A statistical model developed in part at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helped officials across the United States stem the spread of the coronavirus this summer, the White House’s coronavirus task force coordinator said Thursday.
Governors and local officials implemented restrictions that “dramatically brought cases down” after using the work from CHOP, which projected how the virus might spread once bars were closed, restaurants kept at 25% capacity, and gatherings limited to 10 people, said Deborah Birx, who spoke to reporters in Harrisburg on Thursday.
The model proved “really helpful to us,” she said. And she praised Pennsylvania’s response to the pandemic, saying the state has done a “remarkable job” in lowering coronavirus cases.
Also Thursday, Temple University announced it would move almost all classes online for the rest of the semester because of a coronavirus outbreak among its students, at least 237 of whom have tested positive.
As Municipal Court in Philadelphia opened for eviction proceedings, activists blocked the entrances, saying cases should be halted during the pandemic. Police detained and cited 17 protesters. And on the Parkway, the Philadelphia Museum of Art reopened to members.
The visit to Harrisburg by Birx, a Pennsylvania native and Carlisle High School graduate, was a part of a multi-state tour. After stopping in Pittsburgh earlier Thursday to meet with the local health department, she huddled behind closed doors with Gov. Tom Wolf and community health officials before briefly taking questions.
Neither the governor nor other state officials commented on the meeting or attended the media briefing; Birx didn’t directly address the skepticism over the Trump administration’s suggestion that a vaccine could be ready by November, but said efficacy tests for some people participating in vaccine trials will start in mid-September. (The White House’s chief vaccine adviser told NPR on Thursday that it was “extremely unlikely” a vaccine would be ready by November.)
With Labor Day weekend approaching, Birx said, people should continue to wear masks, socially distance, and avoid large gatherings.
“Together we need to get through the Labor Day weekend really protecting one another, so please, wear a mask,” she said.
Pennsylvania on Thursday reported 1,160 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily count in more than a month. Health officials said the day’s numbers included high case counts in both the Pittsburgh and York areas, as well as in Philadelphia due to the outbreak at Temple University.
On the first day of school for Philadelphia students, 82% of the public school system’s roughly 125,000 pupils managed to log on and be marked present despite technical issues, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said.
The server issues that marred the first day for some largely have been resolved, Hite said. Though the district’s information technology department had anticipated the crush of students and staff logging on, the server was overwhelmed Wednesday, delaying emails and limiting access for some to Chromebooks, Google Classroom, Zoom, and other tools.
“We did add significant capacity overnight, and it looks like the server is able to meet the need,” Hite said at a Thursday news conference.
The first day’s attendance numbers were higher than attendance generally was during Philadelphia’s remote learning in the spring.
Still, an estimated 18,000 students remain without internet access. No-cost internet is available to families in partnership with the city and Comcast Corp., but Hite has said they are still working on getting families registered.
Also Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health updated guidelines for nursing facilities: Residents of nursing homes can now receive visitors, including family members, friends, or volunteers, in “limited situations” if the visitors are deemed to be important caregivers by the facility.
Visitors must test negative for the coronavirus within seven days of each visit, pass screening tests and wear masks at all times. “Compassionate caregivers play an important role in improving a resident’s emotional, physical, and mental health,” said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.
The guidelines released by the state also included recommendations for testing employees and residents at skilled nursing facilities, with the frequency based on local case levels.
Levine also said all nursing homes will soon receive antigen testing machines.
Wolf pushed again for the Pennsylvania legislature to legalize recreational cannabis, saying Thursday it could provide “millions of dollars in much-needed revenue” that could, in part, aid the pandemic economic recovery. Wolf also urged the legislature to pursue criminal justice reform policies for people previously convicted of cannabis-related offenses, a move he said could help Pennsylvania’s workforce by eliminating previous conviction records.
The governor has backed recreational legalization since September 2019, but Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature, have said they are not on board.
New Jersey reported 455 new cases and nine deaths on Thursday.
Authorities said they had suspended the COVID-19 expansion permit of a South Jersey restaurant, along with its liquor license, for throwing a “raucous” Fourth of July party in violation of state coronavirus orders. It is the first time the state has suspended a restaurant’s special coronavirus permit, which allows establishments to serve alcohol on sidewalks, patios, parking lots, and other outdoor areas outside their regularly licensed premises.
Police were called to Il Portico Ristorante in Burlington City in the early morning hours July 4 and found a crowd of about 500 people, prosecutors said in a statement. The party was allegedly called a “quarantine release party,” and patrons were not wearing masks or social distancing. People were also being served indoors, though indoor dining was prohibited.
And the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said it would seek to revoke the restaurant’s liquor license entirely after investigators on a follow-up visit during the suspension found the eatery still violating public health measures.
“The actions announced today put licensees on notice that they will be held accountable if they violate the safety measures in place to protect the public from the unnecessary risk of COVID-19 spread,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.