4:15 PM - October 28, 2020
4:15 PM - October 28, 2020

CHOP doctor worried Pa. on verge of explosive COVID-19 surge

David Rubin, the physician who leads a pandemic modeling project at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is worried that Pennsylvania is on the verge of the kind of explosive coronavirus transmission that is crushing many other states.

He is sharing that ominous view – which will soon be explained on the CHOP PolicyLab coronavirus blog and maps – not to panic people, but to urge action.

“The message is, 'Look, we’ve prepared for this. It’s time to have serious discussions and execute plans” to reverse the latest trends.

Those trends – COVID-19 cases, positive test rates, and hospitalizations – have been rapidly worsening in 41 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, including Philadelphia and Delaware.

“We’re seeing evidence that exponential spread is moving in,” Rubin said.

That means it will take less and less time for the number of cases to double, just like in the Spring.

Consider that Pennsylvania’s weekly cases per 100,000 people hovered around 30 in late August and early September, but rose to 55 on Oct. 5 and soared to 95 this week, according to the PolicyLab team, which follows and predicts COVID-19 trends in counties across the country.

So far, hospitals in most Pennsylvania counties have ample capacity to meet the needs of even the sickest COVID patients, despite the rise in cases. But in a few counties, critical care units are nearly full. And there is always a lag between a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

“Today’s case increases will be felt by hospitals in 10 to 14 days,” Rubin predicted.

City and state officials have been reluctant to reimpose business and school shutdowns because of the economic and social costs. Rubin’s team is also loath to see draconian measures.

Rather, they advocate targeted measures such as fining people or businesses that blatantly violate density and crowd limits. Rubin is also a fan of zeroing on zip codes with the highest positive test rates, then working to identify and address problems.

“Shut down as needed in very small areas,” he said. “That strategy has so far worked in New York City.”

— Marie McCullough

2:05 PM - October 28, 2020
2:05 PM - October 28, 2020

New Jersey expands worker protections for COVID-19

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced an executive order Wednesday to expand worker protections for COVID-19. The move establishes workplace health and safety standards — sanitizing, mask-wearing, health screening, hand-washing, social distancing, and so on — that apply to all New Jersey-based workers, in both the private and public sectors.

The state Labor Department will create an online mechanism for workers to complain about violations and, with the Department of Health, will address complaints and enforce the requirements “when necessary,” according to Murphy. It will also provide materials and training to make workers and employers aware of their rights and obligations.

“We are deeply grateful to all employers who have taken it upon themselves to follow, or in many cases exceed, the guidance to make sure that everyone in their establishments is safe. The order that I’m signing today builds on that spirit to create sensible and consistent standards across New Jersey’s economy,” Murphy said.

Murphy, who made the announcement with Rep. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), said he was signing the executive order in part because the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration has not established COVID-19 health and safety standards for workers.

“This framework is also sending that message back to Washington that you can’t ignore this. It won’t go away. People are literally dying on jobs. And that’s why federal OSHA has to wake up,” said Norcross, who introduced legislation in Congress to create such worker protections in March. That legislation is part of the coronavirus stimulus package known as the HEROES Act, which was passed by the U.S. House but has not been given a vote by the Senate amid a stalemate over a stimulus deal.

— Justine McDaniel

1:54 PM - October 28, 2020
1:54 PM - October 28, 2020

Philadelphia reports 362 new cases, three additional deaths

A total of 866 empty chairs are seen displayed on Independence Mall and each chair represents ten people lost to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
A total of 866 empty chairs are seen displayed on Independence Mall and each chair represents ten people lost to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

Philadelphia reported 362 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Wednesday.

That daily count is consistent with the recent surge in new cases of the virus. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, warned residents Tuesday that the worst of the pandemic may be yet to come this winter, and urged people to stay home as much as possible and cancel holiday gatherings.

The city also reported three additional deaths Wednesday. A total of 1,867 residents have now died of the virus and there have been 43,286 confirmed cases in Philadelphia residents since March.

— Laura McCrystal

1:25 PM - October 28, 2020
1:25 PM - October 28, 2020

Delaware County says upswing in cases linked to social gatherings

Amid rising COVID-19 cases statewide, Delaware County reported Wednesday that elevated case numbers there have been related to social gatherings including weddings, funerals, parties, and large dinners.

The most common ways county residents have likely caught the coronavirus has been through close contact with someone else who was positive, attending or working at a school, and attending or participating in a gathering, according to case information traced by the Chester County Health Department, which coordinates the COVID-19 response for Delaware County.

“Most businesses, restaurants, and schools are doing their part to safely remain open and protect customers, employees and students,” said Delaware County Council Chairman Brian Zidek in a statement. “We need to do our part. We need to take personal responsibility and remain vigilant and not let our guard down.”

County officials asked residents not to give in to fatigue or frustration but to continue following public health guidance, even as the weather gets colder.

The county on Wednesday said that their three-day average was 98.6 cases a day as of Monday. According to state data, the county’s raw number of new cases has been higher than Bucks, Montgomery and Chester Counties; 205 new cases were recorded there Tuesday.

— Justine McDaniel

1:00 PM - October 28, 2020
1:00 PM - October 28, 2020

Germany to shut down restaurants, bars and theaters to curb a surge in new cases

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), during a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.
Fabrizio Bensch / AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), during a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

Chancellor Angela Merkel says German officials have agreed to a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters and other leisure facilities in a bid to curb a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and easing restrictions, agreed on the partial lockdown in a videoconference on Wednesday. It is set to take effect on Monday and last until the end of November.

“We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency," Merkel said.

The decision came hours after Germany’s disease-control agency said a record 14,964 new confirmed cases were recorded across the country in the past day, taking the national total in the pandemic to 449,275.

Germany, which has 83 million people, also record 27 more virus-related deaths, raising its overall death toll to 10,098, the Robert Koch Institute said Wednesday.

— Associated Press

12:30 PM - October 28, 2020
12:30 PM - October 28, 2020

More than 200,000 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for COVID-19 as a spike in new cases continues

Pennsylvania has now surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 cases as a surge in new infections continues to spread across the commonwealth and the country.

Overall, 200,674 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, with the commonwealth reporting 2,228 new cases on Wednesday. Pennsylvania is now averaging 2,054 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, the highest rate of new infections during the pandemic.

The Department of Health said 252,583 coronavirus tests were administered between Oct. 21 and 27, with 13,574 positive cases — a positivity rate of about 5.4%.

At least 8,718 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 22 new deaths reported on Wednesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,757 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

12:00 PM - October 28, 2020
12:00 PM - October 28, 2020

Masks will be recommended — but not required — to vote in Pa.

Justyn Myers wears his "I Voted Today" sticker on a "Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia" shirt after casting his mail-in ballot at the satellite election office in Philadelphia's City Hall on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Justyn Myers wears his "I Voted Today" sticker on a "Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia" shirt after casting his mail-in ballot at the satellite election office in Philadelphia's City Hall on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Philadelphia voters who arrive at polling places without masks will be provided them, but voters who refuse to wear them will still be allowed in to vote.

However, those unmasked voters will be required to stay at least six feet from other people at all times and poll workers will try to keep other voters out of the voting site while the unmasked voters are inside.

That’s according to the city’s emergency regulations for COVID-19 safety at polling places on Election Day, which the city commissioners approved at a meeting Wednesday.

Those regulations also require poll workers to wear masks unless they have a medical condition that prevents them from doing so, in which case they must wear face shields or sit behind a plastic barrier and stay six feet from others the entire day. Poll watchers, who are partisan election observers representing political parties and campaigns, must wear masks “at all times in or around a polling place” and will not be allowed into polling places if they are not wearing masks.

Transparent barriers will be set up between poll workers and voters wherever possible to prevent coronavirus transmission during the poll book check-in process, and voters will be urged to stay outside the voting room until they’re actually checking in and voting.

There should be a maximum of 10 people for every 1,000 square feet of space, the regulations say, and poll workers should open doors and windows as much as possible to improve ventilation.

Polling places will have disposable gloves and sanitizer to prevent transmission through shared surfaces, and the total check-in and voting times should be no more than 15 minutes to limit voters' time in the polling place.

City elections officials encourage voters who experience possible COVID-19 symptoms to use an emergency absentee ballot instead of going to the polls, or to call 215-686-1590 to learn their other options. Voters experiencing symptoms won’t be turned away from the polls because it is their right to vote, elections officials said, but they should tell poll workers they are symptomatic.

— Jonathan Lai

11:50 AM - October 28, 2020
11:50 AM - October 28, 2020

‘I felt like trash’: How COVID-19 has affected body image in young people

Melissa Harrison, a therapist who cofounded the Center for Hope and Health in Ardmore, said that during stressful times, some people will hyper-focus on their bodies, while others eat more because their vices are exacerbated.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Melissa Harrison, a therapist who cofounded the Center for Hope and Health in Ardmore, said that during stressful times, some people will hyper-focus on their bodies, while others eat more because their vices are exacerbated.

When the pandemic hit the United States and the country locked down, jokes about the “quarantine 15” popped up on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok almost immediately. Overeating as a way to cope with stress became more widespread. So did the use of virtual communication on platforms where users are staring at themselves for hours at a time, dissecting flaws both real and imaginary.

Those factors, experts said, have led to increasing body image problems, particularly among young people. A survey of 8,000 United Kingdom residents published by Britain’s Parliament in October found that 58% of respondents under age 18 reported feeling worse about their physical appearance during lockdown.

Melissa Harrison, a therapist who cofounded the Center for Hope and Health in Ardmore, said that during stressful times, some people will hyper-focus on their bodies, while others eat more because their vices are exacerbated. She also pointed out that some of her young adult clients are struggling with how their faces look on camera because they’ve replaced daily in-person interactions at work or school with video conferencing.

“I hear teenagers saying, ‘I can’t stand my face right now, but my teacher says I have to keep my camera on,’” she said. “The majority of their lives are being lived via a screen, and when teens compare their face to everyone else’s face on Zoom, it can exacerbate the issue of feeling hypercritical about flaws.”

— Bethany Ao

11:25 AM - October 28, 2020
11:25 AM - October 28, 2020

New Jersey reports over 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations for first time in months

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Jersey topped 1,000 for the first time since early July, though the number remains far below pandemic highs set back in April.

A total of 1,010 New Jersey residents were hospitalized as of Wednesday morning, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. That’s up 20% compared to last week and 128% compared to this time last month, when just 443 people were hospitalized with COVID-19-related illnesses.

“It’s serious, there’s no question about it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during an interview on PIX11 Wednesday morning. “We’re concerned.”

During the first peak of the pandemic in April, New Jersey reported over 7,700 hospitalizations. At least 16,306 New Jerseyans have died after contracting COVID-19, and so far the number of new deaths hasn’t experienced a similar increase.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are also on the rise in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

New Jersey reported 1,692 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday and 14 additional deaths. The state is now averaging 1,402 new cases a day over the past seven days, the highest rate since May 12.

— Rob Tornoe

10:15 AM - October 28, 2020
10:15 AM - October 28, 2020

Fauci says U.S. might not get back to normal until late 2021, predicts masks will be ‘very commonplace’ following pandemic

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, warns that even with an effective vaccine, the United States might not get back to normal until early 2022.

Fauci, speaking during a teleconference interview with University of Melbourne Professor Shitij Kapur, said he hopes a successful vaccine for COVID-19 will help people return to crowded theaters and sporting events, and allow restaurants to reopen at full capacity. But he predicts that likely won’t happen until the end of 2021 at the earliest.

“I would imagine, at least in the United States the way things are looking, if … by the second or third quarter of 2021 we have vaccinated a substantial portion of the people, I think it will be easily by the end of 2021 and perhaps into the next year before we start having some semblance of normality,” Fauci said.

“I think we’ll be back in theaters with spaced seating and perhaps masks clearly by maybe the third quarter of 2021,” Fauci added. “In theaters with no masks at maximum capacity, I think is going to be well over a year.”

Even with a vaccine, Fauci also predicts that masks will become “very commonplace” in many areas of the United States.

— Rob Tornoe

9:40 AM - October 28, 2020
9:40 AM - October 28, 2020

Dow drops more than 500 points as COVID-19 cases continue to spread nationwide

Stocks opened down sharply on Wednesday as COVID-19 cases continue to spread across the United State and stimulus talks remain at a standstill.

The Dow Jones Industrial average is down 500 points, about 1.85%, while the S&P 500 dropped 654 points, about 1.85% The Nasdaq Composite opened down about 235 points, about 2%.

After confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate would be recessed until Nov. 9, meaning there’s no chance for a new round of economic stimulus to make it through Congress before next week’s election.

— Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - October 28, 2020
7:00 AM - October 28, 2020

Pennsylvania and New Jersey continue to see a surge in new COVID-19 cases

Dr. Morgan Hutchinson (right) gives swabbing instructions to Brandi Whitehead at the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Dr. Morgan Hutchinson (right) gives swabbing instructions to Brandi Whitehead at the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church.

New COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania continue to skyrocket, with the commonwealth now averaging nearly 2,000 new cases a day over the past seven days. Overall, 198,446 Pennsylvanian have tested positive for the virus, and at least 8,696 have died.

New Jersey’s numbers have stayed lower than Pennsylvania’s but are on the rise. The state reported 1,663 more cases on Tuesday, along with 14 newly confirmed deaths. 231,331 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID, and at least 16,306 have died.

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 1,939 new cases a day, a nearly 33% increase over last week’s average (1,461 a day) and 120% higher than last month’s average (881 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 1,308 new cases a day, a 32% increase over last week’s average (988 a day) and 187% higher than last month’s average (456 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 139 new cases a day, a slight increase over last week’s average (133 a day) and 26% higher than last month’s average (110 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

6:45 AM - October 28, 2020
6:45 AM - October 28, 2020

Schuylkill County is seeing higher per-capita case numbers than Philadelphia

The coronavirus is spreading so rapidly in Philadelphia that the city’s contact-tracing program no longer has the ability to track every case, city officials said Tuesday, while they urged residents to cancel all holiday gatherings

Philadelphia announced 340 new cases and five deaths. The city had an average of 296 new confirmed infections per day in the week that ended Saturday, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley Farley said, representing the highest average since the first week of May, and a positivity rate last week of 7.2%.

Schuylkill County is seeing higher positive-test numbers than Philadelphia, reporting more new cases per day than any county in Southeastern Pennsylvania and more than it has at any other time during the pandemic.

Infections there have shot up over the course of the month: from 53 new cases reported on Sept. 25 to 360 on Monday, according to state data analyzed by The Inquirer.

— Justine McDaniel, Jason Laughlin, and Laura McCrystal

6:30 AM - October 28, 2020
6:30 AM - October 28, 2020

Wednesday morning round-up: Birx slams lack of mask use in South Dakota

  • The United States is averaging more than 71,000 new cases a day and climbing, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Eighteen states, including Illinois and Pennsylvania, have recorded their highest seven-day average of new cases, and three states — Tennessee, Wisconsin and Oklahoma — have set a record seven-day average for deaths, according to the New York Times.
  • Chicago is temporarily shutting down indoor dining and bar services this week due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday.
  • British officials are now being more selective about the approval of American delegations after a senior Trump administration official tested positive for the coronavirus following a recent trip to Britain, Hungary and France, according to the Washington Post.
  • Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, slammed the lack of mask use in North Dakota, where new cases are spiking. “Over the last 24 hours, as we were here and we were in your grocery stores and in your restaurants, and frankly even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks that we have we seen in retail establishments of any place we have been,” Birx told local reporters.