7:15 PM - October 20, 2020
7:15 PM - October 20, 2020

Murphy joins N.Y. and Conn. governors on not enforcing quarantines between those states

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy joined the governors of New York and Connecticut in a statement Tuesday evening saying they will not enforce quarantine rules for residents traveling between those states.

Earlier Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that he doesn’t expect residents from Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania to follow New York’s rule requiring self-quarantine for 14 days for states on the list. He said enforcement would be impractical.

Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont agreed with Cuomo in their joint statement and also urged residents to avoid non-essential travel between those states:

“Our states have worked together successfully in combating this pandemic since the beginning and we’ll continue to do so. The travel advisory was designed to keep our respective states safe, with the understanding that we are a connected region, dependent on each other when it comes to commerce, education, and health care. We’re urging all of our residents to avoid unnecessary or non-essential travel between states at this time, but will not subject residents of our states to a quarantine if coming from a neighboring state. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have among the lowest infection rates in the country because we have based our approaches to controlling the spread on science and data, and we will continue to do so.”

— Robert Moran

6:30 PM - October 20, 2020
6:30 PM - October 20, 2020

Pa. House fails to override Wolf veto of bill to increase indoor capacity of bars and restaurants

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a Republican bill that would have allowed restaurants and bars to increase their indoor capacity during the pandemic.

Allowing restaurants and bars to reopen at full capacity would further spread the coronavirus, Wolf said in a statement released shortly after he vetoed the bill that had won approval in both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

— Cynthia Fernandez

4:38 PM - October 20, 2020
4:38 PM - October 20, 2020

Pa. reports first pet cat diagnosed with COVID-19

FILE - In this Friday, May 8, 2020 file photo, the owner of a cat cafe checks the temperature of one of her cats in Bangkok, Thailand.
Sakchai Lalit / AP
FILE - In this Friday, May 8, 2020 file photo, the owner of a cat cafe checks the temperature of one of her cats in Bangkok, Thailand.

Pennsylvania on Tuesday reported the state’s first confirmed case of a pet cat diagnosed with COVID-19.

The 16-year-old cat in Cumberland County lived in a home with people who had previously tested positive for COVID-19, said State Veterinarian Dr. Kevin Brightbill.

The cat experienced a mild respiratory illness earlier this month and because of respiratory distress was humanely euthanized, Brightbill said.

The case is still under investigation.

The first documented cases in the nation of COVID-19 in domestic cats were reported in April.

“As Pennsylvanians have spent more time at home throughout the pandemic, our companion animals have undoubtedly been the recipients of extra love and attention,” Brightbill said in a statement. “If you or a loved one becomes diagnosed with COVID-19, take steps to keep your pet healthy, just as you would your family.”

Many of the same recommendations for protecting people apply to animals, Brightbill said.

To help protect Pennsylvania pets, households with COVID-19 positive individuals should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Avoid contact with pets and other animals, as you would other people.
  • Arrange for another household member to care for your pets while family members are in isolation.
  • Avoid contact such as petting, holding, snuggling, facial contact, and sleeping in the same bed.
  • Wear a mask and wash your hands before feeding or tending to a pet if you are unable to find alternative care for them.

Symptoms of COVID-19 in pets includes fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, nose or eye discharge, vomiting, or diarrhea.

If a pet exhibits symptoms after contact with a person positive for COVID-19, contact a private veterinarian.

At this time, Brightbill said, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID-19 to people. COVID-19 is mainly spread through person-to-person contact.

— Robert Moran

4:05 PM - October 20, 2020
4:05 PM - October 20, 2020

CDC reports nearly 300,000 ‘excess deaths’ this year

So far this year, 299,028 more people have died than would be expected in a typical year, with two-thirds of those deaths from COVID-19, and the rest from causes that may be indirectly linked to the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

To appreciate the scale of these so-called “excess deaths,” that’s like wiping out the population of Pittsburgh; Newark, N.J.; or Orlando, Fla.

In the first week of April, for example, there were about 80,000 deaths in the United States, more than 20,000 above the average expected number.

The CDC, which used data from the national vital statistics system, did the analysis to estimate the true impact of the pandemic on mortality. Numerous studies have found that the reported number of COVID-19 deaths — 216,000 as of Oct. 15 — misses many deaths in which COVID-19 was an underlying or contributing cause.

The CDC found more excess deaths occurred among older age groups, reflecting their greater vulnerability to severe COVID-19. But among adults in the prime of life — ages 25 to 44 — deaths were 26% higher this year compared to typical years, the largest increase of any age group.

Big increases also occurred among Blacks (33% higher) and Hispanics (54% higher), a finding in line with studies showing the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on people of color.

Separate analyses by The Inquirer, The Washington Post, and research groups have found several causes for excess deaths. Many are probably due to COVID-19, but are misclassified as pneumonia or respiratory disease. Others involve people with chronic illnesses who were afraid, or unable, to go to hospitals when they suffered emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes. Still others may be due to suicides or drug overdoses, which have increased in tandem with depression, isolation, and desperation linked to the pandemic.

— Marie McCullough

3:21 PM - October 20, 2020
3:21 PM - October 20, 2020

Philly opens unit to isolate and treat nursing home residents with COVID-19

Philadelphia has opened a coronavirus relief unit to isolate and treat residents of congregate care settings who test positive for the virus, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

Farley said the unit opened in the last week in preparation for an expected increase in COVID-19 cases in the city throughout the fall and winter months. About half of the 1,849 coronavirus deaths in Philadelphia have been residents of long-term care facilities.

The unit has one patient already, he said. Farley declined to share the exact location of the relief unit.

“It’s an unused floor of a nursing home here in the city that we have taken over for this,” he said.

— Laura McCrystal

3:07 PM - October 20, 2020
3:07 PM - October 20, 2020

Philly virus spread is primarily within households, from family or social gatherings

The majority of spread of the coronavirus in Philadelphia remains within households and family or social gatherings, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

Farley said some spread may be due to gatherings moving inside as the weather gets colder, and due to people holding previously postponed events such as weddings or bridal showers.

Farley cautioned against “COVID fatigue” and said residents need to understand that risks are higher than they were a month ago, when there were fewer cases. It is important to keep gatherings outdoors and wear masks, he said.

“People are not as afraid of the virus now as they were before, but the virus is just as deadly now as it was before,” he said.

Farley said there is not evidence of spread from indoor restaurant dining, but he did not rule out tightening restrictions if cases continue to rise.

— Laura McCrystal

2:51 PM - October 20, 2020
2:51 PM - October 20, 2020

New York won’t enforce New Jersey, Pennsylvania quarantines

A sign welcomes motorists to New York.
Seth Wenig / AP
A sign welcomes motorists to New York.

The rate of COVID-19 infections has risen enough in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut to require those states' residents to quarantine if they travel to New York, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York won’t enforce the rules against those residents.

New Jersey, New York and Connecticut had announced the joint travel advisory this summer at a time when the Northeast was seeing relatively low rates of infection while other parts of the country saw spikes. Now, two of those states meet the criteria to be placed on their own quarantine lists.

But the governor said Tuesday he doesn’t expect residents from Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania to follow New York’s rule requiring self-quarantine for 14 days for states on the list.

“There is no practical way to quarantine New York from New Jersey and Connecticut,” he told reporters in a conference call. “There are just too many interchanges, there are too many interconnections, there are too many people who live in one place and work in the other. It would have a disastrous effect on the economy.”

— Associated Press

2:46 PM - October 20, 2020
2:46 PM - October 20, 2020

Penn State will offer pre-Thanksgiving tests to students

A quiet Penn State campus is photographed in State College in September.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A quiet Penn State campus is photographed in State College in September.

Pennsylvania State University will offer COVID-19 testing to any student who wants it prior to leaving campus and returning home for Thanksgiving, the school’s provost announced at a faculty senate meeting Tuesday afternoon. “Mass testing areas will be prepared,” Nicholas P. Jones told faculty.

The effort comes as the university, which has had more than 3,500 cases since the semester began, tries to mitigate any potential spread of the illness to students' home communities.

The university will end its in-person semester before Thanksgiving and students will finish their classes remotely. The university has been offering on demand testing to students who have symptoms or think they may have been exposed, as well as random testing of 1 percent of the campus population daily.

Penn State also on Tuesday announced another decline in active coronavirus cases. There are 193 as of Tuesday, down from more than 500 earlier this month. Jones said cases have been declining since Sept. 24.

— Susan Snyder

2:37 PM - October 20, 2020
2:37 PM - October 20, 2020

COVID cluster linked to Center City private school

The Philadelphia School in Center City has a cluster of the coronavirus, city health officials said Tuesday, with 15 cases tied to spread within one grade level.

Lisa Sun, the head of school, said The Philadelphia School switched entirely to virtual learning as of Monday, and students have not been in the building since Wednesday. The school will remain closed for at least 14 days, she said.

“Contact tracing efforts are still taking place, and new information is emerging daily,” Sun said.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the private school for preschool through eighth grade is the only known school in the city holding in-person instruction that has had an outbreak of the virus.

There are about 50 schools in the city offering in-person instruction, Farley said, and 26 have had at least one case of the virus for which the city has recommended some form of quarantine. But The Philadelphia School is the only instance of the virus spreading among students and staff at the school, he said.

Farley said he does not know what caused the cluster of COVID-19 at the school, but he said he hoped it was a mistake in safety precautions that could be prevented in the future. He said the cluster does not change his stance that it is safe for all schools to reopen if they take the necessary precautions.

“There may be one slip up in technique,” he said. “We still feel that public schools can open safely.”

— Laura McCrystal

2:15 PM - October 20, 2020
2:15 PM - October 20, 2020

City program has connected 11,000 families to internet in effort to reduce digital divide

More than 11,000 Philadelphia families have been connected to the internet for free during the pandemic through the city’s PHLConnectED program, Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday.

That includes almost 10,000 families of school-aged children who received mobile hotspots or wired connections via Comcast’s Internet Essentials program over the spring and summer, and an additional 1,000 who received the service directly through PHLConnectED, which was announced in August. That program, paid for with $17 million in philanthropic funds, guarantees free internet to low-income families for at least two years.

“While the digital divide has been an issue for some time and admittedly continues to be, this shows what we can do when we stop assigning blame and work together toward real, long term sustainable solutions,” Kenney said at a news conference. He said efforts are ramping up to reach families who still lack internet, and said the money to connect them is there also.

Mark Wheeler, the city’s chief technology officer, said he did not know how many families remain unconnected. Earlier this school year, school district officials estimated 18,000 families lacked internet, but Wheeler said there was no good way to get a precise number.

— Kristen A. Graham

1:19 PM - October 20, 2020
1:19 PM - October 20, 2020

New cases rising in every Philly zip code

A couple young women walk past Temple University students waiting to gain entry into Aramark Student Training and Recreation Complex for COVID-19 testing.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
A couple young women walk past Temple University students waiting to gain entry into Aramark Student Training and Recreation Complex for COVID-19 testing.

New cases of the coronavirus are now rising in every zip code in Philadelphia, representing the highest case counts since mid-May, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

“We may be entering a dangerous period with this virus,” he said.

While increased cases were previously reported in college students and in Northeast and South Philadelphia, Farley said there is now increased spread of the virus throughout the city.

“There is no neighborhood that has not seen an increase in recent days,” Farley said.

The city now has evidence that the virus is spreading in workplaces, Farley said.

He said health officials have evidence of spread between colleagues who ate lunch together without masks.

Contact tracers have found that about 17% of people recently diagnosed with COVID-19 had worked in an office during the time they were exposed, which is an increase from between 7% and 9% at the end of September.

“Workplaces are something we’re concerned about right now,” Farley said, noting that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so.

The city reported 268 new cases of the virus Tuesday, and an average of 189 cases per day in the week that ended Saturday – but Farley said he expects that number to rise as delayed test results are reported.

The percent of tests that are positive is also increasing, Farley said, with 4.8% positivity in the past week. That number is also likely to increase. The city had a 5.1% positivity rate in the previous week, the highest since mid-July.

— Laura McCrystal

12:05 PM - October 20, 2020
12:05 PM - October 20, 2020

Pa. health secretary watching restaurants ‘closely’ as commonwealth reports more than 1,500 new cases

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said during an interview on CNN Tuesday the commonwealth is closely watching restaurants and bars amid a surge in new infections.

According to data provided to CNN by Levine, 50% of Pennsylvania residents who responded to contact tracing said they visited a restaurant with 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms, while 14% said they’d visited a bar. Thirteen percent said they visited a gym, while 8% went to a salon or barber shop.

“We do have mitigation orders in place for restaurants and for bars at 50% indoor capacity. We are watching those numbers very closely,” Levine said, who reiterated that small gatherings with family and friends are also driving up case numbers.

“Family and friends gathering together, where people might relax their use of masks and social distancing, that’s also a risk factor,” Levine said.

Pennsylvania reported 1,557 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the 15th straight day the number of daily cases has exceeded 1,000. The commonwealth is now averaging 1,460 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, the highest since mid-April.

The Department of Health said 228,245 coronavirus tests were administered between Oct. 13 and Oct. 19, with 10,011 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 4.3%, the highest rate since Aug. 7.

Overall, 184,872 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 8,533 have died.

— Rob Tornoe

11:12 AM - October 20, 2020
11:12 AM - October 20, 2020

How to make a DIY air filter to (maybe) reduce your exposure to the virus indoors

Inquirer writer Tom Avril demonstrates how to build an air filtering system out of a box fan and some furnace filters.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Inquirer writer Tom Avril demonstrates how to build an air filtering system out of a box fan and some furnace filters.

We’ve been told again and again that good ventilation can reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus indoors.

But what if your job requires you to be in a poorly ventilated space with others? A windowless room in an aging Philadelphia school, for instance.

One option is to build your own air-cleaning device, using a fan and five of those pleated, cardboard-framed filters that are designed for home heating systems.

We can’t guarantee that it will keep you from getting sick, but it’s a fun pandemic project. We went to Hive76, the “maker space” in Kensington, to give it a shot. Here’s how to do it.

— Tom Avril

10:26 AM - October 20, 2020
10:26 AM - October 20, 2020

Europe imposes new restrictions, as COVID-19 surges

As cases surge across Europe, many countries are increasing their coronavirus restrictions and imposing lockdowns. Here are some of the latest developments, according to the BBC:

  • In Ireland, indoor dining is prohibited across the country, and household visits are banned except for child and senior care until at least Nov. 10. A maximum of 15 people may gather outdoors. Some local lockdowns have also been implemented.
  • In France, nine cities including Paris are enforcing night time curfews, during which only essential trips are allowed, for at least the next four weeks. They’ve also closed bars and restaurants, and instituted face mask mandates.
  • In Spain, there’s a state of emergency, to expire early next month, in the Madrid area. People can only leave or enter Madrid for essential reasons, which include going to work and school.
  • In the Netherlands, all bars, restaurants, and coffee shops are closed except for takeout for at least three more weeks, and a maximum of three people can visit a home per day. Four people may gather outside the home.
  • In Belgium, all bars and restaurants are closed for the next four weeks.
  • In Sweden, authorities are continuing to take a laissez-faire approach, with businesses remaining open and masking still not recommended. However, people have largely abided by social distancing and work-from-home recommendations. Cases are rising there, but it is not among the worst hotspots in Europe.
  • Elsewhere, including in the UK, government leaders are facing local and regional pushback on the proposal of new restrictions.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are experiencing their own fall surges as case counts rise. But states are holding back on imposing new restrictions — for now.

“It’s impossible for me to predict the future,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s chief health official. Inevitably, any decision would be based on positive-test and hospitalization rates, department spokesperson Nate Wardle said.

— Erin McCarthy

10:15 AM - October 20, 2020
10:15 AM - October 20, 2020

Philadelphia, Delaware to hold coronavirus briefings today

Mayor Jim Kenney delivers his mail-in ballot outside Philadelphia City Hall in Philadelphia, Pa. Monday, October 19, 2020
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Mayor Jim Kenney delivers his mail-in ballot outside Philadelphia City Hall in Philadelphia, Pa. Monday, October 19, 2020

Officials in Philadelphia and Delaware will offer coronavirus updates on Tuesday. Here’s a schedule of how to watch and stream:

— Rob Tornoe

8:30 AM - October 20, 2020
8:30 AM - October 20, 2020

Britain to infect healthy volunteers with coronavirus in vaccine challenge trials

Kai Hu, a research associate transfers medium to cells, in the laboratory at Imperial College London on July 30.
Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
Kai Hu, a research associate transfers medium to cells, in the laboratory at Imperial College London on July 30.

British scientists said Tuesday they will launch the world’s first human challenge trials for COVID-19, in which healthy volunteers will be deliberately infected with the coronavirus in hopes of further speeding the drive to a vaccine.

The research, led by scientists at Imperial College London and funded by the British government, is a gutsy gambit, given that people will be submitting themselves to a deadly virus with no surefire treatment.

The United States is moving more cautiously, with leading government researchers saying human challenge trials might be too risky or unnecessary. But the British scientists say the potential payoff is massive — that accelerating vaccine development by even three months could save hundreds of thousands of lives globally.

The British experiment is scheduled to begin in January. Volunteers will have a purified, laboratory-grown strain of the live virus blown into their noses, while quarantined in a 22-bed biosecure unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London, where they will undergo daily, even hourly, tests over two to three weeks.

— Washington Post

7:00 AM - October 20, 2020
7:00 AM - October 20, 2020

With cases in Pa. and N.J. continuing to rise, officials warn about small gatherings

Chrystal Handford, RMA, administers a COVID-19 test at the Community-Accessible Testing & Education truck in the parking lot at Concilio in Philadelphia, Pa. on September 27, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Chrystal Handford, RMA, administers a COVID-19 test at the Community-Accessible Testing & Education truck in the parking lot at Concilio in Philadelphia, Pa. on September 27, 2020.

The region, like most of the country, continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, Pennsylvania reported more than 1,000 cases for the 14th straight day, as the commonwealth approaches case numbers not seen since April’s peak. Daily cases are double what they were this time last month in New Jersey, where officials warned that small gatherings appear to be the largest driver of infections.

“I know we are all tired of COVID-19 and all the precautions necessary to prevent the spread of disease and the restrictions we have endured,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday. “It is understandable that residents want life to go back to normal, but now is the time to double down on social distancing, wearing face coverings, and good hand hygiene.”

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 1,430 new cases a day, a 10% increase over last week’s average (1,300 a day) and about 74% higher than last month’s average (821 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 912 new cases a day, a nearly 19% increase over last week’s average (769 a day) and about 100% higher than last month’s average (455 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 138 new cases a day, about a 4.5% increase over last week’s average (132 day) and about 32% higher than last month’s average (104 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

6:45 AM - October 20, 2020
6:45 AM - October 20, 2020

Philly comedy club booking indoor shows as city relaxes restrictions

Comedian Chris Distefano will perform indoors at Punch Line Philly in Fishtown on November.
Punch Line Philly
Comedian Chris Distefano will perform indoors at Punch Line Philly in Fishtown on November.

Comedy club Punch Line Philly has been putting on outdoor comedy shows in its Patio Series since August.

Starting next month, the club that is booked by dominant concert promoter Live Nation will present a series of limited-capacity indoor comedy shows, kicking off with the “Philly All-Pro Comedy Showcase” on Nov. 4.

That show will be the first performance held inside Punch Line Philly since the start of the pandemic shutdown in March. Helium Comedy Club in Center City has been hosting limited-capacity shows since Sept. 7.

Crowds at the seated, socially-distanced shows — where mask-wearing will be mandatory except when people are eating or drinking — will be limited to 150 audience members, or 35% of the venue’s capacity. That’s higher than the 10% capacity that’s allowed for indoor theaters and performance spaces that Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced last week.

But because Punch Line Philly is a restaurant, it is permitted to operate indoors at up to 50% capacity under city regulations that went into effect Oct. 2. The club is keeping its maximum capacity below that level, while following regulations to keep tables spaced at least six feet apart with no more than four people at a table, no alcohol served without a meal, and servers wearing both masks and face shields.

— Dan Deluca

6:30 AM - October 20, 2020
6:30 AM - October 20, 2020

Joe Rogan halts podcast due to COVID-19 case

Joe Rogan has halted production of his popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience due to COVID-19.

In an announcement on Instagram Monday night, Rogan said producer Jamie Vernon tested positive earlier in the day for the coronavirus. While Rodan said Vernon is feeling better, production will remain shut down for at least 10 days, until the staff is cleared by a doctor.

Rogan said he and the rest of the staff have tested negative, and that he only had limited contact with Vernon recently due to travel.

“I’ll keep you folks posted as to when the show will resume,” Rogan said.

— Rob Tornoe

6:20 AM - October 20, 2020
6:20 AM - October 20, 2020

Tuesday morning round-up

  • The United States reported 48,210 new cases and 388 additional deaths on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University, with 31 states experiencing an increase in new cases over the past week. Fourteen states — mostly in the Midwest — have also hit record hospitalization numbers over the past week, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Texas reported the most coronavirus hospitalizations in nearly two months, according to local media outlets.
  • The Supreme Court will allow Pennsylvania to count mail ballots received up to three days after the election, rejecting a Republican plea.
  • Democrats and the Trump administration remain far apart on a new coronavirus stimulus bill, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said there were signs of progress with less than 24 hours before her pre-imposed deadline to get a deal done.