Judge orders defiant Atilis Gym owners to pay more than $130,000 in fines and costs, and $15,000 every day they refuse to comply
A Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered the owners of Atilis Gym, which has been defying coronavirus-restrictions mandated by the state, to pay nearly $135,000 in fines and costs, and pay more than $15,000 every day they refuse to comply.
Judge Robert Lougy also ordered the state to construct a barricade barring entry into the gym in Bellmawr Borough “as expeditiously as possible.”
A spokesperson for New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in an emailed statement: “Today’s decision recognizes that gym owners — like everyone else — must do their part and follow the law. As we’ve said before, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, yet these defendants have defied multiple court orders designed to protect the public. We hope that today’s order puts an end to this dispute.”
Gym co-owner Ian Smith wrote on Instagram: "The police are once again coming to arrest us and construct a barricade in front of our building. We are not backing down."
Gym co-owner Frank Trumbetti wrote in a text message statement that he was urging supporters to come to the gym Tuesday night "and take a peaceful stand against this ... tyrannical state government."
“This peaceful protest is to continue 24 hours a day until such time that Governor Murphy is made to deal with the consequences of his actions,” Trumbetti 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.
New Jersey movie theaters will remain closed, federal judge says
Movie theaters in New Jersey will remain closed, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
The decision upholds Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order that kept theaters closed even as other public places were allowed to reopen. Several national movie theater chains challenged the order in court in July.
“In closing indoor movie theater operations, (the state is) promoting the significant governmental interest of protecting public health by keeping closed areas that present heightened risks for COVID-19 transmission,” U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti wrote in his opinion, NJ.com reported.
The theaters argued in their lawsuit that in allowing houses of worship and other public entities to reopen but not cinemas, the state violated the theaters’ rights to free speech, equal protection and due process.
S&P 500 closes at record high, erasing last of pandemic losses
Wall Street clawed back the last of the historic, frenzied losses unleashed by the new coronavirus, as the S&P 500 closed at an all-time high Tuesday.
The day’s move was a relatively mild one, nudging the index up 7.79 points, or 0.2%, to 3,389.78. That eclipses the S&P 500′s previous record closing high of 3,386.15, which was set Feb. 19, before the pandemic shut down businesses around the world and knocked economies into their worst recessions in decades.
The S&P 500′s milestone caps a furious, 51.5% rally that began in late March. The index, which is the benchmark for many stock funds at the heart of 401(k) plans, is now up nearly 5% for the year.
The stock market’s sprint back to an all-time high also means that the gut-wrenching, nearly 34% plunge for the S&P 500 from Feb. 19 through March 23 was the quickest bear market on record. It lasted barely more than a month. Compare that with the 19.6 months that it’s taken the average bear market to find its bottom, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Recent data mixed on spread of coronavirus in Philadelphia
Philadelphia reported 84 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday, for a total of 32,432 since the beginning of the pandemic, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
While 84 is a relatively low daily tally for new cases, Farley said recent data is showing mixed results on the effort to control the virus in Philadelphia. In the week that ended Saturday, he said, the city saw an average of 122 newly confirmed cases per day, which was higher than the 108 daily average from the previous week but similar to the week before that, which saw 124 new cases per day.
Testing has been increasing, he said, with about 3,000 Philadelphians now getting tested each day, compared to about 2,500 several weeks ago and only 1,200 in April, the pandemic’s peak in the city.
In the week that ended Saturday, 4% of tests came back positive, a similar rate to the 4.1% who tested positive the previous week, he said.
More than half of new cases reported Tuesday were of residents under the age of 40 years old, he said.
The city reported no new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 1,717 Philadelphians have died of the disease.
Those policy changes — which slashed office hours, eliminated overtime, and ordered carriers to leave mail behind — were made illegally, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday. Shapiro said they were illegal because DeJoy changed operations without first seeking approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission.
DeJoy, a Republican fund-raiser with no postal experience, was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, and immediately began changing operations to cut costs and improve efficiency. The changes have created widespread mail-delivery delays across the country, including in Philadelphia.
Democrats have accused the changes to be part of an orchestrated effort meant to hobble voting by mail in the November election.
“We’re taking action to force postal officials to reinstate Postal Service standards that all Americans depend on for everything from delivering your prescription drugs and their unemployment checks to carrying out their very right to vote,” Shapiro said in a conference.
Pennsylvania opting in to Trump’s $300-a-week unemployment benefit
Pennsylvania will ask the federal government for a new round of $300 in weekly unemployment benefits under a presidential order tapping into disaster relief aid, Gov. Tom Wolf’s labor and industry secretary said Tuesday.
Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak told reporters the Wolf administration would prefer the U.S. Congress extend the $600-a-week unemployment supplement that expired last month, but will pursue the smaller payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Oleksiak said his agency was waiting for federal guidance on the application, and cautioned the payments may only last five weeks or less before the federal disaster relief aid runs out.
Oleksiak said he was unsure when the money will start to reach recipients. For legal reasons, the Labor and Industry Department must distribute the money through a new system rather than through the existing unemployment compensation program, Oleksiak said.
It may take more than a month to become operational, he said, and making it retroactive to Aug. 1 adds another complication.
“Hardworking Pennsylvanians need more than a temporary program that is forcing us to recreate the wheel,” Oleksiak said.
A spokesperson for Wolf said in a statement Tuesday evening:
“L&I is continuing to work through the application process as we await more guidance from FEMA, but the department plans to apply. The president’s convoluted, temporary, half-baked concept, has left many states, including Pennsylvania, with more questions than a clear path forward to continue providing financial relief to Pennsylvania families.
“Instead of giving up and adjourning until the end of next month, we need Senate Republicans to get back to work to pass a bill continuing the FPUC program.”
Philadelphia developing plan to distribute coronavirus vaccine
When a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, Philadelphia will prioritize people who are more vulnerable to developing a serious infection, such as nursing home residents and people with underlying medical conditions, as well as caregivers for those vulnerable populations, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.
Farley said that the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine is going well, with three companies conducting large-scale tests on human populations that could produce viable options in early 2021, he said. The federal government has said doses could become available as soon as later this year.
“There’s much to be worked out, but it’s exciting to be thinking about this right now,” Farley said.
The Streets Department has reassigned about half of its highway crew members to assist with trash and recycling collection, spokesperson Keisha McCarty-Skelton said.
And temporarily reassigning as many as 49 of its 90 highway workers to sanitation crews at a given time has now created a backlog in street repair work.
”The capabilities of Highway have been cut back,” McCarty-Skelton said. “We continue to address potholes with the pothole patcher, however… larger repairs such as cave in and plumbers ditches are taking us longer to address.”
Due to national shortages, Pa. unable to do widespread testing, health secretary says
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania officials renewed their efforts to ensure that anyone who wants a coronavirus test could get one. On Tuesday, however, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the commonwealth is now prioritizing symptomatic individuals due to national shortages, and indicated it will take time before Pennsylvania is able to do widespread, population-based testing of asymptomatic people.
“What is changing is the delay times,” Levine said. “There have been challenges in terms of getting test results. Remember, Pennsylvania is not an island, and so in some ways we’re almost competing with other states for that access to getting those tests done.”
Some hospitals are also struggling to get reagents and chemicals for some of their large-scale testing platforms, Levine said.
Meanwhile, she said, commercial labs have reported improvement in turnaround times in the past week. Quest and LabCorp now say their coronavirus test results come back in an average of two days, down from a week or more, she said.
Still, “the priority is anyone who is any way symptomatic with COVID-19 versus someone who wants a test just because they’d like a test,” Levine said.
Pennsylvania on Tuesday added an additional 735 confirmed cases, a number that includes a two-day tally of 208 cases in Philadelphia due to reporting delays. The commonwealth also added 31 newly reported deaths.
Delaware back on New Jersey’s travel quarantine list
Delaware is back on New Jersey’s travel quarantine list due to a slight increase in the number of positive cases over the past two weeks.
New Jersey also added Alaska to its travel advisory, which directs individuals to self-quarantine for 14 days if they’ve traveled from states or territories with high coronavirus infection rates.
As of Tuesday, there are now 35 states and territories on New Jersey’s quarantine list: Alaska; Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Delaware; 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.
Pa. school mask rules needed some ‘clarification,’ Levine says
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Tuesday said the commonwealth’s updated schools guidance, which included tightened requirements for student mask wearing, represented a “clarification” not a change to officials’ previous position.
“From our perspective, this is what we meant all along,” Levine said. “We understand the original guidance was unclear about students at their desks, and we’ve had questions about it.”
“We wanted to make sure our guidance was crystal clear,” she added.
She noted that mask breaks are still permitted for children under the updated guidance, but said they should be taken with students separated by more than six feet if possible — “not just sitting at your desk.”
At the college level, Levine said she has been impressed by the reopening plans at some Pennsylvania universities. Some schools, including Temple and Penn State, welcome students back to campus this week.
But Levine is watching closely what happens in the coming days and weeks.
“I think the key is going to be the compliance with the plans, as we saw at the University of North Carolina and some other colleges,” she said. “If young people are having very large parties, if they’re not social distancing, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not washing their hands, you’re going to have spread of COVID-19.”
Pa. won’t ban school sports, says final decision up to PIAA and districts
With a decision on fall youth sports forthcoming, Health Secretary Rachel Levine reiterated Tuesday that Pennsylvania officials recommend school, recreational, and club sports be put on hold to prevent coronavirus outbreaks.
“I think it’s really important to take the same lessons about COVID-19 as Penn State took, that the Big Ten took, that the PAC-12 took,” she said, “and that school sports be postponed, as well as recreational sports, until Jan. 1.”
Levine said she is concerned by the rising number of coronavirus cases in people under the age of 19, though those cannot be traced to specific practices or games, perhaps in part because not many have not been held this summer. In addition, sports often require travel for games, which Levine said could spread the virus from one county to another.
The PA Athletic Oversight Committee was meeting Tuesday morning in the Senate Chamber to discuss the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s resumption of fall sports, and the PIAA’s board of directors is set to meet Friday to discuss the starting of fall sports.
If the PIAA moves to start up fall high school sports, Levine said, Gov. Tom Wolf does not plan to intervene to stop them.
“The governor has been very clear on that,” she said. “There are no plans to do that.”
Pennsylvania plans to soon unveil a smartphone app that will use bluetooth technology to help the state’s contact tracing efforts, health secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday.
“Sometimes it is difficult to recount every step of your day and to remember who you may have spent more than 15 minutes with in close contact,” she said.
The app, called “COVID Alert PA,” will be unveiled in September, Levine said, and will alert users if they’ve come within six feet of someone who later tested positive for the virus. In order to be notified, the user must have been that close to an infected person for 15 minutes or longer.
Created with the help of the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, the app will be “very easy to use,” “anonymous,” and “completely voluntary,” she said. It will not replace case investigators and other officials working to stop the spread of the virus, she said.
Levine hedged when asked how many Pennsylvanians would have to download the app for it to be effective, only saying “the more the better.”
Thirty states have not committed to the plan one way or another, and two have declined, the AP tally showed. Among those that have yet to commit are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, where leaders have said they can’t afford the plan due to their own budget issues.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called it a “convoluted, temporary, half-baked concept (that) has left many states, including Pennsylvania, with more questions.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Trump’s plan is “just not workable.” Gov. John Carney called the plan “very complicated, and frankly, unnecessary.”
Trump’s plan is nearly half the $600 boost to unemployment Democrats voted to extend back in May through the end of the year. It was one of many items Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on as part of a new coronavirus stimulus deal.
Trump signed an executive order Aug. 8 to extend the added weekly benefit, but cut it to $300 or $400 a week, depending on which plan governors choose. States are required to chip in $100 per claimant to be able to send out the higher amount.
More school districts around Philly plan virtual openings. Where does that leave bus drivers?
As school districts try to figure out whether they can reopen safely for in-person classes during a pandemic, another complication lies ahead: how to get kids to school.
Keeping kids safe on school buses involves many now-familiar safety practices: enhanced cleaning, blocked off seats, and face masks, for example.
It’s still unclear how many students will need school buses this fall. About 1.5 million students in Pennsylvania were transported by school buses daily in recent years, according to the state Department of Transportation, but that figure will no doubt change as more districts begin the year virtually and parents consider driving children themselves.
“We’re really concerned about that, because we don’t believe we’ll get those drivers back,” said Mike Berk, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association. “We think they’ll move on, and that’s going to take an already depleted workforce and create real problems potentially down the road.”
“Given this recent change from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and consistent with the secretary of health’s face covering order issued on July 1, 2020, the Department of Health is requiring students wear face coverings at all times while in school, even when six feet of social distancing can be achieved,” Stem wrote.
According to the Department of Education’s website, the new mask rule must be implemented by all school districts “immediately” prior to the start of their school year.
Coronavirus measures all but wiped out the flu in the southern hemisphere
The pandemic has made a lot of bad things worse, but South Africa’s near-total lack of a flu season this year stands out as a rare positive effect.
The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases has three laboratories that would normally record more than 1,000 cases of flu between April and August, winter in the Southern Hemisphere. As the 2020 season ends, they have recorded just one.
“It is a totally unprecedented event to not see flu,” said Cheryl Cohen, who leads the NICD’s respiratory disease team. While she and other experts in South Africa said some people were certainly staying home and not reporting mild sicknesses, they all agreed that South Africa basically skipped its flu season — and that the novel coronavirus is to thank.
From Argentina to Chile to New Zealand, countries in the Southern Hemisphere are reporting far lower numbers of influenza and other seasonal respiratory viral infections this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reports it could be good news for health officials in the United States and Europe, who fear a second wave of coronavirus hitting during flu season this fall and winter.
Thomas Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday COVID-19 is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, trailing just heart disease and cancer. “Last week, Americans were eight times more likely to get killed by COVID than were Europeans,” Frieden said during an interview on CNN.