9:04 PM - October 21, 2020
9:04 PM - October 21, 2020

West Chester council approves ordinance limiting household gatherings and requiring mask-wearing

Mayor Dianne Herrin of Borough of West Chester declared a state of emergency on Oct. 2 because of rise in coronavirus cases.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Mayor Dianne Herrin of Borough of West Chester declared a state of emergency on Oct. 2 because of rise in coronavirus cases.

The West Chester Borough Council on Wednesday night narrowly approved a 60-day ordinance to limit household gatherings to 15 people and to require face coverings in response to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the suburban college town and county seat.

The 4-3 vote follows and supersedes an emergency declaration made by Mayor Dianne Herrin on Oct. 2 after cases began to spike in the borough.

Herrin said the number of infections has since declined but the council heard from medical professionals and operators of congregate-care facilities who testified in favor of the ordinance to guard against new waves of infections as the coronavirus surges elsewhere in Pennsylvania and across the country.

The ordinance does not allow for exceptions to the 15-person limit, which applies to both indoor and outdoor areas of a household. The mask-wearing requirement applies to anyone older than 2 years and includes various situations such as being inside a business or public transportation or waiting to enter a building open to the public. Violations carry a possible $300 fine.

Some residents testified in opposition, calling the requirements an infringement on their individual liberties.

The ordinance can be revisited by the borough council during the 60 days.

West Chester University, the largest of the 14 Pennsylvania state universities, with more than 17,700 students, is conducting classes remotely this semester, but some students are living on campus and many more reside in the surrounding neighborhood.

According to data from the Chester County Health Department, from August to September the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the borough rose from 202 to 437. In the 18-to-22 age category alone, cases more than tripled from 88 in August to 299 in September.

— Robert Moran

5:30 PM - October 21, 2020
5:30 PM - October 21, 2020

CDC redefines COVID-19 close contact, adds brief encounters

FILE - In this March 6, 2020, file photo, the headquarters for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (AP Photo/ Ron Harris, File)
Ron Harris / AP
FILE - In this March 6, 2020, file photo, the headquarters for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (AP Photo/ Ron Harris, File)

U.S. health officials Wednesday redefined what counts as close contact with someone with COVID-19 to include briefer but repeated encounters.

For months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said close contact meant spending a solid 15 minutes within six feet of someone who tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, the CDC changed it to a total of 15 minutes or more — so shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period now count.

The CDC advises anyone who has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient to quarantine for two weeks.

The change may prompt health departments to do contact tracing in cases where an exposure might previously have been considered too brief, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.

It also serves notice that the coronavirus can spread more easily than many people realize, he added.

The definition change was triggered by a study of a 20-year-old Vermont correctional officer, who was diagnosed with a coronavirus infection in August. The guard, who wore a mask and goggles, had multiple brief encounters with six transferred prisoners before test results showed they were positive. At times, the prisoners wore masks, but there were encounters in cell doorways or in a recreational room where prisoners did not have them on, the report said.

— Associated Press

5:08 PM - October 21, 2020
5:08 PM - October 21, 2020

2nd Murphy staffer tests positive for COVID-19

A second member of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday, hours after a news conference in which the governor announced he was quarantining himself because of recent contact with an infected staff member.

Daniel Bryan, a senior communications adviser to Murphy, tested positive Wednesday afternoon and is asymptomatic, according to a statement from Murphy’s office.

“The contact tracing process is underway, and anyone, including members of press, believed to have exposure as defined by CDC guidelines will be notified,” the statement said.

Mike DeLamater, Murphy’s deputy chief of staff for Intergovernmental Affairs, was the first in the governor’s orbit to test positive, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. That test prompted Murphy to say earlier Wednesday that he and his wife, Tammy, would cancel in-person events and stay at home throughout the weekend.

The Murphys both tested negative Wednesday, according to Murphy communications director Mahen Gunaratna. He declined to comment on whether the first staff member who contracted COVID-19 is symptomatic or if the infection was discovered through contact tracing.

Allison Steele

4:04 PM - October 21, 2020
4:04 PM - October 21, 2020

Penn State study says mouthwash can kill coronavirus in lab dishes. Testing in humans is needed.

Researchers are studying whether mouthwash helps reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Tharakorn / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Researchers are studying whether mouthwash helps reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Simple solutions to complicated problems have huge appeal, so it’s no wonder that squelching the coronavirus with mouthwash is being studied.

Penn State College of Medicine is the latest to show that mouthwashes, nasal rinses, and even very diluted baby shampoo can kill coronaviruses by rupturing the microbes' fatty shells.

But the experiments were in lab dishes, not people. And the Penn State scientists used cousins of the pandemic coronavirus, because the real thing can only be studied in labs with extra biosecurity.

“A German group recently corroborated our results” with their own lab experiments, said Craig Meyers, the Penn State professor of microbiology, immunology, obstetrics and gynecology who led the study, published this week in the Journal of Medical Virology. “They used SARS-2,” the pandemic coronavirus.

“We’re not putting this out as a replacement for masks and social distancing, but as another potential layer of protection,” Meyers said.

— Marie McCullough

1:40 PM - October 21, 2020
1:40 PM - October 21, 2020

Philadelphia reports 233 new cases

Philadelphia announced 233 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, as the rate of new cases in the city continues to rise.

Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said Tuesday that Philadelphia “may be entering a dangerous period with this virus,” with cases now rising in every neighborhood.

Philadelphia now has 40,937 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in residents since March. The city also announced two additional deaths Wednesday. A total of 1,851 residents have died of the virus.

— Laura McCrystal

1:15 PM - October 21, 2020
1:15 PM - October 21, 2020

Murphy to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure

Gov. Phil Murphy listens during the opening ceremony for the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May in September.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Gov. Phil Murphy listens during the opening ceremony for the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May in September.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he would go into quarantine after a senior member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was just informed by my colleagues that I was in close proximity to someone on Saturday who has just tested positive,” he said Wednesday, speaking outside at the campus of Camden County College in Blackwood, where he was joined by several South Jersey elected officials to announce a new workforce development program funded by federal coronavirus relief money.

The aide is isolating at home and contact tracing efforts are underway, Murphy communications director Mahen Gunaratna said in a statement.

Murphy, who in February underwent surgery to remove a tumor on his kidney, said he last tested negative on Monday as part of his regular testing regimen, but that he would be tested again in light of the news.

“I will now, unfortunately, have to take myself off the field,” he said, and left the event.

Murphy and his wife, Tammy, both tested negative again this afternoon, Gunaratna said.

“Out of an abundance of caution and in line with the highest levels of commitment to protecting public health, the Governor and First Lady will be canceling their in-person events and voluntarily quarantining through the end of the weekend,” the statement said.

Moments earlier during Wednesday’s conference, Murphy urged residents to continue taking precautions to safeguard against the virus. The state is reporting another 1,000 cases and 18 deaths, he said, and hospitalizations are at the highest in months.

“This is not abstract,” he said. “It remains with us, it’s surging over the past several weeks.”

Murphy wore a mask throughout most of the news conference.

—Allison Steele

12:10 PM - October 21, 2020
12:10 PM - October 21, 2020

Pennsylvania reports 1,452 new cases, 29 additional deaths

Pennsylvania reported 1,425 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the 16th straight day the commonwealth has reported more than 1,000 new cases. Pennsylvania is now averaging 1,482 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, nearing a pandemic high set in April.

The Department of Health said 225,406 coronavirus tests were administered between Oct. 14 and Oct. 20, with 10,226 positive cases — a positive test rate of about 4.5%, the highest rate since early August. Overall, 186,297 Pennsylvania residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

At least 8,562 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with 29 new deaths reported on Wednesday. Of the state’s deaths, 5,666 (about 66%) have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

— Rob Tornoe

11:56 AM - October 21, 2020
11:56 AM - October 21, 2020

Temple study helps predict which patients will get especially sick

Some of those who get really sick with COVID-19 develop dangerous, systemic inflammation, triggered by an overactive immune response called a cytokine storm. But predicting who will go down that path, and how to prevent it, remains a challenge.

A new Temple University study has identified a handful of chemical “markers,” easily measured with standard hospital blood tests, that may help.

The authors started by measuring the levels of 62 such markers in hundreds of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including proteins and other substances related to metabolism, the immune system, and other bodily functions.

But just a handful of these test results were unusually elevated or suppressed in patients who went on to experience a runaway “storm” of inflammation.

Patients whose blood tests met these special criteria stayed in the hospital longer and were more likely to die, said lead author Roberto Caricchio, chief of the rheumatology section at Temple’s Katz School of Medicine.

“They are all sick people, but those that meet the criteria are, by far, sicker,” he said.

The next step is identifying which drugs may help, and when to give them.

— Tom Avril

11:00 AM - October 21, 2020
11:00 AM - October 21, 2020

Some countries that avoided initial coronavirus surge see first spike in cases

People leaving a hospital pass by a tent put up before the entrance for testing all those entering for COVID-19 in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.
Czarek Sokolowski / AP
People leaving a hospital pass by a tent put up before the entrance for testing all those entering for COVID-19 in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday.

As the coronavirus pandemic surges around the globe once again, some countries that avoided the worst of the first wave have seen a major increase in cases for the first time.

The late surges are most acute in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, where countries praised for low case numbers during the summer are grappling with some of the highest rates of infection in the world. Some countries in Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East have seen the same.

“Countries that have avoided the first waves have no reason to be complacent,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, adding that some countries avoided the first wave of the 1918 flu pandemic only to be hit harder later. “It might be a cursed blessing.”

— Washington Post

8:50 AM - October 21, 2020
8:50 AM - October 21, 2020

New Jersey will no longer enforce travel restrictions on Delaware

A motorist passes through a New Jersey Turnpike toll plaza in July in Carneys Point.
Matt Slocum / AP
A motorist passes through a New Jersey Turnpike toll plaza in July in Carneys Point.

New Jersey will no longer enforce its travel quarantine restrictions on people traveling to and from Delaware.

“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 Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a joint statement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.

Delaware Gov. John Carney has been a vocal critic of the advisory’s criteria. Delaware has managed to keep its daily new case numbers relatively flat in October.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters he doesn’t expect residents from Connecticut, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania to follow New York’s rule requiring self-quarantine for 14 days, even though all three states meet their criteria as states with a high infection rate.

“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," Murphy said.

New Jersey added Maryland and Arizona to its travel advisory Tuesday, increasing the number of states and territories to 39: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

— Rob Tornoe

7:10 AM - October 21, 2020
7:10 AM - October 21, 2020

Pa. lawmakers fail to override Wolf on COVID-19 restrictions

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at a press conference outside the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown in September.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at a press conference outside the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown in September.

The state House narrowly failed Tuesday to override last week’s veto by Pennsylvania’s governor of a bill that would have let restaurants reopen at full capacity in some circumstances.

The override required two-thirds approval to be sent to the Senate, but it failed on a vote of 133-69.

It would have allowed taverns and restaurants to operate at half of capacity, or more if they met state and federal social distancing standards or erected appropriate barriers.

The Republican-majority Legislature has repeatedly attempted to modify or reverse some of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic initiatives, but so far none of their veto override attempts has succeeded.

In a veto message issued last week, Wolf called the bill “another meaningless attempt to change a necessary tool for fighting the pandemic.”

— Associated Press

7:00 AM - October 21, 2020
7:00 AM - October 21, 2020

Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey now averaging more than 1,000 new cases a day as infections surge

A sign points to the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Philadelphia.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A sign points to the new Jefferson St. Raymond COVID-19 test site funded by Philadelphia, run by Jefferson Health at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania is averaging the most new coronavirus cases a day since the middle of April as a resurgence of the virus across the commonwealth shows no signs of slowing.

New Jersey is averaging more than 1,000 new cases a day for the first time since the end of May. But unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey remains well below pandemic highs set in April, when the state was averaging upward of 3,600 new cases a day.

So far, Delaware has managed to keep the number of new daily cases flat in October after experiencing an uptick at the end of September.

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

  • Pennsylvania: Averaging 1,461 new cases a day, a 9% increase over last week’s average (1,342 a day) and about 75% higher than last month’s average (834 a day).
  • New Jersey: Averaging 1,016 new cases a day, a 24% increase over last week’s average (821 a day) and about 123% higher than last month’s average (454 a day).
  • Delaware: Averaging 130 new cases a day, a slight decrease compared to last week’s average (133 a day) and 46% higher than last month’s average (89 a day).

— Rob Tornoe

6:45 AM - October 21, 2020
6:45 AM - October 21, 2020

How do you manage screen time in the COVID era?

Mia Vincent attends Gladwyne Elementary, and when school was fully virtual (it's hybrid now, she's in school 4 afternoons a week) she had a tough time with all the screen time, not being able to see her friends.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Mia Vincent attends Gladwyne Elementary, and when school was fully virtual (it's hybrid now, she's in school 4 afternoons a week) she had a tough time with all the screen time, not being able to see her friends.

With COVID-19 forcing schools to conduct most or all of their learning via computer, the amount of time children spend on screens has risen dramatically, with mixed results. Some children are coping fine, but others are dealing with fatigue, headaches and strain in a way they didn’t when classes were face-to-face.

Some schools, like FACTS, de-emphasized screen time from the beginning of the term.

But other districts have adjusted their plans to lessen students' screen time. Philadelphia and Cherry Hill School Districts in recent weeks adjusted the amount of time students spend in front of computers.

Cherry Hill elementary students used to have instruction from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with 50 minutes for lunch and breaks built in. After concerns were raised, the district shifted gears, and elementary students now have instruction from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Philadelphia dropped kindergartners' school day to two hours, adding time for a screen break and 20 minutes of movement.

“Even with the breaks that are already in — the amount of time in front of a screen is just too much,” said Superintendent William Hite Jr.

— Kristen A. Graham

6:30 AM - October 21, 2020
6:30 AM - October 21, 2020

Wednesday morning roundup

  • The United States reported 58,387 new cases on Tuesday and 445 additional deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have all reported spikes in new cases and hospitalizations, and 10 states recorded record high hospitalization numbers, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
  • The White House coronavirus task force says 31 states are in the “red zone,” which means they reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people during the previous week, according to an unpublished report obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are all listed in the “yellow zone,” meaning they reported 10 to 50 new cases per 100,000 people during the previous week.
  • Newark Public Schools, New Jersey’s largest school district, will remain remote until at least early 2021 amid COVID-19 concerns, the district announced.
  • How did New Zealand do such an effective job tamping down the virus? A recent article in the Lancet points to the county’s “unprecedented” fast and intense response, including enacting the strictest lockdown in the world and closing its borders before even reporting its first case.