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Coronavirus update: Pa. hospitals get more remdesivir; fishing charters, boat rentals resume in N.J. Sunday

Antiviral drug

Rubber stoppers are placed onto filled vials of the investigational drug remdesivir at a Gilead manufacturing site. (Gilead Sciences via AP)

Updated 4:55 p.m.

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To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 65,185 COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 145,089 cases in New Jersey and 7,547 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 19,606 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 4,413, New Jersey’s is at 10,249, and Delaware’s is at 286. Philadelphia’s death toll is 1,031.

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

More remdesivir sent to Pa. hospitals

More than 9,000 doses of the experimental drug remdesivir are being distributed to hospitals across Pennsylvania to treat COVID-19 infections.

On Friday, the state Department of Health distributed 1,548 doses of the drug to 21 hospitals; that followed an initial distribution of 1,200 doses on Tuesday.

Another 6,390 doses are scheduled for distribution on Monday. The hospitals that receive the drug were selected by the number and severity of the conditions of their COVID-19 patients.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said the safety and effectiveness of remdesivir are not entirely known. “However, it was shown in a clinical trial to shorten the recovery time in some people, which is why the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of the medication for treatment,” she said.

NJ Transit awarded $1.4 billion

NJ Transit will receive $1.4 billion in federal assistance from the CARES Act. The money will be used for operating expenses and to reimburse losses sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the $2 trillion CARES economic recovery act, about $25 billion is being awarded to public transportation agencies across the country.

In early April, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered NJ Transit, which operates buses, trains, and light rail through the state, to reduce its operations by 50% to stem a rising coronavirus infection rate. Ridership has plummeted by about 90%.

The influx of federal funds will help the agency ramp up its operations again, including extra cleaning and personal protection equipment.

“I cannot overstate how vital this funding is to the safe operations of our mass transit systems, the bus, rail, light rail, and paratransit,” Murphy said at his Saturday press briefing. “As we begin our restart, having NJ Transit working as it should will be absolutely vital to our recovery as more residents will be getting back to work.”

Fishing charters, watercraft rentals will resume in N.J.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Saturday that fishing charters, charter boat services, and watercraft rentals will resume at 6 a.m. Sunday.

“We will require specific social distancing and sanitation measures to be followed,” Murphy said.

Among those measures are:

  • Having online and telephone payment systems, to reduce person-to-person contact.
  • Observing social distancing must be observed.
  • Maintaining sanitation.
  • Preserving passenger and customer logs, for contact tracing purposes.

“Even with social distancing, we are confident that everyone can have a safe and comfortable summer,” Murphy said.

On Thursday, Murphy declared New Jersey’s beaches and lakefronts “open” for Memorial Day weekend, although visitors will have to abide by a lengthy list of restrictions. While municipalities will have to follow state restrictions, general beach and boardwalk operations are at local discretion.

Philadelphia assembling a team for contact tracing

The City of Philadelphia is hiring people to do contact tracing as the COVID-19 crisis evolves.

The Department of Public Health has begun recruiting for the positions, in which workers will keep track of who is infected with the coronavirus, where they contracted it, and who they might have infected. According to a Saturday release from the city, applicants for the positions should be comfortable with talking to people and have strong interpersonal-relations skills.

The job postings do not say how many contact tracing workers the Department of Public Health is seeking, but they are full-time, grant-funded jobs that will last at least 12 months.

Explaining factors considered for reopening in Pa.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has released a report outlining the factors state officials are using to determine which counties are able to reopen their businesses.

Responding to many questions regarding why some places are allowed to open and others are not, the report by Carnegie Mellon University is an attempt to explain the statewide process of minimizing the risk of COVID-19 infection while maximizing the revitalization of the economy.

The report outlines six considerations for each region: number of COVID cases per capita; commuting patterns into neighboring counties; the number of at-risk elderly people in the population; the number of available hospital ICU beds per at-risk population; population density; and the number of workers employed in closed businesses.

The report explains the risk assessment of commuting through the example of Carbon County in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Though that county’s 14-day case rate has fallen below the threshold for reopening (.036%), when factoring in the number of people commuting to and from neighboring counties with higher case rates, Carbon County climbs above the threshold (to  .057%).

Bellmawr gym plans to open despite shutdown order

A gym in Bellmawr, Camden County, plans to open on Monday in defiance of New Jersey orders to remain closed because of the pandemic.

The owners of Atilis Gym say they will open responsibly, limiting the number of people inside and spacing out the exercise equipment. Co-owner Frank Trumbetti said he is taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously, but “the government has failed to protect our rights, and failed to protect our health.”

In an emotional Facebook video posting, Trumbetti said that his mother currently has a severe, potentially fatal COVID-19 infection, and that he fears for the safety of his wife as she works as a pediatric nurse. Nevertheless, he called on all business owners in New Jersey to join him by opening their businesses at 8 a.m. Monday. “This is not about the gym,” he said. “This is about our constitutional rights.”

The call to action followed a national television appearance by co-owner Ian Smith on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News describing the planned reopening.

Justin Auciello contributed reporting.

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