TL;DR: Researchers in England say they have the first evidence that a cheap, widely available drug can improve COVID-19 survival. But the good news was criticized by physicians in the Philadelphia region, noting that the British team has not released the data supporting its conclusions. In Pennsylvania, it’s difficult to assess the safety of reopening because the commonwealth lacks a centralized contact tracing system.

— Kelly O’Shea (@kelloshea, health@inquirer.com)

What you need to know:

🍴 Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley issued a warning to restaurants that have reopened for outdoor dining, saying that the city is hearing that tables are being placed closer together than COVID-19 guidelines allow.

🛣️ The Pennsylvania Turnpike, struggling financially amid the virus, is laying off 500 employees — mostly toll collectors and fare-collection personnel who were blindsided by the sudden news.

🦠 Because of COVID-19 interruptions at sexual health centers, fewer Philadelphians are getting STD screenings. That’s particularly worrying in a city where rates for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia have far exceeded national averages.

🏥 Hospitals in rural Pennsylvania increased spending to stockpile protective equipment and cut back on elective surgeries in preparation for a rush of COVID-19 patients that never came. Now, major revenue losses could prove hard for small-town hospitals to weather.

🐄 $40 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will support Pennsylvania’s dairy industry and food security programs.

👨‍⚕️ Tower Health is cutting 1,000 jobs. It’s not clear how much overlap there is between the 1,000 employees furloughed in April, some of whom had returned to work, and the people who are now losing their jobs permanently.

📰 What’s going on in your county? We organized recent coverage of the coronavirus pandemic by local counties mentioned in the stories to make it easier for you to find the info you care about.

Local coronavirus cases

📈The coronavirus has swept across the Philadelphia region and cases continue to mount. The Inquirer and Spotlight PA are compiling geographic data on tests conducted, cases confirmed, and deaths caused by the virus. Track the spread here.

With a coronavirus vaccine still months or years away, public health experts say there is only one way to prevent another society-wide shutdown: contact tracing — the ability to locate infected individuals and identify their close contacts. Yet in Pennsylvania, there is no centralized contact tracing system, my colleagues Aneri Pattani and Sarah Gantz report. The Wolf administration is working to corral disparate efforts into six regional consortiums, but so far only one has been announced, and it’s still in early stages. Read more here.

The good news that an inexpensive generic drug cut deaths by a third in severely ill COVID-19 patients was cheered — and criticized — by physicians in the Philadelphia region and around the world on Tuesday, my colleague Marie McCullough reports. Experts were delighted to hear encouraging results from a rigorous British study of a corticosteroid called dexamethasone. But they also were disturbed that those results came out in a self-congratulatory news release, rather than a journal article reviewed by outside experts before publication. Read more here.

Helpful resources

You got this: Attend a virtual music festival

The Roots Picnic is going virtual. A version of the 2020 Picnic will be an online-only event on June 27, staged in partnership with Michelle Obama’s voter-registration organization When We All Vote, my colleague Dan DeLuca reports. The July 4 Wawa Welcome America Festival, another event being held virtually this year, will be headlined by Jason Derulo and Tony award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo.

🍝 Inquirer restaurant critic Craig Laban shared his experience at his first restaurant meal in three months.

⚽ When NBC televises the English Premier League’s return, it will use artificial crowd noise.

💰 Longwood Gardens will reopen June 18 to members only.

Have a social distancing tip or question to share? Let us know at health@inquirer.com and your input might be featured in a future edition of this newsletter.

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