Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Pennsylvania, with the state reporting 1,211 new cases Thursday, and at least four New Jersey hospitals reached capacity as Gov. Phil Murphy announced 182 more deaths and a total case count over 25,000.
“The increases we’re seeing are not just [because] of more testing,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said at Thursday’s briefing in Harrisburg. “We’re seeing more cases.”
Philadelphia hospitals, too, were seeing increases in the number of hospitalized patients, and Montgomery County officials anticipated higher percentages of people testing positive.
The number of coronavirus cases worldwide passed one million on Thursday, as the death toll in New York, the epicenter for this country, neared 2,400 and the number of infected people there approached 100,000. The Labor Department said that nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since the pandemic reached the United States.
The number of cases in Pennsylvania topped 7,000 as Thursday dawned, the first full day Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order was in place statewide. The state has lost 90 people to the virus, and the death toll in New Jersey hit 537.
Statewide, 69 Pennsylvania nursing homes have reported at least one positive case, Levine said, and at least 345 health-care workers have been sickened. And in New Jersey, at least 110 of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities have one or more cases, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. Many of New Jersey’s infected long-term care residents have been infected by workers who aren’t showing symptoms, a trend that mirrors what happened in Washington.
In contrast, Bucks County health officials reported an overall decrease in the spread of the coronavirus, although most such cases are doctors, nurses, first responders, store workers, and other essential workers serving the community.
“We are definitely seeing a decrease in the number of cases who don’t know where the heck they got it,” county Health Director David Damsker said. And between 50 and 60 people of the 407 who have tested positive for the coronavirus have recovered and come out of quarantine, he said.
Philadelphia had a total of 2,100 confirmed cases and two people had died in the last day, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday, bringing the city’s death count to 17.
Philadelphia hospitals have checked in 315 infected patients, some who are not local residents, Farley said, suggesting that more patients from out of state may end up in the city’s hospitals as New York City and New Jersey have severe outbreaks.
The city’s jails have 20 inmates with the coronavirus, and Farley said clusters of infections continue to be found in group settings like nursing homes. Three staff members and one inmate at the Chester County jail have tested positive for COVID-19, county officials said Thursday.
“Right now, social distancing is the most practical ‘cure’ we have to beat” the virus, said the Chester County commissioners, announcing the county’s second and third deaths, of men ages 79 and 87.
As people continue to isolate from others, calls to state mental health resources have increased, Levine said.
More than six million people filed for unemployment benefits last week as virus-related shutdowns ravage the economy — and Pennsylvanians filed the highest number of claims after California, whose population is about three times that of the commonwealth. In the last two weeks, Pennsylvania had 783,000 new claims.
New Jersey reported 205,515 new claims last week, nearly twice as many as the previous week. Murphy said 500 Garden State employers have posted more than 44,000 job openings on the state’s coronavirus website.
Murphy said relief is on the way for hospitals in New Jersey — where seven were at capacity Wednesday and have since moved patients to other facilities — as the state’s first Army Corps of Engineers temporary field hospital is slated to open early next week.
At its peak, the Secaucus site will accommodate 250 beds and will be staffed primarily by a volunteer force of doctors, nurses, social workers, and behavioral health workers. A 500-bed unit in Edison will open Wednesday, and a site in Atlantic City is slated to open April 14.
Once those are open, three major hospitals will coordinate the transfer of patients beginning recovery to the temporary sites.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prepared to urge all Americans to wear cloth masks in public, Murphy said he would not order healthy New Jerseyans to wear masks because the state must preserve its limited supply of protective equipment for infected people and front-line health-care workers. Philadelphia’s Farley also said he was not recommending the practice for city residents.
In Philadelphia, the city continued to work to expand hospital capacity and was still “fighting for supplies,” Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. City officials received a shipment Wednesday from the National Strategic Stockpile, he said, and were still working Thursday to unpack it.
The food distribution program that began in Philadelphia this week — offering one box of food per household to all residents as a supplement to the city’s food pantry system — had such high demand that the city quadrupled the number of meals it handed out Thursday, offering 16,000 at 40 locations. Even so, some sites ran out of meal boxes.
“It shows how great the need is,” Abernathy said. “We’re going to do everything we can to continue to provide some sustenance and meals to our city.”
Abernathy asked able residents to donate to or volunteer with Philabundance or the Share Food program, the city’s partners. It will be a challenge for the city to provide the food long-term, he said.
Philadelphia City Council passed an emergency $85 million budget transfer for the city’s response to the crisis Thursday morning, which Mayor Jim Kenney signed into law.
Trash pickup in Philadelphia also began running about a day behind because sanitation workers were calling out from work, but Kenney asked residents to keep putting their trash out normally and to be patient.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Thursday that it will close the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul to the public during livestreamed Easter and Holy Week services — a day after The Inquirer reported that at least two dozen people were served Holy Communion in person last Sunday.
Although the cathedral will be closed during the Easter and Holy Week celebrations, it — like many of the archdiocese’s more than 250 churches across the region — will remain open outside of that time for private prayer.
As officials this week have urged residents to continue staying home, to give the state a chance to avoid the type of disaster unfolding in New York and New Jersey, Farley said it was “too early to say” whether social distancing was working. He said it would take time to determine the impact of the prevention measures because several days can pass between a person’s exposure to the virus and a positive test result.
So, officials said: Keep staying home.
“We have plenty of availability in the health-care system right now, should people need it,” Farley said. “But I want to emphasize we want to keep it that way.”
Staff writers Erin McCarthy, Jeremy Roebuck, Kristen A. Graham, Vinny Vella, Ellie Rushing, and staff photographer Michael Bryant, contributed to this article.