8:14 PM - November 11, 2020
8:14 PM - November 11, 2020

Biden chooses Ron Klain, key adviser on coronavirus response, for chief of staff

In this file photo, Ron Klain (R), former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, arrives for a House Committee on Foreign Affairs Asia and Pacific subcommittee hearing concerning the coronavirus outbreak, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)
Drew Angerer / MCT
In this file photo, Ron Klain (R), former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, arrives for a House Committee on Foreign Affairs Asia and Pacific subcommittee hearing concerning the coronavirus outbreak, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has chosen his longtime adviser Ron Klain to reprise his role as his chief of staff, installing an aide with decades of experience across Democratic presidential administrations in the top role in his White House.

That’s according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity to avoid preempting an official announcement.

Klain served as chief of staff for Biden during Barack Obama’s first term, was chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore in the mid-1990s and was a key adviser on the Biden campaign, guiding Biden’s debate preparations and coronavirus response. He’s known and worked with Biden since the Democrat’s 1987 presidential campaign.

The choice of Klain underscores the effort the incoming Biden administration will place on the coronavirus response from day one. Klain was the Ebola response coordinator during the 2014 outbreak and played a central role in drafting and implementing the Obama administration’s economic recovery plan in 2009.

— Associated Press

4:31 PM - November 11, 2020
4:31 PM - November 11, 2020

N.J. attorney general quarantining at home after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

File photo of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
NJ Attorney General’s Office
File photo of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

N.J. Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal is quarantining at home after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19, a communications aide said Wednesday.

“Today, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal learned that a staff member he had contact with at the workplace on Monday tested positive for COVID-19. Upon learning this information, the Attorney General took a rapid COVID-19 test which came back positive; a follow-up PCR test, however, returned a negative result,” said Steven Barnes, Grewal’s communications director, in a statement.

“The Attorney General, who is asymptomatic, is closely following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New Jersey Department of Health guidance and is quarantining at home,” Barnes said.

“Following established protocols, the Department of Law and Public Safety has begun the contact tracing process to notify everyone who may have come into close contact with the Attorney General during the potential infection window. The Attorney General will continue to perform his duties virtually while quarantined,” Barnes said.

The staff member who tested positive was not named.

— Robert Moran

3:34 PM - November 11, 2020
3:34 PM - November 11, 2020

New testing site to open tomorrow in Cherry Hill

A new drive-up COVID-19 testing site will open Thursday on the Cherry Hill Campus of Camden County College, officials said Wednesday.

The site will be located in the parking lot of the campus at the corner of Springdale Road and Route 70 and will be open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekends from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

“As the entire country and state continue to respond to the newest COVID-19 surge, it remains imperative that county residents have access and opportunity to testing. This initiative combined with social distancing and other mitigation factors will help us break the back of this virus,” said county Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. in a statement.

— Robert Moran

2:38 PM - November 11, 2020
2:38 PM - November 11, 2020

Fauci says working with Trump has been ‘very stressful’

President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus during an April press conference.
Alex Brandon / AP
President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus during an April press conference.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, says that working with President Donald Trump and his administration has been “very stressful.”

“I mean, it’s just, to deny that would be to deny reality,” Fauci said Wednesday during an interview with the Australian news program The 7:30 Report. “When you have public figures like [former Trump advisor Steve] Bannon calling for your beheading, that’s really kind of unusual.”

“That’s not the kind of thing you think about when you’re going through medical school to become a physician,” Fauci added.

Fauci said despite a steep rise in new cases in the United States, he is not recommending the country undergo another strict lockdown, as states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey did back in mid-March.

“I think people have a misconception that when you say, ‘wear masks, avoid crowds, keep your distance’, that that means locking down. It doesn’t,” Fauci said. “You can keep small and large businesses open, so long as you implement certain fundamental public health practices.”

Fauci said he hasn’t yet met with President-elect Joe Biden or his team, but would encourage Biden’s task force to promote a uniform message across the country focused on mask wearing, proper hygiene, and social distancing.

— Rob Tornoe

2:01 PM - November 11, 2020
2:01 PM - November 11, 2020

New Jersey reports more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases for second straight day

New Jersey added more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases for the second straight day as the Garden States experiences a sharp rise in infections.

A total of 3,078 new cases were reported on Wednesday, driving up the state’s overall count to 263,495 cases. New Jersey is now averaging over 2,600 new cases a day over the past seven days, and that number is rising.

New Jersey also reported 21 additional deaths, increasing the state’s grim death toll to at least 14,661 — the fifth highest in the country.

“The numbers are rising. Take this seriously, folks,” Gov. Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter. “Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.”

— Rob Tornoe

1:52 PM - November 11, 2020
1:52 PM - November 11, 2020

Montco considering ordering schools to temporarily halt in-person learning

The Montgomery County Board of Health is considering ordering schools in the county to go virtual for two weeks beginning Nov. 23.

Kelly Cofrancisco, a county spokesperson, said Wednesday that the office called a special meeting for Thursday at 10 a.m., and “will consider ordering schools to go 100% virtual instruction” for the two-week period.

The county’s announcement came as coronavirus cases in the region have surged. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia PolicyLab on Wednesday recommended that all schools in the region that are offering in-person instruction revert to virtual programs by Monday.

— Maddie Hanna

1:50 PM - November 11, 2020
1:50 PM - November 11, 2020

Penn scientist paved the way for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine

University of Pennsylvania immunologist Drew Weissman poses at his home Nov. 9, 2020. He developed the messenger RNA concept behind the Pfizer vaccine that has shown early promise against COVID.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
University of Pennsylvania immunologist Drew Weissman poses at his home Nov. 9, 2020. He developed the messenger RNA concept behind the Pfizer vaccine that has shown early promise against COVID.

Those promising COVID-19 vaccine results announced earlier this week could mean a financial boost for the University of Pennsylvania.

That’s because research by Penn scientist Drew Weissman played a key role in the drug’s development.

The vaccine, which consists of genetic instructions in the form of RNA, appears to reduce the risk of illness by more than 90%, according to manufacturer Pfizer Inc.

Fifteen years ago, working with then-colleague Katalin Karikó, Weissman figured out how to tweak RNA molecules so they would not cause harmful inflammation.

That modification also forms the backbone for another COVID-19 vaccine now being tested in humans, made by Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna Inc.

As the Pfizer trial continues, some physicians are reserving judgment until they see evidence that the drug helps the elderly and others who are more vulnerable.

— Tom Avril

1:20 PM - November 11, 2020
1:20 PM - November 11, 2020

Philadelphia reports 761 new cases, three additional deaths

More than 50,000 Philadelphia residents have now tested positive for the coronavirus since March, after the city reported 761 confirmed cases of the virus on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s new case count is the second-highest daily count reported since the beginning of the pandemic, second only to Tuesday’s number of 879 cases.

“Yesterday we reported the most new cases and today, the second-most ever,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a news release. “We are entering the most dangerous phase of this pandemic, and everyone — everyone — needs to take this seriously: stay away from others, and wear a mask.”

While city officials have said they are considering new restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, Farley also acknowledged Tuesday that most transmission is occurring at private family and social gatherings. He has urged residents to stay home and wear masks around anyone outside of their own household.

A total of 50,536 Philadelphia residents have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday. The city also confirmed three additional deaths Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,904. Of those who have died, 48% were residents of long-term care facilities.

— Laura McCrystal

12:10 PM - November 11, 2020
12:10 PM - November 11, 2020

New cases in Pennsylvania top 4,000 for the second straight day

Pennsylvania surpassed 4,000 new cases for the second day in a row as the commonwealth experiences a sharp spike in new infections.

Pennsylvania added 4,711 new cases on Wednesday, setting a new daily high for infections. The commonwealth is now averaging over 3,600 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis.

The test positivity rate in Pennsylvania over the past seven days was 6.9%, according to the commonwealth’s early warning dashboard.

Overall, 243,368 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least of 9,145 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 59 new deaths reported on Wednesday — the most in one day since mid-June. Of the commonwealth’s deaths, 5,922 (about 64%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

12:00 PM - November 11, 2020
12:00 PM - November 11, 2020

Philly-area schools shouldn’t hold in-person classes, CHOP recommends

Pre-K students with face masks walk through the hallway at Nativity. Nativity of Our Lord School in Warminster, Pa. on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Pre-K students with face masks walk through the hallway at Nativity. Nativity of Our Lord School in Warminster, Pa. on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

With coronavirus cases surging, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia PolicyLab is recommending that schools across the region revert to virtual programs.

In an interview Wednesday, David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab, said that while most infections of children and teachers appear to be occurring out of school, there is “increasing evidence” that the virus is being transmitted in schools around the area.

There may be even more in-school transmission occurring than is known, Rubin said, because contact tracers haven’t been able to keep up with the surging caseload.

“We are in a catastrophic situation in the Philadelphia region,” Rubin said.

The new recommendation comes a day after the School District of Philadelphia announced it would not return younger children to classrooms this month as planned.

While “there’s a lot of debatability” about whether children — who tend to experience milder infections — would be safer in school than in other settings, Rubin said, “we need to get control of this because our hospitals are overrun.”

The PolicyLab is recommending that schools in and around Philadelphia, South Jersey, and across Pennsylvania that are operating in person shift to virtual instruction. There’s “some wiggle room” for schools that might continue to offer in-person learning to younger children, or special-needs students, Rubin said.

— Maddie Hanna

11:45 AM - November 11, 2020
11:45 AM - November 11, 2020

Staff shortage at Delco 911 center due to virus

As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in the Philadelphia region, Delaware County Department of Emergency Services is facing a personnel shortage at its Communications Center, officials said Wednesday.

Tim Boyce, the department’s director, said out of the 130 staffers at the 911 call center, between eight and 10 are out at any given time, either because they’ve tested positive for the virus, or have to quarantine after coming into contact with a positive case.

“We’re no different than any essential service organization; we’re not in critical mass, but we’re in the same boat everyone else is,” Boyce said. “You can place us with fire, EMS, and nurses. We’re all in the same boat right now. We’re not immune.”

A large portion of the county’s call center workers are volunteers, many of whom are volunteer firefighters, EMTs or part-time police officers putting in shifts in their off-hours, Boyce said.

The pandemic has also affected another function of his department: Training new call-center workers is about a five-month process, including classes that are held in relatively close quarters.

In the meantime, the department is conducting some of the training online, but Boyce and his staff can’t finalize any new candidates during the pandemic.

“That person, midway through their training is sitting close to another dispatcher,” Boyce said. “How do we do hands-on training, when we can’t be that close to one another?”

— Vinny Vella

11:09 AM - November 11, 2020
11:09 AM - November 11, 2020

Penn State sees uptick in cases tied to Halloween

Old Main on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Old Main on the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa.

Did Halloween parties cause a spike in COVID-19 cases at colleges? Some campuses think so.

Pennsylvania State University rose from 232 active cases on Friday at its University Park campus to 275 on Tuesday.

“We believe that some of the increases are tied to gatherings over Halloween weekend, and we are working closely with students on contact tracing to limit further spread of the virus,” President Eric J. Barron said in a statement.

Penn State, which plans to end its in-person portion of the semester before Thanksgiving, also held its first home football game against Ohio State on Halloween night and many worried that large gatherings, like those the prior weekend, could cause spread. State College Borough, however, said those large gatherings didn’t materialize. Police issued a handful of citations, but none of the gatherings had more than 50 people and were typical of the kinds of parties the borough has had to break up on a regular weekend, the borough had said.

Penn State has had more than 4,200 cases of the virus on its University Park campus since the semester began.

The University of Pittsburgh also blamed Halloween parties for an uptick, according to The Pitt News, the student newspaper. The university issued a shelter in place order that took effect Monday night.

“There have been at least 40 confirmed cases since Friday, which we suspect are linked to gatherings that took place over the Halloween weekend,” the university said in an email, according to The Pitt News.

— Susan Snyder

10:20 AM - November 11, 2020
10:20 AM - November 11, 2020

Leader of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium couldn’t get her family to agree on a Thanksgiving plan

Dr. Ala Stanford is the founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, a project to test Black Philadelphians for the virus.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Dr. Ala Stanford is the founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, a project to test Black Philadelphians for the virus.

Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon who founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, started talking about Thanksgiving with her family in September.

Stanford, who grew up in North Philadelphia and is now on staff at Abington Hospital Jefferson Health, usually hosts about 20 people at her house in Montgomery County for Thanksgiving dinner.

She wanted everyone to be safe, so she came up with a plan. Her guests would be tested for COVID-19 on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. That way they’d have results by Thursday. In the meantime, they’d have to stay home so there would be no new exposures to the virus.

“They were like, ‘No way, no how,’” Stanford said last week. So, just she and her husband, a CPA, and the three kids who live at home, will celebrate together. She’ll send catered food to other family members.

She thought five days of isolation at home was a small price to pay for a chance to hug her family. “That would be great,” she said, her voice tinged with disappointment, “but everyone else didn’t feel that way.”

Her private experience does not bode well for the community she serves, and, possibly, other groups as the most dangerous period of the coronavirus pandemic approaches. Stanford’s relatives didn’t want to change their routines even when they got the news from a doctor they know and love. What will the rest of us do?

— Stacey Burling

9:00 AM - November 11, 2020
9:00 AM - November 11, 2020

New cases rising everywhere in and around Philly

— John Duchneskie

8:10 AM - November 11, 2020
8:10 AM - November 11, 2020

COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

An ambulance and crew that serves Palmyra, Cinnaminson and Riverton brings a patient to Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
An ambulance and crew that serves Palmyra, Cinnaminson and Riverton brings a patient to Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States reached an all-time high Tuesday as an unprecedented surge in new cases continues to wreak havoc on local health systems.

A total of 61,964 people were hospitalized nationwide with COVID-19 on Tuesday, more than double the number in September, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Seventeen states reached their current peaks for hospitalizations Tuesday, with the Midwest being hit the hardest.

The city of El Paso, Texas, had 1,076 people hospitalized on Tuesday, more than most states, according to the New York Times. In North Dakota, the pressure on hospitals is so intennse that Gov. Douglas Burgum announced that health care workers who have contracted the virus but are asymptomatic can continue to treat coronavirus patients.

Hospitalization rates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have more than doubled over the past month, though still remain far below capacity limits. There are now 45% more people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Jersey than there were just last week.

“We are definitely back in the soup,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said on MSNBC Tuesday.

Here’s how hospitalizations look across the tristate area as of Wednesday morning, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from the Covid Tracking Project:

  • Pennsylvania: 1,938 hospitalizations, up 37% compared to this time last week (1,417 hospitalizations) and up 150% compared to this time last month (773 hospitalizations)
  • New Jersey: 1,645 hospitalizations, up 45% compared to this time last week (1,133 hospitalizations) and up 153% compared to this time last month (649 hospitalizations)
  • Delaware: 127 hospitalizations, up 19% compared to this time last week (107 hospitalizations) and up 13% compared to this time last month (112 hospitalizations)

— Rob Tornoe

7:30 AM - November 11, 2020
7:30 AM - November 11, 2020

‘These numbers are devastating’: COVID-19 surge worsens in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Dr. Morgan Hutchinson is the director at the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Philadelphia, Pa. on October 1, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Dr. Morgan Hutchinson is the director at the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Philadelphia, Pa. on October 1, 2020.

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania both broke single-day records for new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, and public health officials said people should avoid social gatherings in order to curb the spread and help prevent the need for new restrictions.

Pennsylvania reported more than 4,000 cases for only the second time during the pandemic and New Jersey logged more new infections than it has reported in one day since April 24.

“These numbers are devastating,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.”

Here’s where COVID-19 cases over the past seven days stand through Wednesday, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department:

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 3,398 new cases a day, a 49% increase over last week’s average (2,346 a day) and 153% higher than last month’s average (1,343 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 2,517 new cases a day, a 53% increase over last week’s average (1,642 a day) and 206% higher than last month’s average (821 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 241 new cases a day, a 43% increase over last week’s average (168 a day) and 81% higher than last month’s average (133 a day).

— Justine McDaniel, Laura McCrystal and Rob Tornoe

7:15 AM - November 11, 2020
7:15 AM - November 11, 2020

With coronavirus cases spiking nationwide, all signs point to a harrowing autumn

As a worrisome summer gives way to a harrowing fall, the nation’s surge of coronavirus cases shows no signs of easing.

On Tuesday, the country hit another one-day record, logging more than 140,000 new coronavirus cases, along with at least 1,403 additional deaths. At least five states, including Missouri and Wisconsin, set single-day highs for fatalities. At least five more, including Illinois and Pennsylvania, set single-day highs for new cases. Almost nowhere in the country are caseloads actually subsiding.

Nearly 62,000 infected Americans currently lie in hospital beds — a number the nation has not experienced since April. More than a dozen states have hit new highs for hospitalizations this month, with many setting records again on Tuesday, according to figures compiled by The Washington Post.

“I’m not sure it disappoints me as much as it scares the hell out of me,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “This is like one huge coronavirus forest fire, and I don’t think it’s going to spare much human wood out there unless we change our behavior.”

— Washington Post

7:00 AM - November 11, 2020
7:00 AM - November 11, 2020

Wednesday morning roundup: Fauci expects a vaccine for most Americans by April

— Rob Tornoe and the Washington Post