9:02 PM - November 13, 2020
9:02 PM - November 13, 2020

SEPTA indefinitely cutting overnight Market-Frankford, Broad Street Line weekend rail service due to COVID-19

Nearly empty subway cars on the Market Frankford Line at 34th Street, March 17, 2020.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Nearly empty subway cars on the Market Frankford Line at 34th Street, March 17, 2020.

SEPTA is cutting its overnight weekend rail service on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines in its first major scheduling change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic since dramatic adjustments were made earlier this spring.

The authority will instead transport riders traveling between 12:30 and 5:30 a.m. through its “Owl Bus Service,” as it does the remaining five days of the week. The switch, which begins in the early hours of Nov. 15 and continues for an indeterminate amount of time, is primarily to allow for additional station and vehicle cleaning but also is in response to lower ridership with Philadelphia’s bustling nightlife now curtailed, SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said.

“I would hope the positive takeaway that people have from this is that this is SEPTA being responsive to what we’re seeing on the ground,” he said. “… Even though this may affect some people going to essential jobs on those weekend overnight hours, switching from rail to bus, we have to manage the resources that we have.”

— Patricia Madej

5:33 PM - November 13, 2020
5:33 PM - November 13, 2020

Teachers, parents demand say on Philly school reopenings

School District of Philadelphia parent Tonya Bah raises her arms in support of teachers during a Car Caravan for Safe Reopening at the School District of Philadelphia Headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. on Friday.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
School District of Philadelphia parent Tonya Bah raises her arms in support of teachers during a Car Caravan for Safe Reopening at the School District of Philadelphia Headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. on Friday.

Teachers, parents, and community supporters rallied at Philadelphia School District headquarters Friday to demand a say in the school system’s reopening plan and safe conditions once buildings do reopen.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced Tuesday that the district’s 120,000 students will continue learning virtually indefinitely because of the COVID-19 surge. Students in grades prekindergarten through second grade had been scheduled to return to classes Nov. 30.

Parent Tonya Bah said she feared the district would want teachers and parents to return to buildings too quickly, and would not include parent voices in any eventual re-opening plan. She and others said they worried about schools that had environmental problems prior to the coronavirus, many of which lack adequate ventilation.

“Don’t ask anyone to return until it’s safe,” said Bah. “Not now, not ever.”

The rally came after a car parade down Broad Street, with cars honking and participants waving signs. “Hey Hite! Families need real support, not BS and box fans!,” one read, a nod to the district’s previously stated plan of keeping students and teachers safe by using fans in rooms with poor ventilation.

— Kristen A. Graham

5:17 PM - November 13, 2020
5:17 PM - November 13, 2020

Restaurant owners brace for new ban on indoor dining in Philly as COVID-19 surges

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is weighing additional restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including a ban on indoor restaurant dining, according to individuals briefed on a potential plan Friday.

Restaurant owners are bracing for an impact as city officials weigh closing indoor dining as soon as next week.

“We’re all mentally prepared for it, but when it actually happens it’s difficult,” said Nicholas Elmi, whose restaurants include Laurel and Royal Boucherie. “We’ve been talking about it for the last month and telling our employees, ‘Make sure you’re saving your money.’”

According to three restaurant industry sources briefed on the city’s plans Friday and a Power Point slide obtained by The Inquirer, the restrictions would also limit outdoor dining to four people per table and diners would only be permitted to eat with members of their own households. Currently, restaurants can seat six people per table outdoors.

Kenney administration spokesperson Lauren Cox acknowledged Friday that officials had shared proposals with stakeholders, but said plans are not yet final. The city has planned a news conference for Monday afternoon to announce changes in restrictions amid a surge in new cases of COVID-19.

“The intention of the briefing was to get feedback on proposals that could possibly be adjusted before implementation,” Cox said. “As such, we will not have final information and cannot confirm anything until Monday.”

Other restrictions are also under consideration, according to the Power Point slide obtained by The Inquirer, including requiring all companies to have employees work from home unless it is not possible and shutting down gyms, youth and community sports, and theaters.

Elmi said he understands the need for additional precautions, but worries about restaurant industry workers.

“With no safety net for restaurant employees it’s going to be a difficult holiday for a lot of families in the city,” he said.

— Laura McCrystal, Michael Klein, Craig LaBan

4:54 PM - November 13, 2020
4:54 PM - November 13, 2020

Trump touts vaccine progress and says he will not order a national lockdown ‘under any circumstance’

President Donald Trump, in his first publicly spoken remarks since election night, praised recent developments in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine and declared that he will not push for a national lockdown “under any circumstance.”

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden late Friday afternoon, Trump also touted recent positive news from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on the preliminary success of its test vaccine.

Pfizer said it had not received funding from Operation Warp Speed, which Trump launched to speed the development of a vaccine.

Trump said the company’s statements were an “unfortunate misrepresentation” and that they were part of Operation Warp Speed and to say otherwise was an “unfortunate mistake when they said that.”

Pfizer initially opted not to join the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which helped fund a half-dozen vaccine makers' research and manufacturing scale-up. Pfizer instead said it has invested $2 billion of its own money in testing and expanding manufacturing capacity. But in July, Pfizer signed a contract to supply the United States with 100 million doses for $1.95 billion, assuming the vaccine is cleared by the FDA.

Pfizer said its only involvement in Operation Warp Speed is that those doses are part of the administration’s goal to have 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines ready sometime next year.

— Robert Moran

4:07 PM - November 13, 2020
4:07 PM - November 13, 2020

Coronavirus stimulus checks could be on their way to about 64,000 Philly households if they act now

FILE - In this April 23, 2020, file photo, a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, is displayed in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Eric Gay / AP
FILE - In this April 23, 2020, file photo, a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, is displayed in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

About 64,000 Philadelphia households could still claim their coronavirus stimulus checks from the federal government, but they have just a week left to get the money.

Millions of Americans received payments in April as part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress. Most eligible Philadelphians automatically got checks, but some didn’t because the Internal Revenue Service needed more information, city officials said this week. In most cases, those are households that don’t normally file tax returns because they earn little or no income.

The city estimates there are up to 64,000 eligible households who haven’t received checks. That amounts to $77 million in unclaimed funds that could help Philadelphians pay rent, buy groceries, or slash their debt. The payments are up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples, with up to $500 for each qualifying child.

— Christian Hetrick

2:55 PM - November 13, 2020
2:55 PM - November 13, 2020

Citing new COVID-19 restrictions, Borgata cutting jobs, hours

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

Atlantic City’s top casino is laying off or cutting the hours of 422 workers in what it says is a direct reaction to strict new indoor dining limits imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Borgata sent a letter to workers Friday afternoon outlining the cuts.

Casino president Melonie Johnson said the cuts were in response to limits that took effect Thursday night under which indoor dining must halt from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The casino is laying off 73 workers and reducing the hours of 349 others.

Murphy’s order came as the coronavirus rate of infection and number of cases climbs higher in New Jersey and across the country. He said Monday that Health Department officials say indoor settings make it easier for the virus to spread compared with outdoors.

— Associated Press

2:45 PM - November 13, 2020
2:45 PM - November 13, 2020

More than 2,000 Philly-area nurses are threatening to strike during a coronavirus surge for ‘safe patient limits’

Carly Heller, an ICU nurse at Einstein, at right, holds up a sign with her coworkers outside Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 15, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Carly Heller, an ICU nurse at Einstein, at right, holds up a sign with her coworkers outside Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 15, 2020.

As coronavirus cases surge across the state and hospitalizations rise, 2,200 nurses across three hospitals in the Philadelphia region voted to authorize a strike if — among other issues — they couldn’t get their employers to commit to minimum staffing levels.

Another group of workers, the 260 nurses at Delaware County’s Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, also authorized a strike but reached a deal with hospital owner Trinity Health. Nurses voted to ratify the contract Thursday evening. Details were not immediately available.

Minimum staffing levels — limits on how many patients a nurse could be assigned during a shift — have been among the top issues for nurses around the state, including the roughly 4,000 nurses who unionized with PASNAP across the region in the last five years.

Nurses say they have always dealt with staffing shortages, but the problems have gotten worse under COVID.

“Some of us were taking three patients at a time when we should never have more than two,” Chelsea Rabena, a surgical and trauma ICU nurse at Einstein, said of her time working during the pandemic. “And sometimes these patients, they’re so sick, they’re meant to have one nurse.”

— Aubrey Whelan and Juliana Feliciano Reyes

2:25 PM - November 13, 2020
2:25 PM - November 13, 2020

New Jersey reports more than 3,000 new cases for fourth-straight day

New Jersey reported 3,517 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the fourth-straight day the state has surpassed 3,000 infections. The state is now averaging more than 3,000 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis.

Overall, 266,896 New Jersey residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 14,694 deaths, with 18 dew deaths reported on Friday.

— Rob Tornoe

1:46 PM - November 13, 2020
1:46 PM - November 13, 2020

Philly officials anticipate new restrictions as city reports more than 1,000 new cases

COVID-19 testing in Fishtown on Friday.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
COVID-19 testing in Fishtown on Friday.

Philadelphia reported 1,158 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, breaking previous daily case count records set earlier this week and surpassing 1,000 cases reported in a single day for the first time.

City officials anticipate announcing new restrictions Monday to slow the spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in cases, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said in a news release Friday.

Kenney’s office did not provide any indication of what their “changes in restrictions” might be, and said they are still being finalized.

“The Department of Public Health is using data gleaned from investigations of positive cases to ensure that any restrictions implemented can address a specific route of spread,” the news release said.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said this week that while most cases of the virus appear to be spread through private social and family gatherings, there is also some evidence of spread through offices and indoor dining.

The city has now had a total of 52,043 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since March, and 1,909 deaths. An additional five deaths were announced Friday.

— Laura McCrystal

1:30 PM - November 13, 2020
1:30 PM - November 13, 2020

Head of Penn Medicine sounds the alarm as hospitalizations rise. But others taking a more positive approach.

A physician is viewed through the window above the emergency room sign on at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
A physician is viewed through the window above the emergency room sign on at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.

Patrick J. Brennan, chief medical officer of Penn Medicine, the region’s biggest hospital system, is sounding an alarm as the surge in coronavirus cases begins to pound medical centers.

Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been charting record increases in confirmed cases since October, but only in recent weeks have hospitals begun to feel the impact.

The Penn system’s six hospitals had an average of 40 COVID-19 patients last month. On Thursday, Brennan said, the number was about four times higher. Of those inpatients, 25% needed intensive care, up from 10% just a week ago. That’s because the virus is spreading into the most vulnerable age group; the average age of COVID-19 patients admitted to Penn hospitals is now around 60.

“Since the pandemic hit, we have learned much about the disease and the best ways to treat it, so deaths are less frequent. But the lower mortality rate has tricked many members of the public into believing that the serious hazards of the pandemic may be past. That is fool’s gold,” Brennan wrote in an op-ed submitted to The Inquirer but yet to run. “We are at a crucial inflection point where civic leaders and individual members of the public need to take immediate action to reverse this course.”

His candor seems to be unusual. Most health system leaders are striving to stress the positive — they are nowhere near being overwhelmed — and downplay the renewed wave, lest non-COVID-19 patients be afraid to seek care.

— Marie McCullough

12:20 PM - November 13, 2020
12:20 PM - November 13, 2020

Montgomery County orders all school buildings to close for two weeks

The Montgomery County Board of Health on Friday ordered all K-12 schools to close for two weeks beginning Nov. 23, a mandate county officials described as a necessary effort to slow the surge in coronavirus infections.

Despite outcry from parents, the board voted unanimously to impose the order, which directs schools to revert to virtual instruction.

The order applies to both public and private schools, along with school sports and extracurricular activities.

— Maddie Hanna

12:07 PM - November 13, 2020
12:07 PM - November 13, 2020

Pa. reports more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases for second straight day

Pennsylvania reported over 5,000 new COVID-19 cases for the second straight day as a surge of infections continues to accelerate across the commonwealth.

5,531 new coronavirus cases were reported by the Department of Health on Friday, which surpassed a pandemic high set Thursday. Pennsylvania is now averaging 4,348 new cases a day, more than double what the rate was just two weeks ago.

Overall, 254,387 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 9,224 have died, with 30 new deaths reported Friday. Of the commonwealth’s deaths, 6,052 (nearly 66%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:15 AM - November 13, 2020
11:15 AM - November 13, 2020

More than 130 Secret Service officers said to be infected with COVID-19 or quarantining

A member of the Secret Service stands guard as President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik / AP
A member of the Secret Service stands guard as President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Washington.

More than 130 Secret Service officers who help protect the White House and the president when he travels have recently been ordered to isolate or quarantine because they tested positive for the coronavirus or had close contact with infected co-workers, according to three people familiar with agency staffing.

The spread of the coronavirus — which has sidelined roughly 10 percent of the agency’s core security team — is believed to be partly linked to a series of campaign rallies that President Trump held in the weeks before the Nov. 3 election, according to the people, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the situation.

The virus is having a dramatic impact on the Secret Service’s presidential security unit at the same time that growing numbers of prominent Trump campaign allies and White House officials have fallen ill in the wake of campaign events, where many attendees did not wear masks.

In addition, at least eight staffers at the Republican National Committee, including Chief of Staff Richard Walters, have the virus, according to officials at the organization. Some of those infected are in field offices across the country, including Pennsylvania, where some believe they were exposed in large staff gatherings, an official said.

— Washington Post

10:20 AM - November 13, 2020
10:20 AM - November 13, 2020

Newark, N.J., enacts tougher restrictions as positivity rate surpasses 19%

A woman wears a mask as she walks through downtown Newark, N.J.
Seth Wenig / AP
A woman wears a mask as she walks through downtown Newark, N.J.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka says COVID-19 fatigue is largely to blame for a recent spike in cases that forced New Jersey’s largest city to enact the toughest restrictions in the state this week.

“People began to relax because we were doing so well… they lost track of where we were,” Baraka said during an interview on CNN Friday morning. “And more asymptomatic people are getting infected and infecting their entire families. So we have whole families that are getting sick now.”

At a news conference Thursday, Baraka said the percent of positive COVID-19 tests has risen in the last month from around 6% to more than 19%. Baraka also said and some areas in the city’s East Ward are seeing positivity rates as high as 35%.

Newark already had in place an 8 p.m. nightly curfew on all non-essential businesses, and on Thursday Baraka enacted new restrictions in an attempt to slow COVID-19′s spread across the city. They include:

  • All teams sports stopped citywide for at least two week
  • Mandatory 9 p.m. curfew in three hard-hit zip codes
  • No visitors in long-term care facilities for at least two weeks
  • Indoor gatherings limited to 10 people until at least Dec. 1

— Rob Tornoe

8:50 AM - November 13, 2020
8:50 AM - November 13, 2020

Philly-area grocery stories adding purchasing limits to prevent empty shelves

A Giant grocery store in Springfield, Pa. Giant, like other local grocery store chains, are limiting the purchase of certain items to prevent stockpiling and shortages as COVID-19 cases spike
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A Giant grocery store in Springfield, Pa. Giant, like other local grocery store chains, are limiting the purchase of certain items to prevent stockpiling and shortages as COVID-19 cases spike

As coronavirus cases continue to surge, grocery stores have quietly added limits on certain purchases to prevent the type of shortages that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.

Some chains, such as Shoprite and Wegmans, never completely removed product limits on key items to help build inventory for the spike we’re now experiencing. And while the supply chain for certain products remains disrupted by the pandemic, most grocery store companies in and around Philadelphia say they aren’t having problems keeping their shelves stocked.

“To be clear, we are seeing little evidence of stockpiling, and there is no need to create panic,” said Giant spokesperson Ashley Flower.

Here’s a round-up of some of the products local grocery store chains are currently limiting purchases on:

  • Acme: No product purchase limits at this time
  • Giant: Limits on paper towels and toilet paper
  • Shoprite: Limits on paper and cleaning products
  • Sprouts: No product purchase limits at this time
  • Weis: Limits on large paper towel packages, disinfectant wipes and sprays, and all items that contain Acetaminophen
  • Wegmans: Limits on paper towels, household cleaners, disinfectant wipes and sprays, trash and food storage bags, surgical gloves, and items containing Famotidine
  • Whole Foods: Limits on paper towels, toilet paper, and disinfecting and antibacterial sprays and wipes

Representatives from Aldi and Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment.

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - November 13, 2020
8:00 AM - November 13, 2020

New Jersey towns and counties may order curfews to fight COVID-19 outbreaks

Counties and municipalities in New Jersey are now permitted to order a nightly curfew on nonessential businesses to help combat coronavirus outbreaks, thanks to a new executive order signed by Gov. Murphy Thursday night.

The order allows local leaders to restrict the hours of non-essential retail businesses, restaurants, bars, and clubs after 8 p.m. Essential businesses, which include grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and convenience stores, won’t be impacted by any local curfews.

“I’ve been clear that our approach to the second wave is to act surgically within hotspot areas,” Murphy said in a statement.

— Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - November 13, 2020
7:00 AM - November 13, 2020

COVID-19 surge accelerates in Pa. and N.J. as numbers go ‘in the wrong direction’

The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium conducted free COVID-19 tests as well as flu shots at Salem Baptist Church of Roslyn on Woodland Road in Abington, Pa. on Nov. 12, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium conducted free COVID-19 tests as well as flu shots at Salem Baptist Church of Roslyn on Woodland Road in Abington, Pa. on Nov. 12, 2020.

On Thursday, Pennsylvania reported that it had received 5,488 new positive-test results and that for the first time in the pandemic it averaged more than 4,000 cases a day in the seven-day period that ended Wednesday. That’s 5½ times the level of two months ago.

New Jersey reported on Thursday that it had added 3,517 new cases — more than 12,500 since Monday. Its daily average for the seven-day period through Wednesday, 2,800, was eight times what it was at the same point in September.

“Everything is going in the wrong direction,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday. “Unless we all recommit to the commonsense measures that got us past the first horrendous months of this pandemic, we are in for a long, dark winter.”

The pandemic is showing no clear indication of waning in Philadelphia, even though the daily numbers have jumped around. Based on an Inquirer analysis of the most recent reliable data, Philadelphia was averaging 529 cases a day in the seven-day period that ended Saturday, 5½ times higher than the average of two months prior, similar to the state’s trend.

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 4,041 new cases a day, a 60% increase over last week’s average (2,527 a day) and 195% higher than last month’s average (1,370 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 2,824 new cases a day, a 56% increase over last week’s average (1,811 a day) and 238% higher than last month’s average (835 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 256 new cases a day, a 50% increase over last week’s average (171 a day) and 104% higher than last month’s average (125 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

6:45 AM - November 13, 2020
6:45 AM - November 13, 2020

Hospitals filling up in several states as record-breaking surge worsens

A record-breaking surge in U.S. coronavirus cases is being driven to a significant degree by casual occasions that may feel deceptively safe, officials and scientists warn — dinner parties, game nights, sleepovers and carpools.

On Thursday, the nation passed another grim milestone in the pandemic, setting records for cases and hospitalizations, with over 153,000- new cases and at least 62,000 people currently hospitalized. In Chicago, the mayor said that starting Monday, residents should leave home only to go to work or school, or for essential needs, such as seeking medical care or getting groceries.

Fourteen states, mostly in the Midwest, had reported record numbers of hospitalizations by midday Thursday as the seven-day average number of cases reached highs in 23 states, from Nevada to Maryland, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. Hospital officials predicted that they could soon face excruciating decisions about how to prioritize care as they run short on beds and staff.

“Our hospitals are full,” Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University, said in an interview. “Our workers are getting sick. And it is simply overwhelming the system.”

The rapid rise in hospitalizations could foreshadow a long period of rising deaths, said Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration. Although improvements in care have pushed the mortality rate below 1 percent in the United States, 1,549 people died of the virus Wednesday, the highest toll since April.

— Washington Post

6:20 AM - November 13, 2020
6:20 AM - November 13, 2020

Delco hospitals straining from COVID-19 surge

The number of COVID-19 cases in Delaware County has reached levels not seen since the pandemic’s outbreak in the spring, placing tremendous strain on the county’s hospitals and first responders, officials said in a news conference Thursday.

All five of the county’s hospitals were at capacity Monday, and had to divert new patients elsewhere, County Council President Brian Zidek said. As of Thursday, three of those hospitals were still diverting patients.

The hospital diversions have created a cascading effect, causing longer-than-normal wait times in emergency rooms. Simultaneously, emergency medical workers and staffers at the county’s Emergency Communications center are testing positive for the virus, deeply impacting how calls for service are being responded to.

At the height of the pandemic in the spring, Delaware County was seeing 232 new cases a day, officials said. On Wednesday, the county recorded 214 new cases.

Chester County Health Department Director Jeanne Casner said that many of these cases can be traced to “small spreader” gatherings that residents are attending with their close friends or family. Some, she added, came during rallies and watch parties amid the presidential election.

“If we don’t reflect right now and don’t take personal accountability into account, it will get out of hand again,” Casner said. “As much as it’s a difficult time, particularly during holiday season when we all want to be together…we have to take that serious look at who we’re gathering with and what we’re doing during the gathering.”

Casner said the guidance for mitigating the virus has not changed: Wear a mask when in public, maintain social distancing, and do not gather in groups. She stressed that there are no immediate plans for another lockdown in the county, but it could be a possibility in the future.

— Vinny Vella

6:30 AM - November 13, 2020
6:30 AM - November 13, 2020

Friday morning roundup: Wisconsin’s outbreak ‘worse’ than New York City surge