8:03 PM - November 24, 2020
8:03 PM - November 24, 2020
6:30 PM - November 24, 2020
6:30 PM - November 24, 2020

City Council committee approves help for laid-off Philly service workers

Thousands of Philadelphia service workers laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic would be first in line to get their jobs back when their employers recover under a package of bills approved Tuesday by a City Council committee.

The three bills, dubbed the Black Workers Matter Economic Recovery Package by their sponsors, are intended to ensure Black and brown workers, who historically are disproportionately affected by economic downturns, benefit if their employers rebound from the pandemic-induced recession.

“We stand alongside Philadelphia workers, who are the economic engine of our city,” Councilmember Helen Gym, one of the three authors, said at a virtual meeting of the Law and Government Committee. “There are no hotels, no stadiums or Philadelphia International Airport without these people.”

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and organized labor groups testified in support of the bill. After working behind the scenes to make changes in the legislation, business groups representing the hotel and service industries did not testify at the hearing.

Gym’s bill would ensure hotel, airport and event center employees laid off through no fault of their own between January 2020 and January 2021 will be offered their jobs back if their employers fill the positions before 2025.

A second bill by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas would give job security protections to hotel workers whose companies are bought by new owners. And the third bill, by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, would extend the protections of Thomas’ bill to contracted workers.

The committee approved the bills early Tuesday evening in a series of unanimous votes. The bills, each of which is cosponsored by at least 11 of Council’s 17 members, now heads to the full Council, where they are expected to pass overwhelmingly before being signed into law by Kenney.

Aisha Johnson, a laid-off Aramark employee who cleaned concession stands and equipment at Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, said the legislation will be important for working class families.

“We didn’t ask for this pandemic and we shouldn’t be penalized for it,” Johnson said at the hearing. “My 10 years working for Aramark should matter.”

— Sean Collins Walsh

4:25 PM - November 24, 2020
4:25 PM - November 24, 2020

New Montco cases range in age from 11 days old to 110 years old

Montgomery County on Tuesday reported 1,733 new cases of COVID-19 among residents ranging in age from 11 days old to 110 years old.

The cases were the number counted since last Wednesday, said Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Commissioner, during an online briefing.

The county also reported seven more deaths, including that of a 34-year-old.

Arkoosh said hospitalizations continue to rise with 30 people battling COVID-19 currently on ventilators. But she said the hospitals say they are managing so far with 125 ventilators in use for all illnesses out of a total 403 available.

She noted that schools, which are restricted to online-only classes, can choose to resume in-person learning on Dec. 7.

The county was expanding the hours for coronavirus testing at six locations to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. County locations will be closed on Thanksgiving.

“We remain deeply concerned about Thanksgiving,” Arkoosh said, and asked that residents not have indoor gatherings for the holiday except with people in the immediate household.

— Robert Moran

4:02 PM - November 24, 2020
4:02 PM - November 24, 2020
3:49 PM - November 24, 2020
3:49 PM - November 24, 2020

48 more deaths from COVID-19 reported in New Jersey

New Jersey on Tuesday reported an additional 4,383 cases of COVID-19 and 48 deaths. Ten new outbreaks in schools have led to 30 more cases of in-school transmission over the last week, Gov. Phil Murphy said, and overall the spread of infections in schools has been “manageable.”

Appearing on “MSNBC Live” with Katy Tur Tuesday, Murphy said he and other health officials were continuing to work on plans for distributing vaccines for the coronavirus. The state could receive the first batches within weeks, he said, and officials are in the process of determining the logistics of exactly which frontline workers could be in line to receive them, and how those decisions would be made.

In the meantime, he urged residents again to keep holiday gatherings small this week, and acknowledged that many are suffering from not only pandemic fatigue but also stress, loneliness and depression as a result of months of disruption and isolation.

”We are at a knife’s edge as a society,” he said. “We have to accept that there are no easy answers.”

Allison Steele

3:17 PM - November 24, 2020
3:17 PM - November 24, 2020

Pennsylvania is seeing the coronavirus spread at large and small events alike

Pennsylvania is seeing the coronavirus spread at both small and large gatherings, hence the additional mitigation measure implemented this week “out of an abundance of caution,” said Michael Huff, the director of testing and contact tracing.

“It’s indicative that in both of those settings, [large and small], disease spread can occur very easily,” Huff said. “Certainly in small gatherings where we become a little bit too free with our movements and perhaps don’t social distance as much. We’re less likely to wear masks. Certainly we’ve seen a lot of data that demonstrate cases are identified out of those groups.”

“Even more so in large groups where people are less likely to wear their masks because they think they’re social distanced,” he said. “So we see it both. Again, it is out of an abundance of caution that we want to make sure these mitigation efforts are addressed and followed. And we can see these cases and potential deaths flatten significantly.”

While Huff did not have granular data on hand, he said anecdotally that the commonwealth had not identified any significant outbreaks from post-election celebrations or protests held earlier this month or among fans at sporting events during the period in which spectators were allowed.

— Erin McCarthy

3:04 PM - November 24, 2020
3:04 PM - November 24, 2020

Pa. contact tracers are prioritizing most recent cases as people continue to not answer the phone or cooperate with them

Ethar Kakoz, a contact tracer for the COVID-19 virus, makes calls Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in El Cajon, Calif.
Gregory Bull / AP
Ethar Kakoz, a contact tracer for the COVID-19 virus, makes calls Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in El Cajon, Calif.

Pennsylvania coronavirus contact tracers have once again “enhanced” their priorization of case investigations in accordance with the latest federal guidelines, said Michael Huff, the commonwealth’s director of testing and contact tracing, as people continue not to cooperate with investigators.

People who have been diagnosed in the past six days, based on testing date or symptom onset, are in the high priority category, as are people who visit, live in, or work in a care facility or go to a job in a high-density workplace. If more than 14 days have passed since the test, a case investigation shouldn’t be performed, he added.

Of 34,719 positive cases reported in the past week, he said, 23% of people who tested positive were contacted within 24 hours and 7% were contacted in 24-to-48 hours. Of those, only 25% of people cooperated and had their cases successfuly contact traced, and 96% of contacts refused to quarantine.

“Why? Because people don’t want to answer the phone,” Huff said. “Because people do not realize how important it is to give the information that we need to make certain that we can control diseaes.”

Testing has increased in the past two days, as cases surge and some people get tested before the Thanksgiving holiday, with 111,838 PCR tests being processed in the past two days.

— Erin McCarthy

2:03 PM - November 24, 2020
2:03 PM - November 24, 2020

Mayor Kenney to forgo annual Thanksgiving dinner with his 80-year-old mother

In pre-pandemic times, Mayor Jim Kenney is congratulated by his mother Barbara Kenney, after announcing victory in the primary election during a party at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, May 21, 2019.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
In pre-pandemic times, Mayor Jim Kenney is congratulated by his mother Barbara Kenney, after announcing victory in the primary election during a party at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Pa. Tuesday, May 21, 2019.

Mayor Jim Kenney on Tuesday said he and his 80-year-old mother decided to forgo having Thanksgiving dinner together this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kenney said at first he was worried about how to break the news to her that he would be skipping their annual gathering, which includes a nephew of the mayor’s who has an underlying medical condition, but she soon came around.

“I was trying to figure out how to tell her I wasn’t going to be able to come over,” Kenney said at a virtual news conference. “She texted me over the weekend and said, ‘I think it’s a better idea that you don’t come.’ She said, ‘It’s only a dinner.’”

Kenney and Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on Tuesday reiterated their pleas for city residents to skip their traditional Turkey Day dinners and only celebrate the holiday with members of their household.

“We’ve given people plenty of warnings that they should have Thanksgiving meals with their household members only. … There were warnings over Halloween. We still saw a spike,” Farley said. “You don’t want to spread COVID to your elderly grandmother or to that cousin of yours who might have a medical condition.”

— Sean Collins Wash

1:35 PM - November 24, 2020
1:35 PM - November 24, 2020

Philadelphia coronavirus surge now leading to increases in hospitalizations and deaths

Dante Terracciano (left) of Philly Fighting COVID uses a nasal swab to give a COVID-19 test to Nicole Brown outside Vine Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia on Saturday. Staff from Philly Fighting COVID and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia administered free testing organized by the traveling Community-Accessible Testing & Education (CATE) program, which offers testing at different sites across Pennsylvania.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Dante Terracciano (left) of Philly Fighting COVID uses a nasal swab to give a COVID-19 test to Nicole Brown outside Vine Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia on Saturday. Staff from Philly Fighting COVID and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia administered free testing organized by the traveling Community-Accessible Testing & Education (CATE) program, which offers testing at different sites across Pennsylvania.

The recent surge in coronavirus cases in Philadelphia is beginning to translate into an increase in severe medical complications and deaths for city residents, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

“We are still seeing very high case counts,” Farley said at a virtual news conference. “And we are seeing increases in the severe consequences of this infection.”

After taking the lives of hundreds of city residents in the spring, the death rate dropped over the summer and in the early fall, in part because new cases were concentrated among younger people. But the number of daily deaths has risen during the recent spike in the virus’ spread.

Farley on Tuesday reported seven new deaths among city residents, for a total of 1,960 since the pandemic began. Seventeen residents have been confirmed to have died of the virus last week, with reporting delays leading to a lag in when deaths are confirmed, and 31 the previous week. In August and September, the city saw only about 10 death confirmations per week.

Hospitals are also seeing increases. On Tuesday, there were 672 COVID-19 patients in Philadelphia hospitals, up from 542 on Thursday. While that caseload is still well below local hospitals’ capacity to treat residents with the disease — they had 1,000 coronavirus patients at times during the spring — Farley said the trend line is alarming.

The city on Tuesday reported 1,077 newly confirmed coronavirus cases among all residents, for a total of 61,780 since the pandemic began. About 11.8% of residents whose test results were reported Tuesday were found to be positive, Farley said.

— Sean Collins Walsh

12:52 PM - November 24, 2020
12:52 PM - November 24, 2020

Operation Warp Speed is in commnication with Biden transition team

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receive a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board on Nov. 9 in Wilmington.
Joe Raedle / MCT
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receive a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board on Nov. 9 in Wilmington.

Operation Warp Speed was in contact with Joe Biden’s transition team on Monday night, shortly after the General Services Administration finally initiated Biden’s formal transition process, and will work with the president-elect and his team going forward to prepare to distribute coronavirus vaccines, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

“We are immediately getting them all the pre-prepared transition briefing materials,” department Secretary Alex Azar said at a news conference regarding vaccine distribution. “We will ensure coordinated briefings with them, to ensure they are getting whatever information they feel they need that’s consistent with statute and past practice.”

Azar said he vowed that “transition planning and execution will be professional, cooperative, and collaborative in the best spirit of looking out for the health and well-being of the American people, in particular saving lives through this COVID-19 pandemic.”

— Erin McCarthy

12:15 PM - November 24, 2020
12:15 PM - November 24, 2020

Pennsylvania reports 6,669 new cases, 81 deaths as concerns about future ICU bed availability remain

CAMcare nurse manager Naima Adams (right) uses a nasopharyngeal swab to perform a coronavirus test on a man at CAMcare Health Corp. in Camden last week.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
CAMcare nurse manager Naima Adams (right) uses a nasopharyngeal swab to perform a coronavirus test on a man at CAMcare Health Corp. in Camden last week.

Pennsylvania on Tuesday reported 6,669 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 81 additional virus-related deaths as the pandemic’s fall resurgence continues.

The update comes a day after the commonwealth tightened restrictions in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday. Officials banned alcohol sales for on-site consumption at Pennsylvania bars and restaurants Wednesday night, shutting down what is traditionally the biggest bar night of the year, and instituted an official advisory urging residents to stay home and not gather with people outside their household.

The measures are meant to protect public health and preserve hospital capacity while not shutting down the economy entirely, Health Secretary Rachel Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday.

More than 3,400 people were hospitalized with the virus across Pennsylvania as of Tuesday, and 767 of them are in ICUs, officials said.

If nothing changes, the commonwealth could run out of ICU beds within a week, Levine said.

As of Tuesday, about 708 of the state’s about 4,000 adult ICU beds remained available across the commonwealth, with 131 of them being in Philadelphia, 52 in Montgomery County, 36 in Chester County, 16 in Bucks County, and 13 in Delaware County, according to state data.

Hundreds more regular medical/surgical, non-ICU beds are currently available.

In all, at least 321,070 Pennsylvanians have gotten the virus since the pandemic began and 9,951 have died from virus-related complications.

— Erin McCarthy

10:19 AM - November 24, 2020
10:19 AM - November 24, 2020

New Jerseyans with students at home have until Dec. 7 to apply for child-care aid

Desks and chairs sit empty in a classroom at Loring Flemming Elementary School in Blackwood, Camden County, in October.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Desks and chairs sit empty in a classroom at Loring Flemming Elementary School in Blackwood, Camden County, in October.

As coronavirus spikes continue, New Jersey is offering child care tuition assistance for families whose child’s school is operating remotely.

Families with an annual gross income of up to $150,000 have until Dec. 7 to apply for the state’s School-Age Tuition Assistance Program, which runs through Dec. 30. Families with children age 5 to 13 can apply for the assistance online, and if accepted, the tuition will be paid directly to the child care provider.

For families whose children were in school full-time, the program would provide up to $634 per month to licensed child-care centers, and up to $526 for registered family child care providers. The financial assistance could come as a godsend for some parents struggling to balance working from home with the demands of their child’s online schooling. It’s funded by a $250 million coronavirus relief package and managed by the New Jersey Department of Human Services. Applicants must provide proof of residency, income, and a copy of the child’s remote learning schedule.

”We urge all eligible families who need this assistance to apply as soon as possible,” Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said in a statement. “There’s still time for hard-working families across New Jersey to get help as this challenging time continues.

— Ellie Rushing

10:07 AM - November 24, 2020
10:07 AM - November 24, 2020

Coronavirus vaccines face trust gap in Black and Latino communities, study finds

A volunteer receives an injection at a Johannesburg hospital in July as part of Africa's first participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial developed at the University of Oxford in Britain in conjunction with AstraZeneca.
Siphiwe Sibeko / AP
A volunteer receives an injection at a Johannesburg hospital in July as part of Africa's first participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial developed at the University of Oxford in Britain in conjunction with AstraZeneca.

If offered a coronavirus vaccine free of charge, fewer than half of Black people and 66% of Latino people say they would agree to take it, according to a survey-based study that underscores the challenge of getting vaccines to communities hit hard by the pandemic.

The survey released Monday is one of the largest and most rigorous to date. Other recent studies have also pointed to vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, but Monday’s survey delved deeper into the reasons, polling respondents on a spectrum of questions to get at the roots of their distrust.

Perhaps its most sobering findings: Only 14% of Black people trust that a vaccine will be safe, and 18% trust that it will be effective in shielding them from the coronavirus. Among Latinos, 34% trust its safety, and 40% trust its effectiveness.

The survey was conducted Sept. 1 through 15, before interim analyses were released showing that three experimental vaccines had achieved high levels of protection against the coronavirus and appeared largely safe.

— Washington Post

8:49 AM - November 24, 2020
8:49 AM - November 24, 2020

Atlantic City casino earnings fell 37% in the third quarter amid pandemic limits

Clear barriers separate the visitors in the casino at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City in July.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Clear barriers separate the visitors in the casino at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City in July.

Atlantic City’s casinos saw their collective profits fall by more than 37% in the third quarter of this year as they reopened with capacity limits and costly measures designed to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

In figures released Monday by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, each of the nine casinos still reported a gross operating profit. But for eight of them, that profit was less than it was in the third quarter of last year, when there was no pandemic and casinos were operating at full capacity.

The casinos collectively earned $150.5 million during July, August and September, down from $239.6 million a year ago.

Only one casino, the Ocean Casino Resort, increased its operating profit in the third quarter, from $10.2 million last year to $24.4 million this year.

— Associated Press

7:50 AM - November 24, 2020
7:50 AM - November 24, 2020

Fauci says he predicts ‘we’ll start approaching normal’ in late 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news conference with the coronavirus task force at the White House on Thursday.
Susan Walsh / AP
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news conference with the coronavirus task force at the White House on Thursday.

Kaiser Health News sat down with the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, to ask him questions about how Americans might expect to live in the next six to nine months. How should we behave? And what should the next administration do?

Asked about when people will be able to throw away our masks, Fauci said he foresees public health measures continuing even after people get vaccinated. “But we’ll start approaching normal — if the overwhelming majority of people take the vaccine — as we get into the third or fourth quarter [of 2021],” he added.

For now, Fauci called bars “really problematic,” and said the safety of using public transportation depends on your own risk factors. He wouldn’t feel comfortable being in a restaurant, especially at full capacity, in “a hot zone,” but he does occasionally get his hair cut by someone wearing a mask while he also wears one.

He said he will trust approved vaccines since they will get the OK from career scientists and advisory boards that have no political allegiances.

And if he could devise a national testing plan?

He said it’d focus on “surveillance testing. Literally flooding the system with tests. Getting a home test that you could do yourself, that’s highly sensitive and highly specific. And you know why that would be terrific? Because if you decided that you wanted to have a small gathering with your mother-in-law and father-in-law and a couple of children, and you had a test right there.”

— Kaiser Health News

7:40 AM - November 24, 2020
7:40 AM - November 24, 2020

Pa. nursing homes to be shielded from coronavirus-related lawsuits

An ambulance is unloaded at the Philadelphia Nursing Home at 2100 W Girard Ave. on May 20, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
An ambulance is unloaded at the Philadelphia Nursing Home at 2100 W Girard Ave. on May 20, 2020.

Pennsylvania lawmakers on Friday passed a coronavirus liability shield for nursing homes, hospitals, and a collection of other businesses, providing protection from lawsuits long sought by the chronically underfunded long-term care industry as it struggles to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, decried by advocates for the elderly, would eliminate liability for damages or personal injury related to COVID-19 unless gross negligence, recklessness, willful misconduct, or intentional harm can be shown “by clear and convincing evidence.”

Rep. John Hershey, a Republican from central Pennsylvania, praised the bill as offering protection for businesses, schools, nursing homes, and others from frivolous lawsuits. “Businesses deserve protection from lawsuits where no party is at fault for injuries or damages. They don’t need to be burdened with court costs and protracted legal battles when they are operating in good faith,” Hershey said.

Currently, 28 states provide homes with immunity from civil liability, including New Jersey, which also shields nursing homes from criminal liability, according to Sam Brooks, a program manager with Consumer Voice, a national advocacy group for high-quality, long-term care.

— Harold Brubaker

7:00 AM - November 24, 2020
7:00 AM - November 24, 2020

Coronavirus hospitalizations in U.S. break record for 14th straight day

The heart rates, blood pressure levels and oxygen levels of COVID-19 patients are closely tracked in an intermediate care wing of UW Hospital's COVID-19 unit in Madison, Wis.
John Hart / AP
The heart rates, blood pressure levels and oxygen levels of COVID-19 patients are closely tracked in an intermediate care wing of UW Hospital's COVID-19 unit in Madison, Wis.

Monday was another record-setting day inside U.S. hospitals, which reported more coronavirus inpatients than at any other time in the pandemic — continuing an ominous, nearly monthlong streak of fast-rising numbers.

Facilities across the country reported at least 85,700 people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data compiled and analyzed by The Washington Post. Concurrent increases in the numbers of coronavirus patients in intensive care units and on ventilators show that the most serious cases are also climbing at a dangerous clip.

These numbers are all rising at a potentially perilous time for Americans. Even as the virus spreads, more people are traveling and planning to spend winter holidays with family or friends outside their immediate circles, increasing the potential of further spread.

The crisis is most acute in the Plains states and the Upper Midwest, where on-the-ground accounts and the data tell a dire story. The Dakotas, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Montana lead the nation in people hospitalized per capita, according to The Post’s analysis.

Many of those same states also lead the country in new virus deaths per capita — the fatal conclusion of progressing trends that epidemiologists have warned about for months: First the cases rise, then hospitalizations follow and, finally, an increase in deaths.

Some of the hardest-hit states — the same that led the fall surge — have seen a recent and slight decline in new infections. This is a possible signal that cases there may be beginning to level off, though it is unclear how holiday travel and interaction will affect the numbers.

— Washington Post

7:00 AM - November 24, 2020
7:00 AM - November 24, 2020

As cases and hospitalizations rise, Pa. prepares for the potential for overburdened hospitals

Pennsylvania announced new COVID-19 restrictions Monday — including a ban on restaurants and bars from serving alcohol on the night before Thanksgiving — in an attempt to limit a spike in infections that has already filled hospital beyond pandemic highs set back in the spring.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Monday hospitals in the northeastern part of the state are struggling with bed availability, and warned that the commonwealth could run out of intensive care beds by next week. As a result, Levine also announced a measure that would trigger intervention from the Wolf administration if a region’s hospitals became overburdened by the fall resurgence of the virus.

As hospitalizations have soared, 545 Pennsylvania residents died of the virus last week. Statewide, the test positivity rate reached a fall high of 11%, meaning more than one in every 10 people tested for the virus were found to have it.

“The commonwealth is in a precarious place right now,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to save lives.”

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 6,398 new cases a day, a 27% increase over last week’s average (5,045 a day) and 109% higher than last month’s average (1,769 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 4,039 new cases a day, a 14% increase over last week’s average (3,549 a day) and 233% higher than last month’s average (1,211 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 424 new cases a day, a 30% increase over last week’s average (327 a day) and 205% higher than last month’s average (139 a day).

— Justine McDaniel, Erin McCarthy, and Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - November 24, 2020
7:00 AM - November 24, 2020

Tuesday morning roundup: Vaccine distribution to be complex