6:45 PM - November 18, 2020
6:45 PM - November 18, 2020

PIAA moves forward with scheduled start of winter sports

File photo: Jess Broskey brings the trophy to the student section as Central Bucks West celebrates winning the District 1 Class 6A girls basketball championship at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 29, 2020. They defeated Pennsbury.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
File photo: Jess Broskey brings the trophy to the student section as Central Bucks West celebrates winning the District 1 Class 6A girls basketball championship at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 29, 2020. They defeated Pennsbury.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on Wednesday confirmed plans to start the winter sports season as scheduled, with practices beginning on Friday, and game competition set to open Dec. 11.

Guidance from the PIAA’s sports medicine committee, which was approved by the organization’s board of governors, indicates an intention to move forward “with an abundance of caution” because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi noted that the guidance also mentions the desire to take a “balanced approach with respect to public-interest in each community.”

Lombardi said the PIAA recommends that decisions on winter sports be made by each school district, the same approach the organization took for fall sports.

— Phil Anastasia

6:07 PM - November 18, 2020
6:07 PM - November 18, 2020

U.S. tops 250,000 deaths from COVID-19

In this May 1, 2020, file photo the Rev. Eric Bennett, left, says a funeral Mass for a man who died of COVID-19 in Boston. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via AP)
Jessica Rinald / AP
In this May 1, 2020, file photo the Rev. Eric Bennett, left, says a funeral Mass for a man who died of COVID-19 in Boston. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via AP)

More than 250,000 Americans have now died after contracting COVID-19, just the latest grim milestone as the pandemic continues to ravage the country.

At least 250,029 people in the United States have died as of Wednesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University.

U.S. deaths have long surpassed the totals of any other country, with Brazil the next highest, at more than 166,000 deaths. The United States also has one of the world’s highest per capita coronavirus death rates, exceeded only by a handful of countries, including Belgium, Spain, Mexico, and Italy.

Deaths are on the rise in the United States due to a dramatic spike in new coronavirus cases that has swept across most of the country. The United States reported more than 1,700 deaths on Tuesday and is averaging more than 1,100 known deaths a day over the past seven days, up from about 700 deaths a day this time last month, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

— Rob Tornoe

5:45 PM - November 18, 2020
5:45 PM - November 18, 2020

Rising hospitalizations in Pennsylvania

5:39 PM - November 18, 2020
5:39 PM - November 18, 2020

Lawsuit filed over Montco school building closures

Two parents and the leader of a Christian school sued Montgomery County on Wednesday, seeking to halt its order closing school buildings across the county for two weeks starting Monday.

The lawsuit alleges county officials violated the Sunshine Act by restricting public comment before the board of health voted on Nov. 13 to shut down K-12 schools for in-person instruction.

It also says the county failed to properly notify the public of the Nov. 13 meeting, when the board reconvened after a meeting that was held a day earlier.

The board of health, “an unelected group of officials accountable to no one, took a sweeping action that will irreparably harm the lives of hundreds of thousands of Montgomery County residents and wreak havoc on our economy: they closed our public and private schools,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

A county spokesperson noted that the lawsuit challenged the process rather than the county’s authority to issue the order. “We are confident that this attack will fail, as the meeting where this action was taken was properly advertised, public comment was permitted, and the final vote was held until the following day to permit further comments to be submitted via email for consideration by the Board,” said the spokesperson, Kelly Cofrancisco.

County officials have described the shutdown as an effort to counter the surge in coronavirus cases they fear will worsen over the Thanksgiving holiday. But the order spurred outrage among parents, many of whom said their schools had been operating without problems.

”We can no longer sit by while our children are used as guinea pigs in this virtual learning experiment,” plaintiffs John Niehls — head of Coventry Christian Schools in Pottstown — and county parents Liz Weir and Kaitlin Derstine said in an email Wednesday.

— Maddie Hanna

4:30 PM - November 18, 2020
4:30 PM - November 18, 2020

Hospitalizations in Montco are rising rapidly, but death count unlikely to spike, commissioner says

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rapidly escalating in Montgomery County, said County Commissioner Dr. Val Arkoosh, though the death rate this fall is not likely to reach the high levels seen in the spring.

“If case numbers continue to rise, we will continue to see an increase in hospitalizations and eventually an increase in deaths,” Arkoosh said at a press briefing Wednesday.

Arkoosh reported 225 new positive coronavirus cases. Four of these cases are in long-term care facilities, while 221 are within the community. Three people, ages 80 to 91 years old, have died. The 14-day average positivity rate is about 7%, Arkoosh said, which is about 2 percentage points higher than the week before. A positivity rate below 5% indicates a suppression of the virus, she said.

Arkoosh said the death rate this fall is not likely to reach the high levels it did in the spring, as the average age of people becoming hospitalized is lower than it was earlier this year. Still, she cautioned it will take time to know for sure.

The mass outbreaks throughout long-term care facilities this spring resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly Pennsylvanians, but as the facilities have adopted stricter protocols, these outbreaks are less likely, she said. Doctors and nurses are also better at treating the virus, she said, and have more medical treatments options.

She said 378 Montgomery County students have tested positive this fall, with 110 testing positive in the past week. At least five student cases have been directly transmitted through school, with two more likely cases being investigated. Staff coronavirus cases have increased by 38 since last week, bringing the total staff numbers to 138. One public school and two religious schools have closed due to high case numbers among students. Two school districts have reported outbreaks amongst bus drivers. Arkoosh did not identify the districts.

— Ellie Rushing

3:45 PM - November 18, 2020
3:45 PM - November 18, 2020

Pa. health officials sharpen focus on contact tracing as cases surge

As cases in Pennsylvania continue to rise to record levels, health officials are prioritizing residents of care facilities and people with “significant underlying health conditions” when it comes to contact tracing efforts, said Michael Huff, the commonwealth’s director of testing and contact tracing.

After attempting to reach out and conduct case investigations for people in those two categories, the commonwealth focuses on “outbreak management” by contacting people who’ve tested positive in counties experiencing the worst surges, he said. All other cases are third priority, he added, and the final tier are cases in people who have died since receiving a positive test result.

The Department of Health’s goal is to reach out to every confirmed case, “in order of priority,” Huff said, but he did not say whether all people who test positive receive a phone call from contact tracers.

While many people continue not to answer the calls of contact tracers or provide them with information (from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, for example, only 16% of people with confirmed cases told tracers whether they’d recently been to a business or gathering), Huff said people between the ages of 18 and 25, from all parts of the commonwealth, seem most reluctant to cooperate.

Perhaps, he said, that’s because they are in the habit of sending calls from unknown numbers to their cell phone’s voicemail. Whatever the reason, he reiterated the importance of people who test positive to answer such calls. With only about a quarter of people who test positive are contacted by case investigators within 24 hours of receiving results, a number that is down from about 80% over the summer, because of the “increased demand” of the rise in cases in recent weeks.

At this time, “the prioritization works for us,” Huff said, but officials would like to do better in time.

In terms of testing, testing turnaround time is generally within 48 to 72 hours, a marked improvement from the spring and summer, he said. Symptomatic individuals continue to be prioritized for testing, Huff said, and surveillance testing of asymptomatic people is not occurring on a widespread basis. He said mask wearing, social distancing, and other public health measures are meant to prevent transmission by asymptomatic people.

— Erin McCarthy

3:00 PM - November 18, 2020
3:00 PM - November 18, 2020

Philadelphia reports 831 new cases, 17 additional deaths

As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in Philadelphia and remain beyond the city’s ability to contact trace all new cases, officials are asking residents to trace their own contacts if they test positive for the virus.

“We are asking people who test positive to help us stop the spread by tracing their own contacts,” officials said in a news release.

The city has asked residents to determine their close contacts starting two days before their symptoms began, and to share the city’s quarantine instructions with them.

Residents can visit https://bit.ly/TraceYourContactsPHL to review the steps and access a website to use for informing contacts if they wish to remain anonymous.

The city reported 831 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, and 17 additional deaths. A total of 1,942 residents have now died of COVID-19.

Hospitalizations are also increasing in the city. As of Wednesday, the city reported 530 COVID-19 patients in city hospitals, with 45 on ventilators. During the spring wave of the virus, the peak of hospitalizations was about 1,000 patients at one time.

— Laura McCrystal

2:55 PM - November 18, 2020
2:55 PM - November 18, 2020

Dolly Parton helped fund Moderna’s vaccine

In this Nov. 13, 2019 file photo, Dolly Parton performs at the 53rd annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Parton's $1 million gift to Nashville's Vanderbilt University helped researchers develop Moderna's experimental coronavirus vaccine, announced this week.
Mark J. Terrill / AP
In this Nov. 13, 2019 file photo, Dolly Parton performs at the 53rd annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Parton's $1 million gift to Nashville's Vanderbilt University helped researchers develop Moderna's experimental coronavirus vaccine, announced this week.

As Dolly Parton tells it, her first-ever car accident in October 2013 was minor, but left her bruised and sore enough to seek medical advice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

That’s where she met Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery. Abumrad knew next to nothing about the beloved megastar with big, blond hair, but he soon befriended her because he deeply enjoyed their talks about current events and science.

Their bond of nearly seven years received worldwide attention Tuesday after it was revealed that Parton’s $1 million donation to Vanderbilt for coronavirus research, made in honor of Abumrad, partially funded the biotechnology firm Moderna’s experimental vaccine, which a preliminary analysis released this week found is nearly 95 percent effective at preventing the illness.

— Washington Post

2:40 PM - November 18, 2020
2:40 PM - November 18, 2020

Three South Jersey counties now reporting new cases in the triple digits

CAMcare RN Teesha Cooper (left) uses a nasopharyngeal swab to perform a COVID-19 test at CAMcare Health Corp. 817 Federal St., Camden, N.J. on Nov. 16, 2020.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
CAMcare RN Teesha Cooper (left) uses a nasopharyngeal swab to perform a COVID-19 test at CAMcare Health Corp. 817 Federal St., Camden, N.J. on Nov. 16, 2020.

Fifteen of New Jersey’s 21 counties are reporting daily coronavirus cases in the triple digits, Gov. Phil Murphy said, including South Jersey’s Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester Counties.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said several hospitals were diverting ambulances due to the pandemic, but that there was “significant capacity” in the state’s facilities. Murphy said he was more concerned with potential staffing shortages than he was about straining their stockpiles of PPE or ventilators.

“I do not believe that we will plow through our formidable stockpile or PPE or ventilators or bed capacity,” Murphy said. “It’s the staffing piece that is the one that keeps us up at night.”

Persichilli also said nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from when the pandemic began last spring.

Containing the virus in areas where it is spreading will require “layers of community mitigation,” said state epidemiologist Christina Tan: constant reminders to wear masks, wash hands, and isolate if necessary, coupled with restrictions aimed at limiting some activities.

— Allison Steele

1:40 PM - November 18, 2020
1:40 PM - November 18, 2020

New Jersey averaging more new COVID-19 cases now than during spring peak

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy urged colleges and universities to make coronavirus testing widely available to students before they return home for the Thanksgiving break. He joined several governors in the region, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who have made the request.

Students who test positive are asked to either isolate on campus or coordinate with local health officials to travel home safely. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said students planning to go home should quarantine for 14 days before leaving.

The state added 4,063 cases and another 27 deaths. The positivity rate on Saturday was 10.88%. Murphy said there are more than 2,000 patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19, with several hundred other suspected cases.

“There is no way to sugarcoat any of these numbers,” Murphy said. “They are not good and they are trending worse.”

Murphy urged residents again to limit social gatherings for Thanksgiving, saying that even small group events are spreading the virus.

“This is not the year to squeeze around a dinner table,” he said.

He cited a doctor quoted in a Mississippi Free Press story who said, “We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas.”

“Please let that sink in well before the turkey defrosts,” Murphy said.

— Allison Steele

12:10 PM - November 18, 2020
12:10 PM - November 18, 2020

Pennsylvania reports more than 6,300 new cases, most deaths in one day since late May

Pennsylvania added more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time during the pandemic on Wednesday as the virus continues to spread unabated across the commonwealth.

The Department of Health reported 6,339 new cases, setting yet another pandemic high and surpassing 5,000 new cases for the sixth time in seven days. Pennsylvania is now averaging nearly 5,500 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis.

Across Pennsylvania, the positivity rate on tests conducted between Nov. 6 and Nov. 12 was 9.6%, up sharply from the 6.9% positivity rate reported the previous week. On Tuesday, 2,737 patients were hospitalized, up from 1,938 a week ago and close to a pandemic high of 2,800 set in late April.

Overall, 281,852 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 9,465 have died, with 110 new deaths reported on Wednesday — the most reported in one day since late May. Of the commonwealth’s deaths, 6,157 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:30 AM - November 18, 2020
11:30 AM - November 18, 2020

Philly lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19

House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, leaves the House floor wearing gloves and a mask after the morning legislative session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
Joe Hermitt / The Patriot-News
House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, leaves the House floor wearing gloves and a mask after the morning legislative session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris, a Democrat and the House Minority Whip who represents the 186th legislative district in Philadelphia, announced on Wednesday he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Harris said in a statement he went into self-isolation after coming in close contact with a member of the community who experienced coronavirus symptoms. Harris said he will work remotely when the House returns to session.

“Working in collaboration with our Human Resources Department in Harrisburg, I can say that there has been no potential exposure to the Capitol complex,” Harris said. “Thus far, I feel blessed and fortunate to be in good health and good spirits.”

— Rob Tornoe

11:15 AM - November 18, 2020
11:15 AM - November 18, 2020

Six-week shutdown could mean a ‘year without Christmas’ for Philly businesses

A pedestrian walks by the closed up store on the northeast corner of 16th and Walnut Streets on Nov. 17, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks by the closed up store on the northeast corner of 16th and Walnut Streets on Nov. 17, 2020.

Beleaguered business owners and city residents, who had reconfigured their work lives to survive the pandemic’s first wave, latched onto a now-ubiquitous sentiment on Tuesday: Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The City of Philadelphia imposed new business restrictions on Monday that will go into effect at the end of the week. Sectors of the local economy will be required to shut down or severely curtail operations until at least Jan. 1.

“For millions of people, this could be the year without a Christmas,” said Stephen Mullin, principal at Econsult Solutions and a former city director of commerce during the Rendell administration. “We’ll see unemployment bouncing up significantly again.”

The poor will be hit disproportionately as minimum wage jobs in retail, hospitality, and restaurants disappear, he predicted. The next six weeks will be tougher than in the spring and will probably endure into the new year. And businesses are pushing back and taking their complaints directly to City Hall.

“The one question I have is this,” Mullin said: " ‘What will happen between now and January in Congress to create a safety net to try to keep people from starving to death?’ "

— Sam Wood and Katie Park

9:45 AM - November 18, 2020
9:45 AM - November 18, 2020

You should probably replace some of your fabric face masks

Cynthia Greer

If your masks are beginning to feel as old as this pandemic, it’s probably time to get yourself some new ones.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises using masks that have at least two layers of tightly woven, washable, breathable fabric, such as cotton. When you wash your masks regularly, which you’re supposed to do, the fabric, as well as the fit, can begin to deteriorate. As this happens, your masks become less effective.

“A newer, fresher mask is likely to have tighter fibers, and so it’s likely better at keeping out other particles and keeping your particles in,” says Krys Johnson, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Temple University.

The exact timeline of when you need to replace a mask depends on the makeup of the mask, along with other factors like how much you’re washing it, and how often you’re taking it on and off.

But as a general rule of thumb: “Think about masks like seasonal attire. Update every season,” says Johnson.

— Grace Dickinson

8:30 AM - November 18, 2020
8:30 AM - November 18, 2020

FDA allows 1st rapid coronavirus test that gives results at home

U.S. regulators on Tuesday allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at home and delivers results in 30 minutes.

The FDA granted emergency authorization to the single-use test kit from Lucira Health, a California manufacturer. The test will require a prescription, likely limiting its initial use.

The company’s test allows users to swab themselves to collect a nasal sample. The sample is then swirled in a vial of laboratory solution that plugs into a portable device. Results are displayed as lights labeled positive or negative.

— Associated Press

7:15 AM - November 18, 2020
7:15 AM - November 18, 2020

New Pfizer results show vaccine is safe and 95% effective

A patient gets Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
/ AP
A patient gets Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The coronavirus vaccine being developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech is 95% effective at preventing disease, according to an analysis after the trial reached its endpoint. The vaccine trial also reached a safety milestone, with two months of follow-up on half of the participants, and will submit an application for emergency authorization “within days” according to a news release.

The experimental vaccine had already shown promise at an early analysis announced last week, but the trial sped to completion faster than anticipated due to the spike in coronavirus cases.

In the trial, half the nearly 44,000 participants received the experimental vaccine and half received a placebo. As those people went about their normal lives, they were exposed to the virus in the community, and physicians tracked all cases with symptoms to see if the vaccine had a protective effect.

The data have not yet been published or peer reviewed, but will be closely scrutinized by the Food and Drug Administration and an independent advisory committee that makes recommendations to the agency.

Among 170 cases of COVID-19 in the trial, 162 were in the placebo group and eight were in the vaccine group. There were 10 cases of severe disease in the trial, nine of which were in the placebo group and one in the vaccine group.

Among people older than 65, a group at high risk of severe illness, the vaccine was 94 percent effective.

“We continue to move at the speed of science to compile all the data collected thus far and share with regulators around the world,” Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said in a statement.

The news comes days after Moderna, a biotechnology company, announced its vaccine was nearly 95 percent effective at an early analysis.

U.S. government officials anticipate having 40 million doses of both vaccines by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

— Washington Post

7:00 AM - November 18, 2020
7:00 AM - November 18, 2020

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania near pandemic highs

Pennsylvania’s hospitals had more than 2,700 coronavirus patients on Tuesday — nearly as many as the commonwealth did at the pandemic’s April peak. Two months ago, fewer than 500 virus patients were hospitalized, according to state data.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine warned if people don’t abide by restrictions and recommendations to squash the spread of the virus, Pennsylvania could run out of intensive-care beds in December. More than 9,300 deaths in the state have been blamed on the virus.

“How Pennsylvania does in terms of this pandemic and whether we follow the [projections] or whether we don’t is going to come down to the actions of every single Pennsylvanian,” Levine said Tuesday, citing the surge estimates based on University of Washington modeling.

New Jersey reported 2,320 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, up from 1,645 this time last week and 781 last month, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. In Delaware, 153 people were hospitalized with the virus, up from 89 at the end of October.

— Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy, Rob Tornoe and Jason Laughlin

6:45 AM - November 18, 2020
6:45 AM - November 18, 2020

COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware

Pennsylvania reported 5,900 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the fifth time in six days the commonwealth has surpassed 5,000 new infections as a surge that began in the middle of September continues to climb unabated.

Across the river, New Jersey reported 4,060 new cases and is now averaging over 3,600 new cases a day over the past seven days, close to a pandemic high set back in the beginning of April. Delaware added 352 new cases on Tuesday as Gov. John Carney warned the "conditions on the ground are getting worse.”

Here’s where things stand through Tuesday, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department:

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 5,265 new cases a day, a 55% increase over last week’s average (3,398 a day) and 260% higher than last month’s average (1,461 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 3,603 new cases a day, a 40% increase over last week’s average (2,568 a day) and 255% higher than last month’s average (1,015 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 349 new cases a day, a 45% increase over last week’s average (241 a day) and 162% higher than last month’s average (162 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

6:30 AM - November 18, 2020
6:30 AM - November 18, 2020

Wednesday morning roundup: U.S. reports more than 1,700 deaths, most since May

  • The United States reported 161,934 new cases on Tuesday, and is now averaging more than 158,000 new daily cases over the past seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country also reported 1,707 deaths, the most in one day since May.
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered an early closing time for the state’s bars, banned fans from stadiums, and set new limits on hospitals and nursing homes in hopes of slowing a troubling wave of coronavirus cases, according to the Baltimore Sun.
  • Ohio is imposing a nightly 10 p.m. curfew for businesses that will last at least three weeks, depending on the trajectory of the virus within the state, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced Tuesday.
  • Despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in and around Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones plans to continue to allow tens of thousands of fans to attend home games.
  • Leaders of three major medical associations urged President Donald Trump to cooperate with the incoming Biden administration on the pandemic response, saying data and information need “to be shared to save countless lives.