8:27 PM - December 15, 2020
8:27 PM - December 15, 2020

Haddonfield Middle School switches to online-only classes

Haddonfield Middle School will switch to online-only classes starting Wednesday through next Wednesday, the school district superintendent said Tuesday.

Superintendent Chuck Klaus said in a letter to parents and staff that the decision was made in consultation with the Camden County Health Department. There had been six confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last four days and a significant decrease in the number of students physically attending school and an increase in virtual instruction.

”Keeping the safety and wellness of our students and staff as our top priority, we believe implementing the full virtual model is the optimal way to proceed,” Klaus said in the letter.

Elementary schools and Haddonfield Memorial High School will remain operating with hybrid instruction, Klaus said.

— Robert Moran

6:08 PM - December 15, 2020
6:08 PM - December 15, 2020

CHOP offers to take adult patients to ease burden at other hospitals

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is prepared to take certain patients from hospitals in the region that become overwhelmed due to the coronavirus surge, part of the effort to manage the increasing number of virus cases and hospitalizations in the region, said Dr. Evan S. Fieldston, an associate chief medical officer at CHOP.

”We’re giving them one more option,” Fieldston said. “We want to be here if we can help with young adults, and if we find ourselves with open capacity. We can’t just stand idly by.”

During the springtime surge, CHOP created a plan that would allow Penn Medicine to transfer adult patients who met certain criteria, but it was never needed, Fieldston said. Now, healthcare workers are not only seeing more people infected with the coronavirus. There are also many health issues that tend to be exacerbated in the winter months like congestive heart failures, strokes, and other infectious diseases.

With hospitalizations increasing, Fieldston said CHOP leadership thought it would be helpful to extend its springtime offer to Penn Medicine to the city’s and region’s hospitals. CHOP requires that these transfer patients are 35-years-old or younger, and are not infected with the coronavirus, not in need of acute psychiatric care, and are not suffering from a heart attack or stroke, among a handful of other criteria. In other words, Fieldston explained, if a 25-year-old who is otherwise healthy had an asthma attack and needed hospitalization, they could be transferred to CHOP.

CHOP offered this last week and so far, no hospital has transferred a patient under these circumstances. If cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at the current rate, it is likely more hospitals may consider taking up the offer.

”We’re in a position where we can help the people of Philadelphia and our other hospitals,” Fieldston said. “We have open beds — not a lot — but we have open beds. And we have expertise where we can take care of a certain population of adult patients and provide them with very good care to try to allow the adult hospitals to meet the greater needs of the Philadelphia community, and in particular, adults with COVID-19. It’s the way we can do our part.”

— Ellie Silverman

3:08 PM - December 15, 2020
3:08 PM - December 15, 2020

Teachers in Philadelphia will receive COVID-19 vaccine before the general public

Teachers will be counted as essential workers as Philadelphia administers COVID-19 vaccines and will be vaccinated before the general population, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

Health care workers who are exposed to coronavirus and people who are most likely to pass the virus onto vulnerable populations, such as nursing home employees, will be vaccinated first. But teachers will be included in a large group of critical infrastructure workers, Farley said.

”I would like to see our teachers vaccinated as soon as possible,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday, noting that it would give them the confidence to return to in-person instruction.

Getting kids back to school would also help the economy recover, Kenney said, because parents can return to work.

Timing of the vaccine for critical workers is still unknown and depends on how quickly it is manufactured, Farley said. Critical workers include many thousands of workers throughout the city, he said, and it will take some time to vaccinate the first group of health care workers.

”There are tens of thousands of health care workers in the city,” he said, “many more than we have the vaccine for right now.”

— Laura McCrystal

3:04 PM - December 15, 2020
3:04 PM - December 15, 2020

Americans willing to take coronavirus vaccine, but some want to wait, according to poll

LPN Kimberly Peacock holds a dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine, at Cooper University Health Care, in Camden, New Jersey, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
LPN Kimberly Peacock holds a dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine, at Cooper University Health Care, in Camden, New Jersey, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

As health care workers and vaccine recipients urged Americans to take the vaccine when their turn comes, a poll released Monday suggested Americans are willing to take their medicine, they just aren’t sure about when.

About 40% of Americans said they would take the vaccine as soon as its available, the ABC/Ipsos poll conducted Dec. 12 and 13 found. Another 44% percent said they were willing, but would wait before taking the treatment. Just 15% of respondents said they would not take the vaccine.

Health care experts have said about 70% of a population must be vaccinated or be immune to achieve herd immunity. Among the country’s elderly, the population most at risk from COVID-19, 93% are willing to take the vaccine, and 57% would take it right away.

COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and distributed with unprecedented speed, but heath care officials have emphasized that speed didn’t translate into carelessness. The vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, which has received the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization, and Moderna, which is likely about to, were tested on tens of thousands using placebo-controlled trials. And even the rarest of serious side effects to existing vaccines show up within six weeks of a person receiving them, well within the scope of the COVID-19 vaccine studies that have been done.

Americans showed more unanimity about the plan for who should be prioritized for vaccination, with 91% agreeing that health care workers should get first dibs. Majorities of respondents also agreed people with pre-existing conditions, the elderly, teachers, and members of the military should also be prioritized.

Politics plays a role too, with 49% of Democrats saying they would be willing to get vaccinated immediately, compared to 28% of Republicans. An equal number of Democrats and Republicans, 45% said they would wait to get the vaccine.

— Jason Laughlin

2:55 PM - December 15, 2020
2:55 PM - December 15, 2020

Potential snow storm shouldn’t have much impact on vaccine delivery, Wolf says

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said emergency management officials are ready for forecast winter storm, the first in about a year, which could bring more than a foot of snow to some sections of the region at the same time that the initial doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine are being transported to hospitals across the commonwealth.

”I want to assure all Pennsylvanians that the commonwealth is prepared for this storm,” Wolf said. “That task is particularly important this year and this week because this week the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine are being distributed throughout the commonwealth.”

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency director Randy Padfield said vaccine shippers, most of which are controlled by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, have contingency plans in place to ensure vaccine distribution is not disrupted. Seven or eight vaccine deliveries are scheduled for Pennsylvania tomorrow, Padfield said, while the bulk of the state’s allotment for this week is set to be delivered Thursday.

PEMA, state police, PennDOT, and other agencies will “provide support to ensure the vaccine gets to its final destination,” Padfield said.

”The goal is not to have any vaccine that is unusable,” he said.

If Wednesday’s storm is severe, shippers could delay travels until it is safe, Padfield said, or Pennsylvania emergency officials may advise them of alternate passable routes to their destinations.

The National Guard could also step in to help, he added, but it should not be necessary to helicopter vaccines to hospitals. If the storm continues longer than it is forecast to, emergency officials have plans in place to get dry ice to shippers to keep the vaccine at the ultra-cold temperature it requires, Padfield said.

While PEMA may restrict travel of certain vehicles on some roads during the storm, as usual, they will not restrict vehicles transporting the vaccine, he said.

Wolf, Padfield, and other officials said residents can help ensure vaccines get to their destinations, and assist first responders responding to weather- and virus-related emergencies, by staying home unless travel is necessary. If someone must travel, they should reduce speed and increase following distance of other cars to avoid collisions.

— Erin McCarthy

2:12 PM - December 15, 2020
2:12 PM - December 15, 2020

School board members sue Gov. Wolf, other Pa. officials over COVID-19 restrictions

School board members and parents in a Pittsburgh-area school district sued state officials Monday, alleging they overstepped their authority in requiring that public schools close for in-person instruction when they reach certain numbers of coronavirus cases among students and staff.

The lawsuit by the Butler Area School District — filed in Commonwealth Court against Gov. Tom Wolf, Health Secretary Rachel Levine, and acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega — also challenges the state’s suspension of K-12 sports and in-person extracurricular activities.

Accusing state officials of usurping powers of local school boards, the plaintiffs asked the court to reverse both the “attestation order” that took effect Nov. 24 — mandating that public schools offering in-person instruction revert to virtual learning if they record specific case numbers — and the order imposed by the state this past Friday, requiring that all K-12 schools suspend sports and extracurriculars, among other measures.

Spokespeople for Wolf and the health and education secretaries declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that the orders “are a bridge to a better future in Pennsylvania and an opportunity to buy us time as hospitals statewide face a surge of COVID-19 patients and vaccines likely will not be widely available for months.”

— Maddie Hanna

2:00 PM - December 15, 2020
2:00 PM - December 15, 2020

SEPTA and Drexel to research COVID-19 on mass transit

SEPTA and Drexel University announced a partnership Tuesday to research COVID-19 on public transportation, working together in pursuing a federal grant to explore its effects and develop new mitigation measures.

Researchers from Drexel’s College of Engineering, College of Medicine, College of Nursing and Health Professions as well as the Dornsife School of Public Health are poised to help look into the impacts of mask wearing, ventilation, and enhanced cleaning on public transportation, preventative steps SEPTA already has already taken. Federal funding would allow the groups to test new air and cleaning technologies that could aid in preventing COVID-19′s spread.

“Like many public transit agencies and transportation hubs, SEPTA has already made significant changes to protect the health of their riders … " said Aleister Saunders, PhD, senior vice provost for research at Drexel, said in a statement. “But evaluating these safety measures and reporting on their effectiveness will be important for assuring riders that they can safely travel on mass transit.”

SEPTA’s ridership has plummeted during the pandemic as stay at home orders and fear of catching COVID-19 on transit kept many from public transportation. Ridership on SEPTA buses, trolleys, and subways are down about 65% from pre-pandemic levels, while Regional Rail ridership is down about 85%.

“Studies during the pandemic have shown that public transportation is safe, and there have been no direct links between riding SEPTA and contracting the coronavirus,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said in a statement. “By partnering with Drexel, SEPTA will be positioned to continue to adapt and add measures to improve the safety of customers and employees.”

— Patricia Madej

1:35 PM - December 15, 2020
1:35 PM - December 15, 2020

Philly hospitals to begin coronavirus vaccinations Wednesday

Most Philadelphia hospitals will begin administering the coronavirus vaccine Wednesday to health care workers who are exposed to COVID-19 patients, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

”I clearly see this as a turning point in this epidemic,” Farley said. “But it’s going to take months for us to vaccinate enough people in order to get back to normal.”

Farley said he does not know how long it will take for the vaccine to become widely available to most residents, but will be first given to health care workers, nursing home workers, critical infrastructure workers and people over age 65.

Philadelphia received 13,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, Farley said. Next week, he expects to receive 27,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine if it is approved for use. Farley said he does not know how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive next week.

Once the vaccine is widely available, he said the city would launch a public education campaign to encourage people to get it. The timing, he said, depends on how long it takes to manufacture it.

Vaccine shipments came in Monday and Tuesday, with more expected to arrive Wednesday, Farley said. He said the winter storm could potentially have an impact on the shipment, but he is hopeful it will still arrive.

“I know there’s a lot of thought that they put into logistics around this so I’m hopeful that it won’t be a problem,” he said.

— Laura McCrystal

1:26 PM - December 15, 2020
1:26 PM - December 15, 2020

Philly health commissioner expects COVID-19 deaths to keep rising

Philadelphia’s post-Thanksgiving spike of coronavirus cases may be subsiding, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said, but he expects deaths due to the virus to continue rising.

The city had an average of 784 confirmed cases day in the week that ended Saturday, Farley said, with 10.8% of tests coming back positive. Those numbers are expected to rise as delayed test results come in, but are lower than the prior week, which had an average of 1,028 cases per day and marked the first time the city surpassed 1,000 for its daily average.

”There’s still extremely high case counts but there is some sign that the spike that was caused by Thanksgiving may be subsiding,” Farley said.

Farley said there are signs that the city’s latest restrictions are working, because new cases increased 7% in Philadelphia since they went into effect, compared to 66% in the rest of the state.

Philadelphia reported 1,223 new cases Tuesday — a number Farley said was high due in part to a large batch of test results.

There were 920 patients in Philadelphia hospitals as of Tuesday, Farley said, representing an increase of 30 since last week. Farley said he expects hospitalizations to remain less than 1,000, which was the peak number during the spring wave of the virus.

But the city is experiencing “a rising trend” in deaths, Farley said.

”We may approach 100 deaths per week before the end of the year,” he said.

— Laura McCrystal

1:11 PM - December 15, 2020
1:11 PM - December 15, 2020

Over-the-counter home COVID-19 test approved by the FDA

In this undated photo provided by Ellume the use of an at home self-administered rapid coronavirus test developed by Australian manufacturer Ellume is demonstrated.
Ellume
In this undated photo provided by Ellume the use of an at home self-administered rapid coronavirus test developed by Australian manufacturer Ellume is demonstrated.

The first home test for COVID-19 that doesn’t require a prescription will soon be on U.S. store shelves.

U.S. officials Tuesday authorized the rapid coronavirus test which can be done entirely at home. The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration represents another important — though incremental — step in U.S. efforts to expand testing options.

The agency’s action allows the test to be sold in places like drugstores “where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, in a statement.

Initial supplies of the over-the-counter test will be limited. Australian manufacturer Ellume said it expects to produce 3 million tests next month before ramping up production over the first half of 2021.

— Associated Press

12:45 PM - December 15, 2020
12:45 PM - December 15, 2020

Even as they are vaccinated, Cooper Hospital staffers face a dark winter

LPN Kimberly Peacock administers the COVID-19 vaccine shot to Dr. Irwin Gratz, DO, at Cooper University Health Care, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
LPN Kimberly Peacock administers the COVID-19 vaccine shot to Dr. Irwin Gratz, DO, at Cooper University Health Care, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

Amid the excitement that a vaccine was finally available, health care workers at Cooper University Hospital in Camden contended with the reality that for the foreseeable future they will continue to treat patients who will sicken and, in some cases, die from COVID-19.

“It’s just the reality of things,” said Raquel Nahra, an infectious diseases specialist and Cooper’s hospital epidemiologist.

Nahra has treated coronavirus patients and been part of a team that struggled to allocate hospital resources amid the pandemic this year.

Guy Hewitt, an obstetrician-gynecologist who received the vaccine Tuesday, said he tried to find perspective on the many Americans who are waiting their turn for vaccine access.

“We in the United States are blessed, we have it much better than in many other people in other places in the world,” he said. “if you have to wait until spring, that’s spring. Many people won’t have this until, you know, 2022, 2023.”

Getting health-care workers vaccinated now, though, begins the process of fortifying the community against the virus, said Anthony Mazzarelli, a doctor and Cooper’s co-president. The hospital, like many in the region, is struggling with staff absences as workers exposed to the virus have to take time off.

With those people vaccinated, he said, “less people will get COVID and then we won’t get overrun with COVID and we won’t need so much staffing.”

— Jason Laughlin

12:25 PM - December 15, 2020
12:25 PM - December 15, 2020

Officials at Cooper Hospital hope to promote vaccine’s safety to residents in Camden

A pharmacist holds a vial of the COVID-19 Vaccine, at Cooper University Health Care, in Camden, New Jersey, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A pharmacist holds a vial of the COVID-19 Vaccine, at Cooper University Health Care, in Camden, New Jersey, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

Cooper University Hospital is in Camden, a city with a population that’s 94% Black or Latino, and officials there have ramped up an information program about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy for staff.

People of color have been particularly vulnerable to the virus due to inequities in health care and economic conditions, but have also been skeptical of the vaccine.

Cooper will be hosting town halls in the community to encourage people to be vaccinated when doses are more widely available, and hope vaccinated staff members will evangelize the benefits of the shots with family and friends.

“We feel the more you learn about this process,” said Anthony Mazzarelli, a doctor and Cooper’s co-president, “the more likely you are to make the choice to take this vaccine.”

Guy Hewlett, an obstetrician-gynecologist who was vaccinated Tuesday, said he was discussing the vaccine and its risk to pregnant women with his patients, as there is less data on how they might react to it. But he is encouraging everyone else to take it.

“The evidence behind this is sound and the science is really valid,” he said.

— Jason Laughlin

12:14 PM - December 15, 2020
12:14 PM - December 15, 2020

Pennsylvania surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 cases, reports 270 new deaths

Pennsylvania reported 270 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, the most in a single day since May 14, as the virus continues to spread across the commonwealth.

At least 12,890 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus. Of those deaths, 7,532, or about 58%, were residents in nursing or personal care facilities, according to the Department of Health.

Pennsylvania also became the seventh state to surpass 500,000 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University. The commonwealth is now averaging 10,387 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, and reported 9,556 new cases on Tuesday.

A total of 6,295 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Tuesday afternoon, a 33% jump compared to two weeks ago, when 4,744 hospital beds were full. Of those hospitalized, 1,264 patients were in intensive care units, while 705 were on ventilators.

More than 2,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in local hospitals Tuesday, including 920 in Philadelphia.

— Rob Tornoe and Dylan Purcell

11:50 AM - December 15, 2020
11:50 AM - December 15, 2020

First health care workers at Cooper Hospital get vaccinated

LPN Kimberly Peacock, left, administers the first Covid-19 Vaccine shot administered at Cooper University Health Care to Nurse Manager Rosetta Oliver, right, Tuesday, December 15, 2020. Cooper University Health Care is among the first group of hospitals in New Jersey to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
LPN Kimberly Peacock, left, administers the first Covid-19 Vaccine shot administered at Cooper University Health Care to Nurse Manager Rosetta Oliver, right, Tuesday, December 15, 2020. Cooper University Health Care is among the first group of hospitals in New Jersey to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine.

Rosetta Oliver, a nurse manager, was the first Cooper Hospital worker to receive the vaccine Tuesday. Cooper was one of only six hospitals providing staff with vaccinations Tuesday.

“Right now I’m just very excited,” said Oliver. “I can hopefully get to see my family who lives out of town.”

She has sisters in Baltimore and South Carolina, she said, and she hasn’t seen them in nine months.

The hospital system vaccinated just 30 of its 8,000 workers Tuesday, administrators said, but had 975 doses in hand and expected to go through all of them by next Tuesday.

Administrators said they weren’t certain of how many doses they should expect to receive each week, but said they had assurances from federal authorities that enough supply of the Pfizer vaccine was available to ensure people being vaccinated now would have access to a second dose in 21 days.

The hospital was confident enough in the supply they were not prioritizing which workers should have first access to the treatment. Staff simply are being asked to sign up for the voluntary vaccination.

Oliver and two doctors who were the first in line for vaccination at Cooper said they had no hesitation about receiving the vaccine.

“You should’ve be on the fence,” said Irwin Gratz, an anesthesiologist. “There’s no fence. You have to leap over the fence. This is the way to go.”

— Jason Laughlin

10:45 AM - December 15, 2020
10:45 AM - December 15, 2020

You were exposed to COVID-19. Does everyone in your house have to quarantine?

Cynthia Greer

There are countless scenarios where one person might be directly exposed to the coronavirus while everyone else in the household was not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t explicitly address this topic, which leaves many wondering what to do.

As defined by the CDC, quarantine “is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others.” If you were in close contact with someone who tests positive, you’re advised to stay home for 14 days, whether COVID-19 symptoms appear or not.

Experts don’t discourage the rest of the household from quarantining, too. But it’s not expected.

In many situations, it’s not feasible for everyone to quarantine. Some household members may need to go to work or school, or pick up groceries or prescriptions. And that’s okay, as long as the person who was exposed can quarantine by themselves in a separate part of the house.

However, if this person ends up testing positive or develops COVID-19 symptoms, the advice changes.

In this case, this person may have exposed the rest of the household before they knew they needed to self-quarantine. As a result, everyone in the house is now advised to quarantine. The two-week window starts from the date of the last contact with the person who exposed you.

— Grace Dickinson

9:40 AM - December 15, 2020
9:40 AM - December 15, 2020

A humidifier could help ward off COVID-19

Humidifiers can be very helpful, but keep the units clean or you run the risk of growing mold.
TNS
Humidifiers can be very helpful, but keep the units clean or you run the risk of growing mold.

The nose is a fantastic filter for viruses and other foreign particles. But it does not work as well when the air is dry — a drawback that infectious-disease experts say could explain some of the recent surge in COVID-19.

We’re told to wear masks, to keep our distance from others, and when indoors, to opt for spaces that are well ventilated. Now, with the onset of dry, wintry weather and heaters running full blast, add another strategy to reduce the risk of transmission: humidification.

One option is to use a humidifier, but be careful not to overdo it, said Robert T. Sataloff, chair of the department of otolaryngology at the Drexel University College of Medicine. Too much humidity, along with a failure to keep the units clean, can lead to a different health problem: the growth of mold.

“It’s not as easy as going out and buying a humidifier, turning it on and forgetting about it,” he said.

Other ways to keep the nasal passages moist include drinking plenty of water, or boiling a pot of water on the stove several times a day and inhaling the steam for a few minutes, he said. (But don’t get too close.)

— Tom Avril

9:15 AM - December 15, 2020
9:15 AM - December 15, 2020

Philadelphia, Delaware to hold coronavirus briefings Tuesday

Officials in Philadelphia and Delaware will offer coronavirus updates on Tuesday. Here’s a schedule of how to watch and stream:

— Rob Tornoe

8:32 AM - December 15, 2020
8:32 AM - December 15, 2020

Delaware administers its first COVID-19 vaccine dose

Elisabeth Cote became the first Delawarean to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Bayhealth Hospital in Dover Tuesday morning.
Delaware Health and Social Services
Elisabeth Cote became the first Delawarean to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Bayhealth Hospital in Dover Tuesday morning.

Elisabeth Cote, a progressive care unit nurse at Bayhealth in Dover, became first Delawarean to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning.

Bayhealth received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, one day ahead of schedule. The rest of the state’s 8,775 doses are expected to arrive sometime Tuesday, according to the state’s Division of Public Health.

“The vaccine will provide our front-line health care workers with the protection they need while caring for Delawareans who have contracted the virus,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “The vaccine’s arrival does not mean we are in the clear. In fact, now more than ever, we need to step up our efforts to keep each other safe.”

— Rob Tornoe

8:32 AM - December 15, 2020
8:32 AM - December 15, 2020

‘It’s a great way to celebrate my birthday’: First N.J. health care worker receives coronavirus vaccine

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy bumps elbows with Maritza Beniquez during a news conference at University Hospital's COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.
Seth Wenig / AP
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy bumps elbows with Maritza Beniquez during a news conference at University Hospital's COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

The first person to receive a Pfizer vaccination to protect against the coronavirus was Maritza Beniquez, a nurse in the Emergency Department at University Hospital in Newark who got the injection shortly after 8 a.m.

Beniquez, 56, told the staff, reporters and state officials including Gov. Phil Murphy who assembled at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark to mark the occasion, that it was her birthday.

“That light at the end of the tunnel, this is it,” said Beniquez, a mother of three who has two grandchildren. “Thank you, God. It’s a great way to celebrate my birthday.”

After she pulled up her sleeve and had the shot injected, the room applauded and wished her a happy birthday. “See you in 21 days,” someone told her. The vaccination requires a second shot in order to be effective.

Beniquez said she witnessed “sadness, despair and devastation” over the last year while caring for COVID-19 patients.

“When COVID came, it was the worst of our days. It was our worst nightmare,” she said during a news conference following her inoculation. “It was just wave after wave of critically ill patients with no end in sight. It was like watching a tornado or a hurricane cause that sort of devastation in the field.”

“I’ll never forget what this facility had to survive,” she added. “What this city had to survive.”

Murphy thanked Beniquez and other healthcare workers and warned they would continue to face challenges in the weeks to come.

“This is a day worth celebrating,” he said. “But no one should be mistaken, we are still in for several hard months, and we’re going to be facing stiff headwinds from the second wave.

“Maritza and her colleagues still have new patients coming in every day that they care for and protect,” he added. “but thankfully they can now begin to do so with a higher level of confidence of their own protection.”

— Allison Steele

8:29 AM - December 15, 2020
8:29 AM - December 15, 2020

FDA review clears path for second coronavirus vaccine

A view of Moderna headquarters on May 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Maddie Meyer / MCT
A view of Moderna headquarters on May 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

By the end of the week, the United States could have two coronavirus vaccines.

A vaccine candidate developed by biotechnology company Moderna appears poised for regulatory clearance after a detailed data review by Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed the two-shot regimen was 94 percent effective in a clinical trial and carried no serious safety concerns.

The 54-page document positions the Moderna vaccine to follow the same historic track as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Moderna’s vaccine will be reviewed Thursday by the same panel of independent experts at an all-day public meeting. The data they will consider echoes the evidence that led to a 17 to 4 vote to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was 95 percent effective. In addition, the two-shot Moderna regimen was particularly effective against severe disease. There were 30 cases of severe COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the trial, none of them in the group that got the vaccine.

— Washington Post

8:20 AM - December 15, 2020
8:20 AM - December 15, 2020

Fauci said Biden should be vaccinated ‘as soon as we possibly can’

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.
Susan Walsh / AP
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, thinks President-elect Joe Biden should receive the coronavirus vaccine “as soon as we possibly can.”

Speaking on Good Morning America Tuesday morning, Fauci said he would like to see Biden “fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January” and would recommend President Donald Trump receive the vaccine despite having been hospitalized with the virus in October.

“Even though the president himself was infected and he likely has antibodies that would be protective, we’re not sure how long that protection last,” Fauci said.

Fauci also would encourage Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“You still want to protect people who are very important to our country right now,” Fauci said.

— Rob Tornoe

7:45 AM - December 15, 2020
7:45 AM - December 15, 2020

Some Pa. hospitals flooded with new COVID-19 patients as cases surge

More than 6,000 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Pennsylvania as a surge in new cases is beginning to pressure local health systems across the commonwealth.

The Department of Health reported 6,020 COVID-19 hospitalizations on its dashboard as of Tuesday morning, a 120% jump from this time last month, when 2,737 patients were hospitalized. A total of 1,249 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care, and 697 patients were on ventilators.

Pennsylvania had the fourth-most hospitalizations per capita in the country Monday, behind Nevada, Arizona, and South Dakota, according to the COVID Tracking Project. And local health care systems are beginning to feel the pressure.

More than a third of hospitals in the Healthcare Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh and 13 western counties, anticipate staffing shortages due to the pandemic within the next week.

With cases and hospitalizations continuing to rise to record levels, it is essential that residents stay home whenever possible and follow the temporary restrictions announced last week, she said.

“We need all Pennsylvanians to look at these mitigation measures as an opportunity to buy us time,” Levine said Monday. “We need to get through what could be a very challenging winter before the vaccines are widely available.”

— Rob Tornoe

7:30 AM - December 15, 2020
7:30 AM - December 15, 2020

Dozens of Pa. restaurants and gyms remain open in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions

The Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, PA on Friday, December 11, 2020. The athletic club is planning to openly defying the upcoming shutdown orders set by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s stricter orders set to take place Saturday.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
The Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, PA on Friday, December 11, 2020. The athletic club is planning to openly defying the upcoming shutdown orders set by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s stricter orders set to take place Saturday.

Two days after a new slate of business closure orders went into effect, dozens of Pennsylvania restaurants and gyms remain open to indoor service, either openly or covertly defying the governor’s measures aimed at containing the surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Diners, fitness studios, and bars from Pittsburgh to Bucks County have told employees and customers they are ignoring Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration’s most recent order, which took effect Saturday and banned indoor operations among restaurants, gyms, casinos, and theaters through Jan. 4.

While there’s no official count of businesses flouting the rules, dozens of restaurants and gyms have posted on social media that they’re pen indoors, some because they oppose the governor’s mitigation efforts that control business operations, others because they say they refuse to lay off employees amid the holiday season.

The businesses include a handful of gyms in Bucks County, including the large Newtown Athletic Club, as well as a smattering of restaurants in the area.

A spokesperson for Wolf said “a vast majority” of businesses are following the latest orders. She said the administration is prepared to “take more strict enforcement actions on chronic violators because it is imperative that we save lives and protect the public by ensuring all necessary mitigation efforts are being followed.”

— Anna Orso

7:00 AM - December 15, 2020
7:00 AM - December 15, 2020

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