New Jersey will begin testing asymptomatic people, Chester County is set to become the first county in Pennsylvania to begin antibody testing, and 13 counties in the Pittsburgh region can begin to reopen next week, officials around the region said Friday.
As 24 Northern Pennsylvania counties began the first phase of economic reopening Friday, and the additional counties were cleared by Gov. Tom Wolf to do so next Friday, state officials urged all residents to stay vigilant.
“This isn’t just for the yellow-phase counties,” Wolf said. “Residents of counties that are still in the red phase can also make choices that contribute to lowering the case count, and that will also push the county toward reopening more quickly.”
The Philadelphia region’s stay-at-home order continues until June 4. The number of daily new infections in the southeastern corner of the state supports the need to continue staying home, said Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh.
“If we hang on a little bit longer, a few more weeks, and we stay the course, when we do start to relax, we will still be living with this virus, but the number of cases will be lower,” Arkoosh said.
Gov. Phil Murphy said tests for asymptomatic people in New Jersey will be prioritized for essential workers and people in contact with confirmed coronavirus patients. Testing will happen at Bergen Community College in Bergen County and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Monmouth County.
A 4-year-old with underlying conditions became the first child in the state to die of the coronavirus, Murphy announced. A new number of 1,985 New Jerseyans who have tested positive for the disease brought the state’s positive caseload to 135,454. Murphy reported 162 deaths, increasing the toll to 8,952.
Pennsylvania officials reported an additional 1,323 confirmed cases in the commonwealth for a total of 54,238, and 200 additional deaths for a total of 3,616. The numbers were slightly skewed due to a “data dump” from a commercial lab and the continued reconciliation of death data with local health departments, including in Philadelphia, said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.
Cases in care homes continued to rise Friday, with 10,919 cases having been reported at 522 long-term-care facilities across the commonwealth.
Philadelphia reported a total of 875 deaths on Friday, more than half of which have been residents of long-term care facilities. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city had received a large number of lab results to report Friday but that daily deaths were still declining overall.
Philadelphians who have lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic and meet certain requirements can apply for rental assistance from the city’s new COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program starting Tuesday, city officials announced on Friday.
The city will use funds from the federal coronavirus stimulus package to pay for three months of rent for about 3,000 households. Renters can apply from 10 a.m. Tuesday until 5 p.m. May 16 at PHLRentAssist.org. Renters without internet access can call 311.
People who earned 50% or less of area median income — or $48,300 for a household of four — before the pandemic hit are eligible. Renters cannot apply if they live in public housing, receive other government rental assistance, have unpaid rent from before April, or are in the process of being evicted.
Chester County on Friday said it was opening antibody testing sites at the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus in South Coatesville and at the temporarily closed Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which will not be paid for the use of the space. Eligible health-care workers, first responders, and their immediate families will be able to get tests by appointment.
Antibody testing does not diagnose the coronavirus but is meant to determine whether someone was already sick from it and has built up an immune response. Scientists and health experts have cast some doubt on whether the tests are reliable.
Pennsylvania also cleared dentists to resume elective procedures as long as the procedures do not include aerosolization and staff have enough personal protective equipment, state health officials said Friday, saying it was not “a return to routine dentistry” but would allow patients who needed care to get it.
Amtrak said it would increase trips along the Northeast Corridor and resume its nonstop Acela service with three weekday round trips between New York and Washington beginning June 1.
SEPTA announced Friday it would restore regular weekday and weekend service levels on most bus and trolley routes, as well as the Market-Frankford, Broad Street, and Norristown High Speed Lines, the week of May 17.
The Miss America 2021 competition, scheduled for December, was postponed until 2021, the organization announced Friday. The competition, which had been based in Atlantic City before moving to Uncasville, Conn., last year, would have celebrated its 100th anniversary in December.
Murphy expressed cautious optimism that Shore murpes will reopen — with the “new normal” of social-distancing restrictions — by Memorial Day weekend if trends in the fight against the virus continue.
The percentage of people in the state testing positive is continuing to decrease, officials said, with a daily number on Monday of 28%. The number of people hospitalized, in intensive care, and on ventilators also was trending downward.
“The curves that we look at every day have got to continue improving. If they turn against us, there is no way we can responsibly take a step like opening beaches,” he said. And when beaches do open, he cautioned, it "will be an experience which will feel in some ways like it always has, and in some ways like it never has.”
In Delaware, the first phase of economic reopening is set to begin June 1, but the state still needs to reach various milestones to reopen safely, Gov. John Carney said. He announced an expanded testing program that will allow the state to conduct 80,000 tests per month, more than quadrupling the current testing capacity.
The state will take interim reopening steps before June 1 to gradually help businesses, Carney said; Friday was the first day some small businesses were allowed to resume some activities.
"Flattening the curve is working,” Carney said. “Now is not the time to let up.”