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Philly police to delay arrests in drug, theft, prostitution and other crimes amid the coronavirus pandemic; N.J. to close all malls, amusement parks, centers

As cases escalate in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, nonessential businesses are being shut down and the Trump administration is seeking a massive economic stimulus package.

A customer leaves the Forever 21 shop at the Cherry Hill, NJ on March 17, 2020. Although the mall was still open many stores closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Forever 21 was still open.. ... Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
  • Significant developments

  • Philadelphia police will delay arrests in crimes ranging from narcotics to theft to prostitution, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw informed commanders Tuesday.

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered the statewide shutdown of nonessential Pennsylvania businesses for the next 14 days.

  • In New Jersey, nonessential retail, casinos, gyms, theaters, and more are closed, and Gov. Phil Murphy is discouraging nonessential travel between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.

  • The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Camden have suspended Mass.

  • The Trump administration is seeking an $850 billion economic stimulus package to confront the economic fallout from the virus. Officials also said Tuesday they wanted to get money to Americans affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic.

  • The White House coronavirus task force is recommending all Americans avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people.

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

// Timestamp 03/18 06:58am

As the coronavirus tightens its grip on the Philadelphia region and throughout the U.S., testing sites have begun to pop up throughout the region, including one at the stadium complex in South Philadelphia. And, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw clarifies comments she made about arrests in the city during the pandemic. The Philadelphia Police Department will not “turn a blind eye to crime," she said.


» LIVE COVERAGE FOR MARCH 18: Why the coronavirus has no cure; stadium complex in line to become testing site

Editor’s note: News about the coronavirus is changing quickly. The latest information can be found at

15 people test positive in New Castle County, Delaware

// Timestamp 03/17 11:20pm

Fifteen people have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Castle County, Del., state officials said Tuesday.


An additional positive test was reported in Sussex County.

One of the New Castle patients has been hospitalized. The Sussex County resident had a “travel-related exposure,” the Delaware Division of Public Health said in a news release. The exposure history of the others was under investigation, it said.

The department offered no additional details. Several of the New Castle County residents who tested positive did so at the ChristianCare Health System drive-through.

— Anthony R. Wood

California likely to close schools for the year; Kansas is already taking that step

// Timestamp 03/17 09:52pm

California is likely to keep schools closed for the rest of the school year as a result of the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, as the impacts spread even further.


“I don’t want to mislead you,” he told parents and educators at a news conference, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Nearly every district in the state is already closed, according to Newsom. From the Times:

The state education department is assembling detailed guidelines on how schools can attempt to continue teaching 6.1 million students out of their classrooms in the weeks and months ahead.

He also indicated that standardized testing will not take place this spring. “We think it is totally inappropriate for kids to worry” about being tested, he said. Teachers and students “already have enough anxiety.”

The Los Angeles Times

Earlier in the day Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced that all public schools in her state will be closed for the rest of the school year. Classes will be held remotely.

— Jonathan Tamari


News stories about the coronavirus are being blocked on Facebook

// Timestamp 03/17 09:31pm

Links to news stories about the coronavirus are being blocked on Facebook due to the company’s automated system, the Associated Press reported.


Facebook says it’s because of a bug in its anti-spam system. The company is working on fixing the problem, Guy Rosen, the company’s vice president of integrity, said on Twitter Tuesday.

— Jonathan Tamari

Two more medical workers in South Jersey test positive

// Timestamp 03/17 08:48pm

Two more people in South Jersey, both Inspira Medical Center employees, have tested positive for the coronavirus, Inspira announced Tuesday. One of them has been hospitalized.

Inspira said that on Sunday two patients arrived at the emergency room at the center in Mullica Hill. One of them, who works in the center’s Radiation Oncology Department in Vineland, was considered “high risk” and was admitted. The Vineland facility has been closed temporarily, and patient appointments will be rescheduled.

The other patient, who works in the Surgical Services Departments at facilities in Elmer, Mullica Hill and Vineland, was not symptomatic but tested positive and was sent home to self-quarantine. Patients and staff who had direct contact with this employee have been offered testing as well as mental health counseling.

— Anthony R. Wood

Giant grocery stores create special hours for people 60 and older

// Timestamp 03/17 07:48pm

People who are 60 or older will be the only ones allowed to shop at all Giant stores from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. daily starting this Thursday.

People in this age group are at a higher risk for severe coronavirus symptoms, so Giant wanted to provide them with a less crowded environment to allow for social distancing, the Carlisle, Pa.-based company said in a news release.

"Although team members will not request ID for entry, the company asks its customers to please respect the purpose of the early opening — and do the right thing for your neighbors,” the statement said.

A Giant Food Store in Havertown, Pa., put up a sign telling customers they’re out of hand sanitizer March 3.. ... Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Other companies have made similar changes, with Dollar General and Stop and Shop also dedicating their first hour of the day to senior citizens.

At Giant, overall store hours are 6 a.m, to 10 p.m., starting Thursday until further notice.

The company, like others, is also placing a two item-limit on “key categories” like paper goods and disenfectant products. The company is also hiring temporary and part-time workers for jobs including service associates, cashiers, general stock clerks, drivers and fulfillment center selectors.

People may apply online at the GIANT or MARTIN’S websites.

Hundreds tested at drive-through sites in Philly, Main Line

// Timestamp 03/17 07:30pm

Hundreds of people showed up at drive-through coronavirus testing sites in Philadelphia and on the Main Line Tuesday run by Penn Medicine, Jefferson Health, and Main Line Health. Health-care workers wearing protective gear collected samples from people — only those who were experiencing symptoms — as they sat in their cars.

The makeshift collection sites, which can collect swabs to send to a specialized laboratory for molecular testing, have been popping up across the country. Doctor’s offices don’t want to collect samples because they lack either the protective gear, the safety protocols, the will — or all three.

It takes several days for test results to be completed.

More than 400 people were seen at Penn Medicine’s two collection sites, one in West Philadelphia and the other in Radnor Township. An additional 250 people flocked to Main Line Health’s Newtown Square and Radnor sites.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus testing sites draw worried crowds from around the Philadelphia region

— Sarah Gantz, Marie McCullough

Montco elementary school teacher tests positive

// Timestamp 03/17 06:59pm

A fourth-grade teacher at Cynwyd Elementary School has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Lower Merion School district announced Tuesday night.

Officials from the Montgomery County Office of Public Health will be contacting students, parents and staff members whom the teacher came into close contact with, the district said in a statement. Those individuals will be asked to go into quarantine. The teacher has not been hospitalized and is recovering at home, the statement said.

It added that walking through the school hallways “does not constitute close contact with an infected person. However, everyone is advised to continue to practice social distancing.”

Jonathan Tamari

The coronavirus’ latest cancellation: Lucy the Elephant’s Airbnb stays

// Timestamp 03/17 06:43pm

Tuesday was supposed to be the first day since 1902 that someone has stayed overnight in Margate’s iconic Lucy the Elephant.

But the six guests from New Jersey and Pennsylvania who were scheduled to stay Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the Jersey Shore landmark will have to wait. Like much of the rest of the two states, Lucy is closed for business as the country tries to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Margate's iconic Lucy the Elephant was listed on Airbnb for the first time, but it's first reservations have been postponed due to the coronavirus.. ... Read moreCourtesy AirBnB

“In light of the recent guidelines issued by local health officials, the closure or significant reduction in services at casinos, restaurants, bars and other facilities statewide — and in consultation with the six guests — the Save Lucy Committee has voluntarily and temporarily postponed the three stays scheduled to take place in Lucy the Elephant this week,” Airbnb said in a statement.

» READ MORE: The coronavirus’ latest cancellation: Lucy the Elephant’s Airbnb stays

— Michaelle Bond

Philly restaurant reservations plunge by 85%

// Timestamp 03/17 06:39pm

If online restaurant reservations are any guide, Philadelphia’s hungry customers dined out above national rates as the coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the country, only to see business plummet dramatically over an unprecedented week.

By Monday, Philadelphia’s reservations fell 85% year-over-year, a more dramatic downturn than nearly 40 other cities in the U.S. and Canada, according to data from OpenTable, an online reservations service.

Mayor Kenney ordered all city restaurants to stop seating people by 5 p.m. Monday through March 27, at least. Restaurants in the city can remain open only for take-out and delivery service.

Data from OpenTable show restaurant visits had started to sink in many American cities by March 9 — for some cities even earlier — but reservations didn’t crash in Philadelphia for another three days. Philadelphia announced its first case of the coronavirus on Tuesday, March 10.

» READ MORE:  Philly restaurant scene hummed above national rates until the pandemic chased away the customers

— Dylan Purcell, Laura McCrystal and Chris A. Williams

La Salle will postpone commencement, move to online classes

// Timestamp 03/17 06:16pm

La Salle University will postpone commencement and move to remote learning for the rest of the semester, the school announced Tuesday.

The university also will close all university housing on April 4.

“We had hoped to avoid the need to take these steps,” La Salle President Colleen Hanycz said in an email to campus. “Commencement is an integral component of the student experience... We will find a date when we can come together in person to celebrate the class of 2020.”

— Susan Snyder

Gallery: Shoppers make final purchases as Pa. liquor stores prepare to close at 9 p.m.

// Timestamp 03/17 05:58pm

» READ MORE: What you need to know about buying food (and booze) during the shutdown

— Michael Bryant and Jose F. Moreno

Independence National Historical Park closes all buildings

// Timestamp 03/17 05:25pm

Independence National Historical Park announced Tuesday it was closing all its buildings to the public.

In a news release it said that park grounds would remain open but that public restrooms would be unavailable.

“The health and safety of people using and working at Independence National Historical Park is our number one priority,” the National Park Service, which operates the park, said in the release.

» READ MORE: A glossary of coronavirus terms to understand the pandemic

— Anthony R. Wood

Bike shops declared ‘essential;’ can stay open

// Timestamp 03/17 05:14pm

Mayor Kenney included bicycle shops on his updated list of “essential” businesses Tuesday, to the great relief of the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition.

The group said it was in the process of putting together a petition drive to keep the shops open when it received the word from the Mayor’s Office.

A biker rides along the sectioned bike lane along Spruce Street near Ninth Street on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. . ... Read moreFile Photograph

“It was scary yesterday,” the group said on its website, adding that several shop owners had approached it to lobby on their behalf.

As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary.

— Anthony R. Wood

NBA superstar Kevin Durant tests positive

// Timestamp 03/17 05:00pm

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant has tested positive for the coronavirus, The Athletic reported Tuesday.

Earlier, the team said four of its players had tested positive.

The team said one player is exhibiting symptoms and three are asymptomatic. “All four players are presently isolated and under the care of team physicians,” the team said.

The Nets were notifying anyone who has had known contact with the players, including recent opponents, and said they were “working closely with state and local health authorities.”

Injured Brooklyn Nets center Kevin Durant stands and applauds during a game against the New York Knicks Oct. 25.. ... Read moreKathy Willens / AP

Previously, three NBA players tested positive for the coronavirus: Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Christian Wood of the Detroit Pistons. Wood’s positive test came following last Wednesday’s 124-106 loss to the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center.

» READ MORE: Kevin Durant among four Brooklyn Nets players tested positive for coronavirus

— Marc Narducci

Cheyney University moves to remote learning

// Timestamp 03/17 04:25pm

Cheyney University announced it would move to remote learning for the rest of the semester. All 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have now done so, said system spokesman Dave Pidgeon.

Cheyney joins a growing list of colleges that have made the same decision, including Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and Haverford. West Chester, the largest in the system, was the first in the state system and in the region to announce the decision last week.

— Susan Snyder

Phillies pledge $1 million to aid part-time, seasonal employees

// Timestamp 03/17 04:25pm

More than 1,000 part-time and seasonal Phillies employees will receive financial assistance to supplement lost wages during baseball’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Phillies joined the 29 other major-league teams on Tuesday in pledging $1 million apiece out of a “desire to help some of the most valuable members of the baseball community,” Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Phillies third base coach Dusty Wathan leaves the Phillies spring training complex in Clearwater, Florida Friday. . ... Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Last week, MLB announced the postponement of the season by two weeks. The Phillies had only five home games scheduled within the season’s first two weeks.

» READ MORE: Phillies pledge $1 million in MLB initiative to assist ballpark workers during coronavirus shutdown

— Scott Lauber

Philly police will delay arrests for a range of crimes, including theft, prostitution

// Timestamp 03/17 04:05pm

Beginning Tuesday as an attempt to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Philadelphia police will delay arrests in crimes ranging from narcotics to theft to prostitution, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw informed commanders Tuesday.

Instead, suspects will be temporarily detained while officers can verify their identification. If they are not deemed a threat, they will be released and a warrant will be prepared for a future arrest. A detective will then submit an arrest affidavit to the district attorney’s office for approval.

The crimes will include all narcotics offenses, thefts, burglary, vandalism, prostitution, stolen cars, economic crimes, such as bad checks and fraud, and any existing bench warrants, she said in an internal memo obtained by the Inquirer. “The warrant will be served at a later time, as conditions dictate.”

The memo states: “If an officer believes that releasing the offender would pose a threat to public safety, the officer will notify a supervisor, who will review the totality of the circumstances and utilize discretion, in the interest of public safety, in determining the appropriate course of action.”

Other precautions include temporarily transferring officers from plain-clothes units to uniform patrol duties, ending the “Live Stop” vehicle impoundment program and modifying roll calls to ensure proper social distancing.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby said his union supports the commissioner’s decision.

“The directive was released to keep officers safe during this public-health crisis,” he said.

— Mike Newall

At a mostly empty Cherry Hill Mall, shoppers, workers prepare for coronavirus shutdown

// Timestamp 03/17 03:50pm

James Beer, of Cherry Hill, leaving the Cherry Hill Mall in South Jersey, Tuesday afternoon, March 17, 2020, shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy said all malls in the state would have to close indefinitely by 8 p.m.. ... Read moreFrank Kummer

James Beer was leaving the Cherry Hill Mall, about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after the governor’s announcement that all malls would close at 8 p.m. to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. The mall was already mostly empty, giving it a sort of eerie feeling at midday.

Beer, of Cherry Hill, said he was buying storage containers, including mason jars, to prepare for a prolonged stay at home.

He wasn’t aware of the new measures.

Beer said it was sad to see everything slowly shutting down, but said he trusted health experts. Meanwhile, Tiona Funches of Camden, had just stepped outside for a break from her job at Shoe Show. Funches was also unaware of the governor’s announcement.

The mall had been fairly busy Monday, she said, but noted a steep drop-off Tuesday.

Many stores, she said, had already closed. “We were playing it by ear. Now, I guess we don’t have a choice. I don’t think this is wise.”

Funches said she is unsure of how the store will proceed with pay. Jeanne Connor, of Cherry Hill, who was just finishing shopping at the mall, said she agreed with precautionary measures.

“A lot of people are being dumb about it,” she said.

— Frank Kummer

Uber, Lyft suspend shared services

// Timestamp 03/17 03:42pm

Uber and Lyft are temporarily putting a stop to their shared ride features in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Uber Pool will be suspended in the U.S., Canada, London, and Paris, while Lyft will pause Shared ride across all of its markets. The features would put multiple riders traveling in similar directions into the same car, often at a cheaper cost.

Uber riders will find a “flatten the curve, travel only if necessary” update in their app.

“The health and safety of the Lyft community is our top priority, and we’re dedicated to doing what we can to slow the spread of COVID-19,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement.

— Patricia Madej

Postpone the Pennsylvania primary because of coronavirus, elections officials urge

// Timestamp 03/17 03:41pm

County elections officials from across Pennsylvania are urging the state to postpone the 2020 primary election currently scheduled for April 28 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Elections administrators from five counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, the region hardest hit by the outbreak, are preparing a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of State requesting the election be delayed until June 23. County officials from other regions said in interviews that they are making similar pleas to lawmakers and the Wolf administration.

In addition to concerns around public health, elections officials say it could be difficult to run an election, logistically: Some institutions are backing out of serving as polling places, and some poll workers are saying they can’t work election day.

Elections staff have stayed at home this week as part of government closures, meaning voters aren’t being registered, absentee ballot applications aren’t being processed, and other pre-election preparations aren’t moving forward.

“It’s nearly impossible, frankly, for us to continue making progress preparing for the April 28 primary,” said Lee Soltysiak, Montgomery County’s chief operating officer and clerk of its election board.

» READ MORE: Postpone the Pennsylvania primary because of coronavirus, elections officials urge

— Jonathan Lai

Without a Delaware County health department, agreement would allow Chester County to help coronavirus response

// Timestamp 03/17 03:36pm

Delaware County on Tuesday reported two new positive tests for the coronavirus, bringing the county total to nine.

One of the cases is an employee at the country jail who had previously been in contact with a maintenance supervisor who had tested positive, said county Council Member Brian Zidek.

Meanwhile, the state health department is reviewing a proposed agreement that would allow the Chester County Health Department to provide support to Delaware County, which doesn’t have a health department. Delaware County has been relying on the state to conduct testing and investigations, and county officials have not been receiving any information about patients’ municipalities, contact tracing, or quarantines from the state, which cites a privacy law.

Zidek said he expected that the flow of information would increase if Chester County became involved.

The plan for sharing resources with Chester County would need approval from Gov. Tom Wolf, Zidek said. Delaware Couty also is working on opening public coronavirus testing sites and exploring ways to “lessen the financial burden” for businesses during the shutdown, Zidek said.

— Justine McDaniel

Montgomery County identifies more coronavirus cases, tracks first case of community spread

// Timestamp 03/17 03:31pm

Montgomery County has tracked its first case of what appears to be community spread of the coronavirus, Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said at a Tuesday news conference.

The patient, a 72-year-old woman in Upper Providence Township, is hospitalized, Arkoosh said.

Arkoosh provided information on three other cases Tuesday, saying the total number of cases in the county rose to 34.

The cases announced Tuesday include:

  • A 31-year-old who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at her Lower Providence home. She had direct contact with a previously identified presumptive positive case.

  • A 39-year-old who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at his Lower Salford Township home. He had “extensive travel” in the United States and officials are still tracing all of his contacts.

  • A 42-year-old woman who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at her Lower Providence home. She had direct contact with a previously identified presumptive positive case.

The number of people quarantined in the country has also grown from 229 on Friday to 471 this morning.

There will also be a drive-through testing location in Montgomery County, open by early next week, Arkoosh said.

“Right now, it’s OK to not be OK,” Arkoosh said. “This is a very unusual and unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in, and it’s changing every single day, and it’s perfectly normal to feel unsettled.”

Arkoosh emphasized that neighbors need to help each other and be mindful when grocery shopping. Don’t take every jar of tomato sauce, she said. And if your neighbor is out of essential sanitary products, she said to “do a solid and give them some toilet paper.”

— Ellie Silverman

Allergist: Don’t mistake pollen allergies for coronavirus symptoms

// Timestamp 03/17 03:13pm

The tree-pollen season is off to a robust start, and in addition to being a source of torment for allergy-sufferers, it might produce exactly what the region doesn’t need: More anxiety.

“Obviously, pollen is in the air,” said Dr. Marc F. Goldstein, an allergist at the Asthma Center in Center City. The evidence is in the early budding and blossoming and the patient visits.

Classic tree-pollen symptoms, especially coughing and staccato sneezing, are difficult to control, but Goldstein said that sufferers need to make the effort, lest people mistake them for coronavirus symptoms.

» READ MORE: Tree-pollen season gets an early start: Will people mistake sneezing, coughing for coronavirus symptoms?

— Anthony R. Wood

A New Jersey woman gave false name when she was tested for the coronavirus. The test came back positive, and now no one can find her.

// Timestamp 03/17 03:09pm

A woman was tested for the new coronavirus at East Orange General Hospital on Saturday and the results came back positive. But when health officials went to her home in Newark, they didn’t find her. She had given a false name and address.

Now, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka pleaded in a video address for her to contact her health provider and go back to the hospital. Newark officials are also submitting an application to get a court order to force the hospital to provide them with video and any other information about this woman’s hospital visit, Baraka said.

“Because you gave a false name, because you gave a false address, you put yourself and many, many people at risk. Not only just in the City of Newark, but all of the surrounding cities in this state as well,” Ras Baraka said in the video. “We are searching for you and we are looking for you.”

The hospital said it has given Newark and East Orange officials their requested information and that patient privacy laws prevent the hospital from making public comments about this specific patient.

— Ellie Silverman

N.J. to close all malls, amusement parks, centers until further notice

// Timestamp 03/17 02:59pm

A nearly empty Cherry Hill Mall in Cherry Hill, NJ on March 17, 2020. Although the mall was still open many stores closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.. ... Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Gov. Phil Murphy announced another set of measures Tuesday to fight against the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey. Effective 8 p.m., all indoor shopping malls, amusement parks, and amusement centers will be closed until further notice, Murphy said.

Restaurants within those malls that have their own private entrance “not attached to the mall” can remain open only for takeout or delivery services.

Murphy also sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers come to New Jersey and build temporary hospitals, in order to increase the amount of hospital beds available in the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested this assistance earlier this week.

“We’ve gotta flatten the curve,” Murphy said. “But … we gotta make sure we have enough capacity.”

Murphy said New Jersey has at least 267 positive coronavirus cases in New Jersey, with 89 new cases Tuesday. This is the single largest jump in new cases to date.

Many of the new cases are in Bergen County, which is the epicenter of New Jersey’s pandemic. Gloucester County saw its first two cases, and Ocean County has one more person that has tested positive, said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Officials do not know the county where 16 of New Jersey’s positive patients live and will find out shortly.

She indicated that some of Tuesday’s new cases cannot be traced back to a single point of exposure to the disease, indicating the coronavirus is spreading throughout the community.

“This is an indication that community transmission is occurring,” Persichilli said. “Risk overall still remains low when you follow social distancing, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.”

— Pranshu Verma

Cape May official: Don’t ride out the coronavirus pandemic down the Shore

// Timestamp 03/17 02:49pm

The Pennsylvania plates parked around Casel’s Market in Margate told the tale: Shoobies think the Shore is a nice place to ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

But Cape May County Freeholder director Gerald Thornton (and lots of locals) do not agree. In a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, Thornton urged visitors to “stay home” during the next two weeks.

“Many people have come down to use their second home or to stay with family at the shore while schools are closed throughout most of the Country,” Thornton wrote. "These additional visitors have put an additional strain on the local supermarkets but could eventually be a burden on the medical system in Cape May County, should a significant outbreak of COVID-19 take place here.

“We love all of our visitors from Pennsylvania, North Jersey, New York, and further away, but this is not the time to be visiting the shore as we try to focus resources needed during this pandemic to our residents.”

» READ MORE: Headed down the shore? Locals, officials would rather you didn’t

— Amy Rosenberg

Pennsylvania charts more positive, negative coronavirus cases as officials expect community spread

// Timestamp 03/17 02:19pm

There are now 96 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania, Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced Tuesday afternoon.

An additional 879 people have tested negative. Most tests are being run by commercial labs or hospitals, Levine said, as opposed to the state lab. The state is working to find out how each person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 contracted the virus. But because of the growing number of cases and use of other labs, “we are actually less able to track all of these exposures," Levine said. “We can assume there are people whose exposure we cannot trace back to a known source,” she said, adding that Pennsylvania is not seeing “sustained community spread.”

”But we do expect it will happen,” she said.

For that reason, Levine said Gov. Tom Wolf’s mitigation efforts announced Monday — urging all nonessential businesses to close for two weeks — are even more important. The Wolf administration has released general guidance about which businesses are considered essential and nonessential.

— Sarah Anne Hughes

Philadelphia Parking Authority is not enforcing meters, kiosks, time limits amid coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/17 01:49pm

The Philadelphia Parking Authority will stop enforcing meters, kiosks, and residential time limits, PPA executive director Scott Petri announced Tuesday as part of procedural changes to the agency prompted by the coronavirus.

It’s not to say the agency has forgone parking regulations. PPA officers “will place a special emphasis on enforcing safety violations,” such as obvious violations or parking in ways that would get in the way of an emergency vehicle double parking, blocking crosswalks, or loading zone violations, he said.

Meters, kiosks, and residential time limits will not be enforced at least through March 27, Petri said at a city news conference Tuesday.

“Please be respectful of the need of people to access these spots,” Petri said. “Our role is to assist in this crisis to try and manage safety issues.”

» READ MORE:  PPA: Meters, kiosks, residential time limits won’t be enforced amid coronavirus

— Ellie Silverman, Patricia Madej

Philly health commissioner: ‘This virus is circulating in the community’

// Timestamp 03/17 01:47pm

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley speaks during press conference with corona virus updates at City Hall in Philadelphia, March 17, 2020. The coronavirus has been spreading across the globe since January, and now has been identified in the Philadelphia region.. ... Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

As of Tuesday afternoon, 18 cases of the new coronavirus have been identified in Philadelphia, said Dr. Thomas Farley, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. The number of Philadelphia cases doubled since the city’s press briefing on Monday.

Though he did not give details of the cases, Farley said that some of the people who are identified as having the new coronavirus did not travel internationally and did not have known contact with another person experiencing symptoms.

“We do know that this virus is circulating in the community,” Farley said.

Health care systems are setting up rapid test sites throughout the city, Farley said. The University of Pennsylvania has two sites, in West Philly and Radnor. Temple has one site. Jefferson has two sites, Center City and Abington. And CHOP has one near its West Philly cases. Together, those sites tested about 200 people yesterday, Farley said.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy recognized the “huge disruption” the mandated closures of non-essential businesses has on the city.

Mayor Jim Kenney compared the economic impact to “similar to World War II or the Depression.”

“We can not tow this entire burden on the city. This is a national issue and we are expecting our national government to do what they’re supposed to do and make sure that we’re whole,” he said.

“This is a crisis that is going to take all of Philadelphia to come together,” Abernathy said. Though he emphasized the importance of social distancing, he said “we have to recognize that our neighbors are going to need us and we are going to have to offer ourselves.”

— Ellie Silverman, Laura McCrystal

Chester County launches COVID-19 dashboard to show locations of residents testing positive

// Timestamp 03/17 01:39pm

Chester County has launched a COVID-19 dashboard showing the municipal locations of all residents who have tested positive for the virus and their gender and age breakdown. Chester County currently has six reported cases in four townships; the dashboard will be updated continuously.

The county also asked local businesses to take a survey assessing the impact the coronavirus has had on their businesses so far.

— Justine McDaniel

In Camden, ‘essential’ employees go to work amid shutdown

// Timestamp 03/17 01:32pm

Camden crossing guard Lisa Lindsey waits for children to help cross the street. Camden, on its first day of shutdown because of Covid19, has deemed crossing guards "essential" workers.. ... Read moreKristen A. Graham

When Mayor Frank Moran ordered Camden shut down, he included crossing guards among employees deemed “essential” and still required to show up to work to make sure children got to schools around the city, where workers handed out food and packets of school assignments.

That’s fine with Lisa Lindsey, who stood at the corner of 4th and Mt. Vernon Streets near the Wiggins School.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania and New Jersey order businesses, schools to close as coronavirus cases mount

“It’s good to be outside — I’ll go crazy in the house,” said Lindsey, 59, a crossing guard for the past 25 years. “I’m making sure these kids get to school safely so they can get fed.”

Still, just being outside felt like a risk in some ways, Lindsey said.

“I’m worried but I’m taking precautions — keeping my hands washed and sanitized, and not getting up in people’s faces.”

— Kristen A. Graham

Pa. lawmaker seeks $125 million in zero-interest loans for small businesses affected by shutdowns

// Timestamp 03/17 01:28pm

Operators of Spice 28 ant 1228 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia inform patrons that this restaurant is only providing take out and delivery after the mayor of Philadelphia shut down all non-essential businesses as the city try to limit the exposure to coronavirus. Photograph from Tuesday morning March 17, 2020.. ... Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

State Senator Tom Killion on Tuesday said he intends to introduce a bill “in the very near future” to provide zero-interest loans to Pennsylvania small businesses affected by COVID-19 shutdown.

“As we see the current public health emergency unfold with COVID-19, we must act to provide resources for all of the residents of the Commonwealth including our employers,” wrote Killion in a memo to fellow senators, several of whom have signed on as co-sponsors.

The proposed legislation would direct all state revenue from casino table games in the commonwealth to a fund within the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for the creation of a zero-interest small business economic injury loan program. The proposed legislation seeks to generate $125 million in relief for Pennsylvania small businesses, according to the senator.

» READ MORE: Pa. lawmaker seeks $125 million in zero-interest loans for small businesses affected by shutdowns

— Erin Arvedlund

New Jersey has received only a ‘fraction’ of emergency medical supplies requested from federal government, lawmakers say

// Timestamp 03/17 00:55pm

New Jersey has received only a “fraction” of emergency medical supplies it has requested from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fight the coronavirus epidemic, according to a joint letter from the Garden State’s congressional Democrats.

Lawmakers provided a breakdown of how many supplies Gov. Phil Murphy has requested from the United States Strategic National Stockpile — an emergency reserve of medical supplies — and how many have been received as of Mar. 13, in a letter sent to federal health officials Monday:

  • Respirators: 2.8 million requested; 84,578 received

  • Surgical masks: 864,000 requested; 201,479 received

  • Face shields: 864,000 requested; 38,365 received

  • Surgical gowns: 864,000 requested; 31,280 received

  • Protective coveralls: 864,000 requested; 160 received

  • Gloves: 2.8 million requested;111,378 received

Earlier Tuesday, Murphy said he has asked President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for more help with getting supplies, but they have said the federal government can only help so much.

“They said, ‘listen, we’ll do our best but you all are gonna have to help source some of this yourself,’” Murphy said.

— Pranshu Verma

Swarthmore College cancels on-campus commencement

// Timestamp 03/17 00:29pm

Swarthmore College Tuesday became the second Philadelphia-area college to cancel on-campus commencement and announce a virtual ceremony for Sunday, May 24.

“We look forward to finding ways to welcome back to campus and honor the Class of 2020 in the future,” said president Valerie Smith in an email to the campus. Alumni weekend and other events on campus are canceled through May 31, she said. All classes will continue to conducted remotely through the end of the semester.

The University of Pennsylvania canceled on-campus commencement on Monday and said it, too, would hold a virtual ceremony.

— Susan Snyder

Treasury secretary: Government wants to send ‘checks to Americans immediately’

// Timestamp 03/17 00:09pm

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House as President Donald Trump looks on.. ... Read moreEvan Vucci / AP

The Trump administration announced Tuesday it is working with Congress to get money to people affected by the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as soon as possible.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said at a briefing with President Donald Trump that the government wants to send “checks to Americans immediately.” No amounts were mentioned.

Mnuchin indicated that there would be an income test for possible recipients, saying," We don’t need to send people making a million dollars checks."

The administration is also working to get aid to small businesses, and announced that there would be a 90-day interest-free grace period for taxpayers owing up to $1 million and corporations owing up to $10 million.

— Joseph A. Gambardello

Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspends Mass

// Timestamp 03/17 11:58am

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia Tuesday became the latest Roman Catholic church jurisdiction to suspend public Masses until further notice, one of the last major archdiocese in the nation to take the step in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Earlier in the day, the Diocese of Camden announced similar restrictions and, like Philadelphia, encouraged its parishioners to participate in religious services over live stream. The majority of Roman Catholic dioceses nationwide, including most big city archdioceses, have enacted similar measures.

“While things may look and feel different during these uncertain times, I want to be very clear that the Catholic Church in Philadelphia is not closing down,” Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez said in a statement. “It is not disappearing and it will not abandon you. Time and again as our history has proven the Church has risen to meet great challenges and provide a beacon of hope and light.”

— Jeremy Roebuck

Amazon prioritizing shipment of household staples, medical supplies

// Timestamp 03/17 11:42am

Amazon said Tuesday it will temporarily give top priority to shipping household staples, medical supplies and “other important products” coming into the company’s fulfillment centers.

Amazon said it was suspending until April 5 accepting items from sellers of non-essential products at its U.S. and British warehouses to free up inventory space for needed supplies.

Items already en route are not affected.

“We are seeing increased online shopping and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock,” the company said in a statement. “With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so we can more quickly receive, restock and ship these products to customers.

”We understand this is a change for our selling partners and appreciate their understanding as we temporarily prioritize these products for customers,” the statement said.

Amazon told sellers the categories given priority are “Baby Product, Health & Household, Beauty & Personal Care, Grocery, Industrial & Scientific, Pet Supplies.”

» READ MORE: Amazon will limit warehouse shipments to cleaning equipment, medical supplies and household goods

— Joseph A. Gambardello

SEPTA ridership plummets as Philly shuts down due to coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/17 11:25am

The 124 SEPTA bus to Chesterbook during the Tuesday morning commute in Philadelphia.. ... Read moreAlejandro A Alvarez / Staff Photographer

SEPTA’s ridership took a nosedive Monday, with figures down 46% on transit services and 68% on Regional Rail compared to an average weekday.

Dropping ridership and staffing issues prompted the transportation authority to make adjustments to its Regional Rail schedules. A severe weather service plan is in effect for at least two weeks, beginning Tuesday. Call-outs from both conductors and engineers saw about a dozen train cancellations early Monday.

A winter storm schedule is a 25% reduction in Regional Rail service and requires 15% fewer crew members to operate, said Scott Sauer, SEPTA assistant general manager of operations.

An adjusted schedule for buses, subways, and trolleys could come by the end of the week, he said.

SEPTA is offering some relief for some riders who purchased monthly and weekly passes before cancellations, school closures, and social distancing calls rendered them useless. Information on refunds and credits can be found on SEPTA’s website.

» READ MORE: SEPTA adjusts Regional Rail schedules amid coronavirus, offers some refunds for riders

— Patricia Madej

Kentucky Derby rescheduled for September because of coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/17 10:53am

The Kentucky Derby has been postponed until September, the latest rite of spring in sports to be struck by the new coronavirus along with the Masters, March Madness and baseball season.

The Derby, America’s longest continuously held sports event, had been scheduled for May 2. It will now be run on Sept. 5, kicking off Labor Day weekend.

— The Associated Press

Camden diocese suspends Masses, citing N.J.‘s coronavirus restrictions

// Timestamp 03/17 10:45am

A notice about the coronavirus is posted on the doors to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, NJ on March 17, 2020. The notice stated that beginning Wednesday, March 18 masses will be live-streamed among other measures.. ... Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden suspended all public Masses until further notice on Tuesday, citing measures instituted a day earlier by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to curtail public gatherings in the state.

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan encouraged priests to celebrate Mass privately and for the more than 400,000 Catholic faithful in Camden, Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties to participate in religious services over livestream. Some religious services such as funerals, confirmations and weddings will continue but attendance is limited to no more than 50 people, diocesan officials said.

Nearly 90 Roman Catholic dioceses — including the Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton, Allentown, Greensburg dioceses in Pennsylvania; the Archdiocese of Newark and the Paterson and Trenton dioceses in New Jersey; and most big city archdioceses nationwide — have already suspended Masses.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus changed how Philly worshipers observed Sunday services: ‘Jesus could not practice social distancing’

— Jeremy Roebuck

When coronavirus kills, the lung condition ARDS can be the culprit. Here’s what you need to know.

// Timestamp 03/17 10:12am

Nurses in protective suits treat a patient in the intensive care unit at Ditan Hospital in Beijing.. ... Read moreZhang Yuwei / AP

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, is one of the most-severe complications caused by the new coronavirus, and early estimates are it could affect perhaps 1 in 100 people with the virus. ARDS kills 30 to 40 percent of the people who get it. Survivors require weeks of mechanical ventilation in the hospital and lots of help in recovery. Many say they’re still functioning below par a year later, even though their lungs appear to have recovered.

» READ MORE: When coronavirus kills, the lung condition ARDS can be the culprit. Here’s what you need to know.

— Stacey Burling

Stocks rise after worst daily loss since 1987

// Timestamp 03/17 09:36am

The stock market opened up a day after the Dow Jones index fell nearly 3,000 in the worst daily loss since 1987. The higher opening came after futures rose in volatile fashion before the starting bell.

After opening up, the stock market was on a roller coaster, with the Dow Jones falling briefly below 20,000 points. As of 11 a.m., the index was 200 points down from Monday’s close.

The Dow closed at 20,188 Monday, 300 points above where it was when President Donald Trump took office.

» READ MORE: Stocks push higher tentatively after worst drop since 1987

— Joseph A. Gambardello

Trump administration seeks roughly $850 billion in emergency stimulus to confront coronavirus economic fallout

// Timestamp 03/17 09:07am

The Trump administration is asking Congress to approve a massive economic stimulus package of around $850 billion to stanch the economic free-fall caused by the coronavirus, four officials familiar with the planning said Tuesday.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will present details to Senate Republicans later Tuesday. The package would be mostly devoted to flooding the economy with cash, through a payroll tax cut or other mechanism, two of the officials said, with some $50 billion directed specifically to helping the airline industry. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

» READ MORE: Trump administration seeks roughly $850 billion in emergency stimulus to confront coronavirus economic fallout

— The Washington Post

MANNA, Meals on Wheels, and other food services for the homebound are losing volunteer drivers afraid of coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/17 09:04am

Robert Saxon, left, Director of External Affairs, makes an emergency food delivery, to client Michael Olsen, right, in Philadelphia, March 16, 2020. Saxon would normally be working in the office, but he is out making deliveries today, as the coronavirus flares, agencies like Manna that deliver food to the home-bound are facing difficulties, including the loss of volunteer drivers.. ... Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

The MANNA food truck squeezed down tight and tiny Watkins Street in South Philadelphia Monday, where rowhouse neighbors share walls and worries about the coronavirus.

Usually, a volunteer for the agency, which provides meals for 1,400 home-bound individuals with life-threatening illnesses in the region, will drive the squat white truck that keeps the frail alive.

But around 70% of MANNA’s yearly force of 9,500 volunteers — many of whom participate through their companies — have stopped showing up lately because of fear of coronavirus. So, Monday’s driver was Rob Saxon, director of external affairs for MANNA, whose motto is, “Food is medicine.”

“I’m doing it today," Saxon said. “All hands on deck,” his boss had told him.

For agencies that deliver food and meals to the home-bound sick and elderly, the coronavirus has necessitated a widely choreographed scramble — substituting drivers, rearranging meals, changing the way food gets into needy hands.

No one has yet cut off supplies. But the process is growing tricky.

» READ MORE: MANNA, Meals on Wheels, and other food services for the homebound are losing volunteer drivers afraid of coronavirus

— Alfred Lubrano

Small businesses worry about coronavirus shutdown: ‘In this line of work you can’t make up two weeks’

// Timestamp 03/17 08:49am

On Monday, Philadelphia ordered all non-essential commercial activity to close by 5 p.m. For Analisa Taylor, a hairdresser and co-manager of a hair salon and barber shop, like many others, that meant her sole source of income had come to an end.

“If we’re not cutting hair, we’re not making money," said Taylor, who works at Dave’s Salon and Barber Shop at 47 S. 4th St. “If we’re not making money how are we paying the bills?”

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania and New Jersey order businesses, schools to close as coronavirus cases mount

Small business owners and workers in the city watched in the last week as other counties forced non-essential stores, like hair salons, book stores and clothing stores, to close. They saw the cases of the new coronavirus continue to increase and heard about the importance of social distancing, the act of limiting how often you interact with others, curtail the rapid spread of the virus.

So even if this announcement was expected, they still took the news hard.

Owners worried how they would support themselves and their workers during this time; how long the forced closures will last; if their businesses would be able to open once they are allowed; if at that time, customers would even have disposable income to spend and keep their business alive; if they needed to take out more loans.

» READ MORE: Small businesses worry about coronavirus shutdown: ‘In this line of work you can’t make up two weeks’

— Ellie Silverman

What social distancing looks like as coronavirus spreads across the world

// Timestamp 03/17 08:31am

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, once-crowded places have emptied out as officials encourage social distancing and people avoid — or are barred from — going out in public.

— Tim Tai

Philly-filmed HBO series suspends production over coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/17 08:10am

HBO’s upcoming series Mare of Easttown, which had been filming in the Philadelphia area, has suspended production due to concern over the coronavirus.

On Friday, WarnerMedia Entertainment, which owns HBO, released a statement saying that the company would evaluate the production status of each of their series.

“We will suspend production on some of our series currently filming and will delay those scheduled to start imminently,” the statement read. “The health and safety of our employees, casts, and crews is our number one priority.”

Mare of Easttown initially began filming locally in October, hitting locations in Delaware County and Chester County. The show was created by Berwyn native Brad Ingelsby, and stars actress Kate Winslet as a Pennsylvania detective. University of Pennsylvania graduate Gavin O’Connor directs.

The series is the latest big television project to halt production on a local shoot. M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant also suspended filming on its second season on Friday.

— Nick Vadala

Murphy on N.J. coronavirus restrictions: ‘No time for business as usual’

// Timestamp 03/17 07:34am

In this March 2, 2020 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a news conference in Ewing, N.J. . ... Read moreSeth Wenig / AP

Gov. Phil Murphy went on NBC’s Today show Tuesday to explain the unprecedented steps he has taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the Garden State.

“This is no time to panic,” Murphy said. “It’s also no time for business as usual.”

Murphy reiterated that life is different in New Jersey. Casinos, movie theaters, and gyms are now closed. Restaurants and bars can only offer takeout or delivery services. Schools, colleges and universities will be closed starting Wednesday. He also emphasized that non-essential travel for state residents should be strongly discouraged between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Murphy also noted he has asked President Donald Trump for assistance in procuring things like protective equipment, respirators and ventilators. The federal government will help, Murphy said, but may require states to aid in getting supplies.

“They said, ‘listen, we’ll do our best but you all are gonna have to help source some of this yourself,’” Murphy said.

He also urged federal lawmakers and Trump to provide financial aid to states.

The governor also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has propped up two drive-through coronavirus testing sites in the state to help more people get screened, and that he might ask New Jersey’s National Guard to open closed hospital wings or convert dormitories into spaces to quarantine people.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania and New Jersey order businesses, schools to close as coronavirus cases mount

— Pranshu Verma

Looking to boost your immune system? Save your money.

// Timestamp 03/17 07:22am

By now, you’ve probably seen advertisements for supplements or other products that promise to prevent the new coronavirus. Maybe your friends have talked up the wonders of high doses of vitamin C or told you that drinking water can wash away the virus.

The federal government recently warned marketers of essential oils, teas and colloidal silver to stop claiming these products can prevent the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration said there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.

The best route to a well-functioning immune system is to do what doctors always tell you to do:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fiber and whole grains.

  • Get seven to nine hours of sleep.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Try to manage your stress.

  • Stop smoking.

  • Don’t drink excessively.

» READ MORE: Can you help your immune system ward off coronavirus?

— Stacey Burling

Vulnerable students are desperate as coronavirus shuts down Philly colleges

// Timestamp 03/17 07:07am

As the coronavirus tightens its grip on the Philadelphia region and across the U.S., colleges have been pressured to move to online learning and encourage students to leave campus and return home. Their decision comes as government officials have asked schools and businesses to practice social distancing to stem the spread of the virus.

But as school resources shut down, vulnerable, low-income students are being left behind. The universities have offered to buy students’ flights home, but for some this means returning to war-torn countries and unstable households, placing financial burdens on their families.

“We feel like no one cares for us just because we don’t have the money and are somehow less important,” said Hussein Khambhalia, one of hundreds of Penn students whose application to remain on campus was denied.

Penn, which canceled its on-campus senior commencement Monday, has taken a particularly hard stance on its closure, even reaching out to parents and local landlords of off-campus housing and asking for assistance in getting students to leave.

» READ MORE:  Penn ‘left us stranded on the streets.' Vulnerable students are desperate as coronavirus shuts down Philly colleges

» READ MORE: For college seniors, coronavirus signals premature end of an era

— Ellie Rushing

March 17, 2020
I cover breaking news and general assignment stories.
I cover national politics and policy from Washington, D.C., with an emphasis on Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
When time allows, I write about where we all live — the atmosphere.
Pranshu Verma covers politics in New Jersey, with a focus on how elected officials and power brokers misuse their authority.
Joseph A. Gambardello is a Team Now morning staff writer. A former wire service reporter and foreign correspondent and New York City newspaper journalist, he joined the Inquirer in 1995 and has worked on the City, South Jersey, Features, and Online Desks.