4:32 PM - October 27, 2020
4:32 PM - October 27, 2020

Community meeting over fatal shooting by Philly police to be held indoors as city warns of virus' spread

A community event being attended by the mayor and police commissioner in response to a fatal police shooting in West Philadelphia Monday night is being held indoors on the same day the city’s health department announced COVID-19′s spread in the city exceeded health officials ability to track the virus.

The 6 p.m. event at Church of the Christian Compassion is in response to protests in West Philadelphia after police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. on Locust Street in West Philadelphia. Officers shot Wallace repeatedly as he walked in the street with a knife, even as his mother tried to dissuade them from firing.

Earlier Tuesday, Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said the number of new cases in the city each day had exceeded contact tracers' capacity to speak with them all. The case increases were driven largely by social gatherings, Farley said, advising that people should not meet unless necessary and families should forego holiday gatherings this year to avoid spreading the virus.

Event organizers are facing difficult choices as they try to create a forum for city officials to hear from an angry community.

An outdoor gathering at that hour is difficult, said Chris Johnson, district office director for state Rep, Joanna McClinton, because it would get dark soon after the event began.

Church staff said shortly before 4 p.m. that they were considering outdoor options, but were relying on taking precautions to keep people there safe. Those included taking temperatures at the door, requiring masks, marking off six feet between each seat, and keeping every other row of pews empty, said Terri Donnell, the church’s chief of staff.

The church will also limit the number of people allowed inside to 150, she said.

— Jason Laughlin

3:18 PM - October 27, 2020
3:18 PM - October 27, 2020

Philly schools safe for in-person learning, but that could change if case count worsens, health commissioner says

Despite rising case counts that meet a state benchmark for moving to remote learning, Philadelphia Health Commissioner said Tuesday that he still considers it safe for schools to restart or continue in-person instruction.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education recommends that schools move to remote learning if there are more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the population over a seven-day period, or if the percent positivity of test results is more than 10%.

In the week that ended Saturday, Philadelphia did have more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents. But its test positivity rate was 7.2%.

“We are not requiring them to do that,” Farley said. “Some schools may choose to do that on their own but we’re not requiring that at the moment. We will watch the data and we may change that recommendation if case counts and the percent positive continue to rise.

”There was an outbreak reported last week in The Philadelphia School, a private school in Center City, which moved to online instruction to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But Farley said there have been no other clusters found in schools that are holding in-person instruction. He said there have been isolated cases in students or staff of some schools that have led to quarantines, but no evidence of spread within a school in those other cases.

— Laura McCrystal

2:07 PM - October 27, 2020
2:07 PM - October 27, 2020

Penn States reports another uptick in cases

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

Pennsylvania State University recorded another uptick in coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

There are 279 active cases on the University Park campus, up from 238 on Friday. Cases had been falling this month and had numbered fewer than 200 last week before beginning to climb again. Earlier this month, Penn State had more than 500 active cases.

“We are watching this carefully,” Penn State President Eric J. Barron said in a statement. “…Now is the time to double down on our efforts in masking, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.”

State College borough announced on Monday it was reviewing video from large off-campus gatherings on Saturday during the Penn State football game and planned to issue citations to those who attended. The university is preparing for its first home football game against Ohio State on Halloween night.

— Susan Snyder

1:50 PM - October 27, 2020
1:50 PM - October 27, 2020

Chestnut Hill College to bring students back to campus for spring semester

Chestnut Hill College
LAURENCE KESTERSON / File Photograph
Chestnut Hill College

Chestnut Hill College will bring undergraduates back to campus for the spring semester that begins Jan. 25, the college announced Tuesday.

Chestnut Hill plans to take many of the steps that other colleges, which brought students back in the fall, have taken, including requiring masks and social distancing, offering a mix of online and in-person classes and reducing classroom capacity.

“The reality is that campus life will be different than it has been in the past, and all of us must work together to keep everyone healthy and safe,” said Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of the Philadelphia college.

Graduate and continuing education classes will remain online, the college said.

— Susan Snyder

1:33 PM - October 27, 2020
1:33 PM - October 27, 2020

Philly considering imposing new COVID-19 restrictions due to ‘rapidly rising case counts’

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

With “rapidly rising case counts” of the coronavirus, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday that the city is considering imposing additional restrictions and urged residents to cancel all family holiday gatherings and stay home as much as possible.

The city had an average of 296 new confirmed cases per day of the virus in the week that ended Saturday, Farley said, representing the highest average since the first week of May.

Farley said the city appears to be entering a fall and winter surge in the virus, which “may be the worst period of the entire epidemic."

”Much of this surge will happen before the vaccine arrives," Farley said. “We’re not going to get past this epidemic by Thanksgiving or by Hanukkah or by Christmas.”

Farley said he and other city officials are considering whether to impose additional restrictions on activities that are permitted, but have not yet done so.

“We’re not imposing any new restrictions today but we are considering a range of options,” he said.

Last week, 7.2% of COVID-19 tests in Philadelphia residents were positive, Farley said. In mid-September, that number had reached a low point of 2.8%. At the peak of the spring wave of the virus in early April, it was as high as 39%.

While cases are rising in every age group in the city, Farley said there is still space in city hospitals and the city’s overall death rate has decreased

In the spring, he said, there was about 1 death per 15 confirmed cases of the virus. Now, he said there is one death per 60 cases. That change is due in part to increased testing and the diagnosis of people who have minimal or no symptoms, Farley said.

— Laura McCrystal

1:31 PM - October 27, 2020
1:31 PM - October 27, 2020

Trenton closes city hall after three employees test positive

Trenton’s city hall has been immediately closed after three employees tested positive for COVID-19, Mayor W. Reed Gusciora announced Tuesday.

“We’re not taking any chances as a second wave advances on our city,” Gusciora said in a statement. “I can’t think of a better sign to Trenton residents that we need to take this disease as seriously as ever.”

The City Clerk’s Office will remain open to accept provisional ballots leading up to the general election, and essential services such as police, fire, and sanitation will continue normally, the city announced.

Trenton residents who have visited city hall and are concerned about possible exposure are asked to contact the city’s Office of Emergency Management at 609-989-4200.

The city has reported at least 4,151 COVID-19 cases since March, including 80 COVID-19 related deaths.

— Rob Tornoe

12:50 PM - October 27, 2020
12:50 PM - October 27, 2020

COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia have exceeded the city’s ability to track them

A jogger runs past a COVID-19 billboard in front of the University of Arts in Center City on Wednesday, October 21, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A jogger runs past a COVID-19 billboard in front of the University of Arts in Center City on Wednesday, October 21, 2020.

COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia have exceeded the city’s contact tracing program’s ability to track them, city officials said Tuesday.

“Recently, we have not been able to reach all cases that test positive because we’ve seen a surge in cases,” said Hannah Lawman, the chief of operations for the city’s Division of COVID Containment.

As many as 15 to 20% of the city’s positive COVID-19 cases simply are not being contacted, she said, even if they provided contact information when they were tested for the virus. Others who are contacted are no longer being reached within 24 hours, an important benchmark to meet, epidemiologists have said, if contact tracing is going to be effective in keeping people who have been exposed to the virus from spreading it widely. Until as recently as three weeks ago, Lawman said, the contact tracer program was able to make an attempt to contact every person who provided contact information within 24 hours.

The spread of the virus now, she said, is beyond the ability of contact tracing to contain.

The pressure on contact tracers has reached the point that when tracers do contact people who have the virus, they will be asking them to do their own outreach to people they have had close contact with, said Thomas Farley, the director of the city’s health department, adding “we don’t have time to do it.”

Driving the case increases, Farley said, were private social gatherings. He listed events where cases have spread, including sleepovers, pizza parties, car pools, gatherings to watch football, weddings, and bridal showers. He also noted there was some evidence that dining at restaurants was contributing to the virus' spread.

Philadelphia has 122 contact tracers, with the capacity to reach about 200 to 250 cases a day. The city’s count of new cases per day has steadily been above that for about two weeks. The city reported 375 cases, a recent high, on Oct. 21. The last time there were more cases in a single day was May 5.

A contact tracer reaches out to people who have been infected, or anyone who may have spent at least 10 to 15 minutes within six feet of an infected person over the two days before either a positive test result or the onset of symptoms. The system relies on the memory and candor of the infected person, and the number of contacts varies widely, especially for younger patients attending school or playing sports.

As cases skyrocket, Lawman said, the city is going to make a few new contact tracing hires, but intends to focus its efforts on reaching working-age adults, those most likely to be spread the virus. Contact tracers are supposed to make multiple efforts to reach people who have tested positive, including leaving messages with a call back number if a person doesn’t pick up.

Even before contact tracers were overwhelmed, there were problems with the program’s effectiveness. A significant number of people who tested positive did not provide contact information or could not be reached. Another portion refused to say who they had contact with even if they did speak to a tracer.

About 40 to 50% of all positive cases can be reached and participate in contact tracing efforts, Lawman said. About 30% have attempts made to reach them can’t be contacted. Of those who are contacted, as many as 10% refuse to participate, she said.

The city’s lack of comprehensive information about who was infected and who they were near played a role in the current surge.

“Contact tracing is one piece of the puzzle, but it’s not our entire response effort,” Lawman said. “We still need people to go get testing when they have symptoms, we need them to get the results. Certainly, the less people participate in contact tracing, the harder containment is.”

She noted that at the current case counts it would have limited effect to hire a large number of contact tracers. In the spring, as cases surged, the city had to shift from trying to contain the virus to shutdowns. That is being considered again.

“If things continue going in the direction that they’re going, I wouldn’t be surprised if we restrict some kind of targeted activities,” said James Garrow, spokesperson for the city’s department of health.

— Jason Laughlin

12:15 PM - October 27, 2020
12:15 PM - October 27, 2020

Pennsylvania reports more than 2,700 new cases as COVID-19 spike continues

Pennsylvania reported 2,751 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, by far the most in a single day over the course of the pandemic as a spike in new infections continues to climb.

The commonwealth is now averaging 1,939 new cases a day over the past seven days, and overall 198,446 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

The Department of Health said 245,029 coronavirus tests were administered between Oct. 20 and Oct. 26, with 12,380 positive cases — a positive test rate of 5%.

Hospitalizations are also climbing in Pennsylvania. The commonwealth is reporting 1,170, up about 50% over the past week and nearly 165% higher than this time last month, when just 442 Pennsylvanians were hospitalized for COVID-19.

At least 8,696 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 23 new deaths reported on Tuesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,706 (nearly 66%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

10:45 AM - October 27, 2020
10:45 AM - October 27, 2020

Philadelphia, Delaware to hold COVID briefings today

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaking on Sept. 1, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaking on Sept. 1, 2020.

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

— Rob Tornoe

10:15 AM - October 27, 2020
10:15 AM - October 27, 2020

June BYOB on East Passyunk closes, a victim of the pandemic

Richard Cusack , owner/chef, with his wife and co-owner Christina in front of June, a BYOB on East Passyunk Avenue in January.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Richard Cusack , owner/chef, with his wife and co-owner Christina in front of June, a BYOB on East Passyunk Avenue in January.

Saying it came down to pride or family, chef Richard Cusack has closed June BYOB, the classic French BYOB that he and his wife, Christina, opened in August 2019 at 1911 E. Passyunk Ave.

Cusack blamed the pandemic and occupancy restrictions. At 25% occupancy in the cozy storefront, he said, he would be able to seat only six patrons.

The Cusacks hung on with takeout until summer. Even with what he called “zero labor cost” — other than his own labor, of course — Rich Cusack then decamped to the Jersey Shore to take a cooking job so he could make the rent and his mortgage, he said.

He tried redoing the business model, “but it didn’t make any sense. I have no liquor license. I asked myself, 'Do I give up my pride or watch my family struggle?”

— Michael Klein

7:30 AM - October 27, 2020
7:30 AM - October 27, 2020

New COVID-19 cases still spiking in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, while Delaware remains flat

A SEPTA bus with a mask reminder goes by a pedestrian on Ridge Ave. neat the Wissahickon Transportation Center on Oct. 14, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
A SEPTA bus with a mask reminder goes by a pedestrian on Ridge Ave. neat the Wissahickon Transportation Center on Oct. 14, 2020.

Pennsylvania is still seeing a “fall resurgence” of the coronavirus, with a spike in new cases that has exceeded 1,000 a day for 21 days in a row.

Across the river in New Jersey, things aren’t quite as bad, but the average daily new cases over the past seven days are up 23% compared to just last week. Delaware has fared much better, leveling off in October after experiencing a slight increase in new cases in the end of September.

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 1,769 new cases a day, a nearly 23% increase over last week’s average (1,430 a day) and 106% higher than last month’s average (859 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 1,247 new cases a day, a nearly 23% increase over last week’s average (1,016 a day) and about 120% higher than last month’s average (565 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 124 new cases a day, a slight decrease compared to last week’s average (130 a day) and about 20% higher than last month’s average (103 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

7:15 AM - October 27, 2020
7:15 AM - October 27, 2020

Hospitalizations have more than doubled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey over the past month

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is also on the rise across the region, though numbers remain far below pandemic highs set back in April and death rates have remained relatively stable over the last few months the number of deaths remain stable.

Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have seen the numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations more than double over the course of the past month, while hospitalizations are up 69% in Delaware.

Nationally, nearly 43,000 patients are hospitalized with the coronavirus, a 45% increase since Sept. 28, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from the COVID Tracking project. Hospitals in 12 states across the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt — including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and South Dakota — are a record levels, and 41 states and Puerto Rico now have more hospitalizations than at the end of September.

Here’s how hospitalizations look across the tristate area as of Tuesday morning, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from each local health department:

  • Pennsylvania: 1,138 hospitalizations as of Oct. 26, up 157% compared to this time last month (442 hospitalizations)
  • New Jersey: 948 hospitalizations as of Oct. 26, up 125% compared to this time last month (421 hospitalizations)
  • Delaware: 108 hospitalizations as of Oct. 26, up 69% compared to this time last month (64 hospitalizations)

Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - October 27, 2020
7:00 AM - October 27, 2020

‘It’s not good news’: Fauci says United States is still in first wave of the pandemic

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the country remains in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as new cases swell to their highest levels nationally.

“I look at it more as an elongated — and an exacerbation of — the original first wave,” Fauci said during Yahoo! Finance’s All Markets Summit on Monday.

Fauci said that while Northeastern states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey were able to reduce their outbreaks, nationally the baseline remained high at about 20,000 new cases per day, which he said will contribute to more illness in the fall and winter.

“Now as we’re getting into the cold weather, we came back up again to the worst that we’ve ever had, which was over 80,000 per day,” Fauci said.

Fauci also said vaccines for COVID-19 are proceeding at a “very good pace,” and we should know if they’re safe and effective by the end of this year. But Fauci also warned that even with a vaccine, you could still be infected with the virus, though it would likely be with minimal impact.

“The primary thing you want to do is if people get infected, prevent them from getting sick and if you prevent them from getting sick, you’ll ultimately prevent them from getting seriously ill, so that’s what we want to do,” Fauci said.

— Rob Tornoe

6:45 AM - October 27, 2020
6:45 AM - October 27, 2020

Tuesday morning roundup: Red states face voting restrictions amid pandemic

  • A clinical trial of Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody treatment will stop recruiting new patients due to “a low likelihood that the intervention would be of clinical value in this hospitalized patient population,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a statement.
  • In five states where cases are surging, Republican leaders have refused to loosen rules on who can vote by mail, according to the Washington Post. Most of the about 30 million registered voters who live in Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee have no choice but to cast ballots in person.
  • A large-scale British study commissioned by the Department of Health has found further evidence that COVID-19 antibody levels wane over time, feeding researchers' concerns over a potentially “increasing risk of reinfection,” especially among older people and individuals who did not report any symptoms but tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the spring.