Several Philadelphia businesses swore they would stay shuttered for as long as necessary, even as some Pennsylvania liquor stores prepared to reopen for curbside service on Monday.
Protective masks emerged as political statements. The mayor of Philadelphia pleaded for federal aid to help cities avoid mass layoffs.
And, striking through the debate and discord like the voice of a stern parent, Harvard researchers announced that if a weary and frustrated United States hoped to safely reopen, it would need to roughly triple the daily number of coronavirus tests, from 150,000 to 500,000.
On a bright, windblown Sunday, disparate forces in the Philadelphia region and beyond argued for and against a speedy reopening, a development that health officials say would almost surely generate more sickness.
Some demanded a return to everyday life now, not next month or the month after that or someday, and plan to protest in Harrisburg on Monday, despite warnings from health experts. Masks? Strictly optional.
“I’m definitely not going to be out there shouting at people for not wearing masks,” said organizer Chris Dorr. “This is a free country, right?”
Meanwhile, the numbers of infections and deaths continued to climb on Sunday. Across the United States, more than 759,000 have been sickened and nearly 41,000 died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Even the good news was somber. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared that New York state is “past the high point,” but pleaded with people to stay the course on safety and social distancing.
“This is only halftime,” he said. “We still have to make sure we keep the beast under control. ... Don't jeopardize what you’ve already accomplished."
He reported 507 new deaths, down from 540 on Saturday, which had been the lowest daily death count in more than two weeks.
At a moment when parents are burying their children, and nursing homes have become houses of fear and death, 500 fatalities could look like improvement.
In New Jersey, 3,915 more people tested positive, for 85,301 total, and an additional 132 succumbed, raising the state death count to 4,202. Pennsylvania officials announced Sunday that 1,215 more people had become infected, for a total of 32,284, and 276 more died, increasing the state death toll to 1,112.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said elected leaders still are deciding on how and when to try to restart the economy in the Keystone State.
“It’s not going to be one grand reopening,” Levine said. “It’s going to be a very careful, progressive process.”
A state order for residents to wear cloth masks inside grocery stores was to take effect at 8 p.m. Sunday. Anyone entering without a mask will be asked to go home and get one, Levine said, and businesses could be warned if they fail on enforcement.
The people who produce the food that stocks grocery shelves grew more concerned as Sunday passed and another day ticked by. In rural Pennsylvania, where farming is as much culture as business, growers wonder whether vendors will return in time to buy at harvest, or whether their crops will be left to rot.
“I can’t see where we’re going with this and how long this is going to be,” said Joel Rotz, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
President Donald Trump has eagerly pushed to restart an American economy largely frozen by the pandemic, and the outlines of a gradual reopening have come more into focus. On Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf laid out his three-phase plan for slowly getting the state back to work, saying it would take place region by region, and could begin only after testing was sufficient and health-care workers had enough personal protective equipment.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney wrote to Trump, with whom he has frequently feuded, to ask for emergency federal aid for cities, counties and states hit by the pandemic.
“Without this assistance, cities like Philadelphia will be forced to take drastic steps to balance their budgets,” Kenney wrote, “including massive layoffs and drastic cuts to vital services, which will deprive residents of the services they need, exacerbate the damage being done to local economies, and lessen the possibility of a speedy economic recovery.”
That came as Philadelphia reported that 200 more people had tested positive, bringing the total to 9,214, and that an additional 22 died, raising the city toll to 365.
Trump has said testing should be coordinated on the state level, bringing retort from many governors and public-health experts who insist on a robust, federal-led testing strategy.
“The moment we open up, the virus is going to start spreading,” Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said Sunday on NBC’s Today show. “We’ve got to be ahead of it. The only way to do that is through testing, tracing, and isolation. And I don’t know any state that’s quite ready to do that.”
In Philadelphia, the owner of three bar-restaurants says he’s afraid of letting anyone back inside. “You think you’d take a seat at an empty bar stool near a bunch of strangers?”
The head of Boscov’s, the department-store chain that’s been shut for weeks, is anxious but focused on how to keep customers and employees safe upon returning. The chairman of a Center City law firm expected that some employees won’t come back to the office until there’s a vaccine, which even under optimistic scenarios could be 18 months away.