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All Pennsylvania schools to close for two weeks amid coronavirus outbreak; Trump declares national emergency

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the statewide school shutdown as cases of the virus continue to the climb in the region and major employers are directing staffers to work from home.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a news conference in his Capitol offices as he unveils a $1.1 billion package intended to help eliminate lead and asbestos contamination in Pennsylvania's schools, homes, day care facilities and public water systems, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pa. Looking on are Democratic state lawmakers and officials from teachers' unions. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a news conference in his Capitol offices as he unveils a $1.1 billion package intended to help eliminate lead and asbestos contamination in Pennsylvania's schools, homes, day care facilities and public water systems, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pa. Looking on are Democratic state lawmakers and officials from teachers' unions. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)Read moreMarc Levy / AP
  1. Significant developments

  2. Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here.

  3. Scores of presumed positive cases of the virus have been reported in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — more than a third of those in the Philadelphia region — with the case count climbing daily.

  4. Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all schools in Pennsylvania to close for two weeks, beginning Monday. Schools in Delaware and in some New Jersey locations are also set to shut down, including a month-long closure in Burlington County.

  5. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday.

  6. Shops including state liquor stores and the King of Prussia are remaining open in Montgomery County, even after Wolf asked non-essential businesses to shut down.

  7. Major Philadelphia cultural institutions are closing for at least two weeks, utilities are suspending shut-offs, and courts are halting jury trials.

  8. What are the symptoms of coronavirus and what should you do if you think you have it? Read answers to frequently asked questions here.

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

// Timestamp 03/14 09:19am

When it comes to testing for coronavirus in the Greater Philadelphia region, there have been shortages, delays, and drive-through improvisation. And as the outbreak grows, officials are working to postpone a Bucks County special election.

» READ MORE: Delaware provider begins 'drive-through’ testing; officials working to postpone Bensalem special election

Montgomery County high school student tests positive

// Timestamp 03/13 11:52pm

A student at Methacton High School, in Eagleville, Montgomery County, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the school announced Friday night.

The county health department is trying to determine with whom the student came in contact, including other students and staff, before self-isolating, the school district said in a statement.

It said the health department will notify anyone determined to be at risk.

— Anthony R. Wood

11 inmates, 23 others quarantined in Delco after county jail staffer tests positive

// Timestamp 03/13 08:56pm

Thirty-four people in Delaware County, including 11 inmates, are being quarantined after a staff member at the county jail tested positive for the coronavirus, according to documents obtained by the Inquirer.

An employee at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility was one of five new cases discovered in Delaware County on Friday.

The GEO Group, the private-prisons company that operates the facility, believe that the employee contracted the disease from one of his relatives, who had previously tested positive for the coronavirus in Montgomery County, warden David Byrne wrote in a letter sent to jail employees and obtained by the Inquirer. The employee’s relative had come into contact with someone who had recently traveled to China.

Jail officials placed 11 inmates who had contact with the employee in quarantine in a separate housing unit at the facility, and advised 23 other staff members who worked alongside him to self-quarantine at home, according to the letter.

None of them had exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus as of Friday night. A spokesman for GEO said Friday that the infected employee had not worked at the facility for seven days, and that the areas he worked in were “sterilized by a specialized sanitation team.

“We will continue to coordinate closely with our client and the local health department to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility,” the spokesman said in a statement.

County Council Chairman Brian Zidek said Friday that county officials were in contact with the state Department of Health to see “what GEO knew and when they knew it.”

April Hutchinson, a department spokeswoman, declined to comment Friday, citing state law prohibiting her from confirming information about a patient.

— Vinny Vella

Philadelphia postpones sheriff’s sales scheduled for next 2 weeks

// Timestamp 03/13 08:44pm

Philadelphia sheriff sales scheduled for the next two weeks have been postponed, under a court order issued Friday.

The postponement is meant “to prevent a serious public health risk by increasing the chances of spreading COVID-19” because the sales can draw crowds of more than 250 people, according to the order, signed by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court President Judge Idee C. Fox and Administrative Judge Jacqueline F. Allen.

Sheriff sales previously planned for March 18, 24, and 26, will now be held April 15, 21, and 23, respectively.

— Laura McCrystal

» READ MORE: Amid coronavirus fears, Philadelphia City Council considers pressuring for an end to evictions, foreclosures, utility shutoffs

Valley Forge Casino closes

// Timestamp 03/13 08:15pm

The Valley Forge Casino in King Of Prussia closed early on Friday and won’t reopen until March 27, the casino said.

It said it complying with Gov. Tom Wolf’s directive to close all entertainment venues, along with schools and community centers in Montgomery County.

The casino said there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus at the casino.

— Associated Press

Second Camden County resident tests positive

// Timestamp 03/13 07:25pm

A second Camden County resident has tested positive for the coronavirus, said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., warning that the full scope of the virus’ spread in the county is unknown.

“Truth of the matter is we don’t know how many people in Camden County have this virus,” Cappelli said. “There simply is not [enough] testing kits.”

The newest case is that of a woman in her 60s in Cherry Hill who is under self-quarantine. She is a medical professional, and was exposed to the coronavirus in Colorado while on vacation.

She contracted it from someone who traveled to Europe in recent weeks. Officials did not say which country. Her symptoms began March 5, when she was in Colorado, and she traveled home March 7 through Philadelphia International Airport on American Airlines. The CDC is reaching out to other passengers on that flight. The woman traveled with a friend, who is under self-quarantine and awaiting testing. Her spouse is doing the same.

Health Director Anne Walters also announced that county senior centers would close starting Monday. Seniors will get meals delivered directly to their house through the Meals on Wheels.

— Pranshu Verma

Delco reports 5 new cases; suspends jury trials for two weeks

// Timestamp 03/13 07:16pm

Members of the Delaware County Council announced that five new presumptive positive cases of coronavirus have been reported in the county, bringing the total to six. In addition the county has suspended jury trials for two weeks.

Additional information about the coronavirus cases, including how the patients contracted the illness, was not available from state officials, according to county Councilwoman Monica Taylor.

Taylor and her colleagues also announced new, restrictive policies at the county government center and courthouse in Media, in addition to suspending jury trials.

Starting Monday, government employees are encouraged to work from home, and the county offices will operate at a reduced level.

In line with an edict made by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier Friday, all public events at Ridley Creek State Park have been canceled through April, and all non-essential retail business are asked to remain closed.

“It’s so important that we all heed this advice, County Councilwoman Elaine Schaefer said. “We can learn from other countries and stay ahead of the spread of the virus."

— Vinny Vella

Art Museum, all other Parkway cultural institutions to close for at least 2 weeks

// Timestamp 03/13 06:59pm

All the major cultural institutions on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway jointly announced Friday evening that they would close temporarily in a combined effort to stem the spreading tide of the coronavirus.

In a joint statement, the institutions said the closures would last for at least two weeks and would affect all public programming and access to the buildings.

The joint announcement was made by the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Franklin Institute; Barnes Foundation; Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University; and the Rodin Museum, which is administered by PMA.

Earlier in the day, several institutions in the historic district also announced temporary closures:· The Museum of the American Revolution, The National Constitution Center, and The National Museum of American Jewish History.

—Stephan Salisbury

Swarthmore, Penn say some on campuses might have been exposed

// Timestamp 03/13 06:47pm

Two elite schools in the region have notified some on their campuses that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Swarthmore College in an email to the campus on Friday said that a family member of an employee “is assumed to have COVID-19” and both are in self quarantine.

“Due to the nature of their symptoms, the individual was not offered or provided a test for COVID-19,” the email said.

“Earlier this week, after exhibiting mild symptoms, the individual tested negative for a number of other possible viruses, such as the flu, which led their doctor to assume a COVID-19 diagnosis.”

The University of Pennsylvania also notified some faculty, staff and students on campus about potential exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The university said on Friday that it was notified of the exposure by Montgomery County’s public health department.

The New Jersey Health Department has notified Princeton University that one of the two staff members under self-isolation after possible exposure to the coronavirus has tested positive. The staff member remains in self-isolation, the university said.

— Susan Snyder

Burlco County closes schools for a month; 4 Camden districts for 2 weeks

// Timestamp 03/13 06:38pm

Burlington County announced Friday that its schools would close for one month, starting Monday.

The Camden school district also announced Friday that it plans to close its schools for a two-week period, effective March 18 to March 31.

Burlington County officials said the closures were based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and would be reevaluated on April 17.

“The goal of this temporary closure is to slow the transmission within the county," said Herb Conaway, a physician and state representative who is director of the county health department. "These social distancing strategies, if followed, will reduce the risk of further transmission in our community.”

The county said the order applies to public K-12 schools, though it will also be sending letters to private schools.

In Camden, officials are leaving the decision to close schools to individual districts. Schools in Camden City, Cherry Hill, Pennsauken, and Gibbsboro School district have decided to close for two weeks.

The Camden district said it would hold professional development on Monday, with schools open Tuesday for instruction to allow teachers to distribute learning packets for students to take home. The shutdown beginning Wednesday includes athletics, extracurricular activities and school programming, the district said in a statement.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus has New Jersey officials swamped: ‘The closest thing this compares to is superstorm Sandy’

— Maddie Hanna, Melanie Burney, Kristen A. Graham

Pennsylvania coronavirus count climbs past 40

// Timestamp 03/13 05:28pm

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine announced there are now 41 people in the state who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Those include three in Bucks County, six in Delaware County, 18 in Montgomery County, and one in Philadelphia.

Levine said it is important for Pennsylvanians to “please stay calm.” Gov. Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania is taking a different approach to responding to the coronavirus from that of than states and countries. While Wolf ordered all pubic schools in the state closed, he said he has not called for the closure of restaurants, pharmacies or transit systems.

“We’re trying to look at the coronavirus outbreak in a measured way,” Wolf said. “We’re not acting simply for the sake of acting. ”Officials will continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak to see if it is necessary to shut down other counties the way Montgomery and Delaware Counties have been affected. “That ultimately is going to save lives and that is what this is about,” Wolf said. “Stay calm and by all means stay home. ”

Levine said the state has had no known instances of community spread, however, Montgomery County officials haven’t been able to pinpoint one presumptive case, that of a 70-year-old Cheltenham Township woman, back to another individual who tested positive.

— Ellie Silverman

Montgomery County coronavirus case number continues to grow

// Timestamp 03/13 04:34pm

Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, provided details on four additional presumptive positive coronavirus cases Friday, saying the county’s total number of cases is now at 17.

They include: A 37-year-old man and 36-year-old woman from the same Skippack Township. The man had direct contact with a previously identified person who is a presumptive positive for the coronavirus in Montgomery County. Arkoosh said it is believed that the woman contracted the virus from the 37-year-old man in the household.

The other cases announced Friday are a 45-year-old man and 41-year-old woman in the same Collegeville Borough household They both had direct contact with a previously identified person who is a presumptive positive for the coronavirus in Montgomery County.

None of these people are hospitalized and are all being monitored at home.

Ellie Silverman

Despite school coronavirus closures, Philadelphia city services will remain in place

// Timestamp 03/13 04:14pm

Even as schools shut down, Philadelphia is not adjusting or cutting back any other services.

“We’re looking at each of our services on a daily basis but at this point we don’t expect to make any adjustments," said Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

» READ MORE: Post offices, banks, water: How the coronavirus is affecting essential services across the region

Philadelphia has already relaxed work from home and sick leave policies for city workers, but with school closings Abernathy said more guidance will be given to employees next week. He also encouraged private employers to be flexible with working parents.

Mayor Jim Kenney, for his part, said he is directing city leaders to run their departments and make decisions.

“We’ve never been through this before at this level, and we’re doing our best hour by hour,” he said.

Laura McCrystal

Two-week coronavirus closure brings celebration, worry for Philadelphia school students and staff

// Timestamp 03/13 03:54pm

“You got corona!” one student shouted to another, tagging him on the shoulder as South Philadelphia High School let out for an unexpected two-week break precipitated by coronavirus concerns.

Among some staff and students, the closure was viewed as a necessary, commonsense response – if an unprecedented one – and a welcome vacation. Still, others worried over the impact on their studies. A few said that their classes had no teachers on Friday, or were staffed by substitutes– so the closure seemed inevitable.

“It will make some people fail,” Yao Adsoua, 20, warned. “I’m in 12th grade, and graduation is coming soon. It’s no good to close the school.”

Some left the school with stacks of books, assigned homework to finish during the break. Others expected to receive assignments online. But, on a 70-degree Friday afternoon, a few held dance parties on the sidewalk, enjoying an early taste of summer break.

“It’s scary but exciting at the same time,” Yoselin Calderon, 14, said. Though, the freshman added with a groan, “I’m gonna come back to more work.”

School staffers said they thought the closures were entirely necessary. Counselor Caiseen Martin, 32, planned to use the time to catch up on his master’s work. Leon Miller, 59, a bus driver, said he would use the time to sanitize his bus, if nothing else. “This is a first since I’ve been in the district,” said Miller, a 30-year veteran.

Samantha Melamed

Federal courts suspend trials, prisons suspend visits

// Timestamp 03/13 03:51pm

Federal courts in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced a month-long suspension of all new civil and criminal trials in the the nine-county region surrounding Philadelphia. The spread of the coronavirus and the temporary closure of schools and businesses across the region has “adversely affected the court’s ability to obtain an adequate complement of trial jurors from a fair cross-section of the community,” District Chief Judge Juan R. Sanchez said in an order issued Friday.

Despite the suspension of new trials until April 13, U.S. courthouses in Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading and Easton will remain open and proceedings that don’t require juries will continue, Sanchez said.

The order came as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced a month-long suspension of all social and legal visits to federal prisons across the country. While lawyers visiting clients are subject to the ban, exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis, administrators said, acknowledging the potential civil rights implications of their decision.

— Jeremy Roebuck

Philadelphia City Council cancels next meeting

// Timestamp 03/13 03:41pm

Philadelphia City Council announced Friday that it has canceled its next meeting, which would have been on Thursday, March 19.

The following scheduled meeting, on March 26, has not yet been canceled.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration this week requested Council approval for $85 million in emergency spending powers to address the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unclear how the cancellation of next week’s meeting will impact the progress of that legislation.

— Sean Collins Walsh

Trump declares national emergency in response to coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/13 03:35pm

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to combat the coronavirus, unleashing $50 billion of federal funding to take on the crisis, cutting rules to enable hospitals to expand their capacity to treat people and promising an expansion of testing as soon as next week.

He said his administration was working with drug companies and retailers to develop drive-through testing locations, with Google developing a web site to help people find places to get tested. He also waived interest on federal student loans.

“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a national emergency, two very big words,” Trump said in the Rose Garden after opening the event by praising himself for his previous steps. “The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion of, very importantly, very important and a large amount of money for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease.”

After significant complaints about a shortage of tests for the coronavirus, Trump said another 500,000 tests would be made available next week, and 5 million within a month. He rejected any criticism of the lack of tests so far, and rejected any responsibility for the elimination of a National Security Council team dedicated to global health concerns.

Trump later said he would “most likely” be tested anyway, though he declined to say when.

» READ MORE: Trump has declared a national emergency for coronavirus. Here’s what that means.

— Jonathan Tamari

Three of Philly’s biggest employers tell employees to work from home

// Timestamp 03/13 03:24pm

Three of the Philadelphia region’s biggest employers are telling employees to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting Monday, Independence Blue Cross will require all associates in its Philadelphia-area and New Jersey offices to work remotely until at least April 15. Earlier this week, the company allowed employees to work from home if they wanted.

Comcast on Friday encouraged headquarters employees in the Philadelphia region to work remotely through April 12 – if they have virtual work capabilities and can maintain important business functions. The Comcast Center campus will remain open for those who can’t work remotely, though the company is strongly discouraging external visitors.The University of Pennsylvania is recommending that employees work remotely, beginning Monday and lasting at least through March 31.

Penn, including its vast health and hospital system, is Philadelphia’s largest private employer, with more than 18,000 faculty and staff and more than 23,000 employees in its health system. The directive appears to cover the entire enterprise.Managers in the health system were “asked to make plans for staff whose jobs do not require on-site presence to work from home and/or develop alternative schedules to reduce their on-site workforce at any one time,” according to an email from Penn Medicine leaders.

Locally, Comcast and Independence employ roughly 12,000 and 6,000, respectively, according to a 2019 bond offering by the city.

— Christian Hetrick, Susan Snyder

Chester County closes libraries, parks, trails as first coronavirus case identified

// Timestamp 03/13 03:18pm

County officials on Friday announced the closure of libraries, county parks and trails for two weeks as they identified the county’s first presumptive positive case of the new coronavirus.

Marian Moskowitz, chair of the county board of commissioners, said a 57-year-old female patient had contact with a known patient in another state. The woman is recovering at home in isolation. The health department is working to trace the woman’s contacts, and county health officials declined to release additional information on the patient, including in what municipality she lives.

County officials also announced that beginning Saturday, only “mission-essential” county operations will take place, meaning about three-quarters of county employees will not need to report to work. Authorities said those employees will receive full pay.

They also announced a county-wide disaster declaration. No visitors will be allowed at the Chester County jail or the county’s long-term care facility.

Moskowitz said officials “strongly” encourage a countywide suspension of gatherings for two weeks. She discouraged people from going to movie theaters, retail stores and other public spaces.

— Erin McCarthy, Anna Orso

Wolf: All Pennsylvania schools to close for two weeks amid coronavirus outbreak

// Timestamp 03/13 03:08pm

Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all schools in Pennsylvania to close for two weeks as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

“We understand that these are trying times and recognize the impact of the coronavirus on our students and communities,” Wolf said in a statement Friday afternoon. “First and foremost, my top priority as governor – and that of our education leaders – must be to ensure the health and safety of our students and school communities.”

Wolf said “no school district will be penalized if it fails to meet the 180 day or school hours requirements.”

While a number of school districts around the region have been preparing for online or remote learning, several Montgomery County districts that closed Thursday said they would be giving students informal enrichment activities rather than formal remote learning plans.

The governor also said the Pennsylvania Department of Education had received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools “to serve meals to low income students in a non-congregate setting, such as a drive-through or grab and go, during this closure.”

The order will go into effect Monday.

Pennsylvania’s teachers unions and organizations representing school superintendents and school boards quickly voiced support for Wolf’s order.

“We agree that this action will create an ability for better social distancing, which helps prevent the spread of the virus, and will provide schools with the opportunity to further address facility cleaning and prepare for instruction going forward, along with other outstanding issues,” the groups said in a statement.

The announcement comes as other states have ordered shutdowns of K-12 schools, including Virginia, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday said statewide closures were “an inevitability.”

Delaware Gov. John Carney on Friday also ordered all schools in the state to close through March 27.

— Maddie Hanna

Murphy: Statewide N.J. school closures are ‘an inevitability’

// Timestamp 03/13 02:48pm

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the number of presumptive positive cases of the new coronavirus nearly doubled in a day to 50 cases statewide, and he said a statewide school closure is “an inevitability.”

Murphy said during a news conference Friday afternoon that state officials “have been and are now actively working with districts on extended closure plans to prepare for a potential statewide closure.”

He added: “For many districts, that time is now.”

Murphy said while the state’s recommendation that there be no public gatherings of 250 people or more remains a recommendation, the state is prepared to mandate it “if necessary.”

New Jersey Commissioner of Health Judith M. Persichilli announced 21 new presumptive positive cases Friday that were spread in the following counties: Monmouth, Essex, Ocean, Mercer, Burlington, Morris, Bergen, Hudson, Passaic and Middlesex. Of the 50 total cases, 15 are in Bergen.

— Anna Orso

Archdiocese to close schools across Philly region, move to online instruction

// Timestamp 03/13 02:30pm

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia will close its 144 schools in Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties for two weeks and move its 45,952 students to virtual instruction, the archdiocese announced Friday.

The system has been preparing for a potential shift to virtual instruction, said Archdiocesan spokesperson Kenneth Gavin.

“The current pandemic presents a rapidly evolving landscape,” the Archdiocese said in statement. “We will re-examine this timetable on an ongoing basis.”

Teachers will provide assignments and support and be available to answer student questions, the system said. Students will complete assignments from home.

— Susan Snyder

Bucks County declares ‘disaster emergency,’ schools to close for two weeks due to coronavirus spread

// Timestamp 03/13 02:26pm

Bucks County Commissioners ordered a “declaration of disaster emergency” Friday, closing all school districts in the county, as well as the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, through March 29.

The primary reason for the closure was that a number of staff at the Intermediate Unit and schools throughout the county live in Montgomery County and would have difficulty coming to work, according to a letter sent by Mark Hoffman, the Intermediate unit’s executive director.

“I am not willing to take a risk next week and in future weeks with limited student supervision as a result of teacher and other staff absences,” Hoffman wrote. “In fact, on a call with the superintendents and county officials, the superintendents and I unanimously supported a countywide closure for all Bucks County public schools.”

The intermediate unit’s closure also affects special education and other services, and cancels all meetings and events.

Employees and contractors at the intermediate unit will be paid during the closure, according to Hoffman.

— Vinny Vella, Maddie Hanna

Philadelphia schools to close for two weeks as coronavirus outbreak continues

// Timestamp 03/13 02:05pm

All Philadelphia district schools are closing for two weeks starting Monday amid the coronavirus outbreak in the region, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. announced at a news conference Friday.

This closure is necessary because many district employees live in neighboring counties where they have been asked to self-quarantine, Hite said. This means the district can not “adequately staff” their schools.

“We wanted to remain open and we wanted to remain open as long as we could,” Hite said. “We’re not closing because of the coronavirus.”

Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday directed all schools, community centers, gyms, and entertainment venues in Montgomery County to close today for two weeks. Hite said 2,100 employees live in Montgomery County, another 1,000 in Delaware County.

Teachers had started asking what they should do if they were asked to self quarantine, and that is when Hite said leadership decided they needed to close the schools.

“We don’t have the staff to actually staff schools,” he said. “If these individuals have to self-quarantine they cannot come into our schools.”

Hite, along with Mayor Jim Kenney and Managing Director Brian Abernathy expressed anger toward the surrounding counties and Wolf for mass closures in the suburbs that are now affecting the city.

Less than an hour earlier, Abernathy emphasized how CDC guidance is to not close schools.

“Our kids are safer staying in school. They get breakfast, they get lunch, they get a safe place to be, they get homework, they get knowledge, they have after school activities, and sometime after school care. We didn’t want to change all of that,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “So it wasn’t a decision that we made.”

Kenney said city officials are making arrangements to help feed children who are out of school. He said city officials are looking at using city recreation centers to do so, but plans have not yet been finalized.

The school district will send students home with packets of 10 days worth of work, Hite said. Unlike other districts, Hite said the Philadelphia School District does not have the ability to send all children home with technology.

“The reality is we wanted to keep the schools open,” Kenney said. “And because of decisions made by other governments and the governor we can’t do that. And we’re going to do our best to make it better.”

— Ellie Silverman, Anna Orso

Coronavirus has N.J. officials swamped: ‘The closest thing this compares to is superstorm Sandy’

// Timestamp 03/13 01:54pm

New Jersey, like other states, has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus, which is now a declared worldwide pandemic. Gov. Phil Murphy has instituted a state of emergency. He’s recommended banning all public events of more than 250 people. More schools and colleges are shutting down by the day. One person in New Jersey has died, and almost 30 have tested presumptively positive.

State officials are consumed by the crisis. Emails start coming in at 6 a.m. and don’t stop until after midnight. Agency heads gather daily at 9 a.m. to discuss how the virus is spreading. A state task force, propped up on Super Bowl Sunday, has been impaneled to coordinate statewide decisions in response to the virus.

But even the most seasoned staffers — who have dealt with blizzards, shootings, and disastrous hurricanes — find the coronavirus to be one of the toughest things they’ve dealt with.

“The closest thing this compares to is superstorm Sandy,” said Daniel Kelly, the governor’s director of recovery efforts, referring to the 2012 hurricane that ravaged the state. “But even Sandy, there’s a certain playbook. This is difficult [because] the storm hasn’t fully, fully hit yet.”

» READ MORE: Coronavirus has N.J. officials swamped: ‘The closest thing this compares to is superstorm Sandy’

— Pranshu Verma

PECO suspends shut-offs, new late payment fees through coronavirus outbreak

// Timestamp 03/13 01:42pm

Philadelphia electric and natural gas utility PECO is suspending utility shut-offs and waiving new late payment fees through at least May 1.

PECO, which services 1.6 million electric customers and half a million natural gas customers in southeastern Pennsylvania, made the announcement Friday, just a day after Philadelphia city councilmembers introduced a resolution urging utility companies to halt shutoffs as the spread of the new coronavirus could leave people out of work.

Customers who are experiencing challenges in paying their bills or have a disconnect notice should contact PECO at 1-800-494-4000. In addition to waiving fees and avoiding service shutoffs, PECO is working to help customers determine if they are eligible for assistance programs.

New Jersey’s PSE&G and Atlantic City Electric also suspended shut-offs Friday.

— Anna Orso

Delaware County expected to close schools for two weeks amid coronavirus outbreak

// Timestamp 03/13 01:35pm

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected Friday to order the shutdown of all schools in Delaware County, a day after closing all Montgomery County schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Three sources who have been briefed on the governor’s expected announcement confirmed the news. It came as school districts across the region were debating how to proceed in light of the Montgomery County order, and seemed poised to affect districts in other counties.Some districts and schools — including 63 in Philadelphia — had already closed Friday because many of their teachers lived in Montgomery County, and school leaders said they were facing inadequate staffing levels.

Schools across the country have been shutting down, including statewide in Ohio, Maryland and Michigan. Earlier Friday, Washington D.C. announced it would close schools for at least two weeks.

In the Philadelphia region, county officials had been in contact with Wolf’s office and the state’s Department of Health starting late Thursday, after the restrictions were put in place for schools in Montgomery County, according to sources. There was some talk early Friday about issuing a regional edict on closing all schools in the southeastern corner of the state, but the state seemed to back away from that plan after discussing it with officials in some of the affected counties.

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to give more details at a 3 p.m press conference.

— Maddie Hanna, Justine McDaniel, Vinny Vella

Philadelphia health department not recommending school closures as coronavirus cases increase

// Timestamp 03/13 01:09pm

Philadelphia’s health department is not recommending closing schools in the city, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said at a news conference where he provided more details on three cases of the coronavirus in the city.

The first case is a man in his 50s who had traveled internationally to an area where the coronavirus is active. The second is a woman in her 50s who is a “close contact” of him.

The third case is another person who traveled internationally to an area where the coronavirus is active. All three are in isolation at home because their symptoms are not severe.

There are 62 additional people who have been tested and the city is awaiting those test results. Farley said officials expect a “large majority” of those people will test negative for the coronavirus.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered Montgomery County’s schools closed amid the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. But Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, said based on CDC guidelines, it is not necessary in Philadelphia yet.

If the city closes its schools, Abernathy said, “we have a huge problem.”

“The city is currently prepared to meet those needs, but I don’t want to underestimate the challenges that feeding 200,000 kids is going to take. I don’t want to underestimate the impact it’s going to have on families,” Abernathy said. “We’re not Montgomery County and I will guarantee you that there’s a kid in Norristown that didn’t get fed today.”

— Ellie Silverman

Pa. officials announce new coronavirus cases, one child in Monroe County

// Timestamp 03/13 00:46pm

Pennsylvania state officials announced 11 new presumptive positive cases of the new coronavirus Friday, bringing the statewide total to 33 cases, including one pediatric patient in Monroe County.

Of the new cases announced Friday, four are in Montgomery County, two are in Delaware County, and two are in Philadelphia. The total in Montgomery, which state officials have deemed the “epicenter” of the epidemic in Pennsylvania, is now 17 presumptive positive cases. In total, five cases are in Delaware and three in Philadelphia.

Officials declined to provide details on the juvenile who tested positive, saying only that the person is under 18 and test results were obtained today. State officials are working with the child’s school.

State officials said as of late Friday morning, 300 people had been identified for testing and 130 of those tests are either at a lab and being process or on their way to the lab.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said doctors who feel a patient should be tested can order a test without consulting with state officials. She said at least two commercial providers can test and more should be able to by next week.

Levine said the state hopes to issue guidance to healthcare providers today on best practice for obtaining commercial testing. She said those tests will be billed to insurance — Medicaid and insurance companies in Pennsylvania are expected to cover the cost of coronavirus tests.

Levine also insisted that the state lab is not experiencing a backlog of testing, but she wasn’t able to answer questions about how many testing kits the state has, other than saying capacity to test “has continued to improve.”

» READ MORE: Coronavirus testing in Pa.: Despite new CDC guidance, state lab is turning away some patients

She said the state is continually getting new testing supplies from the CDC and FDA.

It’s not clear how many Pennsylvanians are under quarantine. On Thursday, Philadelphia officials said 1,000 people in the city are under self-quarantine due to travel or known contact with a coronavirus patient.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed six of Pennsylvania’s cases as positive.

Nationally, more than 1,500 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus and more than 40 people have died.

— Anna Orso

Trump expected to declare national emergency over coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/13 00:20pm

President Donald Trump is expected to declare a national emergency as the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States, a move which will allow for more federal funding to fight the fast-moving pathogen, multiple news sources have reported.

Trump will invoke the Stafford Act to open the door for more aid, Bloomberg reported.

The president is set to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. in Washington.

» READ MORE: Trump is expected to declare a national emergency for coronavirus. Here’s what that means.

» READ MORE: Trump preparing to invoke emergency powers over coronavirus

— Oona Goodin-Smith

PSE&G suspends gas, electric shut-offs through April amid coronavirus spread

// Timestamp 03/13 11:59am

New Jersey’s Public Service Electric and Gas. Co. is suspending shut-offs of electric or gas service to residents who haven’t paid their bills.

The policy will go into effect immediately and remain in place through the end of April, the company said in a statement. At the time, the PSE&G will “evaluate the continued need,” the statement said.

“We recognize that customers may experience financial difficulty as a result of the outbreak, whether they or a family member fall ill, are required to quarantine, or because their income is otherwise affected,” PSE&G’s statement said. “We hope to alleviate those customers’ concerns about their electric or gas service during this time.”

— Oona Goodin-Smith

Philly school staff reports widespread absences, confusion as district remains open during coronavirus outbreak

// Timestamp 03/13 11:35am

Inside the Philadelphia public schools that remained open Friday, staffers reported it was a confusing, unsettling day, with widespread staff and student absences. Some buildings operated without principals or nurses.

Sixty-three Philadelphia School District schools were ordered closed because 15 percent or more of their staffs live in Montgomery County.

At Kensington High, only about half of the school’s 483 students showed up — many students showed up to get their Septa TransPasses, then left. Eight teachers were absent.

Meredith Elementary had nine teachers out and managed to get one substitute, though many schools could get no substitutes to cover classes.

Elementary school principals were encouraged by the district’s central office to combine classes, schedule groups of students to gather in a common area for blocks of time, let students use online learning programs, conduct group activities in the gym, and cover classes themselves if necessary. Secondary schools were told to hold study halls or Socratic seminars by grades in the auditorium.

Teachers and other school staff expressed widespread frustration that some schools were open and others closed, and how the message was communicated. In some places, families didn’t hear the messages that their school was closed, so students showed up and were turned away.

Charlie McGeehan, a teacher at the U. School, a public school in North Philadelphia, was one of many educators who said they felt the decision to keep some schools open was “ridiculous.”

“Rather than an abundance of caution, we’re seeing an absence of reason and care,” McGeehan said on Twitter.

— Kristen A. Graham

Montgomery County state-run liquor stores won’t close, limit hours despite Wolf’s coronavirus recommendation

// Timestamp 03/13 11:19am

State-run liquor stores will not close or limit hours in Montgomery County, according to a PLCB spokeswoman.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday asked for all non-essential retailers to close for two weeks in the suburban Philadelphia county. He made allowances for grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations, but did not go into specifics beyond those outlets.

The state’s own wine and spirits behemoth will not be following his request.

“After consulting with the Governor’s Office, we have determined not to close any stores or limit hours at this time,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Brassell.

“We will continue to monitor the situation, heeding guidance from the CDC, Department of Health and Wolf administration, and we’re taking proactive steps to protect our customers and employees,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has “indefinitely suspended" all product tastings, bottle signings, educational seminars and other events.

Asked why any private retailer should close if Pennsylvania’s own liquor chain is exempt, Brassell replied:

“We can’t speak to how anyone else operates.”

— Sam Wood

Coronavirus could wreak havoc on Pennsylvania’s primary election

// Timestamp 03/13 11:13am

Pennsylvania’s primary election is seven weeks away. The coronavirus pandemic is uncomfortably closer than that.

With schools and universities sending students home, the state Capitol in Harrisburg closing its doors to visitors, and professional sports seasons coming to a snap ending, what are elections officials to do about the April 28 primary?

Elections officials are scrambling, some politicians are suggesting the state mail ballots to every eligible voter, and campaign events may be at risk.

In Delaware County, officials announced Friday that they are cancelling all planned in-person demonstrations of the county’s new voting machines, purchased in compliance with a law signed last year by Gov. Tom Wolf. Instead, tutorial videos explaining how the machines work have been posted on the county’s website.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus could wreak havoc on Pennsylvania’s primary election

— Chris Brennan, Julia Terruso, Vinny Vella

Boston Marathon postponed for coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/13 10:58am

Organizers have postponed the Boston Marathon until Sept. 14 because of rising concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

— Associated Press

King of Prussia mall remains open: Governor ‘did not define what nonessential retail is’

// Timestamp 03/13 10:44am

The largest mall on the east coast is remaining open despite the Pennsylvania governor recommending the closure of all “nonessential retail” in the county where it is located.

The King of Prussia Mall, the second largest mall in America, said in a message on its website Friday that the mall is leaving it up to individual stores to decide whether or not to open.

“With respect to Governor Wolf’s statement, the Governor did not mandate store closures and did not define what nonessential retail is,” the statement read.

On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered sweeping closures in Montgomery County amid the spread of the new coronavirus. About half of the state’s presumptive positive cases are in the county. Wolf ordered the closure of schools, day cares, community centers and gyms, as well as saying his administration recommended closing “nonessential retail facilities.” Supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations remain open.

» READ MORE: King of Prussia Mall defies Pa governor’s closure request; liquor stores remain open

New Jersey’s mammoth Cherry Hill Mall also remains open, and also stated on its website that individual merchants can decide whether to shut down.

“Cherry Hill Mall strives to create a safe and secure environment for mall staff and consumers. As news of the spread of the COVID-19, novel coronavirus, continues to dominate the public domain, we wanted to bring you up to speed on measures we are taking to keep our public space as safe as possible,” according to the website.

Eight miles south of Center City, Cherry Hill Mall is one of South Jersey’s main shopping destinations, and draws from around the metropolitan area as well.Cherry Hill Mall is owned by PREIT (NYSE:PEI), a publicly traded real estate investment trust.

Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company owns and operates nearly 23.5 million square feet of retail space in the eastern half of the U.S. concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic region.

— Anna Orso, Erin Arvedlund

Montgomery County school coronavirus closures have ripple effect around the region

// Timestamp 03/13 10:37am

The state-ordered closures of all Montgomery County schools continued to have a ripple effect overnight and Friday morning, as more schools announced closures and others indicated they were considering them.

In Delaware County, Radnor closed schools Friday for a teacher in-service day to develop plans for a longer-term closure.

“We border Montgomery County and approximately a quarter of our staff live in Montgomery County,” Superintendent Kenneth E. Batchelor said in a message to families.

While the district plans to reopen Tuesday, circumstances “have been rapidly changing,” Batchelor said.

In Bucks County, the Centennial School District was also closed for an in-service day Friday — and said it and other districts across the county were evaluating what to do in light of the Montgomery County closures. The district said that its staff “travel through, work, and live in Montgomery County."

— Maddie Hanna

Philly’s Erin Express buses canceled amid coronavirus spread

// Timestamp 03/13 10:19am

The Erin Express buses are canceled this Saturday, but the participating bars will still be open, Brian P. Pawliczek of Cavanaugh’s said in a news release.

“We hope to return to a level of normalcy soon and look forward to rescheduling at the appropriate time,” Pawliczek said.

» READ MORE: Erin Express buses are canceled, organizers announce

Until Friday, despite the cancellation of events across the region, the annual St. Patrick’s Day multi-weekend day-drinking marathon where attendees cram onto school buses rotating among 17 Philadelphia watering holes was still set to take place.

» READ MORE: Despite coronavirus, the Erin Express chugs along

— Ellie Silverman

2020 Masters Tournament postponed due to coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/13 10:14am

» READ MORE: Masters golf tournament postponed because of coronavirus

Many sites cancelling SAT testing for Saturday

// Timestamp 03/13 10:05am

Many testing sites across the country, including the Philadelphia region, are canceling SATs scheduled for Saturday.

For details on the status of your test, check with your testing site. The College Board is trying to update its list of cancellations as quickly as possible. For the full list, which could grow as the day goes on, and more information, the College Board’s site.

— Susan Snyder

Stocks surge after worst day on Wall Street since 1987

// Timestamp 03/13 10:05am

Stocks are opening sharply higher on Wall Street a day after the worst drop since 1987.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 800 points, or 4%, early Friday. That’s far less than half of what the index lost a day earlier. European markets surged about 7% a day after one of their worst drops on record.

European markets fell 12% in one of their worst days ever, even after the European Central Bank pledged to buy more bonds and offer more help for the economy.

The wild swings continued as governments stepped up precautions against the spread of the new coronavirus and considered ways to cushion the blow to their economies. Asian markets ended a volatile day mostly lower. Central banks in China, Sweden and Norway also stepped in to support bond markets.

» READ MORE: Stocks surge on Wall Street; Dow jumps 800 points, or 4%

— Associated Press

Pa. prison visits canceled, screenings enhanced amid coronavirus spread

// Timestamp 03/13 09:49am

Visits are canceled at Pennsylvania state prisons through March 27, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement, also announcing enhanced screening of staff and contractors.

The Pennsylvania Prison Society also said visits have been canceled at jails in Montgomery, Delaware, and Northampton counties, though it said some facilities are still permitting official visits, including lawyers.

Those county policy changes could not immediately be confirmed.

— Samantha Melamed

FDA grants emergency clearance to high-speed coronavirus test

// Timestamp 03/13 09:42am

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency clearance to a high-speed coronavirus test in efforts to diagnose the rapidly-spreading virus that has reached a pandemic level.

Developed by Switzerland-based diagnostics giant Roche Holdings, the new coronavirus test will make the testing process 10 times faster, the head of the drugmaker’s diagnostics unit told Bloomberg News.

This could enable millions of tests to be performed each month, Bloomberg reported, and those test could yield results in as fast as four hours.

It’s the first commercially available test that has been granted approval by the FDA.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

Some Montco college employees stay on campus to help students who can’t go home

// Timestamp 03/13 09:14am

Colleges in Montgomery County are encouraging as many employees as possible to work remotely but they must keep some on campus to help students who cannot go home.

“I want to reiterate our commitment to supporting students who must stay on campus and to continuing with our educational mission so that students can successfully complete the semester,” said Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy in a message to the campus Friday morning.

Gov. Wolf on Thursday ordered a two-week shutdown of schools in Montgomery County to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He said higher education institutions were included, but colleges were scrambling last evening to understand what that meant.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus concerns close Montgomery County schools, 63 Philly schools

Most colleges in the region have gone or are going to remote learning and have asked students who can to leave campus. But many of the colleges have international students or some domestic students who are unable to go home.

Cassidy said the college would follow the governor’s guidelines as closely as possible and increase remote working opportunities for employees.

“I want to stress that we will still provide critical infrastructure support to resident students who cannot leave during this period, including dining and health care and support for faculty, their teaching and research,” Cassidy said. “The college is fully open in that sense.”

St. Joseph’s University, which straddles Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, said it will keep essential employees on campus but encourage all others to work from home.

— Susan Snyder

Penn Medicine bans most hospital visitors amid coronavirus spread

// Timestamp 03/13 08:32am

Penn Medicine is banning most hospital visitors in a strict visitation policy that takes effect Friday.

Exceptions will be made under special circumstances:

  1. Visiting a patient near the end of life.

  2. Parent visitation of a child in an intensive care nursery

  3. A coach or partner for women in labor

  4. A visitor to accompany a patient for hospital discharge.

  5. Inpatient hospice unit patients are allowed one visitor at a time

  6. Pediatric patients are allowed one parent visitor at a time

At Penn Medicine outpatient centers patients are allowed one visitor to accompany them to an ambulatory care visit, procedure or same-day surgery. Health screenings will be conducted for all visitors and no children under 12 will be allowed.

In New Jersey, a coalition of hospitals have also announced standardized visitor restrictions to protect vulnerable patients and hospital employees from the coronavirus.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus leads hospitals to plan for surge in patients while urging sick doctors to stay home

— Sarah Gantz

Delaware introduces drive-through coronavirus test

// Timestamp 03/13 08:24am

People who have symptoms of the new coronavirus can get a drive-through test today in Wilmington, Del.

Officials with ChristianaCare, a network of private hospitals, announced a four-hour window Friday when individuals can be tested at no charge. The results will be available within two to five days.

ChristianaCare officials said the event is aimed at reducing demands on emergency departments but warned that testing for the disease is not recommended for individuals who do not have any symptoms. Common symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. People with severe symptoms should call their doctor.

Testing will take place Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot at Chase Center on the Riverfront, located at 601 S. Madison St. in Wilmington.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus testing in Pa.: Despite new CDC guidance, state lab is turning away some patients

— Anna Orso

American Airlines suspends more flights between Philly and Europe

// Timestamp 03/13 08:14am

Starting Friday, American Airlines is suspending flights between Philadelphia International Airport and four additional European cities: Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, and Zurich.

The routes are suspended through May 6, and expected to resume May 7.

Earlier this week, the airline already announced it was halting service between Philadelphia and Rome, as Italy put into effect nationwide limits on public activity and travel. American says it expects the PHL-Rome to start again May 7 as well.

» READ MORE: American, United, Delta cut domestic flights as coronavirus saps demand

The latest route changes from Philly’s dominant air carrier follow President Trump’s announcement of a 30-day ban on travelers coming to the U.S. from 26 countries in Europe. The restrictions take effect starting late Friday night, and do not apply to U.S. citizens and green-card holders.

American Airlines said it will contact customers directly about canceled flights. The company is also offering to waive change fees “for customers who purchased tickets prior to March 11 for travel to Europe, including the United Kingdom, through May 31.”

American will keep operating some flights between other U.S. airports and Barcelona, Madrid and Paris for up to seven days, so that passengers and employees can return home.

— Catherine Dunn

Will you get a refund if a ticketed event is canceled because of coronavirus?

// Timestamp 03/13 7:37am

From concerts to conferences to sporting events, the number of events canceled in and around Philadelphia continue to mount as officials limit large gatherings and urge people to engage in “social distancing.”

» READ MORE: Canceled in Philly: The list of events, festivals, concerts called off because of coronavirus

But what happens if you bought a ticket to one of these occasions? Reporter Grace Dickinson explains.

» READ MORE: Will I get a refund if a ticketed event is canceled because of coronavirus?

» READ MORE: In sports’ peak season, the calendar is being altered by coronavirus

» READ MORE: Wells Fargo Center cancels Billie Eilish, all March events amid coronavirus fears

» READ MORE: Coronavirus has shut down schools and events. Here’s why that helps, short- and long-term.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

Coronavirus concerns close Montgomery County schools, 63 Philly schools

// Timestamp 03/13 7:17am

The coronavirus hit the region with its hardest punch yet Thursday, as Montgomery County schools were ordered to shut down for two weeks, and a cascade of closures took out venues such as the Wells Fargo Center and the Kimmel Center, canceling events from Philadelphia Orchestra concerts to 76ers and Flyers games.

The action in Montgomery County, which advised residents to avoid non-essential travel, had the unintended effect of forcing the closure Friday of 63 of Philadelphia’s 200-plus schools. Many Philadelphia schoolteachers live in Montgomery County and won’t be able to go to work, the School District announced late Thursday night.

Earlier Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf directed all schools, community centers, gyms, and entertainment venues in Montgomery County — where more than half of the state’s 22 cases of the coronavirus have been found — to shutter starting Friday in a sweeping “social distancing” measure aimed at mitigating the spread of the illness.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus concerns close Montgomery County schools, 63 Philly schools

— Justine McDaniel, Anna Orso, Ellie Silverman