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Coronavirus update: Details coming Friday on Pennsylvania’s reopening

A social distancing notice on the fence of William H. Ziegler Elementary school in Northeast Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A social distancing notice on the fence of William H. Ziegler Elementary school in Northeast Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated at 5:00 p.m.

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To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 45,105 cases total COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 113,856 cases in New Jersey and 4,575 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 13,445 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 1,956, New Jersey’s is at 6,442, and Delaware’s is at 137. Philadelphia’s death toll is 516.

Note: The Pa. number of total deaths went down last week because the state is no longer including probable deaths in its count, only deaths that are confirmed to be coronavirus-related.

More details coming Friday on Pennsylvania’s reopening

State officials are slated to release the first list of counties this Friday that will be allowed to reopen on May 8.

When Gov. Tom Wolf first laid out his plan, he offered a state map divided by regions. It’s raised questions about the fate of counties with fewer COVID-19 cases and whether they would have to delay loosening social distancing measures if they were in the same region as a hot spot.

On Tuesday, Wolf and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the state would not be beholden to the current regional breakdown.

“We’re going to be looking at counties within regions of Pennsylvania that meet the quantitative and the qualitative factors and then we’ll be making our decisions. We’ll be very pleased to discuss afterwards why we made those decisions,” she said.

Levine and Wolf also said they could not limit travel between states and counties with different levels of social distancing.

To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 45,105 cases total COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases).

Don’t expect mass testing in state prisons or nursing homes soon

Congregate settings such as long-term care facilities and prisons have been hot spots for COVID-19 outbreaks, as seen in the results of tests performed last week on both those working at Montgomery County Correctional Facility and those incarcerated there.

Of the results the county reported Monday, more than 20 percent of those incarcerated tested positive, close to 170 people. An additional two dozen employees also came back with positive test results.

Still, the state’s Health Secretary Rachel Levine said it would be difficult to do facility-wide testing across the state’s correctional facilities and nursing homes.

“What we are doing now is expanding testing as wide-range as possible of symptomatic people,” she said. “We do hope in the future that we will have the testing resources to test really almost anyone.”

This sort of mass testing, Levine added, would only be effective if it were done in a regular pattern because one person may test negative for COVID-19 one day, and be exposed the next.

Any positive cases in long-term care facilities will be included in 14-day case counts the state is considering for a county or region to ease social distancing measures.

 

Estimated $1B Pa. public school revenue losses next year

Pennsylvania public schools will lose roughly $1 billion in local revenue next school year, according to estimates by a coalition of school districts.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) says its projections are based on the financial carnage caused by the coronavirus shutdown recession.

“Every school district tax source and other non-tax revenue will suffer a precipitous decline for the upcoming school year,” said Timothy Shrom, PASBO’s director of research, in a statement.

PASBO estimated that the losses in local tax revenue next year will range from $850 million to $1.07 billion for the state’s 500 school districts — depending on the pace of economic recovery. Those losses will come from real-estate tax delinquency, stalled property values, and a drop in investment earnings, PASBO concluded.

These calculations don’t take into account any hit to education spending from state government, which averages roughly 40 percent of the revenue school districts receive.

The association notes that mandated expenses related to special education and charter school tuition will continue to rise — pushing districts into fiscal uncertainty.

“School districts simply can’t absorb simultaneous revenue declines at the local and state levels while also facing mandated cost increases,” said Hannah Barrick, PASBO’s assistant executive director.

Mayor Kenney: stop flushing your disinfectant wipes

It might say “flushable” on the package, but do not flush your disinfectant wipes, says Mayor Jim Kenney.

“So far 19 of the Philadelphia Water Department’s pumping stations have been impacted by PPE waste, including gloves, mask, most of all wipes,” said Kenney. “The water department is seeing 12 times more infrastructure-clogging waste and facilities than normal.”

Officials are reporting 100 pounds of waste a month – usually the system sees that amount in a year.

Kenney says the influx of waste threatens wildlife as well as city water mains.

“These items should go into a wastebasket,” said Kenney. “They should not be left on the ground and they should not be dropped into a storm inlet and most of all they should not be flushed down toilets.”

The mayor added water shut-offs would be suspended through June 1. Those with trouble paying the bill should visit Phila.gov/waterbillhelp.

Decline of new coronavirus cases remains slow

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley says the decline in new coronavirus cases is still gradual.

“It still looks like we’re past the peak, but the decline we’re seeing in daily cases is a very slow decline,” he said. “It’s not as fast as we would all like it to be.”

Farley says overall trends still point to spread in congregate living facilities like nursing homes, behavioral care facilities and jails.

COVID-19 slowly spreads in Montco prison, but people inside remain asymptomatic, according to officials

County commission chair Val Arkoosh today announced the latest coronavirus infection tally from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility stood at 171 – including both workers and people incarcerated there — with none developing symptoms.

It’s a slight increase from the 169 announced yesterday following rounds of testing last week.

The asymptomatic nature of the spread underscores lingering threat of a spike in cases should distancing measures relax, officials said.

“We are by no means on the other side of this yet,” said Arkoosh. “Your action staying home has kept our hospitals functional and we need to ask you to please continue to do that.”

Arkoosh said the infection curve appeared to have flattened in Montgomery County, but remained too high for comfort.

“We still have hospitals that are full,” she said. “We are not seeing a dip in cases, we are seeing a plateau — but not a dip.”

Arkoosh also addressed photos of businesses that appeared to be poorly enforcing social distancing.

“Vote with your feet, don’t patronize places that are doing it wrong,” she said.

WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent contributed reporting.

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