‘We’re all hurting’: Stagehands, florists, ushers, and other events professionals rally at City Hall
Masked, standing six feet apart, and rolling their road cases in protest around City Hall, about 60 workers from the live events industry rallied Friday as part of a national effort to influence how COVID-19-relief funds are apportioned — and how and when events like concerts, conventions, and wedding galas can safely resume.
The rally was organized by Philadelphia’s three-week-old chapter of the Live Events Coalition, a new national organization lobbying on behalf of businesses, contractors, and workers in the industry, including stagehands, sound technicians, lighting designers, caterers, florists, musicians, photographers, ushers, and tour managers.
The coalition has just over 20 chapters to date, many of which have also held protests this week, according to the local branch.
Ronnie Anderson, a local events planner who was one of the rally’s organizers, said more than half of Pennsylvania’s 584,000 events employees have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 shutdowns, with many businesses facing bankruptcy or closure.
Court rules New Jersey can shut down Bellmawr’s Atilis Gym for defying closure order
A state judge ruled Friday that New Jersey authorities can shut down a gym that has repeatedly defied Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ruling held Atilis Gym of Bellmawr in contempt of court. It authorized the state health department to put locks on the doors or put up barriers to ensure compliance.
Ian Smith, one of the gym’s owners, said in a video posted on Facebook Friday that he would remain at the gym and that “we will not back down under any circumstances.”
Christopher Arzberger, an attorney representing the owners, said they were “disappointed that this motion for contempt was granted, however we do respect the judge’s decision and will be taking all necessary steps to see if there is an issue of appeal here.”
Rowan University cuts tuition and fees to help families struggling with pandemic
Rowan University on Friday slashed tuition and fees by 10 percent for the next academic year, recognizing the financial distress many families are facing as a result of the coronavirus.
Tuition and fees for in-state students will cost $12,938, reflecting a savings of $1,438, the university said.
“The university was able to provide this added support through broad cost-reduction initiatives, but more importantly, people rethinking how we best serve our students, taking on more responsibility and, frankly, doing even more with even less,” said Ali A. Houshmand, president.
Wolf on kids returning to school: ‘We are trapped between some really hard choices'
Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday said he empathized with parents, teachers, administrators, and students who are concerned about returning to the classroom this fall.
He, too, struggles with balancing the need for students to get a good education and the importance of public health.
”At this point, my message is you have every right to be concerned,” he said. “And my other point is I’m doing everything to make this situation for you and your children as safe as possible.”
”I have children too. Now, I have grandchildren,” he added. “And I care very much about their safety. I think every parent does. But we also want our kids to get an education … We are trapped between some really hard choices.”
Wolf said he thought a combination of virtual and in-person learning seemed to make sense. Across the commonwealth, an increasing number of parents have opted for the “cyber charter” option for their public school students this fall, the governor said.
”I think we’re dealing with two realities here, one is the reality of the virus,” the governor said. “The second reality is whatever we do, school opening in each school district is going to depend pretty much on the confidence of the parents, the teachers, the administrators, and the students have in terms of going back into the building.”
If targeted mitigation efforts work to drive case numbers back down in the weeks ahead, he said, perhaps the conversation around school reopenings will change.
“We need to make people feel confident in going back to school,” he said, “or they’re not going to go back.”
Temple’s faculty union says the university should not require faculty to teach in person this fall
Temple University, despite its tremendous efforts, does not have the plans in place to prevent the spread of the virus on campus this fall and faculty should not be forced to teach in person, say faculty union leaders.
”We do not see evidence that Temple’s plans to return to campus will result in the safe working conditions demanded by experts and supported by the union’s membership and leaders,” the leadership of the Temple Association of University Professionals says on its website. ”While not ideal in safer times, the Spring semester has shown that during a crisis we can fulfill the essential function of our jobs online.”
Steve Newman, president of the union, said members are being asked to vote by Wednesday on the statement and health and safety recommendations that union leaders have outlined. If the measure passes, union leadership plans to present its demands to the university.
The move comes as several universities, including West Chester, Dickinson College, the University of the Arts and the University of Delaware, have announced they will reverse plans and conduct all or most classes remotely this fall.
Wolf blames states with coronavirus surges for testing lags, and says Florida has taken a ‘let it burn’ approach
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday said ineffective leadership in other parts of the country has caused some Pennsylvanians to have to wait as many as 14 days for coronavirus test results from commercial laboratories.
“We’re a bit at the mercy of what’s going on in the rest of the country,” the governor said, “and we’re paying, with test results taking as long as they are, for the irresponsibility other states have engaged in and employed to ignore the problem and the threat of this virus.”
Nevertheless, he said, Pennsylvania officials are working to increase its testing capacity and the number of testing sites. That will hopefully help the state get a handle on a rising number of cases.
Pennsylvania reported 1,213 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Friday, as well as 22 additional deaths. Echoing Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s comments on Thursday, Wolf defended the commonwealth’s decision to implement stricter restrictions on restaurants and bars and said it will prevent Pennsylvania from seeing the surges happening in other regions.
”What we don’t want is what’s happening in places like Florida, which is basically: ‘Let it burn,’” he said. “We don’t want to do that here in Pennsylvania. We know there’s a time between when you let it burn and when you face the consequences. We want to nip this in the bud and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Murphy blasts Sen. Mitch McConnell’s proposed coronavirus relief bill, calling it ‘just another game of politics'
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy again blasted Sen. Mitch McConnell’s proposed coronavirus relief bill, saying it provides no direct financial help for states at a time when it’s badly needed.
”Crafting this piece of legislation may be just another game of politics by him, but for governors across the country, of both parties, this is a matter of survival,” he said. “The unemployed and the millions of middle-class families are still left twisting in McConnell’s political breeze.”
New Jersey’s transmission rate has dropped in recent days, Murphy said, and hospitalizations continue to decline as well. But he said health officials are working to control flareups in the northern part of the state, including one stemming from a house party.
”There is still community spread in New Jersey. There isn’t a lot of it, thank god, but there is still community spread,” Murphy said.
Philadelphia COVID-19 cases are slightly rising, and the city is now randomly inspecting gyms to ensure compliance
Philadelphia announced 201 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Friday, as the city Health Department warned that new cases of the virus are continuing to increase.
“The increase in cases is due to a large number of test results being received by the city,” the city said in a news release. “Nonetheless, cases are still rising in Philadelphia.”
The average number of new daily cases per day averaged 139 in the past week. The city also announced one additional death due to COVID-19 Friday. A total of 1,676 Philadelphians have died of the virus.
Philadelphia officials have also started random inspections of gyms after they were permitted to reopen this week.
Of 12 gyms inspected thus far, 11 were following guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing. At the one found out of compliance, a patron was not wearing a mask. The gym corrected it immediately, officials said.
“Unannounced inspections will continue while COVID-19 guidance is being enforced,” the city said in a news release.
New Jersey announces remote learning guidelines for those who opt in
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy released guidelines on what families can expect if they choose to have their children attend remote-only classes this fall, saying that “We have heard from numerous parents and families who have asked for this, and we have heard them loud and clear.”
The guidelines spell out an “anticipated minimum standard” that districts must meet with online instruction. They also specify that students who opt for online education will receive the same quality of education as those who attend classes in person.
All students are eligible for full-time remote learning, including special education students. Districts must establish their own procedures, said Interim Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer, as well as procedures for transitioning remote students back to in-person classes.
School districts must communicate frequently and clearly about procedures, and adhere to policies on attendance, length of the school day, and curriculum.
”We understand that this school year will be unlike any that educators, families or students have experienced before,” he said. “We also understand that it will require flexibility, foresight, and planning for school districts to be responsive to the needs of their families and their communities.”
Murphy said that allowing parents to choose the all-remote option will decrease density and ensure safety. He also said the state will be able to supply internet access and devices to every student in the state.
Downingtown schools will use remote learning through Nov. 5, superintendent announces
Downingtown Area School District in Chester County will completely use remote learning through Nov. 5, Superintendent Emilie Lonardi announced.
Lonardi said she has been tracking the coronavirus closely, and that “this crisis is going in the wrong direction.”
“To begin this school year, I am thinking about precisely one thing, and that is the safety of our 13,000 students, and the safety of our 1,600 staff members,” she said in a video announcement Thursday.
For this reason, she said the school will operate 100% online through Nov. 5, or the end of the first marking period. She said she hopes that by then, students could return to school at some capacity. “I don’t know that, but I’m thinking that,” she added.
Chester County has seen a recent rise in coronavirus cases, adding 540 cases and six deaths in the last 14 days.
After coronavirus outbreaks among Philly’s sanitation workers, streets commissioner addresses concerns
Streets Department Deputy Commissioner Keith Warren addressed issues of a lack of protective equipment among Philadelphia’s sanitation workers, amid trash collection delays and criticism from the sanitation workers union that they are not properly protected on the job.
“It’s important to note that our job was already hazardous before the pandemic, and we already had PPE,” he said.
There have been no other changes to the type or amount of safety equipment provided to sanitation workers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Warren. As for concerns about the ability of sanitation workers to practice social distancing on the job, Warren emphasized that it was possible.
“Once you’re out behind the truck, walking and collecting trash, the social distance part of it is actually pretty easy,” he said. Warren acknowledged that some sanitation workers have fallen sick from the virus, saying that “we do live in a COVID world,” but would not say how many workers have been affected.
He noted that both illness and increased volume of trash during the pandemic have contributed to trash-collection delays of three to four days in some areas. “The tonnage we’re dealing with is astronomical,” he said.
That increased volume has led to a strain on the sanitation workforce, requiring them to lift larger volumes of trash and work overtime shifts. When asked whether the city would bring in outside help, as Councilmember Brian J. O’Neill has called for, Warren said the Streets Department was “exploring options.”
The passenger railroad began requiring customers to wear a mask or facial covering in May to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, but guidelines on its website now say Amtrak “reserves the right to remove customers or ban them from future travel in the event of noncompliance.”
The update came Thursday, according to USA Today. When asked how Amtrak would enforce its requirement in May, Amtrak spokesperson Beth Toll said that customers were to supply their own facial coverings and that service would be denied to those who weren’t adhering to the policy.
Reached for comment Friday, Toll did not confirm when the update was made, or clarify why it strengthened the requirement.
Social distance ambassadors are coming to Wissahickon Valley Park this weekend
Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation will send social distance ambassadors to Wissahickon Valley Park this weekend to remind visitors to keep their distance and remind them about park safety rules, the office announced Friday.
The ambassadors will be placed at popular entrances and trailheads like Valley Green and Devil’s Pool, as the park has seen a sharp increase in visitation since the coronavirus shutdown began in March.
Park rangers will patrol the area to remind visitors that it is prohibited to swim or jump into Philadelphia’s rivers and streams, and that gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.
“As the summer progresses, we are seeing the results of this increased usage: trash and debris, swimming in prohibited areas, and residents parking illegally and blocking park access to emergency vehicles,” Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said in a press release. “Our ambassadors and rangers will be out this weekend to educate and remind residents of safe and responsible park usage.”
Stockton University will house students at the Showboat Atlantic City hotel this fall to reduce the number of people on campus
Stockton University will use up to 400 rooms at the Showboat Atlantic City Hotel to house students during the fall semester to reduce the number of students living on campus amid the coronavirus, the university announced Friday.
The extra housing allows the university, located in Galloway Township, to fulfill its coronavirus safety guidelines, a move universities across the country are considering to speed up the return to campus and allow for social distancing.
The Showboat will provide up to 300 single rooms, at $4,500 per semester, and 100 double rooms, at $3,800 per semester. The hotel will also provide parking spaces, fitness memberships, access to the roof-top pool deck, and meals on site. The rooms will be located on floors that will be occupied only by students, and they will have their own exclusive elevator for safety. Some Stockton staff will live on site and have access to check in at the front desk.
“Stockton promises to provide housing to all students who request it,” Steven Radwanski, Stockton’s executive director of Residential Life said in a press release. “This agreement ensures that we will have sufficient housing based on current demand.”
"I just wanted to, just to give, say thank you and what great work you guys are doing," said McGraw, whose appearance was arranged by Spotify as part of a new social series called "The Drop In," where artists pop in on the virtual gatherings of some of their biggest fans.
“We thought it was going to be a work call,” nurse Jessica Vitarelli told 6ABC. “When we saw him, I was like, ‘Aaaaahhhhhh.’”
Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith, co-owners of the South Jersey gym that made headlines in May for reopening against the state’s shutdown orders, are still refusing to back down. On Thursday, they even took the gym’s doors off the hinges to prevent the state from changing their locks, a tactic the health department used in May to shut down the business.
In an Instagram video, Smith said they would stay in the gym 24/7 to protest the state from shutting them down.
“We will not be leaving the building unless we are taken out in handcuffs,” said Smith, who has criticized Murphy’s response to the coronavirus as unconstitutional.
The owners are scheduled for another court hearing Friday morning.
New Jersey schools’ digital reopening plan expected Friday from Gov. Phil Murphy
New Jersey will release digital learning guidance to its school districts on Friday, which includes giving parents the option to opt for all-remote learning for the fall as the coronavirus intensifies across the country.
While critics said this upended the prospects of in-person learning for students, Gov. Phil Murphy said that’s not the case.
“We’re gonna have more tomorrow on what remote learning we think can look like,” Murphy said during a news conference. “I don’t think it upends it at all. And I don’t think it necessarily leads to one conclusion or another.”
The guidance is expected at Friday’s 1 p.m. press conference.
New Jersey schools have been ordered to provide in-person learning — with masks and social distancing — at least some of the time, but Murphy also has said that New Jersey parents could opt for remote-only learning, given the ambiguities regarding the potential health risks to teachers and students.
In the Camden district, fears of the virus could lead to high absenteeism among teachers, Superintendent Katrina McCombs warned. Asked at a county briefing if the district would have enough teachers to open schools, she replied: “We are not 100% sure.”
After an outcry, Philly schools reopening plan is put on hold
In no uncertain terms Thursday night, more than 100 members of the public blasted the Philadelphia School District’s reopening plan developed by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., saying it would neither keep children and staff safe nor offer a robust educational experience.
“We should not have to teach students to death,” Robin Cooper, president of the district’s principals union, told the school board in a dramatic virtual meeting held on Zoom. Cooper led dozens of school leaders in an unprecedented move, publicly coming out against a central-administration position.
“Our members are terrified. And so am I,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who said buildings have “perilous issues” around ventilation and who took the district to task for “absurd” provisions for masks and shields for staff.
The eight-plus hour meeting, which began at 4 p.m. and stretched into early Friday morning, was supposed to have resulted in the board voting Hite’s plan up or down. But after hours of hearing from more than 100 people who spoke again Hite’s plan, the superintendent asked for another week to retool. Once those changes are announced, the board will reconvene July 30 to consider a revised health and safety plan to be filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
If they told you two weeks before the start of the original spring training in February that the Phillies would win the World Series, but the season would not start until the end of July and fans would be forbidden from watching live games, would you have signed up?
Perhaps you would have, but only after advising the messenger to seek psychiatric help.
COVID-19, which was just beginning to spread throughout the country when Bryce Harper and company reported to Clearwater, Fla., more than five months ago, delayed the start of the 2020 baseball season by four months and has reduced the schedule to just 60 games with the help of some bickering between the owners and players.
But opening day has finally arrived. For the Phillies, it starts Friday night against the Miami Marlins at a mostly vacant Citizens Bank Park. Just based on what we saw in summer camp, it is clear that this baseball season is going to take some getting used to.
American plans to permanently eliminate an additional 31 Philly-based positions in the fall, according to a July 15 WARN Act filing with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires employers in some circumstances to give advance notice of furloughs and layoffs.
PSA Airlines, an American Airlines subsidiary, also told the state that it anticipates reducing its Philadelphia workforce by 124 jobs, made up of 73 pilots and 51 flight attendants. PSA said it hopes those job losses are only temporary.
Pa. says school reopenings could hinge on crowd limits at bars and eateries; Philly ‘unlikely’ to allow indoor dining Aug. 1 amid coronavirus upticks
Saying that what happens in barrooms this summer could have consequences for classrooms in September, Pennsylvania Health Commissioner Rachel Levine defended the state’s decision to impose restrictions on eateries and taverns to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
And in Philadelphia, with coronavirus case numbers increasing, city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said he isn’t sure when restaurants again will be able to serve inside.
City officials announced in June that Aug. 1 would be earliest it would allow people to dine inside restaurants, even though Pennsylvania’s guidelines for the “green phase” of reopening would have allowed it to begin sooner. But city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday that it’s likely the date would be pushed back even further.
Farley said the seven-day average for confirmed daily cases was 139, compared with 110 in the previous week.
For counties outside Philadelphia, the state last week imposed tougher restrictions on bars and eating establishments, and limited indoor gatherings to 25 people. Responding on Thursday to criticism, Levine suggested that the fate of the school year was at stake.
“Our goal right now is that school will reopen in person,” she said. “It’s critical to drive down the case counts now in terms of the rise of new cases.” If daily case counts don’t decline, she said, school reopenings could be “in jeopardy.”