Coronavirus update: Gov. Tom Wolf asks Pennsylvanians to wear masks outdoors

The state of Pennsylvania is searching for 1,000 additional ventilators to up its capacity as more COVID-19 patients are in ICUs and intubated.

Updated 2:45 p.m.

As of Friday, there are 8,566 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 29,895 in New Jersey, and 368 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 2,430 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 90, New Jersey’s at 537, and Delaware’s at 12.

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Gov. Tom Wolf asks Pennsylvanians to wear masks outdoors

At a Friday briefing, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf asked all state residents to wear masks, or other protective face coverings, when outdoors.

“Wearing a mask will help cut down the possibility that we will be infecting an innocent bystander,” he said.

The governor advised residents to make their own face coverings if possible, in order to leave precious quantities of N95 surgical masks available for medical professionals.

Supplies of surgical masks have been hard to come by. In Philadelphia, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city had so far been unable to complete an order for 500,000 such masks officials had sought earlier this week for municipal use.

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Pa. searching for more ventilators, masks, gloves

The State of Pennsylvania is searching for 1,000 additional ventilators to up its capacity as more COVID-19 patients are placed in intensive care units and intubated. The move comes as a growing number of patients have been placed on ventilators.

A representative for Gov. Tom Wolf said that there were “a few hundred” ventilators believed to still be in storage across the state, but that officials had requested 1,000 more from federal officials as a precaution.

The state also released updated hospitalization statistics showing that some 852 individuals had been hospitalized across the state due to the virus since March 6. Of those, several hundred had already been placed in ICUs, and most of those patients were later placed on ventilators.

A state spokesperson said that there were an estimated 3,400 ICU beds and 4,000 medical ventilators across Pennsylvania. While most units were still available, officials want to preemptively increase capacity in the event of a surge in COVID patients.

However, these latest numbers encompass only patients with confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses. Health care professionals have continued to admit additional patients with COVID-like symptoms that have yet to be tested –– a process that can take days.

Earlier this week, the House Democrats released a raft of Federal Emergency Management Agency documents indicating that Pennsylvania had sought hundreds of thousands of facemasks, gloves and other equipment –– but received less than half of what was requested.

City moves to bi-weekly recycling, institutes new prison social distancing guidelines

At a Friday press briefing, officials in Philadelphia announced that the city will move to an every-other-week recycling schedule, following a week in which trash crews lagged behind on collections.

“There will be no recycling collection next week,” Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.

An official statement from the city said the new schedule would commence next week, and cited “staffing concerns.”

“Recycling collections will resume on Monday, April 13 with every-other-week collections through May 15 or further,” the statement reads. “Residents should expect some delays as the health crisis continues to have an impact on employee attendance.”

The city also announced a new set of guidelines designed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in city jails.

Incarcerated people will be provided with masks and required to “shelter in place,” essentially limiting movement outside of their cells. Prisoners will be allowed to leave only for phone calls and showers. Food and medication will also be delivered directly to their cells.

Philly courts reach “agreement” to review, release some prisoners

Officials from the Philadelphia court system, the district attorney’s office and the Defender Association have reached an agreement to speed the release of certain inmates in city jails due to fears of a COVID outbreak.

“Our court leadership team had prioritized the need to review a greater number of cases more expeditiously for potential release,” said Idee Fox, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and Chair of the First Judicial District’s Administrative Governing Board.

Individuals that would be prioritized for review and potential release would include those tied to economic crimes, individuals with bail of less than $25,000 in nonviolent, non-gun, and non-drug cases. Cases where a minimum sentence had already been completed would also be prioritized.

“This is what we’ve wanted all along,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, at a Friday press briefing. “We’ve reduced our jail population by 40 percent over the past four years …This situation is urging us to do some more. But it has to be done in a thorough way.”

Four courtrooms in the Stout Center for Criminal Justice will be open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to conduct telephonic hearings.

15k Chromebooks donated to Philly’s charter, Catholic schools

Students at over 100 charter and Catholic schools in Philadelphia will receive a combined 15,000 Chromebooks to aid their online instruction during Pennsylvania’s indefinite school closures.

The donation comes through a fund established by the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), a nonprofit that supports school-choice efforts in the city.

So far, PSP has raised $4 million for its Jump-Start Philly Schools Fund, and aims to raise at least $2 million more.

PSP said it surveyed charter and Catholic schools to determine how many students needed home laptops but did not have them.

“Children need to walk before they can run, and having an internet-connected device at home is a necessary first step for home-based learning,” said PSP executive director Mark Gleason in a statement.

Philadelphia’s public schools will spend up to $11 million on as many 50,000 Chromebooks for its students. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer will cover some of the expense.

Meek Mill donates 100k face masks to prisoners across U.S.

Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill’s criminal justice reform group says it’s donating 100,000 face masks to some of the nation’s most notorious jails and prisons.

The celebrity-backed REFORM Alliance announced the donation Friday. It said 50,000 masks will go to the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City, 40,000 will be sent to the Tennessee Department of Correction, and 5,000 are headed to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

The group, whose founding members include Jay-Z, has been pressing the nation’s jails and prisons to thin their populations, improve sanitation, protect prison workers, and take other precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Hundreds of inmates and staff at U.S. correctional facilities have tested positive for the virus. Health experts say people inside prisons and jails are at heightened risk because of tight inmate quarters, a lack of sanitation and substandard medical care.

Philly African American clergy demand mass release of prisoners over COVID-19

A coalition of religious leaders, public defenders, elected officials, union leaders, and others will host a virtual town hall at 3 p.m. Saturday to press for the mass release of Philadelphia prisoners during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Every day we delay in releasing eligible inmates from the Philadelphia Department of Prisons increases exponentially the devastation we’re already seeing,” said Rev. Dr. Damone B. Jones Sr., pastor of Bible Way Baptist Church, and a member of the city Department of Prisons Advisory Board.

The “#FreeOurPeople” town hall is timed to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and will feature testimony on Facebook Live from people currently incarcerated in Philadelphia jails, as well as their families.

In a press release, the coalition asserted that Philadelphia had lagged behind other cities in releasing broad categories of inmates to reduce the risk of an explosive COVID-19 outbreak in local jails.

At least 12 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Philadelphia Basilica shut for Easter after crowds attend Mass

The Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City will be closed to the public during Easter weekend and Holy Week, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia says.

The Archdiocese announced  the move after a video surfaced showing several dozen congregants filing into pews at the basilica last Sunday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez suspended public masses last month in an effort to combat COVID-19. Though the attendees had not been invited, clergy did not turn them away.

It was not clear when the prominent basilica, situated on Benjamin Franklin Parkway,  would reopen. Easter services will be livestreamed.

Boeing plant closes for ‘deep cleaning’

At the end of Friday’s shifts, the Boeing helicopter factory in Delaware County will shut for two weeks for a “deep cleaning” because of the coronavirus.

It has stayed open as it was deemed an essential business.

With 4,500 workers, the plant in Ridley Township is Delco’s biggest employer and is a key part of manufacturing the military’s V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as well as Chinook helicopters.

“In light of the Boeing Co.’s continuous assessment of the spread of COVID-19 in the region, we made the decision to temporarily suspend production operations at Boeing Philadelphia starting at the end of today with return to operations resuming April 20,” spokesman Andrew Africk said Friday.

He said workers who can continue to do their jobs from home have been instructed to do so. Others will be given 10 days’ paid time off during the shutdown.

“It’s a serious step but a necessary one to ensure the well-being of employees, their families, and the local communities,” Africk said.

WHYY’s Kelly Brennan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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