As the country reached the Labor Day weekend still under the thumb of the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania and New Jersey officials implored people to avoid behavior that has caused case spikes after other holidays.
As usual, they said to not attend large gatherings, to wear masks, and to keep your distance from others.
“COVID-19 knows no bounds — it doesn’t respect county or state lines, and it certainly doesn’t take a holiday,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said, “so it is important that we remind our neighbors to stay safe over the long weekend.”
An increasing number of people who test positive for the coronavirus are telling state case investigators they became sick days after attending “mass gatherings” — defined as indoor events with 25 or more people, or outdoor events with 250 or more, Levine said.
Labor Day weekend marks six months since the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And it comes as those states and the United States as a whole have seen a moderate but encouraging slowing of new cases. Still, as the infection spreads through colleges, the average number of new cases each day nationwide remains much higher than it was at the end of the spring.
Pennsylvania also saw an uptick in its seven-day average for new daily cases this week, going from a low of 602 on Aug. 27 to 810 on Friday. The state reported 891 newly confirmed cases Friday.
New Jersey’s seven-day average, which has been steadily lower all summer than in Pennsylvania, stood at 338 new daily cases on Thursday, though that also represented a small increase from late August. Officials reported 478 cases on Friday.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli urged people to wash hands, wear masks, and stay outside if gathering with others.
“The cost of attending a barbecue or enjoying a drink with friends should not be a deadly virus,” she said.
Labor Day weekend began with some good news for unemployed Pennsylvanians: They can begin receiving the $300 in federal jobless benefits coming via the Federal Emergency Management Agency starting Sept. 14, earlier than the state had anticipated, Labor and Industry Secretary W. Gerard Oleksiak said Friday.
People can apply for the program starting Sunday at www.uc.pa.gov/cert. They must log in as if they are filing a biweekly claim and select the “Complete LWA Certification.”
Unemployed New Jersey residents will also be able to receive the benefit, but the state has said it will take several weeks to get the program running.
The outbreak at Temple University expanded as 80 more students were confirmed to have the virus, bringing the total number of known cases to 318. All but one of the cases are among students. That continued to affect the number of cases reported by Philadelphia, which on Friday was 134, with 50% in people under 30.
Temple moved to almost fully remote instruction Thursday, and Pennsylvania State University leaders were contemplating the same move Friday. The school reported 215 cases on Friday, nearly tripling since Tuesday.
Fifty-eight students are in isolation after testing positive, and 26 in quarantine because they had close contact with someone who tested positive, according to the school’s coronavirus dashboard. Penn State officials urged students to socialize only with roommates and refrain from gatherings.
“We know the virus is here, and I am, of course, concerned by the numbers and trends we are seeing,” Penn State president Eric Barron said. “Next week, we will assess data following the holiday weekend, and determine whether we need to take mitigation steps at University Park, including temporary or sustained remote learning.”
Two hours south, Gettysburg College, which locked down all its students in their dorms on Tuesday, decided Friday to send all but about 900 of its 2,600 students home to complete the semester remotely.
Students who are eligible to remain on campus include first-year, transfer, and international students, along with students who need to stay for various reasons, according to the school’s website.
The liberal arts college may have been the first in the country to quarantine all students in response to an outbreak. Twenty-five students tested positive on Tuesday. Dean of students Julie Ramsey said in a letter to the community the college would determine how to operate for the rest of the semester based on the week’s coronavirus tests.
The campus-wide quarantine will remain in place as students depart, and classes will be suspended next week. They will resume both in person and virtually on Sept. 14, the school said.
In New Jersey, health officials released guidelines for when K-12 schools should close if children become infected, though the ultimate decision will lie with local health departments and school districts.
If there are two or more cases in one classroom, the school can stay open, provided all students or staff who had contact with those infected quarantine for two weeks.
But if two or more students from different classrooms who took part in the same activity become sick, local health officials must decide whether to close the school.
The state recommends a school close for two weeks if two or more unrelated cases from multiple classrooms are confirmed, if a “significant community outbreak” affects multiple members of the school, or if virus transmission rises to the state’s “high risk” level in the surrounding region.
As indoor dining resumed in New Jersey on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he would expand the 25% capacity limit if the state sees good compliance with safety protocols.
The state revoked the liquor license of Il Portico, a Burlington City restaurant that authorities said threw a 500-person July Fourth party and then violated its license suspension, Murphy said.
Murphy said restaurateurs should see the revocation as a warning to comply with the capacity limits on indoor dining, saying they “are not kind suggestions.… They are required.”
Murphy also said smoking would not be permitted at casinos even as dining service resumes, reversing an order that originally allowed it.
“We have looked closely at the science,” the governor said, “and agree with the experts who have concluded that smoking is too big a risk to take.”