5:26 PM - July 31, 2020
5:26 PM - July 31, 2020

Pennsylvania meatpackers claim OSHA isn’t keeping them safe

Stock photo (Dreamstime/TNS)
Dreamstime / MCT
Stock photo (Dreamstime/TNS)

Workers at a Lackawanna County meatpacking plant say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not protecting them from COVID-19 dangers.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg last week, three employees of Dunmore-based Maid-Rite Specialty Foods claim the company failed to “take basic precautions to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19 at the Plant.”

“Instead, perhaps in an effort to reduce its costs,” the complaint alleges, “Maid-Rite has adopted policies and practices that substantially increase the risks of spread of disease.”

Maid-Rite, according to the complaint, produces pre-portioned frozen meat products for schools, universities, nursing homes, and military bases. The company, founded in Scranton in 1960, has contracts with school districts in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Texas.

— Jason Nark

4:02 PM - July 31, 2020
4:02 PM - July 31, 2020

Marlins using sleeper buses to transport their coronavirus-infected players from Philadelphia

The Phillies held their season opener against the Miami Marlins on July 24, 2020. Jesús Aguilar (center) of the Marlins celebrates his home run against the Phillies by tapping feet with teammate Corey Dickerson.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The Phillies held their season opener against the Miami Marlins on July 24, 2020. Jesús Aguilar (center) of the Marlins celebrates his home run against the Phillies by tapping feet with teammate Corey Dickerson.

The Marlins had their 18th player test positive for the coronavirus on Friday and are planning to return their infected players and coaches to Miami by bus after five days of isolation in Philadelphia.

The Marlins, as first reported by ESPN and confirmed by the city Department of Public Health, will transport their 18 infected players and two infected coaches in sleeper buses for the nearly 1,200-mile trip from their Center City hotel to Miami. The rest of the team will remain in Philadelphia for the weekend, conduct daily coronavirus testing, and wait to see where and when their next game will be played.

The health department worked this week with the Marlins on contact tracing and said no new COVID-positive cases “have been positively linked to the Marlins.”

Miami has not played since Sunday, when the Marlins played the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park after learning that four players in three days had tested positive for COVID-19. The Marlins canceled their flight home that night and have since remained isolated at The Rittenhouse Hotel.

— Matt Breen

3:58 PM - July 31, 2020
3:58 PM - July 31, 2020

Burlington County reports doubling of COVID-19 cases

Burlington County Director of Health Dr. Herb Conaway, responding to a news report that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had listed the county among several in New Jersey as a “hot spot” for COVID-19 cases, said reported positive tests had doubled this week.

“During the last two weeks the daily average of new COVID-19 cases in the county has increased from around 15 new cases a day to about 35 new cases each day this week,” Conaway said in a news release Friday afternoon.

“While this uptick is certainly cause for concern, we also believe that common-sense measures and adherence to the state’s social-distancing rules and guidance can contain the spread. This is becoming even more important with schools starting in just a few weeks,” Conaway said.

From July 17 through 23, Burlington County had a daily average of 14.71 cases.

From July 24 through 30, the county had a daily average 35.43 cases.

Other New Jersey counties listed in the nationwide federal report, ABC News said, were Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Ocean, and Mercer. In Pennsylvania, Cumberland County in the central region of the state was identified as a hot spot.

— Robert Moran

3:30 PM - July 31, 2020
3:30 PM - July 31, 2020

How Philly-area colleges are planning to test students and staff for coronavirus

The University of Pennsylvania campus.
File Photograph
The University of Pennsylvania campus.

More than 4,000 undergraduate students from around the country will return to the University of Pennsylvania next month. But first, they will have to pass a test — for the coronavirus.

Using a kit mailed to them, each student will send back a saliva sample that will be analyzed to rule out infection. And when the students arrive on Penn’s West Philadelphia campus, they will all be tested again. There will be still more testing after that — plus a 35-member in-house team of contact tracers who will find those who had contact with people known to have the virus and advise them to isolate.

Penn is going above and beyond local and national recommendations for testing, a decision it made to protect both the campus and its community, officials said.

“Our conclusion was, we definitely will be faulted if we don’t do enough,” said Benoit Dubé, Penn associate provost and chief wellness officer. “We may annoy people if we do more, but we will not be faulted for taking extra steps.”

— Susan Snyder

2:50 PM - July 31, 2020
2:50 PM - July 31, 2020

Pennsylvania will pay the postage of voters’ mail in ballots for the general election

Pennsylvania will foot the cost of postage for voters to mail in ballots in November’s general election, officials said Friday, a move that Gov. Tom Wolf has made a priority as the coronavirus pandemic unexpectedly fueled high interest in voting by mail under a new state law.

The administration plans to use money from federal emergency coronavirus aid to foot the bill, which could run to several million dollars to cover 55 cents for millions of ballots.

Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said paying for the postage is a way to make voting more accessible, safer and easier during the pandemic.

— Associated Press

2:40 PM - July 31, 2020
2:40 PM - July 31, 2020

Secretary Levine: ‘We must work together to stop another surge'

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference.
Commonwealth Media Services: Natalie Kolb
Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference.

Pennsylvania on Friday reported 970 additional confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 additional deaths. In all, the commonwealth has recorded 112,048 cases and 7,189 deaths since the pandemic began.

”Pennsylvania has been a model for the country on how to reopen effectively using a careful, measured approach,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a statement. “However, we know the virus has not gone away as we see cases rise, so we must work together to stop another surge.”

Officials remain concerned about young persons spreading the virus at parties and other gatherings. In the southeastern part of the state, about 19% of new positive cases this month were in people between the ages of 19 and 24. This is compared to 5% in April.

As for establishments’ compliance with the commonwealth’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said it completed 104 checks of Philadelphia establishments on July 29 and 30, and issued four warnings and zero violations. Across the state, the board has done nearly 20,000 checks since July 1, issued 379 warnings related to coronavirus mitigation efforts, and four violations.

— Erin McCarthy

1:40 PM - July 31, 2020
1:40 PM - July 31, 2020

Commissioner Farley says city case numbers are still increasing

Philadelphia officials announced 141 new cases of the coronavirus Friday.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said this week that new cases of the virus are increasing in city residents and predicted that the coronavirus will get worse before it gets better in Philadelphia.

In the week that ended last Saturday, the city had a daily average of 165 new cases of the virus. Numbers reported since then may lag behind, as city officials said that some test results are reported after days-long delays.

— Laura McCrystal

1:30 PM - July 31, 2020
1:30 PM - July 31, 2020

Murphy says N.J.‘s coronavirus ‘numbers are setting off alarms’

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
Tom Gralish / File Photograph
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

New Jersey is reporting 699 new positive coronavirus cases, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday, signaling that infections are continuing to surge toward daily levels from earlier this year. The state’s transmission rate has jumped to 1.35, the highest in months.

”The numbers are setting off alarms that we are taking very seriously,” Murphy said. “We are standing at a very dangerous place. The alarms are going off.”

But the state also marked its first day of no in-hospital deaths since March 10, which Murphy called “an extraordinary milestone.” Hospitalizations continue to drop.

Murphy said people who walk around without masks, host house parties, or congregate in crowds were directly contributing to the increasing spread of the virus. He said he would consider lowering the threshold for how many people are allowed to gather if the state numbers don’t improve.

And he blasted Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to send the Senate home for the weekend without renewing federal unemployment benefits, calling it “despicable” and “the ultimate dereliction of duty.”

”Please get back to Washington and get this done,” Murphy said. “Families across our state and indeed across the nation are facing literally an economic meltdown on your watch, and this is no time to take a weekend off.”

— Allison Steele

12:00 PM - July 31, 2020
12:00 PM - July 31, 2020

Phillies report no new positive coronavirus cases among players or staff

The Phillies held their season opener against the Miami Marlins on July 24, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic all Major League Baseball games will be played without fans. Marlins Manager Don Mattingly (left) and Phillies Manager Joe Girardi greet each other by bumping elbows.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The Phillies held their season opener against the Miami Marlins on July 24, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic all Major League Baseball games will be played without fans. Marlins Manager Don Mattingly (left) and Phillies Manager Joe Girardi greet each other by bumping elbows.

One day after a coach and a clubhouse attendant tested positive for COVID-19, the Phillies reported no new infections Friday based on the results of Thursday’s batch of tests.

Citizens Bank Park remains closed until further notice, the team announced, and the Phillies’ season is on hold until at least Monday. Major League Baseball on Thursday postponed a weekend series between the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park “out of an abundance of caution.”

The Phillies haven’t played since last Sunday, when they concluded a three-game series against the Miami Marlins. A coronavirus outbreak has ravaged the Marlins’ roster, with 18 players and two coaches testing positive since they arrived in Philadelphia last Friday.

After spending the week quarantined in a Rittenhouse Square hotel, the Marlins are preparing to transport the infected players and staff to Miami by bus, according to an ESPN report. The healthy players reportedly will go on to Baltimore, where the Marlins are scheduled to resume their season next week. Meanwhile, MLB postponed Friday’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers after two members of the Cardinals organization tested positive for COVID-19.

— Scott Lauber

11:10 AM - July 31, 2020
11:10 AM - July 31, 2020

Positive coronavirus tests cause 20 percent of MLB schedule Friday to be postponed

A couple of Phillies' coaches sit behind virtual fans behind home plate during an inter-squad game at Citizens Bank Park, Tuesday, July 21, 2020.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
A couple of Phillies' coaches sit behind virtual fans behind home plate during an inter-squad game at Citizens Bank Park, Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

One fifth of all major-league teams are unable to play on Friday due to the coronavirus after the St. Louis Cardinals became the latest team to report a positive COVID-19 test.

The Phillies, Marlins, Nationals, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Brewers had their games postponed Friday while the other 24 teams remain scheduled to play. But more teams may be forced to postpone out of caution after the Cardinals’ positive test was recorded following a series in Minnesota.

The Brewers’ home opener on Friday night in Milwaukee was postponed after a member of the Cardinals’ traveling party tested positive for COVID-19, as first reported by national baseball reporter Jon Heyman. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that at least one Cardinals player tested positive.

St. Louis’ positive test comes as Major League Baseball continues to monitor the fallout of Miami’s outbreak, which caused the Marlins, Phillies, Blue Jays, and Nationals to be idle this weekend. The Marlins have had 18 players and two staff members test positive. The Phillies have had two clubhouse staffers - one from each the home and visiting side - and a coach test positive. The Blue Jays were scheduled to play the Phillies this weekend while the Nationals were to meet Miami.

— Matt Breen

11:05 AM - July 31, 2020
11:05 AM - July 31, 2020

Fauci says he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready this year

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during a House Subcommittee hearing on Friday.
KEVIN DIETSCH / AP
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during a House Subcommittee hearing on Friday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Friday morning that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a safe coronavirus vaccine will be available this year.

“We hope that as the time we get into the late fall and early winter we will have, in fact, a vaccine that we can say would be safe and effective,” Fauci said. “One can never guarantee the safety or effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic.”

Earlier this week, the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. entered Phase 3 of testing for a COVID-19 vaccine. Another company, Pfizer Inc., announced Monday that it had started its own study of its vaccine candidate in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Fauci said no corners were being cut in developing the vaccine at this speed and that a goal of early next year is “realistic.”

— Ellie Rushing

11:00 AM - July 31, 2020
11:00 AM - July 31, 2020

Department of Health to hire 1,000 additional coronavirus contact tracers

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has acquired a $23 million federally funded contract to hire and train 1,000 contact tracers to continue monitoring the spread of the coronavirus, officials announced Friday.

“This project will bolster and diversify our public health workforce all while coordinating and mobilizing efforts in order to conquer any potential surge in COVID-19 cases,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. “We are eager to onboard and train this new cohort of public health professionals to help identify, notify, and monitor anyone who came in close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.”

Insight Global will work with the department to hire and train the contact tracers and supervisors, who will be paid $18 to $24 per hour. These positions will be offered in full- and part-time capacities.

The additional tracers will bring the state’s total contact tracers up to 1,654.

— Ellie Rushing

10:10 AM - July 31, 2020
10:10 AM - July 31, 2020

Airbnb suspends dozens of ‘party houses’ in New Jersey to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

Shore homes are photographed in Avalon, N.J., a popular short-term rental destination.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Shore homes are photographed in Avalon, N.J., a popular short-term rental destination.

Airbnb is cracking down on party houses in New Jersey amid the coronavirus, the short-term rental company announced Friday, and has suspended or removed 35 listings across the state.

“Our actions today address the small minority of hosts who have previously received warnings about hosting responsibly,” the company said in a press release. “The suspensions were communicated to the hosts beginning yesterday.”

“We stand with Governor Murphy, and we support his call to action to stop parties and promote behavior that respects the public’s health,” said Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s senior vice president of Global Policy and Communications. “We ban party houses and will not tolerate irresponsible behavior on our platform.”

Suspended or removed listings included locations along the Shore, including Atlantic City, Brigantine, Stafford Township, and Ventnor City. The vast majority of suspended listings are across North and Central Jersey, the company said.

The move comes after law enforcement broke up a 700-person party at an Airbnb in Jackson Township, Ocean County Sunday night.

— Ellie Rushing

9:20 AM - July 31, 2020
9:20 AM - July 31, 2020

Undeterred by the pandemic, more people are buying houses sight unseen to get record-low mortgage rates

Low mortgage rates are spurring people to buy homes, even if they can't see them in person. Twelve E. Ridley Ave (left) is for sale in Ridley Park, Delaware County, PA.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Low mortgage rates are spurring people to buy homes, even if they can't see them in person. Twelve E. Ridley Ave (left) is for sale in Ridley Park, Delaware County, PA.

Forty-five percent of people bought a home in the last year without seeing it in person — a number that is likely to grow during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study of about 1,400 people that the real estate platform Redfin released Thursday.

The figure is the highest since 2015, according to the survey, which polled respondents from 29 major markets in the United States and Canada. Redfin credited record-low mortgage rates and work-from-home policies that have allowed employees to move elsewhere.

As of Thursday, the mortgage loan company Freddie Mac said the average rate for a 30-year home loan had fallen to 2.99%.

Buying sight unseen is still relatively rare, Redfin said, but for some buyers intent on purchasing a home during the pandemic, the risk of touring a house in person has outweighed the risk of buying a house that they saw only through pictures and videos.

— Katie Park

8:00 AM - July 31, 2020
8:00 AM - July 31, 2020

Trends still rising in South Jersey and Philly region

Pennsylvania officials said Thursday that wearing a face mask is the best way to thank first responders who have risked their lives working on the front lines of the pandemic, and with infections rising again, it remains a key defense against the spread of the coronavirus.

Pennsylvania reported 860 newly confirmed cases of the virus Thursday, and Philadelphia reported 136. The state’s seven-day average for new daily cases was 960, and the city’s was 159.

“There is clearly more virus circulating in Philadelphia right now than is safe,” Farley said.

Hospitalizations in the Philadelphia region have also increased in recent days, Farley said. New cases of the coronavirus have been concentrated in young people, with 57% of them under age 40.

Daily case numbers were trending higher over the last 14 days in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, and Berks Counties and in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester Counties.

New Jersey reported 261 cases Thursday. Its seven-day average for new daily cases was 439 on Wednesday. Camden, Burlington, Atlantic, and Mercer Counties were identified as emerging hot spots by the federal government in a daily report, ABC News reported Thursday.

— Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy, and Laura McCrystal

7:30 AM - July 31, 2020
7:30 AM - July 31, 2020

Jury trials are set to resume in some courtrooms across the Philadelphia region

Court officials in Chester County conducted two "dry runs" with mock jurors in July to prepare for the planned resumption of civil and criminal trials in the county.
Courtesy Chester County Commissioners
Court officials in Chester County conducted two "dry runs" with mock jurors in July to prepare for the planned resumption of civil and criminal trials in the county.

Come Monday at some county courthouses across the region, jurors will return after a months-long absence that stalled trials and put key facets of the criminal justice system on hold.

In Bucks and Chester Counties, civil jury trials are expected to resume, staggered to accommodate social distancing requirements. Chester County’s plan is especially ambitious: Criminal trials are also set to begin Monday after weeks of test runs conducted with mock jurors in West Chester.

Other counties aren’t moving as quickly to return to normal function. But in the last few weeks, all have begun conducting more hearings and other court business, loosening restrictions dictated by lockdown orders signed in the spring at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

— Vinny Vella

7:15 AM - July 31, 2020
7:15 AM - July 31, 2020

Minority-owned small businesses were largely shut out of Pa.‘s first coronavirus loan program

In March, less than a month into the coronavirus shutdown, Gov. Tom Wolf launched a low-interest loan program as a lifeline to “provide a little peace of mind to hundreds of small business owners and their employees.”

All $61 million was gone in less than a week, as business owners across the state raced to apply. But in the rush to stand up the new program and get relief flowing, no requirements were put in place to ensure businesses had a fair shot at the money — and many did not.

Of the 761 approved loans, only 41 — or 5% — went to minority-owned businesses, according to new numbers released by state economic development officials.

— Charlotte Keith

7:00 AM - July 31, 2020
7:00 AM - July 31, 2020

It’s official: Philly’s school year to begin fully remotely

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus at City Hall in March.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus at City Hall in March.

When classes begin for 125,000 Philadelphia School District students on Sept. 2, they will do so virtually.

The school board Thursday night formally blessed Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.‘s back-to-school plan, meaning children will be out of classrooms until at least November because of fears of coronavirus spread.

Hite initially wanted most students back in school for face-to-face instruction two days a week, but that plan got knocked down after intense public pushback from principals, teachers, parents and others.

The board voted 7-1 to sign off on the fully virtual plan, with Maria McColgan expressing deep reservations about vulnerable children being out of classrooms for so long.

— Kristen A. Graham