7:20 PM - November 19, 2020
7:20 PM - November 19, 2020

Restaurant owners sue Mayor Kenney on indoor-dining ban

A group of Philadelphia restaurant owners on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Jim Kenney alleging that his order to prohibit indoor dining because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases violates their constitutional rights and will devastate them financially.

The 11-page complaint argues that Kenney’s restrictions, which were announced this week and take effect at restaurants on Friday, are arbitrary and not supported by evidence that they will help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 does not distinguish between the indoor airspace of other businesses that Defendants, Mayor Kenney and the City of Philadelphia, are allowing to remain operational, such as national big-box chain retailers (e.g. Walmart; Target; Home Depot), and small mom-and-pop businesses, such as barber shops, salons, and daycare centers, in addition to other indoor businesses such as banks, real estate operations, and the Philadelphia court system,” the complaint says.

“The edicts of the ‘Safer at Home’ policies have no relation to nor bearing upon the conduct of business, liberty, and other constitutional rights,” the lawsuit says.

Attorney Brian E. Fritz, who is representing the restaurant owners, said he would make an additional filing on Friday seeking emergency relief.

“We hope a hearing on that will be scheduled promptly. We should have a better sense tomorrow,” Fritz said in an email Thursday evening.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is identified as “Philadelphia Restaurant Owners Against Lockdown, LLC.” Individual restaurants and owners are not named.

Deana Gamble, spokesperson for Kenney, said in an email: “We are still reviewing the lawsuit. But the prohibition on indoor dining is a critical part of our strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 at a time when infection rates are surging and hospitalization rates are dangerously spiking. As Dr. Farley noted today, these restrictions are temporary. Death is permanent.”

On Monday, the city announced it would close indoor restaurant dining, gyms, and museums starting on Friday and will require office workers to work remotely in an effort to counter rising numbers of infections and hospitalizations.

The restrictions will last through Jan. 1, and include limits on outdoor gatherings and a ban on public and private indoor gatherings — making it a violation of city regulations for residents to hold holiday gatherings with anyone outside their own households.

”There’s no doubt these changes are necessary,” Kenney said at the time.

— Robert Moran

6:10 PM - November 19, 2020
6:10 PM - November 19, 2020

Pence touts readiness on vaccine distribution, says children need to return to school

Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Thursday expressed confidence that an approved vaccine will soon be available, but that Americans should follow public-health recommendations while the nation faces a massive surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

At a news conference in the White House, Pence said vaccine distribution will be “virtually immediate” once a candidate receives an emergency use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration. Officials then specified that distribution would begin within 24 hours of approval.

In the meantime, Americans should wear masks and practice social distancing and personal hygiene measures such as frequent hand-washing, Pence said.

“The American people know what to do,” he said, though in recent weeks President Donald Trump has held gatherings at the White House with people not wearing masks or social distancing. Members of his inner-circle have since tested positive for COVID-19.

Pence said the Trump Administration will “support decision-making at the local level,” but reiterated the opposition of Trump to having any national lockdown and the president’s repeated insistence that children return to in-person classes at school.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, described how the virus is spreading across the country and emphasized that “every American needs to be vigilant in this moment.”

Task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, addressing the most recent vaccine developments, said the Pfizer candidate is reportedly 95% effective against the virus and the Moderna candidate is 94.5% effective.

He said those numbers were “extraordinary” and comparable to the measles vaccine, which is close to 98% effective.

Fauci said the public should be confident that the vaccines will be safe and that the speed of their development “did not compromise” safety or scientific standards.

“This is really solid,” Fauci said.

He also emphasized that in the meantime, Americans need to “double down” on public health safety while they wait for a vaccine.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that President Trump’s insistence on children returning to in-person classes was supported by scientific data and that schools are safe for “face-to-face learning” and “one of the safest places they can be, from our perspective.”

— Robert Moran

5:41 PM - November 19, 2020
5:41 PM - November 19, 2020

N.J. teachers’ union accuses Gov. Murphy minimizing risk of in-person classes

New Jersey’s largest teachers’ union on Thursday accused Gov. Phil Murphy of minimizing the risk of in-person instruction, after Murphy and six other governors — including Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania — expressed support for keeping schools open amid the spike in coronavirus cases.

”We agree wholeheartedly that in-person learning is the best possible scenario for all children, but only when that is safe. In too many places, it is simply not safe now,” New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan, Vice President Sean M. Spiller and Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty said in a statement. They said they were “dismayed” that the governors “have downplayed the danger posed to students and school staff participating in in-person instruction during the current COVID-19 surge in our region.”

The union was responding to a statement Murphy posted on Twitter earlier Thursday, which the governor described as a “joint message” from himself, Wolf, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

”Medical research as well as the data from Northeastern states, from across the country, and from around the world make clear that in-person learning is safe when the appropriate protections are in place, even in communities with high transmission rates,” the statement read.

The NJEA called the data New Jersey is reporting on school outbreaks “misleading at best,” saying it doesn’t include cases where students or staff may be infected during school-related activities.

In Pennsylvania, which isn’t reporting school outbreaks, Wolf’s administration has recommended that schools in areas with “substantial” transmission — a designation that currently applies to 59 of 67 counties — offer fully virtual instruction.

Asked why the governor signed the statement given his administration’s guidelines, a spokesperson said Wolf “has said that all Pennsylvanians need to unite to slow the spread of the virus so that is safe for children to remain in the classroom, where possible.”

— Maddie Hanna

4:18 PM - November 19, 2020
4:18 PM - November 19, 2020

Delco asks state for stricter measures as hospitals come under strain

Delaware County Council is asking the state to enact stricter coronavirus mitigation measures, saying its hospitals are strained amid the spike in cases.

In a resolution passed Thursday, the county leaders ask Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Health to require masks at food establishments except when someone is eating or drinking, to limit the number of people at an indoor or outdoor dining table to four, and to limit indoor gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

The request to the state is “in response to an alarming spike” in cases, the county said in a statement. Since Nov. 9, the county’s hospitals have had to divert coronavirus patients because they have not had either enough space or healthcare workers to treat patients, and emergency responders and healthcare staffs are strained, according to the county.

”The county has now exceeded the highest number of COVID-19 outbreaks since the height of the pandemic,” the statement said. As of Tuesday, Pennsylvania requires mask-wearing in any setting, indoor or outdoor, where someone is near people they don’t live with. Restaurants can serve indoor diners at 50% capacity, and indoor gatherings are regulated based on maximum occupancy, with 20% capacity allowed for spaces with occupancy at or below 2,000.

Delaware County can’t enact its own mitigation measures beyond the ones in place statewide because it does not have a health department.

Justine McDaniel

3:57 PM - November 19, 2020
3:57 PM - November 19, 2020

Philly police commissioner quarantining after being exposed to virus

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw speaks during a press conference at police headquarters on race street, in Philadelphia, October 6, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw speaks during a press conference at police headquarters on race street, in Philadelphia, October 6, 2020.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has been working remotely since last week because an employee she works with tested positive for COVID-19, a department spokesperson said Thursday.

Outlaw began quarantining on Nov. 12, the spokesperson said, and she “is following all protocols” recommended by the department of public health, “including self-quarantine and remote work.” The news was first reported by BigTrial.net and later Fox29.

The department would not say if Outlaw had tested positive for the virus, and would not say how many Police Department employees had tested positive.

Officer Tanya Little, a spokesperson, said the department “remains confident in its ability to provide adequate staffing levels to maintain the public safety that our City deserves and expects.”

Chris Palmer

2:51 PM - November 19, 2020
2:51 PM - November 19, 2020

After 24 years, Grey Lodge Pub closing its doors for good

The Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philadelphia is closing its doors for good after 24 years.
The Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philadelphia is closing its doors for good after 24 years.

After 24 years, the Grey Lodge Pub on Frankford Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia is closing for good, the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic that has been especially hard for restaurants and bars to weather.

In a Thursday afternoon Facebook post, owner Mike “Scoats” Scotese wrote the city’s latest restrictions on bars and restaurants was the “final blow” for the Frankford Avenue spot, which he opened back in 1996 after working for the previous owner for three years. Scotese said Lucky Cat Brewing will “live on.”

“The bar at 6235 Frankford Avenue turned 70 this year, and I have been there for 27 of those years,” Scotese wrote. “I am gutted by this, but it is time for me to move on.”

Also on Thursday, Bridgewater’s Pub, which is located inside 30th Street Station, announced it was closing.

“After 21 years, many friendships and much laughter it is time for Bridgewater’s to say goodbye,” the business announced on Facebook. The pub will close on Dec. 4.

— Rob Tornoe

2:34 PM - November 19, 2020
2:34 PM - November 19, 2020

Eagles wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside tests positive for COVID-19

Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside catches the football during a two point conversion against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, October 18, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside catches the football during a two point conversion against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, October 18, 2020.

The Eagles announced a positive COVID-19 test Thursday, and a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed it belongs to wide receiver J.J, Arcega-Whiteside. The source said fellow wide receivers John Hightower and Deontay Burnett are in isolation, as close contacts of Arcega-Whiteside. The identities of the players involved were first reported by podcast hosts Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan.

None of the identified players currently hold significant roles on the team, which is scheduled to visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Arcega-Whiteside was inactive for the Sunday loss to the Giants, after playing only five snaps in the previous game, against Dallas. He has two catches for 45 yards this season.

Marcus Epps, an Eagles safety, tested positive two weeks ago. He rejoined practice this week.

— Les Bowen

2:21 PM - November 19, 2020
2:21 PM - November 19, 2020

New Philly coronavirus restrictions take effect 5 p.m. Friday

People wait in a line wrapping around Mifflin Square Park for COVID-19 testing with Philadelphia Flight and SEAMAAC in South Philadelphia, Pa., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
People wait in a line wrapping around Mifflin Square Park for COVID-19 testing with Philadelphia Flight and SEAMAAC in South Philadelphia, Pa., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

Philadelphia’s new coronavirus restrictions will take effect at 5 p.m. Friday, closing indoor restaurant dining, museums, libraries, gyms, and theaters.

But even as Health Commissioner Thomas Farley urged residents to stay home as much as possible and follow the new guidelines through Jan. 1, he warned that it may not be possible to lift restrictions at the start of 2021.

”I would certainly think it’s unlikely that we’re going to have this problem solved by Jan. 1,” he said.

Farley said he would expect the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic to peak in January, but is still hopeful it can be slowed earlier with the new restrictions.

The city’s new order also includes a ban on all public or private indoor gatherings and places restrictions on outdoor gatherings, including banning the serving of food or drinks. Residents should celebrate Thanksgiving and other upcoming holidays only with their own household members, Farley said.

The city has heard from a number of business owners who are upset by the new restrictions because they feel that they have safety measures in place and no evidence of the virus spreading in their establishments, Farley said. He said he understands their frustration, but “the virus is spreading more readily than ever before.”

”If we don’t act now there is a risk that our hospitals may be overrun, we may have hundreds or a thousand deaths just before the end of the year,” he said. “These restrictions are temporary, just six weeks, but death is permanent.”

Farley said he does not expect to put additional restrictions in place on other businesses “unless the epidemic continues to get worse.”

And while Farley has said other counties in the Philadelphia region should enact similar restrictions to slow the surge of the virus, he said Thursday that he has not heard any plan imminent action.

”I’m still hopeful that there will be some restrictions that some of them will put in place,” he said.

— Laura McCrystal

2:14 PM - November 19, 2020
2:14 PM - November 19, 2020

Murphy warns the next few months in N.J. will be ‘brutal’ and pleas for residents to ‘do the right thing’

New Jersey on Thursday reported 4,320 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 38 additional deaths related to the virus.

While many of the counties seeing the worst surges are in the northern part of the state, outside New York City, Camden County logged the sixth highest number of additional cases with 328. Burlington recorded 205, while Gloucester saw 152.

The Garden State has averaged 3,858 additional cases per day over the past seven days, and 2,471 people were hospitalized there as of Thursday.

Reiterating that much of the spread was occurring at small indoor gatherings in private homes, Gov. Phil Murphy told MSNBC, “At a certain point, this is a plea to individuals just to do the right thing.”

“Celebrate Thanksgiving just with your immediate family, low single digits. Likewise for the holidays that follow,” Murphy said. “That’s a down payment, God willing with a vaccine, for a back-to-normal holiday season next year.”

Murphy said the coming months will likely be “brutal,” in New Jersey and across the country, and said they will be even worse so if the Trump administration continues to block the transition to the incoming Biden administration and not coordinate on vaccine distribution and testing information.

“That is completely, utterly unacceptable,” Murphy said. If the Trump administration doesn’t open communications with the President-elect’s team, “we are putting people’s lives at risk, unequivocally.”

Murphy also once again called on the federal government to pass another stimulus package to assist struggling businesses and unemployed individuals as cases surge and additional restrictions loom.

“The clock has been ticking” since the summer, Murphy said. “The federal government did a really good job in the spring into the early summer, with Congress leading the way. It was a bridge over troubled water. The problem is that the bridge just broke in the middle of the summer and folks have been left without a lifeline.”

— Erin McCarthy

2:06 PM - November 19, 2020
2:06 PM - November 19, 2020

Philadelphia reports 765 new cases, highest positivity rate since May

Philadelphia’s new cases of the coronavirus continue to be higher than at any point in the past eight months as the city prepares to implement new restrictions Friday.

The city reported 765 confirmed cases of the virus from new test results Thursday. And there was an average of 849 cases per day last week, said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, representing the results of tests performed during the week that ended Saturday. That average far exceeds any other week’s daily average since March.

”What was once safe is now dangerous with the change in the weather, and we’re starting to see the severe outcomes that we worried the most about,” Farley said. “This is possibly the worst period of the entire epidemic.”

Farley said the city also had the highest positivity rate of COVID-19 tests since May, at 11.7%. He noted increases in hospitalizations and cases in nursing home residents. Last week the city had 71 new cases in residents last week, compared to an average of about 10 to 15 cases per week throughout August and September.

Farley said the city’s contact tracing has found spread of the coronavirus connected to Halloween parties as well as social gatherings, offices and restaurants. The city is unable to trace all new cases of the virus due to the recent surge, and Farley warned that it is spreading everywhere in the city.

The city also reported three new deaths Thursday. A total of 1,945 residents have now died of COVID-19.

— Laura McCrystal

2:00 PM - November 19, 2020
2:00 PM - November 19, 2020

Punxsutawney Phil’s annual prediction will be virtual in 2021

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 134th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. back in February.
Barry Reeger / AP
Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 134th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. back in February.

The coronavirus pandemic means Groundhog Day won’t be the same in a Pennsylvania town long associated with a prognosticating rodent.

Organizers said Punxsutawney Phil will predict whether spring will come early or winter will last longer in 2021 without the usual crowds who gather at Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill just outside the town about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Phil and his inner circle on Feb. 2 will deliver the prediction virtually by means of a live internet stream and website, organizers said. “But it has been determined that there will not be any in person attendance or guests on the grounds as the potential Covid risks to overcome are too great,” they said.

The annual event has its origin in a German legend that says if a furry rodent casts a shadow on Feb. 2, winter continues. If not, spring comes early.

— Associated Press

1:30 PM - November 19, 2020
1:30 PM - November 19, 2020

CDC recommends against Thanksgiving travel amid surge of coronavirus cases

Cynthia Greer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended against traveling for Thanksgiving this year as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise across the country.

The new guidance, posted on the CDC website Thursday, says “postponing planned travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year”

For those considering traveling, the CDC added a list of questions to answer first, and suggested checking the agency’s COVID Data Tracker to look at local infection rates. The agency also offered suggestions on how to make Thanksgiving gatherings safer, which includes:

  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Wear a mask and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
  • Avoid going in and out of areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.
  • Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

The new guidance echoes comments made by local leaders for weeks, who have urged residents to limit Thanksgiving celebrations to people who live within the same household.

“This is not the year for the big family gathering. This is not the year to squeeze around a dinner table,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said during a briefing on Thursday.

— Rob Tornoe

1:05 PM - November 19, 2020
1:05 PM - November 19, 2020

Some in Pennsylvania might be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine ‘within the next month,’ Levine says

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a coronavirus press conference in September.
Commonwealth Media Services
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a coronavirus press conference in September.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday that the commonwealth “could have a vaccine within the next month” if federal approval processes remain on track, but getting the coronavirus vaccine to the broad population will take months.

“It’s going to take time to roll all this out, and then we also have to get past vaccine hesitancy,” she said, alluding to the fact that an estimated 42% of U.S. adults said in October that they would not get a coronavirus vaccine. “It will be a significant challenge, but we’re up for that challenge.”

Her department on Thursday released its interim vaccination plan which lays out which populations can get a vaccine first when it is available. Echoing other health experts, Levine said she anticipated the Pfizer vaccine to be available first, then the Moderna vaccine, which is said to also be more than 90% effective and easier to store, to “come really on the heels of the Pfizer vaccine.”

In the first phase of Pennsylvania’s distribution process, the phase Levine said could begin in the next month, people who live in care facilities, healthcare workers, certain first responders and critical workers, and people with the most serious high-risk conditions or who are 65 or older may be able to get the vaccine. People suffering from cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes, and serious heart conditions including heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies, will be among that group, as will people who are obese.

By phase two, when there is larger supply of vaccines, the commonwealth plans to be able to vaccinate a larger swatch of critical workers and people with other serious health problems, such as moderate to severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, dementia, and liver disease, as well as people who are pregnant, who are immunocompromised, or who smoke. Also in this category: people between the ages of 40 and 64, populations who face challenges accessing healthcare, and those who live in dorms or military barracks.

Younger people who do not have high-risk conditions and do not work essential jobs will be vaccinated last.

Levine said people who do not have easy access to healthcare or regularly see a doctor will not be left behind in this process, and the commonwealth will set up mass vaccinations clinics to reach marginalized communities.

Despite promising news about vaccines, Levine encouraged Pennsylvanians to exercise patience and remember that even after vaccinations begin public health measures will still be necessary for some time.

”It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I anticipate we’re going to be wearing masks in 2021, well into and maybe to the end of 2021.”

— Erin McCarthy

12:05 PM - November 19, 2020
12:05 PM - November 19, 2020

Pennsylvania reports over 7,000 new cases for first time as COVID-19 spread worsens

Pennsylvania added more than 7,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time during the pandemic on Thursday as the virus continues to spread unabated across the commonwealth.

The Department of Health reported 7,126 new cases, setting yet another pandemic high and surpassing 5,000 new cases for the seventh time in eight days. Pennsylvania is now averaging nearly 5,700 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 Wednesday, 2,904 patients were hospitalized, up from 2,080 a week ago and close to a pandemic high of 2,800 set in late April.

Overall, 288,978 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 9,581 have died, with 116 new deaths reported on Wednesday — the most reported in one day since late May. Of the commonwealth’s deaths, 6,169 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:38 AM - November 19, 2020
11:38 AM - November 19, 2020

Hospitals filling up in Camden County as number of infections grows

CAMcare nurse manage Karla Perez-Griffin performs a COVID-19 test at CAMcare Health Corp. in Camden, N.J. on Nov. 16, 2020.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
CAMcare nurse manage Karla Perez-Griffin performs a COVID-19 test at CAMcare Health Corp. in Camden, N.J. on Nov. 16, 2020.

Hospitals are filling up in Camden County as new COVID-19 infections continues to surge across the county.

Over the past two weeks, Freeholder Louis Cappelli, Jr. said Camden County has reported over 3,000 new cases, by far the most over any 14-day span during the course of the pandemic. The county is now averaging 250 new cases per day, and the test positivity rate is 10.7%, up from 7.7% last week and around 3% just a few weeks ago.

“All these are are not good signs for our residents and for the health of our county,” Cappelli, Jr. said.

Reginald Blaber, the executive vice president of Virtua Health, said as of Friday there were 205 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the company’s five South Jersey hospitals, up from just 40 patients last month. Blaber said 250 patients were hospitalized during the pandemic’s first peak during the spring, but predicted surpassing that number “by far” in the weeks following Thanksgiving and holidays in December.

“We don’t know when the peak will end, but absent a vaccine, we’re not going to see relief until the spring,” Blaber said. “We all have extreme fatigue over wearing masks and social distancing, but honestly, now is the moment where we have to come together and have to protect our loved ones, friends and co-workers.”

— Rob Tornoe

10:55 AM - November 19, 2020
10:55 AM - November 19, 2020

Lehigh University moves to remote learning after ‘marked increase’ of COVID-19 cases

Citing a “marked increase” in the number of students testing positive for COVID-19 and reporting symptoms, Lehigh University announced Thursday all classes will move to remote learning immediately and that all campus libraries will close and transition to curbside services and remote support.

As of Wednesday, Lehigh reported 34 new COVID-19 cases, and early results returned from asymptomatic exit tests show an additional 63 positive results and a 9.3% positivity rate, the school said in a statement.

The university is also encouraging students to limit interactions to classmates in their immediate residence and avoid unnecessary outings and travel.

— Rob Tornoe

9:55 AM - November 19, 2020
9:55 AM - November 19, 2020

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Camden to hold COVID-19 briefings Thursday

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley during a July press conference at the Philadelphia Zoo.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley during a July press conference at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Officials in Pennsylvanian Philadelphia, and Camden County will offer coronavirus updates on Thursday. Here’s a schedule of how to watch and stream:

— Rob Tornoe

8:40 AM - November 19, 2020
8:40 AM - November 19, 2020

U.S. jobless claims increase for first time in weeks as pandemic worsens

Outside Century 21 on East Market Street. The department store announced in September that its 13 locations would be shutting down for good because of "unforeseen circumstances” of the pandemic.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Outside Century 21 on East Market Street. The department store announced in September that its 13 locations would be shutting down for good because of "unforeseen circumstances” of the pandemic.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose last week to 742,000, the first increase in five weeks and a sign that the resurgent viral outbreak is likely slowing the economy and forcing more companies to cut jobs.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday showed that applications for benefits rose from 711,000 in the previous week. Claims had soared to 6.9 million in March when the pandemic first intensified. Before the pandemic, applications typically hovered about 225,000 a week.

The economy’s modest recovery is increasingly at risk, with newly confirmed daily infections in the United States having exploded 80% over the past two weeks to the highest levels on record. More states and cities are issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, restricting restaurant dining, closing gyms or reducing the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses. At least 15 states have tightened curbs on businesses to try to slow infections.

— Associated Press

8:15 AM - November 19, 2020
8:15 AM - November 19, 2020

Yue Kee, the legendary Chinese food truck in University City, is closing after 37 years

Chef and co-owner Tsz Pong peaks out of the takeout window at Yue Kee, the Chinese food truck he ran with his wife Bi Pang across from Wharton that is closing after 37 years. He removed his mask briefly for the portrait.
Craig LaBan
Chef and co-owner Tsz Pong peaks out of the takeout window at Yue Kee, the Chinese food truck he ran with his wife Bi Pang across from Wharton that is closing after 37 years. He removed his mask briefly for the portrait.

The Yue Kee food truck has been a beloved fixture on South 38th Street for as long as many Chinese-food lovers in University City can remember, slinging spicy Beijing hot noodles and wok-seared eggplant in black bean sauce since Ronald Reagan was president. But the Yue Kee era, sadly, is about to end.

“Time to retire!” chef Tsz Pong told me as he swiftly turned back to a smoking wok to cook my final order of ginger chicken and ma paul tofu recently at Yue Kee, the truck he’s operated for 37 years with wife and co-owner, Bi Pang, across from the Wharton School.

“I plan on ordering food from them every day until their closing,” said David Lee, a longtime Inquirer reader, Walnut Hill resident and Yue Kee regular who alerted me last week to the truck’s impending closing on Nov. 25.

Pong told Lee that COVID-19, which closed the dorms at the University of Pennsylvania and shifted all classes online, had impacted the business dramatically: “He loses money every day.”

— Craig LaBan

7:30 AM - November 19, 2020
7:30 AM - November 19, 2020

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania surpass pandemic highs set in April

As the coronavirus continued its unrelenting spread, more patients were hospitalized in Pennsylvania on Wednesday than ever before, surpassing the state’s late April peak.

2,904 Pennsylvania residents were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to state data, an increase of more than 700 patients compared to just last week. About 500 patients were hospitalized two months ago. The previous high was 2,800 on April 27.

New Jersey reported 2,446 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, up from 1,801 this time last week and 844 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.

Pennsylvania also reported 110 deaths on Wednesday. Though the death rate is much lower than in the spring surge — while case numbers are now higher — the seven-day average was 46 deaths a day Wednesday, an increase from 22 on Nov. 1, according to Inquirer data analysis.

New Jersey reported 27 deaths on Wednesday. The state was averaging 24 deaths per day, an increase from 10 a day on Nov. 1.

— Justine McDaniel, Allison Steele, Erin McCarthy, and Rob Tornoe

7:15 AM - November 19, 2020
7:15 AM - November 19, 2020

Cases continue to soar in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

A pedestrian walks past a mural on the front wall of Julia de Burgos Elementary School. Masks were added to the mural at the end of September for Philadelphia's #MaskUpPHL campaign.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
A pedestrian walks past a mural on the front wall of Julia de Burgos Elementary School. Masks were added to the mural at the end of September for Philadelphia's #MaskUpPHL campaign.

Pennsylvania reported more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday for the first time during a pandemic. In just the last seven days, more than 38,000 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive. That’s about enough people to fill the Wells Fargo Center — twice.

New Jersey reported more than 4,000 cases on Wednesday, with more than 26,000 people testing positive in the last week.

“There is no way to sugarcoat any of these numbers,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said during a news briefing on Wednesday. “They are not good, and they are trending worse.”

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 5,498 new cases a day, a 50% increase over last week’s average (3,672 a day) and 270% higher than last month’s average (1,482 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 3,584 new cases a day, a 37% increase over last week’s average (2,605 a day) and 248% higher than last month’s average (1,029 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 349 new cases a day, a 35% increase over last week’s average (258 a day) and 168% higher than last month’s average (130 a day).

— Justine McDaniel, Allison Steele, Erin McCarthy, and Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - November 19, 2020
7:00 AM - November 19, 2020

Thursday morning roundup: U.S. surpasses 250,000 COVID-19 deaths