Pennsylvania reported 1,032 new coronavirus cases on Friday, making it the fifth day this month that the number reached 900 or higher, levels that previously hadn’t been seen since May.
The state included Philadelphia, which reported 135 new cases Friday, in a list of 10 counties where the percentage of people testing positive for the virus is “concerning” health officials.
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Though at least one of the state’s high case counts included some delayed lab results, the seven-day average number of new daily cases in Pennsylvania reached 800, double the figure for people testing positive each day in the middle of June.
“Risky behavior such as going out without a mask and congregating at a bar or in a crowded setting where social distancing isn’t being practiced continues to lead to spikes in cases,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a Friday statement. “We need to recommit to these simple measures to stop the spread and go back to more freedoms.”
In an unpublished report dated Tuesday. the White House Coronavirus Task Force suggested that Pennsylvania test more young people.
In Pennsylvania, people under 50 now account for 45% of cases, the state said this week. And adults under 25 account for 25% of July’s cases in the southwestern part of the state, and 17% in the southeast.
The task force report, first obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, listed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware in the “yellow zone,” meaning they reported between 10 and 100 new cases per 100,000 people last week.
The United States continued to set daily records for new confirmed cases, reporting 77,225 infections on Thursday — more than triple the roughly 20,000 cases a day the country saw just a month ago.
The Garden State is one of the few where cases had been declining or staying steady this month. But Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday that the rate of transmission in the state has again increased to a level at which each person with the coronavirus is infecting at least one other person.
“Folks, we need to get that [rate] back to where we are actively slowing the spread of this virus,” Murphy said. Hospitalizations, however, are still decreasing, and the governor said ventilator use stemming from COVID-19 cases was at its lowest point in “a long, long time.”
With a hot, sunny weekend ahead, Murphy implored residents to maintain social distance at beaches and lakes, and to wear masks in public.
“It could be easy for us to look at how far we’ve come and get complacent,” he said. “But then I would ask you to only look at what’s happening around the rest of the country. What we experienced in March and April, others are experiencing now. Just examples, in California and frankly right next door in Pennsylvania, restrictions that had been relaxed have been tightened back again.”
With the school year just weeks away, Montgomery County school superintendents on Friday asked state leaders for help navigating “confusing and conflicting” reopening guidance, a day after health and education officials instructed schools to plan to keep students six feet apart.
The state said the social distancing recommendation, which was in line with previous guidance from education officials, was “strongly encouraged.” That left uncertainty among school administrators, particularly in areas where officials had been considering reopening with three feet of spacing between students. Bucks and Chester County health officials had said that distance was sufficient.
No school district would be able to reopen full time and maintain six feet of social distancing, said Montgomery County Intermediate Unit executive director Regina Speaker.
“Confusion around the choices and options to reopen continues to grow. Our parents and staff are increasingly anxious and frustrated. We are trying to wade through layers of politics and listen to divided community voices,” Speaker said in a letter to Wolf, Health Secretary Rachel Levine, and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera that was signed by all 21 county superintendents.
Meanwhile, Republicans on Friday asked Wolf to release nearly $13 million in federal funding that he pulled from Lebanon County, enforcing penalties for defying his shutdown orders in the spring. It was one of the strongest actions of enforcement of the state’s pandemic rules to date.
In mid-May, Republican leaders in that county voted to lift coronavirus restrictions in the county in defiance of the state’s orders. During a virtual public workshop in May, County Commissioners Bill Ames and Robert J. Phillips said they did not believe the county would lose the funding that Wolf had threatened to withhold.
“I am calling on Gov. Wolf to reverse this shameful act and release the $12.8 million that is legally owed to the citizens of Lebanon County,” House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor (R., York) said in a statement. “This funding was appropriated by the Legislature in two pieces of legislation that the governor signed into law.”
Wolf said the county had not followed the rules.
“There are consequences. These are the consequences. I think I’m being consistent here,” Wolf said at a news conference Thursday.
New Jersey also made an attempt at making its quarantine advisory for travelers more effective. Along with New York and Connecticut, officials ask people coming from 22 states to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in New Jersey, but Murphy has not implemented any enforcement of the rule.
He said Wednesday he was “not there” on levying fines and wanted people to use personal responsibility.
On Monday, the state Health Department is launching an online survey that it will use to collect information from travelers coming into New Jersey. On incoming flights from hot-spot states, airlines will tell passengers about the survey, which can be accessed via mobile phone.
It will ask questions about where travelers are coming from and where they are going, and will provide information about the state’s travel advisory.
Asked about potential timelines for reopening businesses like gyms, indoor dining facilities, and theaters, Murphy said that spiking cases in other states have left New Jersey in a holding pattern.
In response to criticism that the state is reopening too slowly, he asked, ”If you don’t like our leadership here, why don’t you go down to Georgia and see how that feels? ... We need leadership to be responsible in this country right now.”