Coronavirus update: Philly area Muslims mark the end of a socially distant Ramadan

The Al-Aqsa Islamic Society

The Al-Aqsa Islamic Society is seen at dusk on May 20, 2019, the thirteenth day of Ramadan. (Rachel Wisniewski/WHYY)

Updated: 5 p.m.

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Are you on the front lines of the coronavirus? Help us report on the pandemic.

As of Sunday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 71,563 COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 154,154 cases in New Jersey and 8,809 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 21,234 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 5,136, New Jersey’s is at 11,133, and Delaware’s is at 326. Philadelphia’s death toll is 1,233.

Note: Pa. no longer includes probable COVID-19 deaths in its official count, only deaths that have been confirmed through testing.

Muslims mark the end of a socially distant Ramadan

Sunday marked the end of a Ramadan like no other for Muslims in the Philadelphia region.

Today is Eid-al-Fitr, or the end of the holy month of prayer and fasting.

The daily fasting typically ends with Iftar, a community meal held after sunset. But, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, it became a much more private endeavor for many Muslims, according to Salima Suswell, the executive director of the Philadelphia Ramadan and Eid Fund. The organization also found itself taking on a different role during the health crisis.

“Instead [of Iftar dinners] we gave out produce boxes and halal meat and protective equipment and supplies, and so many different things as they observed Ramadan in their homes,” Suswell said.

Suswell and the fund had hoped to usher in another successful Philadelphia Eid in the Park, a massive celebration at West Philly’s Fairmount Park, which included a bouncy house and carnival games last year.

With this year’s festival canceled, Suswell and her organization will take this weekend to be with family. Then, they plan to give out catered meals to 100 Muslim families in the region next weekend. Families will also receive children’s books and toys.

The Muslim Society of Delaware Valley hosted a car parade at the Willow Grove Mall Sunday morning, where volunteers in gloves and masks gave out pre-packaged treats along 11 stops.

These are not the gatherings area Muslims hoped to have, said Suswell, but the whole experience has strengthened the faith of many people in the community.

“I’ve heard so many people say that it was their best Ramadan and I think it was because we all were in a position where we stayed at home and shared time with our families and experienced a different level of peace.”

Fauci speaks at virtual Swarthmore commencement

Dr. Anthony Fauci — who has become the face of the country’s COVID-19 response as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — took a short break to serve as special guest speaker at the virtual 2020 commencement ceremony for Swarthmore College graduates.

“With Swarthmore’s legacy of social responsibility and community and your reputation for innovation, I have no doubt that you will be helping to lead the way,” he said in his two-minute address.

The message hit on some of the classic, future-oriented graduation themes. Still, Fauci addressed the fact students were wrapping up their time as undergraduates during an unprecedented public health crisis.

His message was a simple one: please hang in there.

The graduates, he said, will help the country “come out from under the shadow of this pandemic,” whether they go into medical research or are simply caring members of society.

“We need your talent, your energy, your resolve and your character to get through this difficult time,” he said.

No fishing license? No problem on Fish for Free Days

Pennsylvania officials have asked residents to avoid going down the shore this weekend. For the most part, residents seem to be taking the advice, whether voluntarily — or thanks to fickle weather and a ban on short-term rentals in some beach towns.

Still, Pennsylvanians have some alternatives.

People looking to get into some open natural space can try fishing for a day without committing to buying an annual fishing license for $22.90 — other regulations still apply.

Pennsylvania’s Fish For Free Days are slated for today, May 24, and again on July 4.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission still requires anglers to follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

Trails in state parks are also free and open to the public, though bathroom facilities may not be. Residents can go online to check the status of their local state park.

And for more ideas for a fun, safe holiday weekend, check out this guide to beautiful public art on view from WHYY’s PlanPhilly, and this handy piece on the relative risks of warm weather activities from NPR.

No viral videos of crowded beaches in N.J. or Del.

While videos of Ocean City, Maryland’s boardwalk packed with people on Saturday have gone viral online, the Memorial Day weekend in New Jersey and Delaware beaches has gotten off to a quieter start. (And even the Ocean City crowds appeared to lessen on Sunday with cooler, grey weather.)

Leading into the weekend, state officials emphasized the need for residents to wear masks and follow social distancing measures.

On Friday, Rehoboth Beach saw the weekend launch with a sputter, as the skies remained overcast and ready to pour throughout the day.

Lifeguards keep watch at a mostly empty N.J. beach
Lifeguards keep watch at a mostly empty beach Saturday, May 23, 2020, in Belmar, N.J., during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Thunderstorms early Saturday morning left the sand wet well into the afternoon at the Wildwoods, though modest crowds spread across five miles of beaches once the sun came out full blast.

By Sunday, even New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy went for a stroll down the shore. He Tweeted a selfie with his wife on the Seaside Heights boardwalk after they went on a morning run.

“Lots of folks wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and responsibly enjoying our beautiful Shore this MDW,” he said.

Murphy: Reopening child care centers key for N.J.

As New Jersey continues easing social distancing guidelines, Murphy said his administration is looking at how the state can reopen child care centers, which have largely remained closed during COVID-19 shutdowns.

In a CNN appearance Sunday, Murphy said expanding child care options is a top priority. To date, the limited number of facilities allowed to open are only available to the children of essential workers.

“We have to open that up, my guess is that sooner than later,” said Murphy, who said daycare, summer camps, and ultimately schools, would be the “big nuts to crack” as the state reopens.

Murphy’s administration is juggling public health concerns about reopening the state in a safe manner, while managing concerns about the state’s economy, which has seen a steep revenue loss since COVID-19 shutdowns.

This month, the state treasurer estimated the state could lose up to $10 billion in revenue through June 2021.

In terms of savings, New Jersey lags behind other states, which made the Garden State ready to “beg” for federal help as early as April, according to Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Without aid, Murphy has said the public health crisis could turn into a “second Great Depression.”

“This is not abstract,” Murphy said of the state’s financial woes. “We don’t need to do a data crunch, we don’t need to do an analysis.”

Already, the state has produced a temporary budget for the first months of the fiscal year. As predicted in April, it calls for major cuts.

“We had to cut or defer over $5 billion of expenditures so this includes potentially laying off educators, firefighters, police, EMS, health care workers,” said Murphy on CNN. “This is not abstract, this is real. It’s not a blue state issue, it’s an American issue.”

Murphy said the last thing the state needs is to lay off people who have been on the frontlines and increase the state’s unemployment rate, which exceeded the national rate at 15%.

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