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Coronavirus update: Free baby supplies, food for elderly in Philadelphia

Kris Jaeger with Broad Street Ministry distributes food as part of a new initiative called Step Up to the Plate, during a rainstorm outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, Monday, April 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Kris Jaeger with Broad Street Ministry distributes food as part of a new initiative called Step Up to the Plate, during a rainstorm outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, Monday, April 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Updated 4:50 p.m.

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To date, there are 26,584 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 71,030 in New Jersey, and 1,926 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 7,441 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 737, New Jersey’s at 3,156, and Delaware’s at 43. Philadelphia’s death toll is 222.

Free baby supplies, food for elderly in Philadelphia

Ten sites around Philadelphia are now providing free food, diapers and other supplies for babies. The locations, as well as other services for young children and their caregivers, are listed on the city’s website.

Separately, about 20 sites are providing free grab-and-go meals for older residents — those above 55 or 60 years old, depending on the site.

Seniors should call ahead to reserve meals, which can also be picked up by family members. More information is available on another city webpage.

First state prisoners expected to be released through new state program 

At least seven state prisoners in Pennsylvania are expected to be temporarily released Wednesday through a new program aimed at reducing the state prison population during the coronavirus pandemic. They would be the first prisoners released under the program. 

Announced Friday by Gov. Tom Wolf, the program applies to nonviolent prisoners who would be eligible for release within the next nine months, or are considered vulnerable for infection and are within a year of their release date. That includes those who are 65 or older, have an autoimmune disorder, or have a chronic medical condition, such as heart disease or diabetes. 

If someone approved for release is serving at a facility where no prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, that person will only have to pass a medical screening, including a temperature check, before being allowed to leave the facility. 

Individuals serving at facilities where there are positive cases will be tested for the virus before exiting. 

“If they’re negative for a test then they will be released. If they are positive for the test, they will not be released. They will be treated. Once they are in recovery, they will be released,” said Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel during a news conference. 

Under the program, those who are released would be supervised by parole agents while under house arrest, and return to prison once the order expires to complete “any remaining portions of their sentence.” 

Up to 1,800 people — 4% of the total state prison population – could be released under Wolf’s reprieve order. 

“We’re really focusing on … what you would call low-hanging fruit,” said Wetzel. 

As of Wednesday, 17 state prisoners at SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County have tested positive for COVID-19. No other facility has any prisoners test positive. 

A 67-year old man at Phoenix, identified by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project as Rudolph Sutton, died April 8 after becoming infected. 

A total of 23 DOC staffers have self-reported that they have tested positive for the virus.

Philadelphia converts two more hotels into quarantine sites

Philadelphia has reached agreements with two additional hotels to provide quarantine and isolation space for those who cannot safely isolate themselves at home.

The Fairfield Inn & Suites in Center City and the Marriott SpringHill Suites near the Philadelphia airport will be dedicated for first responders, including doctors and nurses, Mayor Jim Kenney said at his daily briefing.

Forty people — both first responders and people experiencing homelessness — are already staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Center City. The city turned that hotel into a quarantine site about two weeks ago.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the monthly leases cost $175,000 for 163 rooms at the Holiday Inn; $119,000 for 119 rooms at the Fairfield Inn; and $130,000 for 130 rooms at the SpringHill Suites.

Abernathy also said the city had identified a site to house people with behavioral health issues but was still looking for health professionals to staff it.

“Once we have wraparound services identified, I’ll certainly be talking about that in more detail.”

Pa. maintains low growth rate in new cases

Pennsylvania officials reported 1,145 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 26,584.

That meant the total number of cases grew by just 4.9% on Wednesday — the second lowest since the pandemic hit the state last month. The lowest rate so far was Tuesday at 4.8%.

At the same time, however, officials reported 63 more deaths from related complications, bringing the total number of fatalities in the state to 737.

“COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in Pennsylvania, and even though the daily increases are not exponential, now is not the time to become complacent,” state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a statement. “We must continue to stay home to protect ourselves, our families, our community.”

A majority of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 are 65 or older, officials said, and the majority of related deaths have also occurred among that age cohort.

Drexel student sues for tuition refund in proposed class action

A student is suing Drexel University for a refund on tuition and other fees after the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person classes there and at hundreds of other schools nationwide.

The lawsuit, which aims to be a class action, says students paid for a slew of services they are no longer receiving, such as interactions with professors, access to campus facilities and networking opportunities, according to Law360.

They also paid mandatory fees toward activities, athletics and wellness offerings, they said.

Drexel has more than 24,000 students, and full-time undergraduates living on campus pay more than $70,000 a year.

Grainger Rickenbaker, the Drexel student, filed the complaint in South Carolina federal court on the same day that a student at the University of Miami filed a similar action against her school. Both are represented by a South Carolina-based law firm.

“Although [the universities are] still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes, plaintiff and members of the proposed [classes] have been and will be deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning,” the students said in both complaints, according to Law360.

“Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished,” they said, referring to the fact that many schools have switched their grading systems this semester.

The suits could be the first among many such actions brought against American colleges and universities.

Mail-in, absentee ballots surge for June primary

Pennsylvania counties have processed about 283,000 applications for mail-in and absentee ballots, and nearly three times more applicants are from Democrats compared to Republicans.

The state’s primary has been moved back to June 2, so the numbers are likely to continue to climb.

Four years ago, before mail-in balloting was allowed in the state, about 84,000 Pennsylvanians cast primary votes by absentee ballot. Officials say concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak are driving interest in remote voting.

Pa. bolsters insurance coverage under CHIP

Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services on Wednesday announced changes to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to keep families enrolled for the duration of the ongoing public health emergency.

Families will not be denied coverage or be disenrolled for administrative or financial reasons, and they will not have to pay a copay for services related to COVID-19 screening or treatment.

In addition, officials said, families will be given more time to pay premiums if needed.

“COVID-19 has created economic challenges for families across Pennsylvania, and we want to be sure that families are able to keep health care coverage to protect themselves and their children during this time,” DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said in a statement.

More information about the changes can be found on the state’s website.

CHIP provides health coverage to nearly 8 million residents with incomes too high to quality for Medicaid but who can’t afford private coverage.

WHYY’s Aaron Moselle, Peter Crimmins and the Associated Press contributed reporting.

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