6:53 PM - October 29, 2020
6:53 PM - October 29, 2020

Drexel to re-open campus in January but most classes to stay online

The exterior of University Crossings, student housing near Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa. on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
The exterior of University Crossings, student housing near Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa. on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.

Drexel University will re-open the campus to undergraduates for the winter term beginning in January, the school announced Thursday.

University housing will offer single occupancy rooms and there will be some face-to-face instruction for first-year students, juniors and seniors with lab and studio classes, the university said. Most instruction, however, will remain online.

Drexel had closed university housing for the fall and had been conducting most classes online."I think we are ready to plan for the return of more students to campus," president John Fry said in a message to campus. “This next step is based upon the enhanced health and safety measures we have instituted, along with the knowledge gained from the experience at other colleges and universities that have reopened.”

The quarter will be delayed one week until Jan. 11, the university said.

— Susan Snyder

2:20 PM - October 29, 2020
2:20 PM - October 29, 2020

Philadelphia reports more than 300 new cases for the third straight day

Philadelphia reported 385 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the third straight day over 300 new cases, as the city experiences a surge in new infections.

A total of 43,671 Philadelphians have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and 1,868 have died, with the city reporting one additional death on Thursday.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley warned on Tuesday that the worst of the pandemic may be yet to come this winter, and urged people to cancel holiday gatherings and remain at home as much as possible.

COVID-19 is spreading so rapidly in Philadelphia that the city’s contact-tracing program no longer has the ability to track every case. The city said no attempt was made to contact 14% of the 1,873 cases reported last week due to the current caseload. 45% were reached, and of the contacts named, 67% were reached and agreed to quarantine, the city said.

— Rob Tornoe

2:00 PM - October 29, 2020
2:00 PM - October 29, 2020

New Jersey reports 1,477 new cases as Gov. Murphy warns the second wave is ‘coming now’

A woman wears a mask as she walks through downtown Newark, N.J., Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.
Seth Wenig / AP
A woman wears a mask as she walks through downtown Newark, N.J., Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.

A long-predicted “second wave” of coronavirus cases has arrived, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said, noting days of surging case numbers around the state.

“The second wave of the coronavirus is no longer something that is off in the future,” Murphy said. “It is coming, and it is coming now.”

Murphy said the state has stockpiled massive amounts of PPE like masks and gloves, and is continuing to amass more.

The state reported 1,477 new cases and eight deaths. Several counties, including Monmouth, are reporting more than 100 new cases. The statewide positivity rate is 6.54% , and the transmission rate is 1.25, meaning each infection is leading to more than one new case.

The spikes in some counties do not appear related to schools, Murphy said, but increasingly cases appear to be linked to small gatherings in homes.

Officials are deploying a team to assist spiking cases in Newark, said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. The state will assist in ways that are similar to what was done in Lakewood, Ocean County when infections there exploded in recent weeks.

In Lakewood, the state worked with local health officials by sending additional contact tracers and expanding testing. Those steps, and cooperation with community leaders and residents to increase mask use and social distancing, helped reduce the positivity rate from 36% a month ago to under 6% last week, Persichilli said.

Murphy also reminded residents to celebrate Halloween safely this weekend, reminding anyone who will celebrate Halloween to wear proper masks and keep social distance while trick or treating.

“While you may wish to dress up like a knucklehead on Saturday, we don’t want anyone to act as one,” he said.

Allison Steele

1:00 PM - October 29, 2020
1:00 PM - October 29, 2020

Temple researchers dig in on COVID’s neurological effects, such as the loss of smell or taste

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab.
AP
SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab.

Temple University researchers have added a piece to the puzzle of how coronavirus causes neurological effects, finding that it can damage cells in the brain’s protective blood vessel barrier and make the barrier leaky.

Although COVID-19 primarily assaults the respiratory system, it also attacks cells that line blood vessels throughout the body. These “endothelial” cells produce ACE2, the surface protein that the coronavirus uses to break into cells in many organs.

The new study by researchers at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine used postmortem human brain tissue to show that ACE2 is produced by endothelial cells that line the “blood-brain barrier” — vessels that only allows certain substances to cross from the bloodstream into the brain.

Next, the researchers studied the effects of the coronavirus on brain endothelial cells grown in lab dishes, and on tissue engineered to mimic tiny brain blood vessels.

Not only did the virus trigger harmful inflammatory responses on the endothelial cells, but experiments showed that this increased the permeability, or leakiness, of the blood vessels.

While there is still no evidence that the virus actually enters the brain, the findings suggest the microbe “could cause destabilization of the blood-brain barrier in key brain regions,” said pathology professor Allison M. Andrews, a co-author of the study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

That may help explain how the virus can interfere with brain signaling, often triggering a temporary loss of smell and taste — usually without nasal congestion.

Recent studies and surveys have tied more serious, long-lasting psychiatric and neurological complications to COVID-19, including psychosis, PTSD, depression, dizziness, nerve damage, and a dementia-like syndrome.

However, the link is not clear-cut; many of these complications are also aftereffects of intensive-care and life-supporting devices.

— Marie McCullough

12:29 PM - October 29, 2020
12:29 PM - October 29, 2020

Pennsylvanians urged to ‘stay within their households’ during the holidays

Pennsylvanians should not hold holiday gatherings with anyone outside their household as the pandemic surges and the coronavirus continues spreading through small gatherings, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday.

“As we get into Halloween, as we get into Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, we are asking people to stay within their households,” Levine said. “That’s a tremendous sacrifice that we’re asking people to make, but it is absolutely necessary.”

Nearly all Pennsylvania counties are experiencing community spread of the virus, Levine reported, and contact tracing shows that a large proportion of people who become infected catch the virus at gatherings with friends or family, including dinners, birthday parties, or celebrations.

Levine asked Pennsylvanians to “answer the call” to stop the spread of COVID-19 as the state’s case numbers continue to surge by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, downloading the state’s COVID-19 app, and answering the phone calls of contact tracers. She said flattening the state’s transmission will require individual efforts from people stopping the spread within their own small circles.

“That’s how we’re going to make progress in terms of stopping the spread,” she said. “We all need to look inward and within our own families and communities, because that’s where the progress is going to lie.”

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley asked the same of city residents on Tuesday, recommending people cancel holiday plans and stay at home.

— Justine McDaniel

12:20 PM - October 29, 2020
12:20 PM - October 29, 2020

Pa. not considering returning to shutdown restrictions, health secretary says

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine puts on her face mask after speaking during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine puts on her face mask after speaking during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the state is not currently considering returning to the shutdown restrictions imposed under the tiered red, yellow, and green plan used earlier in the pandemic in spite of surging case numbers statewide.

Health officials are watching the number of hospitalizations, the number of people on ventilators, the amount of stress on hospitals and need for personal protective equipment, and other indicators, Levine said.

She said the state was also monitoring case numbers in relation to schools, noting that schools have local control in deciding whether to offer in-person education but that they should follow Department of Health guidance. The state recommends remote learning after an area reaches a certain rate of infection.

“As we see the case numbers increase, what we’re going to be watching really carefully is potential downstream impacts,” she said.

That means being on the lookout for a rise in hospitalization or death rates, which are currently much lower than they were during the pandemic’s April peak even though the daily number of new infections is now higher. The state’s health system is not currently challenged, she said.

“We are in [a] much better place than we were in the spring. Hospital care has improved significantly... we have therapeutics, such as remdesivir... and the death rate, although it’s going up very slightly, is nothing near what it was in the spring,” she said.

Still, the state has seen a threefold increase in hospitalizations since the end of August, with more than 1,100 now hospitalized. Levine warned that people must flatten the new case curve in order to avoid a potential worsening as is being seen now in other states where hospitals are strained.

“Fall resurgence is here. You’re seeing what has happened in other states in the Midwest and the Mountain West. Pennsylvania is not an island, and I do expect we’re going to see increasing case counts,” Levine said. “Usually there’s a lag, but then we see increasing hospitalizations and then... we start to see an increasing death rate.”

— Justine McDaniel

12:00 PM - October 29, 2020
12:00 PM - October 29, 2020

Pennsylvania reports over 2,000 new cases for the third straight day

Pennsylvania reported more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases for the third straight day as a fall surge in new cases continues to worsen.

The commonwealth added 2,202 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. Pennsylvania is now averaging 2,074 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, the highest at any point during the pandemic.

The Department of Health said 248,480 coronavirus tests were administered between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28, with 14,377 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 5.8%. Overall, 202,876 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 8,762 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 44 new deaths reported on Thursday — the most in a single day since the end of June. Of the state’s overall deaths, 5,758 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:20 AM - October 29, 2020
11:20 AM - October 29, 2020

Philly’s Nov. 30 back-to-school plan threatened by rising COVID cases

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday that rising COVID-19 case counts could mean students won't be able to return to school in-person on Nov. 30.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday that rising COVID-19 case counts could mean students won't be able to return to school in-person on Nov. 30.

With an eye toward surging COVID-19 case counts in the region, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday that Philadelphia might not be able to bring back its pre-kindergarten through second-grade students Nov. 30 after all.

The Philadelphia School District is still planning for as many as 32,000 students to return to classes as announced earlier this month, but staff — many of whom are now scheduled to report to school buildings Nov. 9 — and students won’t come back unless it’s safe, Hite said.

The district will “carefully monitor COVID-19 to make sure that conditions support in-person learning,” Hite said at a news conference Thursday.

“We’re preparing for all scenarios, a scenario that will allow for us to bring some children back, a scenario that would allow for all children to remain virtual,” the superintendent said.

There is no date by which the district must make a final decision, Hite said; the fluid public health situation will dictate what happens.

— Kristen A. Graham

9:00 AM - October 29, 2020
9:00 AM - October 29, 2020

Jobless claims fall, but new COVID-19 infections a threat

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 751,000, the lowest since March, but it’s still historically high and indicates the viral pandemic is forcing many employers to cut jobs.

Applications for unemployment aid fell 40,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. They fell in 30 states, including big drops in California, Florida and Texas. Claims rose in Arizona, Illinois, and Michigan.

Rising confirmed virus cases in nearly every state, along with a cutoff in federal aid, are threatening to weaken the economy in the coming months. As temperatures fall, restaurants and bars will likely serve fewer customers outdoors. And many consumers may increasingly stay home to avoid infection. Those trends could force employers to slash more jobs during the winter.

— Associated Press

7:30 AM - October 29, 2020
7:30 AM - October 29, 2020

COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Pa. and N.J. with no end in sight

Monshell Reyes jumps rope in front of the the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. The museum is temporarily closed due the the COVID-19 outbreak until at least 2021.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Monshell Reyes jumps rope in front of the the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. The museum is temporarily closed due the the COVID-19 outbreak until at least 2021.

Pennsylvania’s fall coronavirus surge has surpassed the state’s April peak in new cases, with more than 40,000 people infected in October alone. The commonwealth is now averaging more than 2,000 new cases a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and is now one of 13 states to see more than 200,000 COVID-19 infections.

“We’re seeing evidence that exponential spread is moving in,” David Rubin, the physician who leads a pandemic modeling project at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Inquirer Wednesday.

Cases also continue to surge in New Jersey, where COVID-19 hospitalizations surpassed 1,000 on Wednesday for the first time since early July (though they remain far below the first peak of the pandemic, when the state reported more than 7,700 hospitalizations).

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 2,054 new cases a day, a 61% increase over last week’s average (1,482 a day) and about 124% higher than last month’s average (918 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 1,402 new cases a day, a 36% increase over last week’s average (1,029 a day) and 129% higher than last month’s average (612 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 132 new cases a day, basically flat compared to last week’s average (130 a day) and about 18% higher than last month’s average (112 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

7:15 AM - October 29, 2020
7:15 AM - October 29, 2020

Despite spike in cases, COVID-19 death rate remains low in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Though Pennsylvania has surpassed the April peak in daily case numbers, its death rate remains much lower than it was in the spring. Over the last two weeks, the state’s death rate has been at 2.4 per 100,000 people, well under the national rate of 3.3, and ranks 35th among states and the District of Columbia. On Wednesday, North Dakota had the highest rate at 15.6 deaths per 100,000, according to data from the New York Times.

The lower death rate has partially been attributed by public health officials to the increased proportion of cases in young adults. Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine also said this week that medical care has improved as doctors and scientists have learned more about the virus.

New Jersey has also managed to keep COVID-19 deaths low, even has new cases and hospitalizations have surged over the past month.

Hospitalizations in Pennsylvania have remained much lower than in the spring. That can partly be attributed to increased testing — a larger proportion of cases are asymptomatic or mild compared with the start of the pandemic, when it was more likely that only sicker people would get tests, Philadelphia health officials said Tuesday.

Still, the hospitalization rate and death rate lag behind case increases by a couple of weeks.

In Pennsylvania, 1,187 people were hospitalized on Wednesday. So far, hospitals in most Pennsylvania counties have ample capacity, state monitoring shows.

— Justine McDaniel, Marie McCullough and Rob Tornoe

7:00 AM - October 29, 2020
7:00 AM - October 29, 2020

Officials order new restrictions in 5 states amid autumn’s coronavirus surge

State and local officials in New Jersey, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, and Texas are imposing new restrictions on schools, businesses and social gatherings, responding to the fall surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations that threatens much of the country with a health emergency resembling what struck the Northeast in the spring.

Although this has been a highly politicized pandemic, some of the new restrictions are arising with no regard for local political inclinations: Liberal-leaning El Paso is under a nightly curfew, while conservative-leaning Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Tuesday passed a mask mandate.

In Massachusetts, a spike in cases prompted Boston Public Schools to suspend in-person learning last week, and it has forced more than a dozen smaller cities and towns labeled “high-risk” to close businesses, including theaters and roller rinks, and reduce capacity at gyms, libraries and museums.

In Newark, N.J., the city has imposed a nightly 8 p.m. curfew on most businesses due to rising COVID-19 infections. The new rules will remain in place until at least Nov. 10.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, said at a weekly briefing Wednesday that she would announce new restrictions Friday.

“We’re in a bad place,” Raimondo said. “It’s more than a wake-up call, really, for every single one of us to ask ourselves, ‘What am I going to do differently?’”

— Rob Tornoe and the Washington Post

6:45 AM - October 29, 2020
6:45 AM - October 29, 2020

Thursday morning roundup: U.S. now averaging over 74,000 new cases a day

  • The United States is now averaging more than 74,000 new cases a day and climbing, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. On Wednesday, the country reported 78,981 new COVID-19 cases and 994 deaths. The country’s seven-day average of reported cases has increased for 26 straight days, and more than half of U.S. states — 27 — reported 1,000 or more new cases on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.
  • The NFL is considering limiting seating at this season’s Super Bowl to around 20% of the capacity of Raymond James Stadium in Miami, a spokesperson said Wednesday.
  • Taiwan celebrated its 200th day with no locally transmitted coronavirus infections, a milestone no other nation has reached, according to the Washington Post. Experts credit the county’s swift response, widespread mask use, and close contact tracing, which allowed the country to avoid strict lockdowns.
  • A Long Island country club was fined $17,000 for hosting a wedding where 30 guests contracted COVID-19, according to CNN.