Coronavirus update: Philly depositions go virtual as Pa. cases rise over 16K

Pennsylvania reported 1,680 new cases of COVID-19 and an additional 70 deaths Wednesday.

A sign reading “Sorry We’re Closed” is placed at the Pennsylvania welcome sign on the westbound lanes of Interstate 80 in Delaware Water Gap, Pa. on Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP)

A sign reading “Sorry We’re Closed” is placed at the Pennsylvania welcome sign on the westbound lanes of Interstate 80 in Delaware Water Gap, Pa. on Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP)

Updated 7:35 p.m.

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As of Wednesday morning, there are 16,239 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, 47,437  in New Jersey, and 1,116 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has  4,777  cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 310, New Jersey’s at 1,504, and Delaware’s at 19.

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Immigrant detainees at Berks sue state for their release amid COVID-19 fears

In a lawsuit against the state, immigrant children and their families being held at the Berks Detention Center are demanding the state release them to family or community sponsors during the pandemic.

The lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, filed in state Supreme Court Wednesday, claims the families are vulnerable to COVID-19 in detention where social distancing is near impossible.

Five immigrants detained in Pike County Correctional Facility and York County Prison tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Just days after, a federal judge ordered the release of 11 immigrant detainees from York County Prison. U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement released another two immigrants detained in Pike County around the same time.

At Berks, numerous detainees, including children, are exhibiting cold-like symptoms, including coughs and fever, according to the suit.

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Attorneys also claim Berks is not medically equipped to handle an infectious disease outbreak because the center lacks a full-time onsite doctor and has no pediatrician.

“COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire through ICE detention centers in Pennsylvania, and the families are trapped at Berks while the state looks the other way,” said attorney Jacquelyn Kline, representing families on behalf of Aldea – The People’s Justice Center.

Like other detention centers, Berks has suspended visitations. 

Pa. lawmakers ask to keep Montco’s federally backed testing site open

Pennsylvania lawmakers are asking feds to reconsider pulling support from the COVID-19 community testing site in Montgomery County, an early epicenter of the state’s outbreak.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency helped set up 40 testing sites nationwide, including the Temple University’s Ambler campus in Montgomery County and another at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. All if the sites are slated to close Friday.

Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, has said the tests taken at Temple Ambler were useful in tracking cases, but the county can’t keep the operation open without federal help.

Nearly 4,000 tests were taken at the Temple Ambler testing site, of which 20% came back positive for COVID-19.

In their letter, Sen. Bob Casey, and Reps. Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans, Brian Fitzpatrick, Mary Gay Scanlon, and Madeleine Dean asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Deputy Surgeon General for the reasoning behind the withdrawal of support.

Philly depositions go virtual 

Philadelphia’s First Judicial District aims to move forward with civil litigation while practicing social distancing. Depositions can take place over the phone or videoconference, if possible.

However, the scheduled depositions or scheduled appearances of health care workers “who are substantially involved in responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency” have been suspended.

The court’s electronic filing system remains open.

Pa. cases rise over 16K

Pennsylvania reported 1,680 new cases of COVID-19 and an additional 70 deaths Wednesday. The state now has 16,239 known cases of the virus and 310 fatalities.

The bulk of the fatalities are people over 65. No pediatric deaths have been reported in the state.

Governor Tom Wolf has signed a new executive order allowing the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to seize and redistribute important medical equipment, like ventilators and N95 masks, across the commonwealth if shortages arise in hospitals hard-hit by coronavirus.

“I’m trying to make sure that we take this scarce set of resources that we have, and making sure we deploy them in areas that need them most,” Wolf said. “We need to be open to this kind of coordination in the commonwealth.”

The executive order also requires private and public health care facilities to tally all their supplies of personal protective equipment, medicine and other equipment and provide those numbers to PEMA so stores can be tracked statewide. It stipulates that state agencies will be responsible for paying those facilities back for any equipment that is redistributed.

Those equipment tallies are displayed on a newly-launched public dashboard.

The move comes as SEIU Healthcare PA workers in the Greater Philadelphia area are slated to join a national protest Thursday. Workers from Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr and Doylestown are demanding the federal government provide them with the personal protective gear they need.

Wolf also weighed on recent discontent among the Republicans who control the state legislature. GOP House and Senate members have introduced several bills aimed at rolling back the governor’s broad shutdown orders for businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining,” and have also taken issue with what they say is a lack of clarity in the administration’s decisions to grant or deny waivers for businesses to continue operating.

“We’re a democracy and we have a robust conversation,” he said. “But I think on the part of all of us, we’re trying to buy time … and we’re trying to keep people safe. And that forces us to make some tough decisions.”

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine acknowledged, the rate of increase in COVID-19 cases has been declining over the past week. She called the development “a subtle flattening of the curve, which is good news.”

But she noted, the numbers are still high.

“We cannot become complacent,” she said. “It is essential that we continue to practice this social [and] physical isolation to continue that flattening of the curve.”

She said the state is still expecting “a surge, so to speak” in new cases, but she said she is hoping distancing measures save the state from running out of equipment.

Philly’s seeing number of new COVID-19 cases stabilize

Philadelphia’s top health official said Wednesday the city has shown its first sign that the number of new COVID-19 cases is beginning to stabilize.

“I’m not saying it’s turning around. I’m not even saying it’s plateauing, but the growth is slowing,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

In recent days, the daily number of new cases has hovered in the mid-500s, said Farley. On Wednesday, the city reported 505 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 4,777.

Farley reported 15 new deaths, bringing the city’s total to 78. The majority of deaths, 53 total, were among people over 70, according to the city.

Still, Farley said it was still possible for the number of cases to grow. If residents stopped practicing social distancing measures, he said the virus would spread in new populations.

The city is still seeing clusters of infections in places like nursing homes and the city’s jail. The number of incarcerated people with COVID-19 now stands at 62, and 32 of the fatalities were among residents of long-term care facilities.

Farley said the city is trying to collect the racial breakdown of COVID-19 patients, though there’s no good racial data of the city’s living patients, the city now has a better racial breakdown of fatalities.

About 29% were among white patients, 39% were among African Americans. The race was recorded as “unknown” in 32% of the deaths.

The city’s African American population is being hit slightly harder by the virus, according to Farley.

“Like many other health problems, we may see that this virus affects people who have other disadvantages more,” he said. “They may be more likely to get the infection, they may be more likely to get severe disease if they do get the infection.”

According to Farley, Philadelphia hospitals are seeing more COVID-19 patients in their beds with a total of 616 patients hospitalized. Though it’s unclear how many patients are in intensive care units, Farley said there is still plenty of room to treat incoming patients.

Good Friday changes to the Philadelphia services

Mayor Jim Kenney reminded people garbage collection Friday would be postponed to Saturday.

The holiday will also cause a temporary change to the student meal distribution across the city.

This Monday the school district’s 49 meal distribution locations will be closed, resuming operations Tuesday.

The 40 food sites where residents can pick up a box of food for their families will see still move forward Monday with regular pickup hours.

City extends another union contract

As the city keeps its focus on mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Jim Kenney says he’s reached a tentative agreement with one of the unions representing city workers.

AFSCME District Council 47 represents employees of the City of Philadelphia and the First Judicial District and the agreement would extend their contract through June 30, 2021.

The terms include a 2% wage increase for employees effective May 1, 2020 and a one-time $450 bonus for employees that will be paid in June. Employees who work 50% or more of regular scheduled work hours for the month of April will receive a $700 bonus.

Last week, the Mayor announced a similar contract extension with the city’s police union.

Montgomery County releases racial data for coronavirus deaths

Montgomery County reported 108 new cases Wednesday, bringing the county’s total to 1,402. The virus is in 59 of the county’s 62 municipalities and has resulted in 43 deaths, including 11 new ones reported in the last 24 hours.

Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County board of commissioners, said she doesn’t think the county has reached its peak number of cases yet, but she’s hoping the plateau is coming.

Like other municipal governments, the county is releasing the racial data it has available.

The county, which is almost 80% white, is seeing the highest number of deaths among its white population with 24 known deaths, according to Arkoosh.

Information was not available for seven cases, but of the remaining, seven were Asian and four were Black – as identified by family.

Arkoosh said 51 of the county’s 75 long-term care facilities have cases of COVID-19 with 155 patients and 71 workers testing positive.

Despite the county’s number of cases, Arkoosh said all area hospitals had beds open, including those for intensive care, as well as ventilators.

Still, she acknowledged that Wednesday was Passover and encouraged celebrating with immediate household members only.

“Please, please celebrate from a distance — use the internet, use the telephone, whatever you have at your disposal — but please just stay with your household contacts,” she said.

Pa. lawmakers introduce bill to help shuttered child care centers

When stay-at-home orders are lifted, state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Mary Jo Daley want Pennsylvanians to have child care centers to send their kids to.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered day care centers to close — unless they served the children of essential workers, such as health care staff, and were granted a waiver — leaving many facilities in a precarious financial situation.

Fiedler and Daley have introduced a plan that would cover child care providers’ loss of tuition during COVID-19 shutdowns, as well as payroll, benefits and utilities.

The lawmakers also want additional state resources to help Pre-K and Head Start extend into the summer and make up for lost classroom time.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Child Care Association surveyed more than 600 childcare centers and found about a third would not be able to reopen should they have to remain closed for more than a month. The facilities surveyed care for more than 44,000 children.

“The closing of child care centers was among the many difficult decisions made by our governor in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but I believe it was the correct decision,” explained Daley, a Montgomery County Democrat. “That said, as childcare is an absolutely critical service for so many working moms, dads and guardians, it is essential we take steps to ensure child care centers survive this pandemic.

Child care advocates have asked Wolf for $100 million in lost tuition payments to providers. It’s unclear how much the current proposals would provide.

Editor’s Note: Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler is a former WHYY employee. 

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