Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here
Annually, Philadelphians have a constant to look forward to: free Rita’s Water Ice. But this year, the regional staple will be not be doing their annual first day of spring giveaway due to the spread of the coronavirus. Additionally, the virus has hit Philadelphia’s homeless population hard, and unemployment claims have spiked.
A bouquet for Philadelphia. Florists give away 2,000 flowers intended for events canceled due to the coronavirus
Philadelphia area florists came together to "flower bomb" Rittenhouse Square with flowers that were leftover from canceled events due to the coronavirus.
On a bright day during a dark time, florists brought a dose of unexpected wonder to Rittenhouse Square park Wednesday by giving away a thousand flowers to strangers — and by decorating around the square with a thousand more.
“We just want to make people smile,” said Robinson.
But they did so much more.
As unsuspecting pedestrians turned the corner and saw thousands of roses, daisies, tulips, and lilies strewn across the ground at the 19th Street entrance to the park, they were overcome with emotion.
How to apply for unemployment benefits in Pa. amid the coronavirus shutdown
As businesses and restaurants shut down Monday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, thousands of Philadelphia’s low-wage service workers are effectively jobless — and it’s unclear how long this period will last.
If you lost your job during the pandemic, file your unemployment claim online. Only do it by phone (1-888-313-7284) if the online form won’t work; it will probably take a long time to get through.
You’re likely eligible if anything about the coronavirus crisis has stopped you from working, and the benefits in Pennsylvania range from $68 per week to $561 per week.
Before coronavirus closed the U.S. border, a woman raced home from Philly to Canada
Shaun Sanders was supposed to move back to her native Canada in April, after she finished her postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at Temple University.
Then the coronavirus outbreak happened. Amid concerns that the United States might close its northern border, she packed her life into two suitcases, made her way through an eerily empty Philadelphia airport, and flew home Monday night.
“It was very crazy and emotional and scary and surreal,” she said. Yet when she woke up Wednesday morning to the news that the U.S.-Canadian border was closed to all nonessential travel, she was grateful she’d made the decision.
N.J. may use empty college dorms, pop-up tents to treat coronovirus patients, Gov. Murphy says
New Jersey may begin using pop-up tents and the dormitories of closed universities to treat people infected with COVID-19, as the number of cases across the state rapidly increases and potentially outnumbers the supply of hospital beds, Gov. Phil Murphy said in an appearance on CNN with Don Lemon Wednesday night.
Murphy said he met with the Army Corps of Engineers Wednesday, and will meet with them again Thursday, to begin identifying spaces to expand healthcare services, including wings of hospitals and entire facilities that have been closed. He said they may build pop-up tents and use empty dormitories of closed colleges for people with minor symptoms.
Bucks County reported three new coronavirus cases Wednesday night, bringing the total in the county to 12. All are adults with mild symptoms isolating at home, county officials said.
Delaware County reported five new coronavirus cases Wednesday night, bringing its total to 14.
Delaware County Council approved an agreement at its Wednesday meeting that would allow the Chester County Health Department to take the lead on the pandemic response in Delaware County, which has no health department, Council Vice Chair Monica Taylor said in a tele-town hall meeting Wednesday evening.
The agreement also must be approved by the commonwealth and was being reviewed by the Department of Health. Delaware County said the two counties would “announce authorization” for Chester County to take over at a news conference Thursday morning.
How do the coronavirus drive-through testing sites work?
Testing for the coronavirus is critical, but doctors, clinics, and even most hospitals can’t actually do the test. Drive-through sites are being erected across the region as part of a growing effort to make testing safer, faster, and more available. Here’s how they work.
— Astrid Rodrigues
Lauren Schneiderman, Tim Tai, Astrid Rodrigues
Drive-through sites are the first step in the process for getting a diagnosis of the coronavirus respiratory illness. Here's how they work.
ICE to stop most immigration enforcement inside U.S., will focus on criminals during coronavirus outbreak
U.S. immigration authorities will temporarily halt enforcement across the United States, except for its efforts to deport foreign nationals who have committed crimes or who pose a threat to public safety. The change in enforcement status comes amid the coronavirus outbreak and aims to limit the spread of the virus and to encourage those who need treatment to seek medical help.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said late Wednesday that its Enforcement and Removal Operations division will “delay enforcement actions” and use “alternatives to detention” amid the outbreak, according to a notification the agency sent to Congress.
ICE told members of Congress that its “highest priorities are to promote lifesaving and public safety activities.”
Two members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus. Over the weekend, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) developed a fever and headache, and received notice “a short while ago” that he tested positive for the virus, the Congress member said in a statement Wednesday.
After voting in Washington on Friday, Diaz-Balart said that he chose to self-quarantine in the Capitol rather than put his wife, who has pre-existing conditions, at risk in South Florida.
I'm feeling much better. However, it's important that everyone take this seriously and follow @CDCgov guidelines in order to avoid getting sick & mitigate the spread of this virus. We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times. pic.twitter.com/g5W5vSQIyH
“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said. “However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus. We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”
On Wednesday night, Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat from Utah, announced that he also had tested positive and was now self-quarantined.
By now, we all should have memorized the key symptoms of the new coronavirus that public health officials have hammered home: fever, cough and trouble breathing.
But how does this disease start? Knowing the early symptoms would help people know when to isolate themselves even more and talk to their doctors about testing.
Symptoms can be subtle, with infected people feeling only slightly under the weather for a few days, said Daniel Mueller, an infectious disease doctor at Temple University Hospital. And unlike the flu, which announces itself suddenly with fever and muscle aches, the early stages of COVID-19 can go on for a few days.
Lansdale, Atlantic City distilleries switch from making spirits to hand sanitizer
You’d probably have better luck finding a winning lottery ticket than a bottle of hand sanitizer at your local grocery or drug stores. While there’s none to be found there, since Tuesday, the folks at Boardroom Spirits Distillery in Lansdale have been making the stuff by the batch and giving it away by the bottle — for free.
“There’s a shortage, we saw the need, and as a manufacturer, we can produce it. It’s a way to help out the community,” Boardroom co-owner Marat Mamedov said Wednesday.
Boardroom, which has operated as a tasting room for five years, still makes whisky, rum, vodka and other spirits, which it sells by the bottle. They got their hand sanitizer recipe, which is about 68 percent alcohol, from the CDC website. The CDC recommends buying sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol. Close to 60 people stopped by Wednesday to fill up their bottles, said Mamedov, who added that that does not include the five liters the Norristown Police Department picked up earlier in the day. The Abington Police Department is expected to send someone to get five liters Thursday, he said.
Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, the Little Water Distillery, known for its craft spirits in the “prohibition unfriendly” seaside resort, including Liberty and Prosperity Rum and Rusted Revolver Gin, says it has also been approved to begin making limited amounts of sanitizer to help alleviate shortages.
The additional ingredients needed are glycerol and hydrogen peroxide, said Guy Zompa, director of operations at Little Water. The ethanol will be distilled on site.
The spirits will still be in full supply. “We have plenty of Rusted Revolver to go for a long time,” said Zompa. “We just made a few hundred gallons this week.”
Distilleries all over the country, including in Georgia, Oregon, and North Carolina, have started lending a hand to filling the gap created by the sanitizer shortage. Eight Oaks Farms Distillery in New Tripoli, Lehigh County, has also been cranking out hand sanitizer, owner Chad Butters said on Facebook this week.
How long will Boardroom be in hand sanitizer brewing business?
Camden County will host a virtual coronavirus town hall meeting on Facebook Live
Camden County’s Freeholder Board will host a virtual town hall meeting Thursday at 3 p.m. to address the public’s coronavirus concerns on Facebook Live.
The town hall event, streamed through the county’s Facebook page, will allow the public to use the live chat feature to ask officials, including U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross, questions about how the government is responding to the virus’ spread throughout the community.
“Fortunately, we have the infrastructure to gather virtually and hopefully in doing so, reduce some of the anxiety our residents face in this unprecedented moment in history,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr.
Pa. Supreme Court orders all county courthouses to close
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared a statewide judicial emergency and ordered all county courthouses closed to the public until April 3.
Though some core court functions — such as arraignments, bail and protection from abuse hearings and emergency civil proceedings — will continue, members of the public will be barred.
The court’s justices acknowledged the step they were taking was extreme in light of the standard presumption that the legal system should be open to the public, but they cited advice from the state’s Department of Health.
“This court is cognizant of the nature of court proceedings, during which individuals who may be carrying the virus with or without symptoms — including court staff, attorneys, litigants, other court participants and members of the public — may come into proximity with other persons,” the court wrote in its order.
Greek Orthodox Church cancels services due to coronavirus
The Greek Orthodox Church, which has a heavy presence in the Philadelphia region, said Wednesday that all liturgical services are canceled through at least March 29 at its parishes in New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania because of the coronavirus.
In a letter to priests that was shared with parishioners through emails and phone calls, Metropolitan Evangelos Kourounis said a decision on whether to reopen churches would be made at the end of March.
Churches would remain open only for private prayer, according to a separate letter from church leaders that was disseminated to parishioners at St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church in Broomall.
At the end of March, Kourounis wrote in a letter that went out to St. Sophia’s parishioners in Jeffersonville, “based on the status of the Pandemic a new directive will be issued in regards to the future celebration of the Divine Services.”
The decision to suspend all liturgies and events inside its churches comes in the middle of Greek Orthodox lent and heading into Easter services next month, viewed as the holiest holiday of the year for Greek Christians.
Gov. Tom Wolf asked all Pennsylvanians to stay home and stay away from others after the commonwealth’s first coronavirus death in Northampton County, saying the spread of the virus across the state is “increasing at an exponential pace.”
In a live-streamed address Wednesday evening, he said the only way to save lives as the pandemic worsens in Pennsylvania is for nonessential businesses to heed his request to close shop and for people to stay home.
“Today’s is just the first death of what will become many,” Wolf said, “and our only hope is to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.”
The address, which Wolf gave from an office rather than at a news conference, was the state government’s starkest acknowledgment yet that the virus is now set to spread rapidly across the state.
Officials had hoped to prevent its spread, but the coronavirus is “difficult to control,” he said. “With the knowledge of how quickly and easily this disease spreads, I ask all Pennsylvanians to stay home.”
He said it was “essential” to keep as many people as possible away from each other, even though it was “incredibly difficult” to tell businesses to close for days.
“Every day that goes by that people continue to freely interact is a day that the virus continues to unknowingly affect more and more people,” he said.
He did not provide any information about the person who died in Northampton County.
Over the past day, Penn Medicine became aware of several healthcare providers who practice across our health system who have tested positive for COVID-19. As the prevalence of the virus continues in our region, all hospitals will be forced to deal with these issues. We are uniquely well-prepared to quickly take the steps necessary to ensure the safety and protection of patients and staff during this fast-moving and challenging time. We have worked to swiftly identify and contact both patients and staff who may have been exposed to these individuals while they were working, to provide instructions for precautionary measures and self-monitoring. These providers are in quarantine at home and are adhering to all precautions recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Camden re-declares state of emergency, closes all playgrounds and self-serve food stations
Camden County re-declared a state of emergency, its freeholders announced Tuesday, extending mandatory closures for all playgrounds, public bathrooms, and self-service food and beverage stations.
Parks locations will remain open as outdoor-only facilities during regular operating hours. Self-serve stations include coffee stations, fountain drinks, roller grills, bakery cases, soup and salad bars, and condiment bars. Retailers may continue to sell food and beverage items, but an employee must hand it directly to the customer.
“In the past week, we have not seen people taking this threat seriously enough,” Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said in a news release. “Crowded playgrounds and shoulder-to-shoulder lines pouring coffee at Wawa and 7/11 are not acceptable if we are going to get through this.”
New Jersey had 427 positive cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday afternoon, and five people have died. Camden has eight confirmed cases. Camden originally declared the state of emergency on Monday to reduce governmental operations to only essential functions and allowing non-essential employees to work from home through March 31.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the closure of all schools and non-essential businesses, including casinos, beginning Tuesday. The state is also discouraging all non-emergency travel between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Restaurants can only serve take-out and delivery.
Grocery store workers are on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, and they’re anxious
At grocery stores, which have been deemed essential businesses and can remain open, thousands of workers are suddenly on the front lines of a public health crisis, contending with personal struggles beyond the terse crowds and barren shelves amid panic-buying.
These workers, with no unions to support them, have reported feeling anxious for their own personal health, criticized the absence of hazard pay and expressed discomfort over the lack of assurance of guaranteed pay should their stores close.
Whole Foods announced that starting Monday, employees would receive a $2 increase to their hourly wage and that, nationally, it would hire for 100,000 full- and part-time jobs to fulfill a spike in demand from customers who wanted online grocery deliveries.
Burlington Township identifies first coronavirus case
Burlington Township Mayor Brian J. Carlin said in a statement this afternoon that the Burlington County township has its first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus. There have been other confirmed cases in Florence, Evesham, and Delanco Townships, all in Burlington County, the statement said.
“The infected individual is under the care of the appropriate physicians and medical personnel,” the statement said, adding that due to privacy regulations, no further information was being released about the person.
The 76ers players were tested on Monday for COVID-19, according to multiple sources.
The news comes after the team announced last Thursday that it was organizing for players and staff members, who recently came in contact with players who tested positive for the disease, to be tested. At least some of the Sixers staff members are still waiting to be tested.
The tests for the players came two days after it was announced that Detroit Pistons post player Christian Wood tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Sixers defeated the Pistons, 124-106, on March 11 at the Wells Fargo Center, moments before the NBA suspended the season due to the virus.
Pa. gun background check system crashes due to heavy volume
The Pennsylvania Instant Check System for gun purchases crashed for seven hours Tuesday because of heavy volume. Still, the system processed 4,342 instant checks compared with 1,359 in the same day a year ago. “I know they’re really busy,” Pennsylvania Trooper Brent Miller said Wednesday.
That action was apparent in a strip of industrial buildings in Southampton, Bucks County, where a line of 75 men and women, some in face masks, formed outside the Classic Pistol store Wednesday afternoon to purchase guns in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m not sure what they’re scared of, but they’re scared,” said Ed Hartzel, Classic Pistol’s manager.
St. Christopher’s Hospital opens new pediatric intensive care unit, resumes trauma service
St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children on Tuesday opened a new eight-bed pediatric intensive care unit and resumed its level 1 trauma service.
The hospital closed its ICU to new patients and shut down level 1 trauma services on Friday, after a doctor tested positive for the new coronavirus. The new intensive care unit, called PICU East, is in a separate section of the hospital. The rest of the hospital also remains open.
All patients, families and staff who may have been exposed to the doctor have been instructed to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, according to a statement by Tower Health, which operates St. Christopher’s. The hospital is jointly owned by Tower and Drexel.
Senate passes multibillion dollar emergency coronavirus package
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a multibillion-dollar emergency coronavirus package Wednesday afternoon, sending the measure to President Donald Trump for his signature.
The plan, already approved by the House, requires private health insurers to cover free coronavirus testing and creates a temporary paid sick leave and family leave program for workers who have been affected by the virus or are caring for family members. The program applies to workers at companies of 500 people or fewer. It also provides $1.3 billion in emergency food aid, among other provisions.
The bill passed 90-8. Every senator from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware supported the measure.
Approval of the bill clears the way for lawmakers to turn to an economic stimulus package that could top $1 trillion. The package is expected to include direct payments to Americans as soon as April. It would include aid for airlines and other hard-hit businesses.
The vote came after the Senate blocked an amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) that would have expanded the existing unemployment insurance program instead of creating a paid-leave program. The amendment received 50 votes in support, and 48 against, but needed 60 to be approved.
Philadelphia area hospitals conserving blood amid nationwide donation shortfall
The American Red Cross and the medical facilities it supplies are experiencing a massive blood shortage as an “unprecedented” number of blood drives have been canceled regionally and across the country as workplaces and schools have closed.
More than 200 blood drives have been canceled over the last eight days in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, resulting in a shortfall of more than 7,000 blood donations, said Alana Mauger, communications manager for Red Cross Blood Services for the Penn Jersey region.
Local hospitals are working to conserve the blood supplies they have, and officials are urging healthy residents to donate blood as soon as possible.
Cape May County asks travelers to stay home after visitor tests positive for coronavirus
Cape May County Department of Health says a 30-year-old man from New York City tested positive at a local health care facility for the coronavirus disease while visiting Cape May County.
“This information is a vivid reminder that out-of-state visitors should stay home and not travel to the County during this pandemic outbreak,” the release said. “Now is not the time to travel, but to remain vigilant in following recommendations for social distancing and isolation.”
One-year-old boy among new coronavirus cases in Montgomery County
A 1-year-old boy in Royersford is among eight new coronavirus patients in Montgomery County, bringing the county total to 42, Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday.
The boy is hospitalized, Arkoosh said. She also said there were also 512 people in quarantine as of this morning.
The county will be opening at drive through testing site in Upper Dublin Township on Temple’s Ambler campus, Arkoosh said, with priority testing for first responders. This is not open today and more details were not immediately available.
Other cases announced today include:
A 51-year-old man from Lower Pottsgrove Township who is hospitalized.
A 67-year-old man from Lower Providence Township who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at his Lower Providence home.
A 46-year-old woman who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at her Lower Merion Township home.
A 59-year-old man from Montgomery Township who is hospitalized.
A 44-year-old woman who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at her Perkiomen Township home.
A 57-year-old woman who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at her Lower Merion Township home.
A 35-year-old man who is not hospitalized and is being monitored at his Springfield home.
The county is also the first in the state to move to a community spread model in tracking cases. This means they will not longer be tracing exactly how someone caught the virus because people may now get it from just “normal activity,” Arkoosh said.
There are about 5 or 6 people now where officials are not exactly sure how they became sick with the new coronavirus.
Arkoosh also said she will also stop referring to cases as “presumptive” positives, and instead simply a positive case. “This shift is not unexpected and is consistent with the progression of a highly communicable disease like COVID-19."
Pa. Dems ask Supreme Court to halt evictions, foreclosures during coronavirus pandemic
Twenty members of the state Senate Democratic Caucus Wednesday sent a letter to the state Supreme Court asking for an order halting evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter, signed by all seven Philadelphia senators, noted that evictions have already been halted in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties.
”We are requesting that you issue a statewide judicial order postponing all evictions and mortgage foreclosures until this pandemic has passed. This order will give many Commonwealth citizens the peace of mind they need during a confusing and scary period,” read the letter, which was addressed to Chief Justice Thomas Saylor.
“At this time of crisis, no individual or family should have to worry about whether or not they will be able to stay in their home or apartment,” they added.
Stacey Witalec, spokesperson for the Supreme Court, did not return a call seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the virus has hit the home of Supreme Court Justice David N. Wecht.
“Upon returning from overseas studies, one of Justice Wecht’s children tested presumptively positive for COVID-19, the result of which was first reported to him late Mon., March 16,” Witalec said in a statement. “As a result, based on medical advice, the Justice has self-quarantined along with his family.”
New Jersey adds hospital beds, testing sites as coronavirus cases increase
Two more people have died due to the coronavirus in New Jersey, bringing the statewide death toll to five, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday. He noted an additional 162 people have tested positive, bringing the state’s total positive coronavirus cases to 427.
“This is increasing with a pretty steep curve,” Murphy said, “as we had expected.”
Both individuals who died were women over 60 and had pre-existing health problems, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. One was from Hudson County, the other from Essex.
Bergen saw 27 more people test positive for the disease, the highest for any county in the state. Five people have tested positive in Camden and Burlington Counties, with four in Ocean County and three in Atlantic. Twenty-seven people are still awaiting county assignments, Persichilli said.
Murphy said the Trump administration is looking into his request to bring the Army Corps of Engineers to New Jersey to help build temporary hospital facilities. Murphy will meet with officials from the Corps Thursday.
Persichilli said New Jersey will add 260 beds to the state’s capacity Wednesday, and 227 more beds will “be online” within the next three to four weeks. Officials are also expecting to reopen Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, which would add 300 more hospital beds.
“As cases continue to increase,” Persichilli said, “our concern about the health care systems capacity also grows.”
She also said a mobile testing site, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in Bergen County will open by Friday. Priority will be given to individuals who show coronavirus like symptoms, especially if they are healthcare workers. Another site in Monmouth County should be operational next week.
Pennsylvania coronavirus cases growing at faster pace, officials say
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania has grown to 133, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Wednesday afternoon.
All infected people are in isolation or in hospitals, she said. As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,187 people have tested negative. As the number of cases grows, the state is “less able to specifically track all of these exposures,” Levine said. There are some cases where the source of the infection cannot be traced, but that is not widespread.
”We do expect sustained community spread will happen in Pennsylvania,” Levine said, adding that’s why social distancing is essential. She later added that the “exponential curve is being seen in Pennsylvania,” meaning cases are beginning to rise at a faster pace.
Levine said the state has strong mitigation efforts in place, but is also “preparing with hospitals and health systems and health care providers for the potential and likely surge of patients over the next few weeks.”
Levine also reminded Pennsylvanians who are returning from countries under a Level 2 or Level 3 travel advisory as defined by the CDC: “You are to quarantine at home and monitor your symptoms. If you become sick, please call your health care provider for testing."
"Stay calm, stay home, and stay safe,” Levine said.
Philly officials ask police to shut down Franklin Mills mall
Philadelphia officials have asked the police and city inspectors to shut down the Philadelphia Mills mall, formerly Franklin Mills, which has remained open despite a city order that nonessential businesses needed to shut down by Monday.
While the city is sending letters to other nonessential businesses that remain open, they took the step of sending inspectors and police to Philadelphia Mills “given the size of that property and frankly the irresponsibility of keeping a large gathering spot open like that,” city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. “If you can’t be responsible we will be responsible for you,” Abernathy said.
Alyssa Dinger, marketing director at Philadelphia Mills, said she could not comment. Neither the mall’s owner, Simon Properties, nor a public relations firm working for the company could be reached immediately for comment.
Simon also owns the King of Prussia Mall.
Philadelphia Mills’ website says it has modified operating hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, but that hours for individual stores and restaurants might vary.
The notice on the website cites supporting “our retailers, employees and local community, and in accordance with the latest CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19” as the reasons for “temporary” operating hours. “We are closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation with federal, state and local health officials.”
At the same time, the King of Prussia Mall’s website notes Gov. Wolf’s previous recommendation that all non-essential retail in Montgomery County close.
“Accordingly, we expect that all non-essential retail tenants of King of Prussia adhere to and comply with Gov. Wolf’s recommendation effective immediately,” the notice says. “We are closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation of COVID-19 with public health officials and will provide updates as they become available.”
A man who said he was manager of At Against All Odds, a fashion accessories store at Philadelphia Mills, said the store was open Monday and Tuesday, but that he was not sure how long it would remain open. He then rushed off the phone saying, “I have to go take care of a customer.”
Update, 2:59 p.m.: Simon Property Group, the owner of properties like the King of Prussia and Philadelphia Mills malls, announced later today it will close all of its U.S. retail properties from 7 p.m. Wednesday until March 29.
“The health and safety of our shoppers, retailers and employees is of paramount importance and we are taking this step to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” David Simon, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Simon said in a news release.
Students on federal work study may be able to keep grants
College students on federal work study may be able to keep their grants.
Temple University said it appears that at least some students who work campus jobs won’t lose their money, given that the campus has moved to online instruction and told employees to work at home. About 1,000 Temple students get the grants.
“I can share that informal guidance that we have received and formal guidance we believe is forthcoming should enable us to continue the deployment of federal work-study grants,” said Shawn L. Abbott, vice provost for admissions, financial aid and enrollment management.
But university spokesman Ray Betzner said it’s unclear how many students would be affected. Some work on campus, and some work at community organizations, Abbott said.
As the world adjusts in pandemic, Media church adjusts with it
As the world adjusts, the Rev. Ernie Galaz, rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Media, adjusts with it. Wednesday, the church set up a drive-by and walk-by communion station in the back parking lot.
This was the first time, just a half hour, got four customers, Galaz said.
He’ll do it again Sunday. They’ve also started live-streaming Sunday’s 10 a.m. service.
“We’ll also open up the church for private prayer,’’ the priests added. “Of course, we have the appropriate sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer and directions for keeping distance.”
Just before the church closed up shop, the only folks walking by were a couple of dog-walkers.
Bucks County business owner opens parking lot to truckers in coronavirus pandemic
The owner of a Bucks County technology firm is opening his parking lot to give truck drivers carrying supplies across Pennsylvania’s roadways a little relief.
Matthew Kane, the CEO of Riteload, put out a public call for drivers coming to the Philadelphia area to take a break at his office, located about five miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Willow Grove exit at 75 James Way in Southampton.
Kane said he found the state’s decision to close down rest stops “idiotic.” He knows the demands placed on drivers firsthand: His company, which launched last year, is a technology platform that connects companies directly with trucking firms.
“Understanding very well all of the hoops and hurdles and rings of fire that truck drivers have to deal with on a regular basis,” he said, “Pennsylvania is still expecting these products to be hauled and for shelves to be refilled, but they’re not willing to give them a place to rest, go the bathroom, get something to eat?”
Kane estimates he has enough room to comfortably fit about 12 to 14 trucks. He also made arrangements for porta-potties with hand sanitizer to be set up in the parking lot. “I will do this for as long as necessary,” Kane said.
“If we’re supposed to pull together at times like these in this county, this is me doing my part.”
Drivers interested in parking at Kane’s lot are asked to call 267-333-8844.
“I am inclined to believe that ridership has bottomed out," said John Hanson, CEO of the Delaware River Port Authority, which runs PATCO. Falling ridership, and consideration for “the sustainability of the PATCO operations” fueled the decision to further modify PATCO’s schedule from initial changes riders saw Tuesday, Hanson said. The adjustments allow for appropriate social distancing, keeping operators healthy, and less need for maintenance.
ICYMI: PATCO has made additional adjustments to the weekday schedule.
Trains will arrive every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. as part of the changes.
Roads are lighter, too. On Tuesday, crossings on DRPA bridges fell by about 35 percent from year-to-date weekday averages. The DRPA operates the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross Bridges.
“The advice from all the public health officials is people should stay in if they can, and I support that," Hanson said. "People should stay in, and by extension, that means don’t go out if you don’t have to, don’t use mass transit if you don’t have to.”
White House takes steps to allow faster shipping of ventilators, masks amid coronavirus pandemic
The federal government took additional steps on Wednesday to speed up its response to the coronavirus outbreak that had killed more than 100 people and sickened more than 7,500 as of Wednesday afternoon.
President Trump said he has invoked the Defense Production Act, which could allow medical supplies including ventilators and masks to be produced and shipped out more rapidly, and has activated FEMA’s highest level of response nationwide. Hours after he announced the closure of the U.S.-Canadian border, Trump said they planned to close the border with Mexico, as well.
Two Navy hospital ships, the Mercy and the Comfort, will be deployed on the east and west coasts in preparation for an influx of patients at hospitals. The Comfort will be stationed in New York and the Mercy will dock somewhere on the west coast “in the next week or so depending on the need,” Trump said during an hourlong press conference.
He also said health officials may soon be able to do “self swab” tests, though he didn’t indicate when that might be or how that would help deal with the testing shortage.
For people worried about paying their rents or mortgages, he said the Department of Housing and Urban Development would suspend evictions and foreclosures through the end of April.
While announcing these measures, the President doubled down on his insistence on calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus” despite criticism that the wording is racist, encourages bigotry toward Asian Americans, and is unfair given that the virus affects everyone.
When Trump was asked by a reporter why he has used that language this week, he said: “It comes from China. That’s why. I want to be accurate.”
New Jersey closes One-Stop Career offices to prevent coronavirus spread
The New Jersey Department of Labor said it has closed all One-Stop Career Center offices to the public in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard the health of state employees and customers.
The office offers services including job search assistance, training and education assistance, and technology resources to those seeking employment.
"NJDOL is experiencing extraordinarily high online volume and longer than usual call wait times,” the state website says. Operations are expected to reopen March 30, according to the state’s website. For now, the department is urging Jersey residents who need to file for unemployment or other benefits to apply online at MyUnemployment.nj.gov or MyLeaveBenefits.nj.gov.
Before applying, customers should check to see if they are eligible to apply for Unemployment Insurance, Temporary Disability or Family Leave Insurance, or Workers’ Compensation. Here’s a guide.
Though all existing appointments are canceled, state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo assured customers that a department staffer will contact them in the future to reschedule.
Nursing homes are running out of protective equipment amid coronavirus pandemic
A national organization that represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities said Wednesday there already are sporadic shortages of protective equipment for staff and that 20% of facilities say they could run out of masks and gowns next week. Another 20% would run out the week after that, according to the American Health Care Association.
The group is calling for people who do not currently need protective equipment to share their inventories with medical providers and it lauded dentists in Ohio for doing so. It also said it has talked with the CDC about stretching supplies by doing things like wearing masks for a longer period of time.“We need to really take drastic action to conserve masks and gowns going forward,” said David Gifford, the organization’s chief medical director.
Based on news reports, Gifford said he was aware of 20 to 30 facilities that have had cases of the new disease. He said facilities should “assume it’s in your community and take action now.”
Atlantic County identifies first case of coronavirus
Health officials at the Jersey Shore have reported that an Atlantic County man in his 60s with underlying health conditions has tested positive for COVID-19, the first confirmed case in Atlantic County. The patient is currently being treated at home while health officials conduct further investigations, according to a release from Atlantic County.
Direct contacts will be notified and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days as directed by the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control.
A commercial lab confirmed the positive test results late Tuesday, the county said.
“While this is unfortunate news, it is not unexpected,” County Executive Dennis Levinson said in the release.
Pa. deems agriculture as vital, says farmers should keep working but with extra caution
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has deemed farms, greenhouses, orchards, and other food-related businesses as essential and need to continue to operate amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The list includes agriculture equipment businesses, veterinary services, food inspectors, and transportation services that bring food from processors to manufacturers to grocery stores.
In a statement, state agriculture secretary Russell Redding urged those in the agriculture industry to follow safety protocol to mitigate the risk of coronavirus transmission. All farms should establish contingency plans — which the state referred to continuity of business plans — if the virus interrupts normal operations. Officials said small farms could face more difficulties if they have just one owner or limited staff.
If a farm worker contracts coronavirus and needs to be hospitalized or quarantined, the state said the farm should have written documentation that asks neighbors or family to assume farm operations.
The announcement emphasized farms should be vigilant about cleaning, from washing trucks after leaving each place it travels to and sanitizing drop-off receptacles.
Pennsylvania to join the N.Y., N.J. and Conn. coronavirus 'coalition,’ Cuomo says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that Pennsylvania would join his “coalition” indicating statewide social restrictions that apply to New York would also apply to Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut.
“None of these measures work unless you have a large enough geographic basis,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “People will just move ... The geographic footprint, by definition, is essential for this to work.”
In the same press conference, Cuomo mandated that no non-essential business can have more than 50 percent of its employees working outside their homes. It was not immediately clear whether that applied to Pennsylvania businesses, as well.
Where coronavirus testing is available in the Philly area
If you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, which can include a dry cough and fever, and think you should be tested, you may be able to get a test in your area. But you can’t just show up to the testing sites. First, call your primary care doctor or schedule a virtual consultation if that option is available. They will evaluate your symptoms and determine whether to refer for a test. Here are the locations of testing sites:
West Philadelphia (Penn Medicine)
Center City (Jefferson Health)
Northeast Philadelphia (Jefferson Health)
South Philadelphia by the stadiums (coming soon)
Two sites in Radnor (Penn Medicine and Main Line Health)
Newtown Square (Main Line Health)
Abington (Jefferson Health)
Ambler (Temple University campus; coming soon)
Camden County College in Blackwood (coming soon)
Cherry Hill (Cooper Health)
Again, you must consult a doctor and get a referral before being tested. Here are some ways you can start the process: Penn Medicine patients can call 215-615-2222 or use the MyPennMedicine app. Jefferson Health patients can go to hospitals.jefferson.edu/jeffconnect. Main Line Heath patients can call 866-225-5654.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said residents can now call 2-1-1 for questions and concerns about the coronavirus. He said residents can still call the original COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-962-1253 or 1-800-222-1222. Residents can also text NJCOVID to 898-211 to receive updates on their phones.
Penn State postpones graduation in face of pandemic
Pennsylvania State University has joined a growing number of schools regionally and nationally that have postponed commencement and moved instruction online for the rest of the semester due COVID-19 outbreak.
"Graduation is a significant milestone for our students and while it may not be the same as our traditional ceremony, we are committed to finding the best way possible to recognize the achievements of our graduates,” Penn State President Eric J. Barron said in a statement to the campus. “However, as the world works together to slow the spread of COVID-19, these decisions must be made with public health at the forefront along with the health and wellness of our students, faculty, staff, their families, and our local communities.”
The state’s flagship university soon will announce a schedule for students to return to campus and retrieve their belongings. The University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College and La Salle University also have announced they will have no on-campus commencement, but are planning alternatives.
Philly teachers told to halt remote instruction due to equity concerns
Philadelphia teachers may no longer offer remote instruction to students, according to a memo sent by the Philadelphia School District to principals Tuesday night.
“To ensure equity, remote instruction should not be provided to students, including through the internet, technology at home, by phone or otherwise,” said the memo, which was obtained by The Inquirer.
“Students should not be required to complete new assignments or homework activities. Schools may not make independent decisions to provide remote instruction at this time. As guidance and circumstances continue to unfold, we will provide updates as necessary.”
It was unclear how many students would be affected by the edict.
The memo was signed by Naomi Wyatt, the superintendent’s chief of staff, and by Malika Savoy-Brooks, the Chief Academic Support Officer, and cited recent guidance from the state and federal education departments.
“...We may not offer remote instruction to some students unless we can serve all children,” Wyatt and Savoy-Brooks wrote. “As we all know, some of our students have special instructional needs, some lack access to a computer, and some will have responsibility for taking care of younger siblings or older relatives while their parents are at work. As a result, the district is not able to provide remote instruction during the period of school closures to all children.”
Teachers at some Philadelphia schools had been offering optional remote instruction on their own before the edict went out; there was no formal program of instruction. Instead, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has encouraged parents to engage children in learning activities during the coronavirus shutdown, and has made learning guides available to families through the district’s website.
Regional law enforcement agencies grapple with how to respond amid pandemic
Law enforcement agencies in the region are coming to grips with how to handle crime amid the coronavirus pandemic by changing policies on issues such as dealing with minor crimes and how to patrol neighborhoods without coming in close contact with residents.
In New Jersey, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Monday issued guidelines to law-enforcement agencies across the state, telling agencies to consider delaying the filing of charges in cases not imminently impacting public safety.
New Jersey State Police stations are being cleaned twice daily and have glass partitions in station lobbies to protect troopers and visitors, Grewal said. He urges local departments to do the same.
Meanwhile, Camden County Police Department Chief Joseph Wysocki, posted on Facebook that there will be increased police presence at several Camden grocery stores to ensure the areas around them are safe, and that the stores can manage the flow of residents.
Officers will also continue to patrol neighborhoods, address crime and public safety, respond to calls for assistance from residents. But, he said, they will implement new safety measures that might require residents to meet police outside.
In suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia, prosecutors and law enforcement leaders are stressing that the coronavirus response has not disrupted how crimes are dealt with, only altered it slightly.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub met with police chiefs and health department officials to create policies on how to share manpower and keep first responders safe.
“We’re all human beings first, we’re all in this together, but we need to maintain order,” Weintraub said. “And we need to give the public confidence that order is being maintained, especially in a time of crisis like this.”
Dispatchers in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties, will handle minor incidents that are not in progress, such as thefts or fraud, over the phone. Officers will only be dispatched if needed and will maintain a safe distance from callers outside their homes.
“The bottom line is to try to use common sense to stay safe and let people know that the police are still answering calls,” Weintraub said.
Mobile COVID-19 testing site to open at Camden County College
A mobile coronavirus testing site will open at Camden County College in Blackwood shortly, according to Camden county spokesperson Dan Keashen.
The exact date won’t be known “until we get the necessary equipment,” Keashen said. Officials are awaiting personal protective equipment and testing kits. Camden County Freeholder Director Louis J. Cappelli Jr. has noted in previous days these are in short supply.
The site will be county run, and individuals will be required to show symptoms and have a referral note from their doctor to get tested at the site, Keashen said. This comes as mobile testing sites are being propped up across the region by providers like Penn Medicine, Jefferson Health and Main Line Health so more people can get tested as the coronavirus spreads. The stadium complex in South Philadelphia also is in line to get a test site.
Stocks fell again Wednesday as the coronavirus outbreak continues to take a toll on the economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 1,300 points overnight, while the S&P 500 fell 5%. Amid this public health crisis, Wall Street experienced its worst day in decades on Monday, with the Dow Jones dropping 3,000 points.
This news come as cities around the United States, including Philadelphia, increase social restrictions in an attempt to slow the virus’ spread. As of Wednesday morning, nearly 6,500 cases had been reported in all 50 states, and 114 people had died. 17 people have recovered.
Police Commissioner Outlaw: We are not ‘turning a blind eye to crime’
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw moved early Wednesday to clarify a temporary policy on delaying arrests in non-violent cases during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the Police Department is not “turning a blind eye to crime.”
“Persons who commit certain non-violent offenses will be arrested at the scene,” she said. "Once their identity has been confirmed, they will be released and processed via arrest warrant.
“This is similar to the ‘summons process’ that is utilized in many other counties throughout the Commonwealth,” Outlaw said. “An officer still has the authority to utilize discretion, and take an offender into physical custody for immediate processing, if the officer and supervisor believe the individual poses a threat to public safety.”
She said a number of plainclothes officers are being put back into uniform to increase the visible police presence.
“To reiterate, criminal offenders will be held accountable for the crimes they commit,” she said.
The Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement supporting the policy, which is aimed at protecting the health of officers and the public and to manage jail crowding. The policy covers narcotics offenses, thefts, burglary, vandalism, prostitution, stolen cars, economic crimes, such as bad checks and fraud, and any existing bench warrants.