• Significant developments

  • Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here.

  • Dozens of presumed positive cases of the virus have been reported in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with the case count escalating daily.

  • Gov. Tom Wolf ordered restaurants and bars in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties to close their dine-in facilities starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

  • The CDC recommended gatherings of 50 people or more in the U.S. should be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks.

  • The Federal Reserve took emergency action to help the economy withstand the coronavirus by slashing its benchmark interest rate to near zero.

  • The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has opened a 24/7 coronavirus helpline staffed by medical professionals: 1-800-722-7112.

Read the latest Philadelphia-area coronavirus updates here

// Timestamp 03/16 09:12am

As the coronavirus tightens its grip on the Philadelphia region, staffing issue have caused cancellations for SEPTA Regional Rail trains, local bars and restaurants are changing course to cope with the shutdown, and a Pennsylvania distillery is switching from making spirits to hand sanitizer.

» LIVE COVERAGE FOR MARCH 16: SEPTA cancels trains amid coronavirus outbreak; New Jersey enacts statewide curfew, limits gatherings

Burlington County government offices closing to the public

// Timestamp 03/15 11:11pm

Starting Monday, most Burlington County offices will be closed to the public indefinitely, the Board of Chosen Freeholders announced Sunday night. The exceptions include the Board of Social Services. The county Superior Court also will remain open.

All county employees are expected to report for work, the announcement said.

The Burlington County Animal Shelter will open for pet recovery only.

The nutritional program for Woman, Infants and Children will open for scheduled appointments on Monday. After that, WIC cash assistance will continue, but all other services will cease, the county said.

— Diane Mastrull

NJ Motor Vehicle Commission closed for two weeks

// Timestamp 03/15 10:55pm

New Jersey drivers are getting a reprieve from the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission.

All driver licenses that expire before May 31 have been extended by two months, chief administrator Sue Fulton announced. That goes for non-driver IDs, vehicle registrations, and inspection stickers, too.

The agency and road testing facilities are closed for the next two weeks, and are anticipated to re-open on March 30.

Most renewals, replacements, and changes of address can be handled online at njmvc.gov.

— Catherine Dunn

Wolf orders restaurants and bars to close dine-in facilities in 5 counties

// Timestamp 03/15 9:47pm

Restaurants and bars in five Pennsylvania counties must close their dine-in facilities starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Sunday night.

The order applies to Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties for the next 14 days.

Carry-out, delivery, and drive-through service can continue, the governor’s office said, but people can’t stay to eat or drink inside. Businesses could face enforcement actions if they don’t comply.

As coronavirus continues to spread “it is in the best interest of the public to encourage social distancing by closing restaurants and bars temporarily,” Wolf said in statement.

New York City’s mayor also said he would sign an executive order to limit restaurants and bars to take-out and delivery service only, effective Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. Night clubs, movie theaters and concert venues will also have to close, Mayor Bill De Blasio said.

— Catherine Dunn

Delco government offices closed

// Timestamp 03/15 9:29pm

Delaware County government offices will be closed to the public on Monday, with staffing reduced. Residents can contact offices by phone, but they won’t be able to visit the county’s Government Center building in person, a spokesperson said.

Activity at Delco courts will be limited. On Monday and Tuesday, the Court of Common Pleas will suspend operations, though a judge will be available at the courthouse during business hours “to hear temporary protection from abuse applications,” according to the county.

The Delaware County Magisterial Courts will only be open for preliminary criminal arraignments, and to review temporary protection from abuse requests after hours.

The county said it will release more info about operations in the coming days.

— Catherine Dunn

Virtua Health adopts no-visitation policy

// Timestamp 03/15 9:15pm

Virtua Health announced Sunday evening that a no-visitation policy will go into effect at midnight for all of its inpatient and outpatient locations to help contain the spread of coronavirus.

The policy affects all five of the health system’s hospitals and some 275 other care locations, a spokesman said.

Virtua’s two long-term care facilities, in Mt. Holly and Berlin, had already barred visitors for most of the past week.

Limited exceptions are being made for terminally-ill patients, laboring mothers, neonatal intensive care units, and pediatric patients. Caregivers for patients having same-day surgeries and procedures will also be allowed in. Visitors who are coughing or show other sings of illness will not be permitted.

“These difficult decisions serve to safeguard the health and well-being of South Jersey. residents,” said Dr. John Matsinger, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Virtua appreciates the support and sacrifices of the community as we work together to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

The five affected hospitals are Virtua Marlton Hospital, Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mt. Holly, Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, Virtua Voorhees, and Virtua Willingboro.

— Becky Batcha

NJ rep Andy Kim closes DC office after coronavirus case confirmed on his floor

// Timestamp 03/15 9:05pm

South Jersey Rep. Andy Kim is closing his Washington, D.C. office “until further notice due to a confirmed case of coronavirus on the floor where his office is located,” his office announced Sunday night.

Kim's Washington, D.C. staff will telework until the office can reopen.

“These are serious times, and I’ve made this decision with the safety of my staff and the hundreds of people each week who visit my offices in mind,” Kim, of Burlington County, said in a statement. His office is in the Longworth House Office Building.

Last week, Kim joined the many House and Senate members who stopped accepting walk-in visits because of the pandemic.

A short time later, Rep. David Schweikert (R., Ariz.), whose Washington office is near Kim’s, announced that “a member of our DC team" has tested positive for the coronavirus. “They are resting comfortably at home and following guidance from local health officials,” Schweikert said in a news release. Kim’s offices are 1516 Longworth. Schweikert’s are at 1526 Longworth.

— Jonathan Tamari

CDC recommends canceling gatherings of 50 people or more for next eight weeks

// Timestamp 03/15 8:38pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended gatherings of 50 people or more in the U.S. should be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks in a clear sign more stringent restrictions on public life are coming as the coronavirus spreads nationwide.

The CDC indicated the recommendation doesn’t apply to the day-to-day operations of organizations like schools, colleges and businesses, and “is not intended to supersede the advice of local public health officials.”

In Philadelphia, all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people are prohibited and city officials have previously recommended canceling or postponing any event with more than 250 people.

— Anna Orso

Ocean City cancels iconic Shore events

// Timestamp 03/15 8:26pm

Ocean City, N.J. announced the canceling of some popular and iconic Shore events through the end of April. These include: OC Con (a comic and memorabilia show), Girls Weekend, the Great Egg Hunts on the beach, the Easter Sunrise Service and other Easter events, the Doo Dah Parade, the Mr. Mature America Pageant and the Sports Memorabilia Show, among others.

In addition, as of Tuesday, March 17, the Ocean City Community Center (including the Ocean City Free Public Library, Aquatic and Fitness Center, Arts Center, Historical Museum and Senior Center) will be closed. The Ocean City Sports and Civic Center and other city facilities also will be closed, and all Recreation Department programs suspended until further notice, the city said in a release.

“These closings and cancellations are based on recommendations that one of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus is to avoid large, crowded gatherings,” the city said.

— Amy Rosenberg

N.J. suspends visits to juvenile correctional facilities

// Timestamp 03/15 7:35pm

New Jersey is suspending visits to juvenile correctional facilities for the next 30 days, effective immediately.

State officials said they will make additional phone calls available for free, and expand access to video visits between families and residents. Visits by attorneys won’t be affected by the new restrictions.

Maintaining family connection and support “is fundamental to helping young people grow and thrive,” said Jennifer LeBaron, acting executive director of the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission. “However, we are in the midst of a public health crisis, and ensuring the safety and well-being of our youth, staff, and the public is our number one priority.”

— Catherine Dunn

Philly DA Krasner rethinks bail, charging

// Timestamp 03/15 7:29pm

Prosecutors and defense lawyers expressed grave concerns about returning Monday morning to Philadelphia’s criminal courthouse, known for its crowded jury room, packed elevators and cramped courtrooms. Unlike a growing number of other jurisdictions, Philadelphia’s First Judicial District is so far keeping courts open for business, and even calling jurors to report for duty.

On Sunday, the Defenders Union wrote a letter pleading with the courts to rethink those plans, sharply reduce the number of people in jails and juvenile placement facilities, and move to a “full shutdown of court operations, including preliminary hearings, trials, violations hearings, and status listings.”

And District Attorney Larry Krasner confirmed that his office is already revising its policies around charging and bail, acting in a growing recognition that the coronavirus poses a very real public safety problem.

“There are active conversations between different entities about what comes next,” Krasner said. “I look forward to the decisions the police are going to make about arrests. In light of whatever they choose to do, we are going to have to make decisions about whether we charge or not, and we are going to have to make decisions about whether to seek to have people in custody if they are charged.”

A memo from his charging chief, obtained by the Inquirer, advised prosecutors only to make specific bail requests in serious cases, including gun and domestic violence cases.

— Samantha Melamed

» READ MORE: As coronavirus fears bear down on Philly courts and jails, DA Krasner rethinks bail, charging

Philly-area hospitals prepare for staffing gaps as schools close

// Timestamp 03/15 6:56pm

Whether widespread school closures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey starting Monday will cause staffing disruptions at Philadelphia-area hospitals is a guessing game, health system officials said Sunday.

There was a good sign last week at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, in East Norriton, which “experienced no call outs on Friday when Montgomery County was essentially shut down,” Einstein spokesperson Damien Woods said.

Health systems are preparing for staffing disruptions by shifting schedules to accommodate nurses and other staffers who have no childcare options, redeploying employees who had been working at now-cancelled community events to relieve pressure in direct care, and allowing employees to work at home, if possible.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System announced the Penn Medicine Employee Assistance Fund, which will provide up to a million dollars in grants and interest-free loans to assist employees dealing with unexpected financial challenges, including childcare needs.

At Tower Health, a nonprofit that owns seven hospitals, managers have been asked to devise alternate schedules for employees, such as allowing staff to come in for hours or shifts outside their normal work schedule, according to Tower spokesperson Richard Wells.

— Harold Brubaker

» READ MORE: Philly-area hospitals watching for staffing gaps as coronavirus closes schools

Lower Merion School District prepares for remote learning; Upper Darby puts plan on hold

// Timestamp 03/15 6:20pm

As schools across Pennsylvania shut down for two weeks over coronavirus, the Lower Merion School District is planning to begin a remote learning program for students on Wednesday and is working to provide families with access to technology, district officials said.

Families whose students need devices to participate in online learning should call 610-645-1910 and leave a message with their information, district spokesperson Amy Buckman said in an email to families Sunday. She said Comcast is offering two months of free internet access to students who need it through its Internet Essentials program, which families can receive by calling 1-855-8-INTERNET.

Meanwhile in the Upper Darby School District, Superintendent Dan McGarry told families Sunday that the district's plan to provide educational opportunities to students was on hold in light of new guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The department said Sunday that schools were not required to provide education to students during the closures. If they do, they must provide "full access" to education for all students, including students with disabilities, the department said.

“Given our current resources and lack of appropriate funding, we cannot guarantee equal access to the educational opportunities we have created within these guidelines,” McGarry said in the letter.

— Maddie Hanna

Fed slashes interest rates to zero, eases bank rules

// Timestamp 03/15 5:50pm

The Federal Reserve took emergency action Sunday to help the economy withstand the coronavirus by slashing its benchmark interest rate to near zero and saying it would buy $700 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds.

The Fed’s surprise announcement signaled its concern that the viral outbreak will depress economic growth in the coming months and that it’s prepared to do whatever it can counter the risks. It said it would keep its key rate at a range between zero and 0.25% until it feels confident that the economy can survive what’s become a sudden near-shutdown of economic activity in the United States.

The central bank will buy $500 billion of Treasury securities and $200 billion of mortgage-backed securities — an effort to smooth over market disruptions that have made it hard for banks and large investors to sell Treasuries as well as to keep longer-term rates borrowing rates down. The disruptions in the Treasury market sent the yield on the 10-year Treasury rising last week, an unusual move that threatens to push borrowing costs for mortgages and credit cards higher.

— Associated Press

» READ MORE: Fed takes emergency steps to slash rates and ease bank rules

American Airlines halts flights between Philadelphia and U.K.

// Timestamp 03/15 5:20pm

One last American Airlines flight from London to Philadelphia is scheduled for Monday, as the latest U.S. restrictions on international travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland are set to take effect that night.

American Airlines, which dominates about 70% of the traffic at Philadelphia International Airport, has already suspended five other routes between Philly and Europe, through May 6.

Starting over the weekend, passengers returning from 26 European countries, in addition to China and Iran, had to enter the U.S. through 13 approved airports for coronavirus screening. PHL is not one of those airports.

On Saturday, PHL said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will look for “visible signs of illness” among arriving travelers.

The airport said that “all international passengers from countries affected by COVID-19 will also receive a printed guide” issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising those travelers to stay home for 14 days and watch for symptoms including a fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Passengers are now allowed to bring bigger containers of hand sanitizer through security – up to 12 ounces – according to TSA.

— Catherine Dunn

» READ MORE: American Airlines halts flights between Philadelphia and Europe

Some Montgomery County businesses shut down; others carry on for now

// Timestamp 03/15 4:37pm

An array of businesses along Philadelphia’s Main Line all had the same eerie message posted in their windows Sunday: “Per Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders, we will be closed until further notice.”

Thousands of locally and corporate-owned shops, restaurants, and fitness studios locked their doors across Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, and Chester Counties after Pennsylvania officials announced Saturday that all “nonessential” businesses should close to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Officials warned that if the businesses didn’t comply, the governor or state’s secretary of health could force their closure by invoking a law intended to protect public health.

But some others like Starbucks, Hip City Veg, and Puns Toy Shop remained open. Some said their corporate manager or owner hadn’t yet ordered closure. Others vowed to remain open until "someone comes knocking on our door and tells us the party’s over.”

— Ellie Rushing

» READ MORE: Along Philly’s Main Line, business closures make for an eerily quiet Sunday

» READ MORE: To close or not to close: Restaurant and bar owners wrestle with coronavirus dilemma

Seventh coronavirus case linked to the University of Delaware

// Timestamp 03/15 4:22pm

Another person connected to the University of Delaware has tested positive for the coronavirus, Delaware state health officials announced Sunday. The newest case, a New Castle County woman who is under the age of 30, brings the total number of cases linked to the Newark, Del., campus to seven.

The woman is “not severely ill," officials said, and is recovering in isolation at home. The exact source of her exposure is under investigation.

The University of Delaware is one of many universities that has moved courses online and required students move out within the week.

Aside from those seven cases, there have been no other positive cases in the state of Delaware.

— Erin McCarthy

» READ MORE: West Chester University cancels all in-person classes because of coronavirus, instruction will go online

N.J. has 31 new coronavirus cases, most in North Jersey, and is considering statewide curfew

// Timestamp 03/15 3:53pm

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Sunday announced 31 new presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 98 people. As previously reported, two of those people have died.

While there are presumptive positive cases in 13 of the state’s 21 counties, the majority are clustered in North Jersey, where local officials have taken increasingly drastic steps — including a curfew in Hoboken — to limit the spread of the virus.

South Jersey has seen fewer presumptive positive cases. There are four in Burlington County and two in Camden County, though Murphy said he expects cases to be found in every county as testing continues.

Murphy on Sunday announced a statewide school closure, with officials planning to announce details on Monday.

Murphy also announced more aggressive social distancing tactics are coming to limit the spread of the virus. All state departments will establish protocols for employees to work from home by Wednesday.

» READ MORE: All New Jersey schools will be ordered to close, Gov. Phil Murphy says

He also said officials are considering a statewide curfew. The mayor of Hoboken enacted a citywide curfew there, and officials in Teaneck, Bergen County, ordered private businesses to close and issued directives limiting the number of people allowed inside grocery stores.

Murphy urged all New Jerseyans to practice social distancing by avoiding crowds and public gatherings of any kind and hinted that the state will lower the threshold of its recommendation to avoid crowds of more than 250 people.

“There is too much business as usual,” he said. “We need not just most of us, but all of us to follow suit.”

He added: “Expect to hear more... on steps we’re going to take to much more aggressively enforce that.”

To that end, Murphy said ordering the closure of Atlantic City casinos is under “intense consideration.” The casinos remained open Sunday, which Murphy said was allowed initially because “the casino floors are so expansive that the ability to keep social distancing has been acceptable.”

“We need to deploy much more aggressive statewide action,” Murphy said, “to make sure people are shaken from this ‘business as usual.’”

Anna Orso

Have jury duty in Philly on Monday? You may still be on the hook.

// Timestamp 03/15 4:54pm

While precautionary measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus have shut down schools, shuttered nonessential stores, and prompted businesses to direct their employees to work from home, if you have jury duty this week in Philadelphia, you’re still on the hook.

The city’s court system is still moving ahead with civil and criminal trials. Courts in Montgomery, Delaware and Bucks Counties and federal courts across Philadelphia and its suburbs have all suspended the commencement of new proceedings requiring juries.

The Philadelphia Jury Commission announced it would take some limited precautions in a notice to prospective jurors Friday. Those included sending fewer jury summonses starting Monday, encouraging social distancing in jury rooms, and limiting the number of people allowed in the central juror waiting area to 200 or less in accordance with state guidelines that have discouraged mass gatherings.

Even so, on any average Monday morning, the lobby of the Juanita Kidd Stout Criminal Justice Center in Center City is packed with crowds of lawyers, defendants, and spectators often a hundred or more deep — all jockeying to squeeze into one of the building’s few elevators to make it to appointed courtrooms on time.

Common Pleas Administrative Judge Jacqueline F. Allen said Friday in an email to her colleagues that the Sheriff’s Office would be taking extra steps to control the flow of people near the elevator bays Monday morning. She also warned the judges to expect more no-show jurors than normal and suggested postponing trials involving defendants currently out on bail.

“Because of the public health crisis, we can expect the number of citizens reporting for jury duty to decline over time,” Allen wrote. “We’re working in an evolving environment that requires modifications to accommodate the changing circumstance.”

Courts in other parts of the region are proceeding as follows, as of Sunday afternoon:

Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware Counties have suspended all new civil and criminal trials through March 27. In addition, the Montgomery County courthouse and all court offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Federal courts in Philadelphia and its eight surrounding Pennsylvania counties have suspended new jury trials through April 13.

All courthouses, aside from Montgomery County, remain open and proceedings not requiring juries will occur on a limited basis. All court jurisdictions are telling prospective jurors with symptoms of the coronavirus to seek postponements of their jury service.

Federal courts in the Philadelphia and its eight surrounding Pennsylvania counties have also done so through April 13.

Chester County is encouraging anyone with jury duty this week to call (610) 344-6174 after 2 p.m. Sunday evening to see if their presence is still required. President Judge John Hall has suspended the commencement of new civil trials and granted all Common Pleas Court judges in the county the authority to postpone criminal trials beyond normal limits and order civil cases to mandatory mediation in hopes of avoiding unnecessary trials.

New Jersey’s state courts have suspended all new civil and criminal trials indefinitely. New trials in federal court in the state are continuing.

All courthouses remain open and proceedings not requiring juries will occur on a limited basis. All court jurisdictions are telling prospective jurors with symptoms of the coronavirus to seek postponements of their jury service.

— Jeremy Roebuck

Rutgers professor tests positive for the virus

// Timestamp 03/15 2:08pm

A Rutgers University biomedical engineering professor who works at the Piscataway campus has tested positive for the virus, the university announced Sunday.

It’s the first known case at New Jersey’s flagship institution.

The biomedical engineering building is on the Busch campus in Piscataway, which is being cleaned and disinfected, the school said. The professor was exposed in late February, but not at Rutgers.

“He has been self-isolating, is currently doing well, and has the full support of the university,” Antonio Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

“In a community of nearly 100,000 students, faculty and staff, it is reasonable to expect that this is only the first of several incidents of COVID-19 that will involve members of our community,” Calcado’s statement said.

The professor had close contact with a limited number of individuals at Rutgers, and they have been notified, the school said. They have all been asked to self isolate.

— Susan Snyder

In Philly, four new coronavirus cases diagnosed in past 24 hours

// Timestamp 03/15 1:51pm

Philadelphia now has eight cases of the coronavirus, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Sunday afternoon, after four new cases were diagnosed in the last 24 hours. This would bring the state total to 65. Pennsylvania reported earlier today that the total was 63.

“We expect the cases to grow rapidly,” Farley said. The new cases include a male in his 30s who was exposed to international travelers, a male in his 30s with no known contact with other cases, a female in her 60s who was exposed to travelers who came down with the virus, and a male in his 20s.

Farley said these cases show that people are coming down with the virus after contact with individuals who have not yet shown symptoms. About 45 additional people are awaiting test results in Philadelphia, he said.

Farley said that he is now advising physicians to broaden testing to individuals who could be at lower risk for the virus and up to this point had been denied tests.

That opportunity has been made possible through increased testing capacity from private laboratories, Farley said. The University of Pennsylvania is also working to be able to offer rapid test results.

“Testing has hampered our response,” he said, noting that he hopes increased testing will allow for the identification of more cases.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Philadelphia would still not recommend closing businesses, despite such recommendations going into place in surrounding counties.

“This is a hyper local situation, and I think we are continuously balancing how do we maintain social order as well as make sure people are protected," he said. "As we manage through this health-care crisis, we’re also trying to manage through deep, deep poverty.”

Abernathy noted that the city has not, however, “taken anything off the table” to confront the virus as the situation evolves.

— Laura McCrystal, Aubrey Whelan

Pennsylvania cases now number 63

// Timestamp 03/15 00:24pm

The number of coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania has grown to 63, state officials said Sunday.

The state Health Department announced an additional 16 cases: "one in Allegheny County; one in Bucks County; two in Cumberland County; one in Delaware County; one in Lehigh County; one in Luzerne County; three in Monroe County; four in Montgomery County; and two in Philadelphia County.”

As of Sunday afternoon, 446 people had been tested in Pennsylvania, which has a population of 12.8 million.

“Right now, you have a higher chance of testing positive for COVID-19 if you have traveled to a country or state with known community outbreaks or have come in contact with someone who has the virus,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in a statement.

"We are working with the health-care community across Pennsylvania to keep them informed, consult on patient testing, and ensuring they have the resources they need to care for patients,” Levine said.

State officials are not planning to hold an in-person press briefing Sunday.

— Sarah Anne Hughes

As pandemic worsens, will Philadelphia have enough hospital beds for the sickest patients?

// Timestamp 03/15 11:59am

Even under the most conservative estimates, perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 adults in the United States could need intensive care due to the coronavirus infection over the coming months, epidemiologists say.

Yet the nation’s hospitals have fewer than 70,000 adult intensive-care beds, three-quarters of which already are occupied.

If the bulk of those gravely ill coronavirus patients get sick during a short period of time, hospitals will be under tremendous strain, said Jeremy M. Kahn, professor of critical care medicine and health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh.

— Tom Avril

» READ MORE: Coronavirus could mean even hospital-rich Philly won’t have enough intensive-care beds, experts warn

N.J. is considering a statewide curfew

// Timestamp 03/15 11:48am

New Jersey officials are considering a statewide curfew to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy told a radio station Sunday morning.

Hoboken already implemented one — from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — starting Monday.

Murphy was asked about curfews and also self-quarantine after Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin called for a citywide self-quarantine for the Bergen County town hit hard by COVID-19.

“We’re not there at a statewide level on either of those steps, but we could be," Murphy said on WBLS-FM 107.5. "The curfew is probably, of the two, is probably the more immediate one under consideration.”

Murphy on Saturday night announced the second death in the state from coronavirus, a woman in her 50s who was being cared for at CentraState Medical Center in Monmouth County.

Earlier, he had announced 19 new positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 69.

— Associated Press

» READ MORE: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says officials are considering statewide curfew

Philly church offers drive-through communion

// Timestamp 03/15 11:32am

At the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Overbrook Park, congregants received blessings on Sunday without getting out of their cars. The drive-through service was in response to heath officials’ recommendations to practice social distancing and to avoid large crowds during the coronavirus outbreak.

Congregants pulled up, were given hand sanitizer through their windows, then received communion and a blessing.

Other Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in the region were holding services as scheduled on Sunday, while some canceled and some were live-streaming. Pennsylvania Roman Catholic bishops have said that the faithful are relieved of their obligation to attend Mass. In New Jersey, Camden Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan also announced a dispensation from Sunday Mass in a letter to his diocese.

“It is my hope this dispensation will be short-lived, but it will remain in effect until such time as it is appropriate to be lifted,” he wrote. “Let us pray that these efforts will help to diminish the spread of this virus. May we all pray during this time of peril for the elimination of this virus and for those who suffering from this unfortunate illness.”

Michael Bryant, Erin McCarthy

At Sunday services, prayer and social distancing

// Timestamp 03/15 10:59am

As churches across the region grappled with how to offer services to worshipers on Sunday, about 10 people gathered at Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation in Old City, for a morning prayer service.

The church was not offering communion and had encouraged congregants to watch via a live stream it was broadcasting on Facebook rather than attending in person.

Still, as the Rev. Timothy Safford welcomed congregants, he asked them to sit several rows apart. And most of the rows of pews had cushions flipped up to discourage people from sitting too close together.

As Safford began the service with a nod to the unusual circumstances, he spoke about the need to continue to keep the vulnerable in mind even as people continue to self-quarantine.

“Jesus,” he said, “could not practice social distancing.”

Chris Palmer

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

Senior centers’ meal services will continue even if they close

// Timestamp 03/15 9:33am

Senior centers across the state will be able to provide meals to older adults even if the physical centers temporarily close due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging said Sunday.

Pennsylvania’s 500 senior community centers can now offer takeout and delivery meals, as well as frozen and prepared foods, according to the department.

“We are committed to ensuring that the delivery of services to older adults, particularly in the vital area of meals, continues unabated, while protecting the health and safety of older adults who utilize the centers, and the center staff who interact with them,” Aging Secretary Robert Torres said in a statement.

Unless ordered to do so by Gov. Tom Wolf, individual centers will decide whether they need to temporarily close.

Erin McCarthy

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children closes its ICU to new admissions

// Timestamp 03/15 6:57am

A physician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children who worked in the ICU, has been diagnosed with a presumed case of COVID-19, Drexel president John Fry said in an email Saturday afternoon. The test results were completed Friday.

Fry said the physician was last seen at the hospital on March 11 and began to feel symptoms the next day. The infection was not acquired at the hospital, Fry said in an email to Drexel students and colleagues.

“The ICU is closed to new admissions and the Level 1 Trauma department is closed,” Fry wrote. "Children currently in the ICU will not be transferred out of the unit.

The ICU staff have been notified of this situation. They will wear the required and approved Protective Personal Equipment (PPE), including gowns, gloves, eye protection, and masks when they are in the ICU treating patients."

“St. Christopher’s remains open and committed to meeting the needs of the community. The hospital is contacting the families of any patients, family members, and employees who may have been exposed.”

— Brandon T. Harden

» READ MORE: Coronavirus in doctor at a Philadelphia pediatric hospital closes ICU to new patients, but public isn’t notified

Days after playing Sixers in Philly, Detroit Pistons’ Christian Wood reportedly tests positive for coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/14 10:15pm

The Athletic reported Saturday night that Detroit Pistons forward-center Christian Wood has tested positive for coronavirus.

Wood and the Pistons played against the 76ers on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Shortly after the Sixers’ 124-106 win, the NBA suspended the season.

» READ MORE: Detroit Pistons’ Christian Wood reportedly tests positive for coronavirus

Marc Narducci

Parx Casino temporarily closing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/14 10:02pm

Parx Casino, one of the largest employers in Bucks County, said it will close effective Sunday at 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. March 29 in response to Gov. Wolf’s directions to cancel or postpone large events and gatherings in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

All employees will be paid during the two-week closure, Parx said in a statement.

“We will continue to monitor and comply with all orders, directives, instructions and/or recommendations made by government agencies,” the Bensalem-based casino said.

Diane Mastrull

Penn warns ‘immediate intervention by Penn police’ if students gather in groups on or off campus

// Timestamp 03/14 09:54pm

“We want to reinforce that this is not a party,” said Maureen S. Rush, vice president for public safety at Penn. “This is a very serious issue.”

The University of Pennsylvania on Saturday warned students not to gather in groups on or off campus or face “immediate intervention by Penn police.”

“The university has made several difficult decisions in the past week in the interest of our community’s health and well-being,” said an email to students Saturday from Provost Wendell Pritchett and Vice Provost Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum.

“Included in these decisions was a notice to all students to immediately practice low-density medical standard social distancing. This included a clear mandate to cease all student group activities, on or off campus. No parties No events.”

Rush said there have been a few gatherings of students over the last few days and Penn officials wanted to send a prophylactic message to underscore what city and state health officials have been advising.

Penn earlier this week announced it was extending spring break by a week and then moving to online instruction for the rest of the semester.

The university asked students who were out of town for spring break not to return to campus and that those who were on campus leave by Sunday. The Penn leaders also said students or organizations that violate the directive not to gather could face discipline.

“This is an unprecedented situation, for our campus and the world,” they said. “Do not risk your health or your academic standing with poor decision making at this critical time.”

Susan Snyder

Second coronavirus death hits New Jersey

// Timestamp 03/14 08:47pm

New Jersey has seen its second coronavirus death, Gov. Phil Murphy posted Saturday night on Twitter.

The victim was a woman in her 50s being treated at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold.

Sean Collins Walsh

Urban Outfitters, Warby Parker close stores

// Timestamp 03/14 08:35pm

Philly-grown companies Urban Outfitters, Inc., and Warby Parker announced Saturday they will be closing all of their stores in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The clothing retail giant Urban Outfitters’ shuttering of more than 620 stores around the globe, including its Free People and Anthropologie properties, will last until at least March 28. The company said it will continue to pay employees during that period, and is not aware of any employees testing positive for the coronavirus.

“The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us,” the company wrote in a news release. “The safety and health of our communities, including our loyal customers and dedicated associates, is always of the utmost importance to us.”

Corporate employees with the ability to work remotely were asked “to do so for the foreseeable future,” the company said. The company employed about 24,000 people globally as of Jan. 31, 2019, according to its most recent annual report. About 40% of those employees were full-time workers.

The eyewear start-up Warby Parker’s stores will close through March 27, retail employees will be paid as if they were working during this time.

“COVID-19 is impacting all of us — as individuals and as communities — in unprecedented ways,” the company said in a news release. “Given the rapidly changing environment, we have decided to temporarily close all of our stores through March 27 for the safety of our customers, our employees, and the general public.”

Warby Parker, a private company based in New York City, was founded by graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and began as an online-only retailer. It has now expanded to brick-and-mortar retail locations and lists more than 100 U.S. stores and three in Canada on its website. Warby Parker’s website, e-commerce business and prescription check applications are still running, and the company is still operating its home try-on and virtual try-on programs.

Ellie Silverman and Sean Collins Walsh

Off-campus Temple student tests positive for coronavirus

// Timestamp 03/14 08:10pm

A Temple University student who lives off campus and traveled to Spain during Spring break has tested positive for the virus, the school just announced.

His symptoms are mild, the school said, and the university has notified the city health department.

The student has not been on campus since Wednesday afternoon and is home with family now, outside the city, the university said.

Health officials are reaching out to anyone he has come in contact with, the university said.

“Based on the travel of our students, we expect other cases could arise,” said Mark Denys, senior director of student and employee health services.

Temple brought students back to campus after spring break, unlike some other schools in the region. The university announced this week it was shifting to online learning and gave students until next weekend to move off campus.

Susan Snyder

Delco jail employee who tested positive for COVID-19 is father of Lower Providence police officer who previously contracted virus

// Timestamp 03/14 07:10pm

The employee at the Delaware County jail who tested positive for the coronavirus and caused 11 inmates to be quarantined at the facility is the father of a Lower Providence Township police officer who previously tested positive for the disease last week, officials said Saturday.

Officials with The GEO Group, the private prisons company that operates the jail, announced late Friday that the inmates were being quarantined in the facility after a worker tested positive for the disease. The company also advised 23 other staff members at the jail to self-quarantine at home.

None of the quarantined people have exhibited symptoms of the disease, according to a GEO spokesperson.

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

Sources at the jail familiar with the incident said the worker is a maintenance supervisor, and last reported to work on March 6. He did not return the following Monday, complaining of sinus issues, the sources said.

The following evening, jail administrators were told the supervisor’s son, a Lower Providence officer, had tested positive for coronavirus in Montgomery County. Health department officials believe the officer contracted the virus from his son’s pediatric cardiologist, who works out of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s location in King of Prussia.

The doctor had apparently returned from abroad recently, the sources said. As a precaution, health officials tested the maintenance supervisor on Tuesday, sources said.

The results were returned Friday, and he was added to the list of presumptive positive cases in Delaware County.

Vinny Vella

Gov. Wolf: close bars, eat-in restaurants, entertainment, sports venues in four counties

// Timestamp 03/14 06:42pm

Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Department of Health this evening urged non-essential businesses to temporarily cease operations in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The state told bars, liquor stores and restaurants to curtail business until further notice. It also said restaurants should stay open only for carry-out and delivery.

It is the first time the governor has invoked the state’s authority to compel closures if the businesses do not comply.

“We strongly encourage businesses to act now before the Governor or the Secretary of Health find it necessary to compel closures under the law for the interest of public health, including section 7301 of the Emergency Management Services Code,” a letter from the Health Department and the Department of Community and Economic Development said.

The following types of businesses, according to the health department, should temporarily cease operations:

  • Bars

  • Community and recreation centers

  • Gyms, including yoga, spin, barre facilities

  • Hair salons, nail salons, and spas

  • Casinos, concert venues, and theaters

  • Sporting facilities and golf courses

  • Non-essential retail facilities, including shopping malls, with the exception of pharmacies or other health car facilities housed within shopping centers.

The letter said all state-run liquor stores would begin orderly closures. Wine and beer may still be purchased at grocery stores with PLCB licenses. Restaurants should not continue with table service, but should stay open for carry-out and delivery service only.

— Sam Wood

Area state liquor stores to shut down due to virus

// Timestamp 03/14 06:05pm

The coronavirus shutdown is coming to a liquor store near you if you live in one of the four Pennsylvania counties where Gov. Tom Wolf has called for non-essential retail outlets to close up shop for two weeks.

The Liquor Control Board on Saturday announced that all of the 88 state-owned Fine Wine & Good Spirits Shops in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties will be open for normal hours on Sunday. On Monday, just six of those stores will be open in Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties. Eight will be open in Montgomery County.

Each county will also have one open Licensee Service Center, which deal with restaurants and bars but not retail sales.

On Tuesday, all liquor stores and service centers will close in the four counties. Customers can still shop online and have purchases shipped to them. The shutdown will be re-evaluated “toward the end of the month,” the LCB said. The LCB on Friday said liquor stores would not close in Montgomery County, one day after Wolf ordered the shutdown there. That shutdown spread to Delaware County Friday and to Bucks and Chester counties Saturday.

A list of stores that will remain open Monday can be found here.

— Chris Brennan

Trenton mayor declares state of emergency

// Timestamp 03/14 04:39pm

Trenton Mayor W. Reed Gusciora on Saturday declared that the New Jersey capital city is in a state of emergency.

The declaration closes City Hall to the public and shuts down schools and recreation centers starting Monday in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“A State of Emergency in the City of Trenton has been deemed necessary to ensure the continued provision of essential services to our residents during this ongoing and developing health emergency,” the declaration reads.

— Sean Collins Walsh

World Cafe Live shutting down through end of March

// Timestamp 03/14 04:20pm

World Cafe Live is shutting down through the end of March.

Starting with Saturday night’s shows, all dates at the University City club are being postponed “in response to recent events concerning the spread of COVD-19,” according to a message sent out to the venue’s mailing list today.

The first two postponement have already been rescheduled. Christine Havrila, who was to play upstairs in the Lounge, is scheduled to return Oct. 23. And Echoes, The American Pink Floyd will be in the downstairs Music Hall on Aug. 7.

Shows scheduled for later this month with John Moreland, Carsie Blanton, Leslie Odom Jr. and Michael Doucet are being postponed but don’t yet have new dates.

The venue could legally stay open: The city of Philadelphia has banned large gatherings of 1,000 or more, and the WCL rooms are both under that limit. The Lounge holds 250 and the Music Hall 650. But the club is following the city’s non-binding recommendation not to hold gatherings of 250 or more.

World Cafe Live is scheduled to reopen on April 1, with Willy Porter upstairs and Marc Broussard downstairs. More information can be found at worldcafelive.com.

— Dan DeLuca

PA House Speaker Mike Turzai rejects call to delay Bensalem special election, despite shutdown order

// Timestamp 03/14 04:01pm

Although Gov. Tom Wolf issued a shutdown order for Bucks County because of the spread of the coronavirus, state House Speaker Mike Turzai has declined to postpone a special election in Bensalem that is scheduled for Tuesday.

Wolf on Friday said holding the election would be a bad idea and indicated there was agreement among state leaders that it should be postponed. And on Saturday, he included Bucks in the list of counties in which he is ordering non-essential businesses to close.

But to delay the election, Wolf, a Democrat, needed cooperation from House Speaker Mike Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican. In a statement Saturday, Turzai said that three special elections scheduled for Tuesday — in Bucks County, Westmoreland County, and a district that includes parts of Butler and Mercer Counties — would go on.

“The impact of the COVID-19 virus is being felt by all of us, and I applaud the statewide efforts to practice social distancing and increased disinfecting in public spaces. These same practices will be in place on Election Day, but they do not require the rescheduling of the special elections,” Turzai said. “When you consider that absentee ballots have already been applied for and returned, these elections are already underway.”

The race for House District 18 in Bensalem pits Republican K.C. Tomlinson against Democrat Harold Hayes. They are vying to replace Republican Gene DiGirolamo, who resigned to become a county commissioner.

— Sarah Anne Hughes

Union for Independence National Historical Park workers criticizes decision to stay open

// Timestamp 03/14 03:30pm

The union for employees who work at Independence National Historical Park on Saturday criticized the federal government for failing to close the facility to the public when other tourist destinations in Philadelphia were shutting their doors due to the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re concerned about the health of our employees, but also the general public. We’re not supposed to be gathering in large areas,” said Jeff Sievert, acting president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2058. “The park leadership has basically told me in meetings that they have to get permission from Washington, D.C., to make changes and they have not been given, as far as I know, any leeway.”

Other major cultural institutions in Philadelphia, including the Art Museum, have been closed to the public.

Attempts to reach the National Park Service’s office of public affairs were unsuccessful.

Some visitors were happy to be able to visit the historical sites before they closed.

“Tried to beat the impending closure,” Jeff Breton, a lawyer from Manhattan, said as he left the Visitor Center just before noon and was headed for a tour of Independence Hall.

The visit to Philadelphia was a birthday celebration for his son, Finn, 8.

“I guess it’s good to be proactive,” Breton said of all the closings. “I don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary. I take the subway packed with hundreds of people every day. Unless you have a lot of people in a small space, I don’t feel like it needs to be closed.”

— Diane Mastrull and Sean Collins Walsh

Closures continue in New Jersey as cases mount in New York City suburbs

// Timestamp 03/14 03:12pm

New Jersey officials on Saturday announced that 19 new coronavirus cases have been identified, bringing the statewide total to 69.

A vast majority of the new cases were in North Jersey areas near New York City, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said on a conference call with reporters. Thirteen are women; six are men. They range in age from 18 to 80.

Meanwhile, Adventure Aquarium in Camden announced Saturday that it will be closed to the public starting Monday.

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Camden are also closing indefinitely.

The Cherry Hill Public Library announced that it is closing effective Sunday.

— Sean Collins Walsh

Following shutdown order, King of Prussia Mall closing immediately

// Timestamp 03/14 02:50pm

The King of Prussia Mall announced Saturday that it would be closing immediately to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The mall’s owner, Simon Properties, posted a notice on its website saying it would comply with Gov. Tom Wolf’s request to shut down all non-essential retail operations in Montgomery County.

Previously, Simon Properties told individual merchants to decide for themselves whether to remain open.

On Thursday, Wolf asked that retailers in Montgomery County close, making exceptions only for grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations.

Of the state’s 67 counties, Montgomery County has been the hardest hit by the virus.

— Sam Wood

Gov. Wolf orders 'all non-essential public spaces’ shut down in Bucks, Chester Counties starting Sunday

// Timestamp 03/14 02:31pm

Gov. Tom Wolf on Saturday announced that starting Sunday, Chester and Bucks Counties will be subject to shutdown orders, meaning “all non-essential public spaces" should close.

Delaware and Montgomery Counties are already under state shutdown orders, placing all four of Philadelphia’s suburban counties in Pennsylvania under lockdown.

“If we can slow the spread of the virus, we can flatten the curve,” Wolf said “This is what we need to do and we need to do it now.”

There is no shutdown order for the city, but Mayor Jim Kenney has banned all events of 1,000 people or more recommended that residents avoid gatherings of 250 or more.

In the suburban counties under shutdown orders, essential infrastructure like pharmacies, grocery stores, and gas stations will stay open.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said all schools in counties under shutdown orders must close, including private and parochial schools.

Wolf said his administration on Saturday will distribute additional guidance for businesses, some of which have expressed confusion about whether they are subject to the shutdown order.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine also announced the first two COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County, bringing the statewide total to 47. She said 402 people have been tested statewide as of Saturday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, whose district includes all of Chester County, called on the entire state “to use the strategy that the governor has outlined to protect each other.”

— Sarah Anne Hughes

U.S. travel ban extends to U.K., Ireland; Trump eyes domestic restrictions

// Timestamp 03/14 01:40pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday that the United States will broaden its European travel ban, adding the United Kingdom and Ireland to its list, and was considering imposing restrictions on travel within the U.S. to areas hit hard by the coronavirus spread.

Under the restrictions on European travel, American citizens, green card holders and others are still allowed to return home to the U.S., but will be funneled to 13 airports and be subjected to health screenings and quarantine orders.

“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it," Trump said.

The new restrictions came as in Britain, the death toll nearly doubled from the day before to 21, and the number of people infected rose to over 1,100 from about 800 the previous day. In Ireland there were 90 confirmed cases and one death by Friday. The Irish government hasn't released any updated figures on Saturday.

The U.S. announced earlier this week a 30-day ban on flights covered only by the 26-nation Schengen area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone, that does not include Britain or Ireland.

— The Associated Press

Haddon Township schools to move to online learning

// Timestamp 03/14 01:30pm

The Haddon Township School District will close its doors for the next two weeks, moving classes online in efforts to promote “social distancing” amid the coronavirus spread, officials announced Saturday.

All seven of the district’s schools will be closed Monday as teachers prepare for remote learning, Superintendent Bonnie J. Edwards wrote in an email to parents.

Though the timeframe is subject to change, online classes will begin on Wednesday, and last until March 27, Edwards wrote.

As of Friday, officials said two Camden County residents tested positive for the virus. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has said statewide school closures are “an inevitability.”

— Oona Goodin-Smith

Officials announce meal pick-up locations for families who use school breakfast and lunch service

// Timestamp 03/14 01:22pm

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. on Saturday released a list of 30 meal pick-up locations for families who depend on school-provided breakfast and lunch service while schools are closed.

A map of meal pick-up sites can be found here. An inaccurate map had circulated on social media recently, Hite said. He cautioned residents against misinformation from non-official sources during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city also will be opening 50 locations, in recreation centers and other city-owned facilities, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday to “provide safe spaces where students can drop-in for activities.” The locations will serve meals at 3 p.m.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy also announced Saturday that the Free Library of Philadelphia will close to the public at the end of the day.

— Sean Collins Walsh

New coronavirus cases identified in Philly, Montco, Chester County

// Timestamp 03/14 00:35pm

Pennsylvania health officials identified four more cases of the coronavirus in the Philadelphia region Saturday, bringing the statewide number of presumptive positive cases to 45.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the infected individuals include: two adults from Montgomery County, one adult from Philadelphia County, and one adult from Chester County.

All are either isolated at home or being treated in a hospital, the department said.

“While we anticipate that there will be more Pennsylvanians with COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks, it is important for residents to know the commonwealth is prepared and to be prepared themselves,” said Secretary of Health Rachel Levine. “Right now, you have a higher chance of testing positive for COVID-19 if you have traveled to a country or state with known community outbreaks or have come in contact with someone who has the virus. We are working with the health care community across Pennsylvania to keep them informed, consult on patient testing and ensuring they have the resources they need to care for patients.”

As of Saturday morning, more than 340 patients in Pennsylvania have been identified for testing, and of those, more than 145 have tested negative for COVID-19, the Health Department said. More than 100 tests are still pending.

— Oona Goodin-Smith

Sources: Gov. Wolf to shut down Bucks, Chester counties

// Timestamp 03/14 00:12pm

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office is expected to announce Saturday that he will extend his shutdown order to Bucks and Chester counties as the state continues to confirm more cases of the coronavirus, according to three sources familiar with the decision.

The shutdown directive, which would go into effect in the counties on Sunday, applies to everything from schools, which Wolf had already ordered closed statewide, to child and adult day care centers to non-essential businesses. There have been questions, however, about how the state or counties can or will enforce it.

Earlier this week, Wolf imposed shutdown orders on Montgomery and Delaware counties.

The shutdown orders in general have meant that no-visitor policies are in place at correctional facilities and nursing homes. The governor’s office has said people can travel freely, but Wolf has encouraged that residents refrain from non-essential travel.

In counties under a shutdown order, essential medical services and mass transit will remain open. Supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations remain open.

Wolf on Friday was asked who will enforce the orders in the counties.

"No one," he said. "This is self-enforcement. I am not sending the State Police or the National Guard out to do this."

“All of us are trying to look out for the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians, and we all have a shared interest in making sure that Pennsylvanians, our fellow citizens, stay safe. I am banking on that to really drive it.”.

— Angela Couloumbis

New Jersey municipal courts to shut down Monday

// Timestamp 03/14 11:08am

New Jersey municipal court sessions will be suspended for two weeks beginning Monday to limit public exposure to the coronavirus, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced Saturday.

“Where it is possible to resolve court matters without compromising the health and safety of the public and court staff,” Rabner said, “we will continue to do so.”

Anyone scheduled to appear in municipal court between Mar. 16 and Mar. 27 to contest a traffic or parking ticket, or minor local ordinance violation “should instead await notice of a new court date,” Rabner said.

Certain issues like restraining orders or other matters that impact public safety will continue to be handled by the courts. Attorneys and parties required to appear in court during the two-week period will be notified.

Court filings and payments will continue to be accepted, unless a municipality has closed a court building.

— Pranshu Verma

Bedlam at a BJ’s a day after Gov. Wolf orders Delco shut down

// Timestamp 03/14 10:55am

A day after Gov. Tom Wolf urged non-essential businesses in Delaware County to close, folks flocked to BJ’s Wholesale Club in Springfield to stock up on food and supplies.

Rivaling even the longest of Black Friday lines, hundreds of shoppers wound their carts through three rows of parking spaces before the store opened at 9 a.m.

Ami Koroma-Gbolo, 50, of Lansdowne, initially came to the store with her son around 5:30 p.m. Friday night to do her usual grocery shopping, but quickly left because it was too crowded.

“I said, ’Oh my God! What’s going on?’” she recalled after returning on Saturday morning. “The whole entire line, from the cashier all the way to the back.”

Though an employee had advised her to arrive early, Koroma-Gbolo and her husband didn’t get to the store until several minutes after it opened on Saturday, making their way through a parking lot already filled with cars.

Both her 17-year-old son, who attends Upper Darby High School, and 21-year-old daughter, who attends Temple University, are now staying home, so she was hoping to buy extra supplies such as tissues, paper towels, and soap in addition to groceries and bottled water.

We’re “hoping and praying by God’s grace they will still have it,” she said.

— Tim Tai

City launches Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline

// Timestamp 03/14 10:35am

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health on Saturday launched the Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline, which residents can reach by calling 1-800-722-7112.

The helpline, which is free and is supported by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is staffed by medical experts who can answer questions on issues like the symptoms and risk factors for the coronavirus, what to do if you think you may have been exposed, how to get tested, and how to practice social distancing.

“Aside from washing your hands and staying away from people who are sick, one of the most important things people can do in a pandemic is to listen to trusted experts," city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement. “The Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline is the perfect way to get your questions about the coronavirus answered, whenever you’re ready to ask them.”

— Sean Collins Walsh

Coronavirus closures continue with Harrah’s, PhillyCAM, Cherry Hill Township Municipal Building

// Timestamp 03/14 10:15am

Businesses and public spaces in the Philadelphia area are continuing to announce closures related to the coronavirus.

The Cherry Hill Township Municipal Building will close to the public and to non-essential employees beginning Monday.

Harrah’s Philadelphia casino in Chester is shutting down after Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday ordered entertainment venues closed in Delaware County.

The PhillyCAM community media center in Society Hill will be closed Monday until March 29. “We will be operating with modified hours of operation for staff and all existing equipment/studio reservations, workshops and gatherings are postponed until further notice,” a PhillyCAM news release said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

Wells Fargo Center workers missing Flyers, Sixers, Wings games for coronavirus will get paid

// Timestamp 03/14 9:50am

Comcast Spectacor will pay game-day workers for the Philadelphia Flyers, 76ers, and Wings games that were postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an email sent to employees Friday.

On Thursday, the Wells Fargo Center postponed all events at the arena that were scheduled through March 31. In addition, all Philadelphia Flyers, 76ers, and Wings games at the arena are postponed until further notice, as the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons.

“All game-day employees who were originally scheduled to work Flyers, 76ers and Wings games that have now been postponed between March 14-31 will be paid for their scheduled hours, despite those games not taking place,” wrote Valerie Camillo, president of the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center.

All Comcast Spectacor employees were asked to work from home Friday, the email said.

“You are the team that makes our operation run seamlessly on a day-to-day basis and we want to make sure you have a sense of financial security and value during these challenging times,” Camillo wrote.

— Christian Hetrick

House passes coronavirus relief plan for free testing, paid sick leave

// Timestamp 03/14 9:30am

The U.S. House passed an economic relief plan backed by President Donald Trump to deal with the spreading coronavirus as part of what lead negotiator Speaker Nancy Pelosi said will be a continuing effort to help the American people.

The 363-40 vote early Saturday sends the measure to the Senate, which plans to skip next week’s planned recess to take up the bill. The House is scheduled to be in session next week.

The House package includes free testing for everyone who needs it, and two weeks of paid sick leave to allow people with the virus to stay home from work and avoid infecting co-workers. It also includes enhanced jobless benefits, increased food aid for children, senior citizens and food banks, and higher funding for Medicaid benefits.

Earlier Friday, Trump declared a national emergency that would free up as much as $50 billion to help states and cities respond to the health crisis.

— Bloomberg News

State officials working to postpone Bensalem special election

// Timestamp 03/14 9:00am

Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday said officials are working on a plan to postpone a special election for a state House seat in Bucks County that is scheduled for Tuesday.

“It would not be a good idea to have that election next Tuesday in Bucks County,” Wolf said at a news conference. “Everybody agrees. It’s a matter of picking what the new date is and when that election ought to be held.”

Wolf said he did not support delaying other upcoming special elections in parts of the state less affected by the virus.

The Bensalem-based House District 18 seat became vacant after Republican Gene DiGirolamo resigned to become a Bucks County commissioner. Republican K.C. Tomlinson, the daughter of state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R, Bucks), faces Democrat Harold Hayes, a union plumber, in the race to replace DiGirolamo.

— Sean Collins Walsh

Traveling home to Philly from Europe after Trump announced ban: A sleepless, 26-hour ordeal

// Timestamp 03/14 9:00am

It was 3:30 a.m. local time in Alexandroupolis, Greece, Thursday when Emily Molli woke to her phone loudly pinging: President Donald Trump had just announced a sweeping European travel ban, and she needed to get home.

Molli, a 25-year-old independent journalist who lives in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista section, found a flight for $400. Then it rocketed to $4,000. Several times she found flights, but by the time she was able to book, the flight was full or had been canceled.

Molli eventually made it home. But her path back to Philadelphia was complicated, expensive and confusing, and she was troubled by a lack of screening once she reentered the country.

Her experience mirrors those of thousands of Americans who were in Europe when they received news of the ban on travel from Europe into the United States. The ban doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens and didn’t begin until 11:59 p.m. Friday, but that was unclear following the announcement, and students and travelers in Europe scrambled to return.

Molli ended up on a $1,000 Swiss Air flight from Athens to Zurich, Switzerland. She then sat on a nearly full, nine-hour, anxiety-ridden flight to Newark. Most people were wearing masks.

“It was long. I was exhausted. I had basically gotten no sleep,” she said.

She said she was prepared to be intensely questioned upon arriving back in Newark, even being asked to self-quarantine. That didn’t happen. Officials asked her the usual questions and sent her on her way.

So after a 26-hour ordeal, Molli got to her home in Philadelphia early Friday morning.

And Friday, as usual, she was working from home.

— Anna Orso

Coronavirus test? Delaware patients got it at a drive-through.

// Timestamp 03/14 8:45am

Shortages have forced health officials to ration testing for the coronavirus. But the problems go deeper than a lack of test kits.

Potentially infected patients are supposed to start the process of getting tested with their health care provider, but many family physicians and urgent care clinics report not having the protective gear or the protocols needed to safely, correctly swab patients’ noses and throats, then ship the specimens to labs.

“At my pediatric office, we are still seeing patients with cough and fever — despite obvious risk to ourselves and our staff — but we can’t [collect specimens to] test’ ” because of a lack of protective N95 face masks for health workers, a Willow Grove pediatrician told The Inquirer in an email. “Very frustrating and scary situation.”

Health systems don’t have time to wait for funds and supplies to flow. Many have started to fill the voids created by slow federal response.

For example, ChristianaCare, Delaware’s largest healthcare system, on Friday became the first “drive-through” coronavirus swab collection site in the region. More than 50 cars lined up along the riverfront in Wilmington for the 10 a.m. start. After a few hours, samples for 536 coronavirus tests had been collected, at no charge. Results will be available in two to five days.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus testing: Shortages, delays, and drive-through improvising in Philly area and beyond

— Marie McCullough