The face shields are child- and adult-sized and will arrive within the next couple of weeks, said county emergency services director Scott Forster. The county will distribute them to districts that are planning for in-person learning first and then to schools that will be operating remotely.

“Kids are going to go back to school at some point, and so they will still be useful,” said Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia.

The Bucks County Network of Victim Assistance is also raising awareness about child sexual abuse amid the pandemic. The organization is asking adults in the community to watch out for children — particularly as kids have not been in school environments, where teachers and other adults are monitoring children and required to report abuse, said Grace Wheeler, a coordinator for NOVA.

The county designated August 20 “Not On My Watch Day” to encourage adults to look out for signs of child abuse.

The organization is offering a free webinar to train adults about preventing child sexual abuse. Registration and information can be found at novabucks.org/StopCSA.

— Justine McDaniel

1:20 PM - August 13, 2020
1:20 PM - August 13, 2020

Bucks County health director calls current coronavirus trends ‘very good news’

David Damsker., the director of the Bucks County Health Department answers questions during a March press conference.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
David Damsker., the director of the Bucks County Health Department answers questions during a March press conference.

Bucks County Health Director David Damsker said the slight increase in cases the county saw in late June and July has decreased, providing “very good news.”

State and county data shows the county’s daily case numbers have been on a decreasing trend. The county has had a total of 7,318 cases.

“Those numbers have clearly come down now. We don’t know how far down they’re going to go and it’s really difficult for anyone to say,” Damsker said at a virtual news briefing Thursday. “There’s going to be a certain amount of transmission in the community… [we’re] waiting to see what that baseline is going to be.”

The county has a dozen or fewer people hospitalized with the virus, which Damsker said was an important indicator.

“I think people are wearing masks, people are following the rules,” he said.

Damsker said the county has successfully contacted 95% of its known coronavirus patients and encouraged people contacted by the health department to talk with the contact tracers.

The county health department will not penalize anyone for socializing or will never ask for any financial or social security information, Damsker said, and anyone who wants to verify they are talking to a contact tracer can call the health department directly. Collecting the information alerts people who may not realize they have the virus that they could be sick and helps them prevent spreading it.

“We want our businesses to be reopened, we want our schools to be reopened, we want our society to flourish again,” Damsker said. “All that kind of information, if we have it and we’re able to communicate with people, gets the overall numbers down.”

— Justine McDaniel

12:30 PM - August 13, 2020
12:30 PM - August 13, 2020

Morey’s Piers in Wildwood is struggling to put some fun in a coronavirus summer

Mariner's Pier on the Boardwalk in Wildwood Aug. 11. 2020, one of the Morey's Piers operating during the coronavirus pandemic of summer 2020.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Mariner's Pier on the Boardwalk in Wildwood Aug. 11. 2020, one of the Morey's Piers operating during the coronavirus pandemic of summer 2020.

Things at Morey’s Piers are both the same and different this summer, full of paradoxes.

Crowds are down, so the 50% capacity limit imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy is mostly moot. But waits can be longer as rides require sanitizing for every turnover. Staffing shortages have kept various rides closed.

“I wouldn’t want to be a cruise ship operator,” Jack Morey is saying. At least there’s that. But his half-century iconic Shore business is wobbly, at best. He laughs when asked if he’s making any money. He’s not.

With three amusement piers (one is closed this summer), a water park, the PigDog beach bar, and four hotels, Morey’s typically employs 1,500 people, including 700 international students. This year, after a July 2 opening, there are around 700 total, Morey says. When New York amusements parks failed to open at all, Morey’s poached lifeguards from Long Island.

Seats are kept empty for distancing, even as people scream through masks as they go racing against the sky, or swinging in the Moby Dick pendulum ship ride, where two seats are off-limits between each family or friend group. This will not be an experience shared with strangers.

— Amy Rosenberg

11:55 AM - August 13, 2020
11:55 AM - August 13, 2020

Pennsylvania reports 991 new coronavirus cases, 24 additional deaths

Pennsylvania reported 991 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. The commonwealth is now averaging 800 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, increasing slightly over the past few days.

The Department of Health said 162,548 coronavirus tests were administered between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12, with 5,416 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 3.3%. Overall, 122,121 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 7,409 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 24 new deaths reported on Thursday. Of the state’s deaths, 4,192 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:40 AM - August 13, 2020
11:40 AM - August 13, 2020

Penn State reverses course, plans to provide modified COVID-19 agreement for students

Old Main is pictured on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Old Main is pictured on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

In the face of criticism from students, faculty, and legal experts, Pennsylvania State University said Thursday it will reverse course and provide an alternate legal agreement students must sign regarding the coronavirus before returning to campus.

The original agreement required students to “assume any and all risk” of COVID-19, which some said amounted to a liability waiver. Penn State, with an enrollment nearing 100,000, plans to hold half of its fall semester classes with at least some in-person instruction.

One day after Spotlight PA and the Daily Collegian published stories about the agreement — noting it was “on the more extreme end” of what other colleges and universities were requiring — Penn State said it would provide an updated option.

“[W]e have heard from some concerned with language requiring students to assume the risks of exposure to COVID-19,” the statement said. “Others have misinterpreted the language of the compact as a waiver of students’ rights, which was neither the case, nor the intent.”

— Sarah Simon of Spotlight PA

10:40 AM - August 13, 2020
10:40 AM - August 13, 2020

Outbreaks hit newly reopened school districts across the South

Kids are led to Blue Ridge Elementary School for the first day of classes in Evans, Ga., Monday morning, August 3, 2020. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]
Michael Holahan / AP
Kids are led to Blue Ridge Elementary School for the first day of classes in Evans, Ga., Monday morning, August 3, 2020. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Southern states such as Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas have some of the earliest back-to-school start dates in the country. Parents, educators and elected officials in other regions are watching these early istricts closely for signs of outbreaks, and cues on whether it’s safe to send teachers and students back into classrooms nationwide.

So far, the news isn’t great.

It’s particularly bad in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp declined to issue an order requiring masks in schools, and photos showed little social distancing in hallways in the first week of class. As of Tuesday, more than 900 students and staff in the Cherokee County School District have been ordered to quarantine after school officials reported nearly 60 students and staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

Days after a photo went viral showing students packed into a hallway at North Paulding High School in suburban Atlanta, the district confirmed at least 35 new infections, according to WXIA-TV, which obtained a letter sent to parents.

In central Georgia, people in at least seven schools in the Houston County School District had tested positive for COVID-19 as of late Wednesday, the Macon Telegraph reported.

In Louisiana’s Livingston Parish, at least 150 students and staff have been forced to quarantine after positive cases emerged there, according to the Advocate.

Schools that opened even earlier have seen similar outcomes: A Mississippi school that resumed classes the first week of August reported one infected student; within two weeks, 116 of their peers were sent home to quarantine.

— Washington Post

8:40 AM - August 13, 2020
8:40 AM - August 13, 2020

Trump says Republicans holding up stimulus deal over funding for post office to stop mail-in voting

An unidentified customer enters the Fishtown post office in Philadelphia, Pa. on May 7, 2020. Someone wrapped an oversized mask around the mail box and wrote thank you on it.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
An unidentified customer enters the Fishtown post office in Philadelphia, Pa. on May 7, 2020. Someone wrapped an oversized mask around the mail box and wrote thank you on it.

President Donald Trump said he won’t agree to requests by Democrats to prove financial assistance to the Postal Service as part of a larger stimulus deal because it would enable the service to handle mail-in ballots.

A stimulus bill passed by House Democrats in May includes $3.6 billion in election funding to assist states due to the coronavirus pandemics and $25 billion for the Post Office, which has said it could run out of money by September.

“Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said during an interview on Fox Business Thursday. “But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means that can’t have universal, mail-in voting. They just can’t have it,” Trump added.

“Trump again brags he’s destroying the post office to sabotage voting and rig the election,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.) wrote on Twitter following the interview.

Democrats have repeatedly warned that operational changes made to the post office by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, appear intended to hamper mail-in voting on Election Day. On Wednesday Democrats sent DeJoy a letter demanding he reverse the changes, which they claim will delay election mail and “disenfranchise voters.”

— Rob Tornoe

8:40 AM - August 13, 2020
8:40 AM - August 13, 2020

Jobless claims remain high, but dip below 1 million for first time in more than four months

963,000 workers applied for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, falling below 1 million for first time in 5 months.

Jobless claims have been mostly trending downward for months, but the weekly numbers remain stubbornly high and far more than previous records set in other recessions. The numbers come as the fate of enhanced unemployment benefits remains uncertain.

— Wire reports

8:00 AM - August 13, 2020
8:00 AM - August 13, 2020

CDC: Avoid masks with valves or vents and neck gaiters

The CDC warns that face masks with a valve, like the one pictured here, aren't effective in stopping the spread of coronavirus.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
The CDC warns that face masks with a valve, like the one pictured here, aren't effective in stopping the spread of coronavirus.

In guidance updated late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against wearing masks with exhalation valves or vents, a type of face covering made for hot and dusty construction work that has become a popular pandemic accessory because of its seemingly high-tech design.

“The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control,” the agency’s guidance reads. “However, masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be exhaled through a hole in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.”

“Therefore, CDC does not recommend using masks for source control if they have an exhalation valve or vent,” the agency added.

The CDC recommends simple cloth masks instead. A few layers of cotton prevent most of the potentially infectious respiratory droplets from escaping into the air around you, and they are also much cooler than the formfitting N95 masks.

A recent study also suggested that people should avoid the newly popular neck gaiters, which are made of thin, stretchy material. Researchers at Duke University found that those coverings may be worse than not wearing a mask at all, because they break up larger airborne particles into a spray of little ones more likely to linger longer in the air.

— Washington Post

7:40 AM - August 13, 2020
7:40 AM - August 13, 2020

N.J. data shows kids make up a growing share of coronavirus carriers

Rita Hertzog of Mt. Airy rides Bubbles The Coaster with her daughters Emma, 11, and Pearl, 4, with sons Isaac, 7, and Lucas, 6, not shown in front, socially distanced at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., on Aug. 11. 2020.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Rita Hertzog of Mt. Airy rides Bubbles The Coaster with her daughters Emma, 11, and Pearl, 4, with sons Isaac, 7, and Lucas, 6, not shown in front, socially distanced at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., on Aug. 11. 2020.

New data from two South Jersey counties provide a window into how much of a hazard COVID-19 could pose for reopening. Children and teenagers account for a growing share of coronavirus cases in Camden and Gloucester Counties, mirroring a national — and ominous — trend as young people rebel against social distancing rules, health experts say.

In those two counties, people under age 20 accounted for almost 13% of confirmed cases in the last month, compared with less than 2% in a four-week period this spring. Camden and Gloucester Counties officials have made public the age of every confirmed case. That’s a step no other county in the area has taken, so it’s not possible to compare them directly with the rest of the region. But experts say the lessons of the data are apparent.

“I think it’s very clear we should expect there will be outbreaks among children and teenagers if schools open,” said David Rubin, a pediatrician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “If the disease burden in the community is too high, the risk in schools is too high.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that while children make up just 9% of the nation’s COVID-19 positive cases, there were 179,990 new cases among children from July 9 to Aug. 6, a 90% increase in a matter of a month.

With some rare and serious exceptions, children are mostly spared the worst health complications from COVID-19, yet they could spread the virus to more vulnerable family members.

“If the question is, are kids able to transmit the virus to each other or to an adult,” said Richard Malley, senior physician at Boston Children’s Hospital’s division of infectious diseases and a professor at Harvard Medical School, “the answer is unquestionably yes.”

— Jason Laughlin and Maddie Hanna

7:20 AM - August 13, 2020
7:20 AM - August 13, 2020

U.S. reports highest number of coronavirus deaths in one day since mid-May

On Wednesday, the United States reported its highest number of coronavirus deaths in a single day since mid-May, at nearly 1,500. The country has now seen its seven-day average of newly reported deaths remain above 1,000 for 17 consecutive days.

Georgia reported 105 deaths Wednesday, marking its second triple-digit day in a row. North Carolina reported an additional 45 deaths Wednesday, tying its highest daily number, from July 29. Texas reported 324 additional deaths from the disease.

Pennsylvania reported 33 new deaths Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to at least 7,385. New Jersey has endured at least 14,046 coronavirus deaths, reporting nine new deaths on Wednesday.

— Washington Post

7:00 AM - August 13, 2020
7:00 AM - August 13, 2020

Thursday morning round-up